General George B. McClellan Resumes Command

September 2, 1862

During a four-hour meeting beginning at noon, President Lincoln tells the unhappy Cabinet that he has again named General George B. McClellan to organize defense of Washington and that General John Pope would be sent to Minnesota.  Historian Bruce Tap wrote:  “When Stanton ‘excitedly’ informed the cabinet of this decision on September 2 before Lincoln arrived at the meeting, ‘general surprise was expressed.’  ‘The bitterness of Stanton on the reinstatement of McClellan,’ Montgomery Blair told Porter years later, ‘you can scarcely conceive.  Lincoln justified his actions, claiming that since the capital was in danger, McClellan was the best man for the job; his defensive expertise was acknowledged by virtually everyone. “  Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles writes in his diary: “At Cabinet-meeting all but Seward were present.  I think there was design in his absence.  It was stated that Pope, without consultation or advice, was falling back, intending to retreat within the Washington intrenchments.  No one seems to have had any knowledge of his movements, or plans, if he had any.  Those who have favored Pope are disturbed and disappointed.  Blair, who has know him intimately, says he is a braggart and a liar, with some courage, perhaps, but not much capacity.  The general conviction is that he is a failure here, and there is a belief and admission on all hands that he has not been seconded and sustained as he should have been by McClellan, Franklin, Fitz John Porter, and perhaps some others.  Personal jealousies and professional rivalries, the bane and curse of all armies, have entered deeply into ours.

Stanton said, in a suppressed voice, trembling with excitement, he was informed McClellan had been ordered to take command of the forces in Washington.  General surprise was expressed.  When the President came in and heard the subject-matter of our conversation, he said he had done what seemed to him best and would be responsible for what he had done to the country.  Halleck had agreed to it.  McClellan knows this whole ground; his specialty is to defend; he is a good engineer, all admit; there is no better organizer; he can be trusted to act on the defensive; but he is troubled with the ‘slows’ and good for nothing for an onward movement.  Much was said.  There was a more disturbed and desponding feeling than I have ever witnessed in council; the President was greatly distressed.  There was a general conversation as regarded the infirmities of McClellan, but it was claimed, by Blair and the President, he had beyond any officer the confidence of the army.  Though deficient in the positive qualities which are necessary for an energetic commander, his organizing powers could be made temporarily available till the troops were rallied.

These, the President said, were General Halleck’s views, as well as his own, and some who were dissatisfied with his action, and had thought H. was the man for General-in-Chief, felt that there was nothing to do but to acquiesce, yet Chase earnestly and emphatically stated his conviction that it would prove a national calamity.

Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase writes in his diary of the meeting: “Cabinet met, but neither the President nor Secretary of War were present.  Some conversation took place concerning Generals.  Mr. F.W. Seward (the Secretary of States being out of town) said nothing.  All others agreed that we needed a change in Commander of the Army.  Mr. Blair referred to the report [support?] he had constantly given McClellan, but confessed that he now thought he could not wisely be trusted with the chief command.  Mr. Bates was very decided against his competency, and Mr. Smith equally so.  Mr. Welles was of the same judgment, though less positive in expression.

After some time, while the talk was going on, the President came in, saying that not seeing much for a Cabinet Meeting to-day-, he had been talking at the Department and Head Quarters about the War.  The Secretary of War came in. In answer to some inquiry, the fact was stated, by the President or the Secretary, that McClellan had been placed in command of the forces to defend the Capital–or rather, to use the President’s own words, he ‘had set him to putting these troops into the fortifications about Washington, believing that he could do that thing better than any other man.  I remarked that this could be done equally well by the Engineer who constructed the Forts; and that putting Genl. McClellan in command for this purpose was equivalent to making him second in command of the entire army.  The Secretary of War said that no one was no responsible for the defense of the Capital;–that the Order to McClellan was given by the President direct to McClellan, and that Genl. Halleck considered himself relieved from responsibility, although he acquiesced, and approve the Order;–that McClellan could now shield himself, should anything go wrong, under Halleck, while Halleck could and would disclaim all responsibility for the Order given.  The president thought Gen. Halleck as much responsible as before, and repeated that the whole scope of the Order was, simply to direct McClellan to put the troops into the fortifications and command them for the defence of Washington.  I remarked that this seemed to me equivalent to making him Commander in Chief for the time being, and that I thought it would prove very difficult to make any substitution hereafter, for active operation;–that I had no feeling whatever against Genl. McClellan;–that he came to the command with my most cordial approbation and support;–that until I became satisfied that his delays would greatly injure our cause, he possessed my full confidence;–that, after I had felt myself compelled to withhold that confidence, I had (since the President, notwithstanding my opinion that he should, refrained from putting another in command) given him all possible support in every way, raising means and urging reinforcements;–that his experience as a military commander had been little else than a series of failures;–that his omission to urge troops forward to the battles of Friday and Saturday, evinced a spirit which rendered him unworthy of trust, and that I could not but feel that giving Washington to the rebels.  This and more I said.  Other members of the Cabinet expressed a general concurrence, but in no very energetic terms.  (Mr. Blair must be excepted, but he did not dissent.)

The President said it distressed him exceedingly to find himself differing on such a point from the Secretary of War and Secretary of the Treasury; that he would gladly resign his plan; but he could not see who could do the work wanted as well as McClellan. I named Hooker, or Sumner, or Burnside–either of whom, I thought, would be better.

A length the conversation ended and the meeting broke up, leaving the matter as we found it.

A few Tax Appointment were lying on the table.  I asked the President to sign them; which he did, saying he would sign them just as they were and ask no questions.  I told him that they had all been prepared in accordance with his directions, and that it was necessary to complete the appointments.  They were signed, and I returned to the Department.

General George B. McClellan writes President Lincoln: “Several excellent batteries of field Artillery have arrived, also some more Cavalry & are all rapidly disembarking.”

I now have members of my staff examining everything except the works south (east) of the East Branch, with distinct instructions as to what is be done in every work in case of attack, & of the disposition to be made of the troops outside of the works.  I have nothing yet from Burnside.  I hope to be able to inform you by 8 tonight that everything I have in hand is prepared for action.

It is right that Pope should now fall back with the utmost rapidity consistent with good order.  In my view we must now prepare at once to cover the Chain Bridge, & be ready to attack the enemy in flank should they venture to cross the upper Potomac.  As it is possible I do not say probable that our Railway communication with Baltimore may be cut off, I would respectfully suggest that the mass of Comm. Wilkes’ James River Flotilla be ordered to the Potomac to ensure our water communication.  If orders be given to the commodore to bring to the Potomac whatever he thinks necessary I am sure that there will be no trouble on that score — for he has ever evinced the strongest disposition to assist the Army, instead of waiting to be called upon for aid, he volunteers it — he can arrange the matter with me in a few minutes.  I am about riding to the front & as I am anxious about the Chain Bridge will return that way — &* will endeavor to pass by the Soldiers Home to report to you the state of affairs unless called elsewhere.  I am still confident, altho’ I fully appreciate the magnitude of the task committed to me.

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Published in: on September 2, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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