The Life, Public Services and State Papers of Abraham Lincoln

By Henry J. Raymond

Letters on Sundry Occasions

The President and General Mcclellan

THE transfer of General McClellan's army from the Potomac, where it  lay in front of the rebels at Manassas, was a movement of so much importance, and has given rise to so much controversy, that we append, for  its further elucidation, a memorandum made by Major-General McDowell  of the private discussions which preceded it.

A copy of this memorandum was given by General McDowell, in the  spring of 1864, to Mr. Raymond, and by him, some months afterwards,  submitted to the President. The manuscript was returned by the latter,  with the following indorsement:--

I well remember the meetings herein narrated. See nothing for me to  object to in the narrative as being made by General McDowell, except  the phrase attributed to me "of the Jacobinism of Congress," which  phrase I do not remember using literally or in substance, and which I  wish not to be published in any event.


October 7, 1864.

The following is the


January 10, 1862.--At dinner at Arlington, Virginia. Received a note  from the Assistant Secretary of War, saying the President wished to see  me that evening at eight o'clock, if I could safely leave my post. Soon  after, I received a note from Quartermaster-General Meigs, marked "Private and confidential," saying the President wished to see me. Note  herewith.

Repaired to the President's house at eight o'clock P. M. Found the  President alone. Was taken into the small room in the northeast corner.  Soon after, we were joined by Brigadier-General Franklin, the Secretary  of State, Governor Seward, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the Assistant Secretary of War. The President was greatly disturbed at the  state of affairs. Spoke of the exhausted condition of the Treasury; of the  loss of public credit; of the Jacobinism in Congress; of the delicate condition of our foreign relations; of the bad news he had received from the  West, particularly as contained in a letter from General Halleck on the  state of affairs in Missouri; of the want of co-operation between General  Halleck and General Buell; but, more than all, the sickness of General  McClellan.

The President said he was in great distress, and, as he had been to  General McClellan's house, and the General did not ask to see him, and  as he must talk to somebody, he had sent for General Franklin and myself, to obtain our opinion as to the possibility of soon commencing active  operations with the Army of the Potomac.

To use his own expression, if something was not soon done, the bottom  would be out of the whole affair; and, if General McClellan did not want  to use the army, he would like to "borrow it," provided he could see how  it could be made to do something.

The Secretary of State stated the substance of some information he  considered reliable, as to the strength of the forces on the other side,  which he had obtained from an Englishman from Fortress Monroe, Richmond, Manassas, and Centreville, which was to the effect that the enemy  had twenty thousand men under Huger at Norfolk, thirty thousand at  Centreville, and, in all, in our front an effective force, capable of being  brought up at short notice, of about one hundred and three thousand  men--men not suffering, but well shod, clothed, and fed. In answer to  the question from the President, what could soon be done with the army,  I replied that the question as to the when must be preceded by the one as  to the how and the where. That, substantially, I would organize the army  into four army corps, placing the five divisions on the Washington side on  the right bank. Place three of these corps to the front, the right at  Vienna or its vicinity, the left beyond Fairfax Station, the centre beyond  Fairfax Court-House, and connect the latter place with the Orange and  Alexandria Railroad by a railroad now partially thrown up. This would  enable us to supply these corps without the use of horses, except to distribute what was brought up by rail, and to act upon the enemy without  reference to the bad state of country roads.

The railroads all lead to the enemy's position. By acting upon them in  force, besieging his strongholds, if necessary, or getting between them, if  possible, or making the attempt to do so, and pressing his left, I thought  we should, in the first place, cause him to bring up all his forces, and  mass them on the flank mostly pressed--the left--and, possibly, I thought  probably, we should again get them out of their works, and bring on a  general engagement on favorable terms to us, at all events keeping him  fully occupied and harassed. The fourth corps, in connection with a  force of heavy guns afloat, would operate on his right flank, beyond the  Occoquan, get behind the batteries on the Potomac, take Aquia, which,  being supported by the Third Corps over the Occoquan, it could safely  attempt, and then move on the railroad from Manassas to the Rappahannock. Having a large cavalry force to destroy bridges, I thought by the  use of one hundred and thirty thousand men thus employed, and the great facilities which the railroads gave us, and the compact position we  should occupy, we must succeed by repeated blows in crushing out the  force in our front, even if it were equal in numbers and strength. The  road by the Fairfax Court-House to Centreville would give us the means  to bring up siege mortars and siege materials, and even if we could not  accomplish the object immediately, by making the campaign one of positions instead of one of manœuvres, to do so eventually, and without risk.  That this saving of wagon transportation should be effected at once, by  connecting the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad with the Alexandria roads  by running a road over the Long Bridge. That when all this could be  commenced, I could better tell when I knew something more definite as  to the general condition of the army.

General Franklin being asked, said he was in ignorance of many things  necessary to an opinion on the subject, knowing only as to his own  division, which was ready for the field. As to the plan of operations, on  being asked by the President if he had ever thought what he would do  with this army if he had it, he replied that he had, and that it was his  judgment that it should be taken--what could be spared from the duty  of protecting the capital--to York River to operate on Richmond. The  question then came up as to the means at hand of transporting a large  part of the army by water. The Assistant Secretary of War said the  means had been fully taxed to provide transportation for twelve thousand  men. After some further conversation, and in reference to our ignorance  of the actual condition of the army, the President wished we should come  together the next night at eight o'clock, and that General Franklin and I  should meet in the mean time, obtain such further information as we  might need, and to do so from the staff of the head-quarters of the Army  of the Potomac. Immediate orders were to be given to make the railroad over Long Bridge.

January 11.--Held a meeting with General Franklin in the morning at  the Treasury building, and discussed the question of the operations which  in our judgment were best under existing circumstances of season, present position of the forces, present condition of the country, to be undertaken before going into the matter as to when those operations could be  set on foot. I urged that we should now find fortifications in York River,  which would require a movement in that direction to be preceded by a  naval force of heavy guns to clear them out, as well as the works at West  Point. That Richmond was now fortified, that we could not hope to  carry it by a simple march after a successful engagement, that we should  be obliged to take a siege train with us. That all this would take time,  which would be improved by the enemy to mass his forces in our front,  and we should find that we had not escaped any of the difficulties we  have now before this position, but simply lost time and money to find  those difficulties where we should not have so strong a base to operate  from, nor so many facilities, nor so large a force as we have here, nor, in  proportion, so small a one to overcome. That the war now had got to  be one of positions till we should penetrate the line of the enemy. That  to overcome him in front, or cut his communication with the South,  would, by its moral as well as physical effect, prostrate the enemy, and  enable us to undertake any future operations with ease and certainty of  success; but that, in order of time as of importance, the first thing to be  done was to overcome this army in our front, which is beleaguering our  capital, blockading the river, and covering us day by day with the reproach of impotence, and lowering us hi the eyes of foreign nations and  of our people, both North and South, and that nothing but what is not  necessary for this purpose should go elsewhere.

General Franklin suggested whether Governor Chase, in view of what  we were charged to do, might not be at liberty to tell us where General  Burnside's expedition had gone. I went and asked him. He told me  that under the circumstances he felt he ought to do so, and said he was  destined for Newbern, North Carolina, by way of Hatteras Inlet and  Pamlico Sound, to operate on Raleigh and Beaufort, or either cf them.  That General McClellan had, by direction of the President, acquainted  him with his plan, which was to go with a large part of this Army of the  Potomac to Urbana or Toppahannock, on the Rappahannock, and then  with his bridge train move directly on Richmond. On further consultation with General Franklin, it was agreed that our inquiries were to be  directed to both cases, of going from our present position, and of removing the large part of the force to another base further South.

A question was raised by General Franklin, whether, in deference to  General McClellan, we should not inform him of the duty we were ordered to perform. I said the order I received was marked "private and  confidential," and as they came from the President, our Commander-inChief, I conceived, as a common superior to General McClellan and both  of us, it was for the President to say, and not us, and that I would consult the Secretary of the Treasury, who was at hand, and could tell us  what was the rule in the Cabinet in such matters. The Secretary was of  opinion that the matter lay entirely with the President. We went to  Colonel Kingsbury, Chief of Ordnance of the Army of the Potomac,  Brigadier General Van Vliet, Chief Quartermaster, and Major Shivers,  Commissary of Subsistence, and obtained all the information desired.

Met at the President's in the evening at eight o'clock. Present the  same as on the first day, with the addition of the Postmaster-General,  Judge Blair, who came in after the meeting had begun the discussion. I  read the annexed paper, marked (A), as containing both General Franklin's and my own views, General Franklin agreeing with me, in view of  time, &c., required to take this army to another base, that the operation  could best now be undertaken from the present base, substantially as proposed. The Postmaster-General opposed the plan, and was for having  the army, or as much of it as could be spared, go to York River or Fortress Monroe, either to operate against Richmond, or to Suffolk and cut  off Norfolk, that being in his judgment the point (Fortress Monroe or  York) from which to make a decisive blow; that the plan of going to the  front from this position was Bull Run over again, that it was strategically  defective as was the effort last July, as then we would have the operations  upon exterior lines, and that it involved too much risk; that there was  not as much difficulty as had been supposed in removing the army down  the Chesapeake; that only from the Lower Chesapeake could any thing  decisive result against the army at Manassas; that to drive them from  their present position by operating from our present base would only  force them to another behind the one they now occupy, and we should  have all our work to do over again. Mr. Seward thought if we only had  a victory over them, it would answer, whether obtained at Manassas, or  further South. Governor Chase replied, in general terms, to Judge  Blair, to the effect that the moral power of a victory over the enemy in  his present position would be as great as one elsewhere, all else equal;  and the danger lay in the probability that we should find, after losing  time and millions, that we should have as many difficulties to overcome  below as we now have above.

The President wished to have General Meigs in consultation on the  subject of providing water transportation, and desired General Franklin and myself to see him in the morning, and meet again at three o'clock  P. M. the next day.

January 12.--Met General Franklin at General Meigs's. Conversed  with him on the subject of our mission at his own house. I expressed  my views to General Meigs, who agreed with me in the main as to concentrating our efforts against the enemy in front by moving against him  from our present position. As to the time in which he could assemble  water transportation for thirty thousand men, he thought in about from  four to six weeks.

Met at the President's. General Meigs mentioned the time in which  he could assemble transports as a month to six weeks. The general subject of operations from the present base was again discussed, General  Meigs agreeing that it was best to do so, and to concentrate our forces  for the purpose. The President and Mr. Seward said that General McClellan had been out to see the President, and was looking quite well;  and that now, as he was able to assume the charge of the army, the President would drop any further proceedings with us. The general drift of  the conversation was as to the propriety of moving the army further  South, and as to the destination of Burnside's expedition. The Postmaster-General said that if it was the intention to fight out here (Manassas),  then we ought to concentrate. It was suggested and urged somewhat on  the President to countermand, or to have General McClellan countermand, General Burnside's expedition, and bring it up to Acquia. The  President was, however, exceedingly averse from interfering, saying he  disliked exceedingly to stop a thing long since planned, just as it was  ready to strike. Nothing was done but to appoint another meeting the  next day at 11 o'clock, when we were to meet General McClellan, and  again discuss the question of the movement to be made, &c., &c.

January 13, Monday.--Went to the President's with the Secretary of  the Treasury. Present, the President, Governor Chase, Governor Seward,  Postmaster-General, General McClellan, General Meigs, General Franklin, and myself, and I think the Assistant Secretary of War. The President, pointing to a map, asked me to go over the plan I had before spoken  to him of. He, at the same time, made a brief explanation of how he  came to bring General Franklin and General McDowell before him. I  mentioned, in as brief terms as possible, what General Franklin and I had  done under the President's order, what our investigations had been  directed upon, and what were our conclusions, giving as nearly as I could  the substance of the paper hereto annexed, marked (B), referring to going  to the front from our present base in the way I have hereinbefore stated,  referring also to a transfer of a part of the army to another base further  south; that we had been informed that the latter movement could not be  commenced under a month to six weeks, and that a movement to the  front could be undertaken in all of the present week. General Franklin  dissented only as to the time I mentioned for beginning operations in the  front not thinking we could get the roads in order by that time. I  added, commence operations in all of the week, to which he assented.

I concluded my remarks by saying something apologetic in explanation  of the position in which we were, to which General McClellan replied  somewhat coldly, if not curtly: "You are entitled to have any opinion  you please!" No discussion was entered into by him whatever, the above  being the only remark he made.

General Franklin said, that, in giving his opinion as to going to York  River, he did it knowing it was in the direction of General McClellan's  plans.

I said that I had acted entirely in the dark.

General Meigs spoke of his agency in having us called in by the President.

The President then asked what and when any thing could be done,  again going over somewhat the same ground he had done with General  Franklin and myself.

General McClellan said the case was so clear a blind man could see it,  and then spoke of the difficulty of ascertaining what force he could count  upon; that he did not know whether he could let General Butler go to  Ship Island, or whether he could re-enforce General Burnside. Much conversation ensued, of rather a general character, as to the discrepancy  between the number of men paid for and the number effective.

The Secretary of the Treasury then put a direct question to General  McClellan, to the effect as to what he intended doing with his army, and  when he intended doing it. After a long silence, General McClellan answered that the movement in Kentucky was to precede any one from this  place, and that that movement might now be forced. That he had directed  General Buell, if he could not hire wagons for his transportation, that he  must take them. After another pause, he said he must say he was very  unwilling to develop his plans, always believing that in military matters  the fewer persons who were knowing to them the better; that he would  tell them if he was ordered to do so. The President then asked him if he  had counted upon any particular time; he did not ask what that time  was, but had he in his own mind any particular time fixed, when a movement could be commenced. He replied he had. "Then," rejoined the  President, "I will adjourn this meeting."


Memoranda on which to base an opinion, required by the President, as to  when the Army of the Potomac can assume offensive operations.

The time of moving depends on whether the army is in whole, or in  great part, to be removed by water to another base of operations to the  south; or, whether it is to move against the enemy now immediately in  its front. General Franklin favored the first, and I inclined to the second.

Inquiries were directed in each case.

1st.--If the base is to be changed to York River, as has been suggested,  the advance would have to be accompanied by a fleet with heavy guns,  to silence the batteries in York River and the works at its head, and to  keep the river from being obstructed as is the Potomac at this time.

To organize such a fleet I should think would require more time than  the present state of affairs would permit.

To land the force this side of York River with a view to turn the head  of it at West Point would require additional land transportation, and a  heavy additional item for the means to pass the rivers (perhaps in face of  an enemy) between the point of debarkation and Richmond, which is  supposed as the objective point in such a campaign.

As Richmond is fortified, a siege train and materials would be required.

In considering the quantity of land transportation required to move on  Richmond from any point of debarkation this side of York River, it should  be kept in mind that at this season in this climate the roads are heavy;  and, when used by large trains of artillery or baggage, impassable, unless  corduroyed, and, as the army could not move on only one road, to make  several would take time, which would be improved by the enemy to mass  forces in the front. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to conceal  from the enemy our point of landing; and he is at this time expecting us  at York, where he has already a considerable force, and to which, from Richmond, he has a railroad upon which to bring re-enforeements, and a  railroad communication to Acquia Creek and his main force at Manassas.  It would therefore be necessary to land, in the first place, with a heavy  force, to avoid the disaster of being overwhelmed and driven into the  bay.

The Chief of the Quartermaster's Department at the head-quarters of  the Army of the Potomac, Brigadier-General Van Vliet estimates that  with every exertion, and taking canal-boats, brigs, &c., &c., to be found  in the waters of the Chesapeake and Delaware, he could assemble transportation, for thirty thousand men, in about twenty days from the time  he should receive the order. Nothing is on hand save what is in current use here on the Potomac. The above estimate does not include any  land transportation for the troops after their debarkation, nor any for the  horses of the cavalry, but only for the troops and their baggage and subsistence.

The Assistant Secretary of War, I understand, is of opinion that all the  available means of water transportation would be fully taxed to provide  for even twelve thousand men.

In view of the difficulties mentioned, and unforeseen delays, always  sure to happen, I do not think a move by water of so large a force as I  deem necessary could be counted upon under a month.

To move against the enemy in front, we have thirteen divisions, of  about ten thousand men each, and General Banks's Division at Frederick.

There is for this force four thousand four hundred wagons ready for  service.

If we use the railroads out of Alexandria, and connect them over the  Long Bridge with the Baltimore Railroad, about two thousand of these  wagons and ten thousand animals may be dispensed with, certainly for  the present.

Of artillery there is sufficient (three hundred and fifty pieces).

Of artillery ammunition there is sufficient to begin with, good for all  but New York regiments. Twelve thousand three hundred and forty  new Austrian and fifteen to twenty thousand rifles in New York; ammunition for the latter, none for the former.

Small-arms ammunition sufficient to commence with.

Siege train:--ten ten-inch mortars, with ammunition; five thirty-two pound howitzers, with troops.

Shelter tents and stretchers, forty-three thousand.

From the foregoing it seems to me the army should be ready to move  in all of next week. The main difficulty, I think, is in its yet incomplete  organization, which could soon be remedied.

(Signed) I. MCDOWELL, Brigadier-General.

January 10, 1862.


President Lincoln addressed the following letter to General McClellan  after the latter had landed his forces on the Peninsula in the spring of  1862. It relates to several points in which the General's action had  already excited a good deal of public uneasiness, and been made the subject of public comment:--


MY DEAR SIR:--I have just assisted the Secretary of War in forming  the part of a dispatch to you, relating to army corps, which dispatch, of course, will have reached you long before this will. I wish to say a  few words to you privately on this subject. I ordered the army corps  organization not only on the unanimous opinion of the twelve generals  of division, but also on the unanimous opinion of every military man  I could get an opinion from, and every modern military book, yourself  only excepted. Of course, I did not on my own judgment pretend to  understand the subject. I now think it indispensable for you to know  how your struggle against it is received in quarters which we cannot  entirely disregard. It is looked upon as merely an effort to pamper one  or two pets, and to persecute and degrade their supposed rivals. I have  had no word from Sumner, Heintzelman, or Keyes. The commanders  of these corps are of course the three highest officers with you, but I  am constantly told that you have no consultation or communication  with them; that you consult and communicate with nobody but Fitz  John Porter, and perhaps General Franklin. I do not say these complaints are true or just; but, at all events, it is proper you should know  of their existence. Do the commanders of corps disobey your orders in  any thing?

When you relieved General Hamilton of his command the other day,  you thereby lost the confidence of at least one of your best friends in the  Senate. And here let me say, not as applicable to you personally, that  Senators and Representatives speak of me in their places as they please  without question; and that officers of the army must cease addressing  insulting letters to them for taking no greater liberty with them. But to  return, are you strong enough, even with my help, to set your foot upon  the neck of Sumner, Heintzelman, and Keyes, all at once? This is a  practical and very serious question for you.

Yours truly, A. LINCOLN.



Book Navigation Title Page Preface Illustrations Memorandum Table of Contents   ► Chapter I.   ► Chapter II.   ► Chapter III.   ► Chapter IV.   ► Chapter V.   ► Chapter VI.   ► Chapter VII.   ► Chapter VIII.   ► Chapter IX.   ► Chapter X.   ► Chapter XI.   ► Chapter XII.   ► Chapter XIII.   ► Chapter XIV.   ► Chapter XV.   ► Chapter XVI.   ► Chapter XVII.   ► Chapter XVIII.   ► Chapter XIX.   ► Chapter XX.   ► Chapter XXI. Anecdotes and Reminiscences of President Lincoln.   ► Mr. Lincoln's Sadness   ► His Favorite Poem   ► His Religious Experience   ► His Sympathy   ► His Humor, Shrewdness, and Sentiment   ► The Emancipation Proclamation Appendix. Letters on Sundry Occasions.   ► To Mr. Lodges, of Kentucky   ► To General Hooker   ► To John B. Fry   ► To Governor Magoffin   ► To Count Gasparin   ► The President and General McClellan   ► Warnings Against Assassination Reports, Dispatches, and Proclamations Relating to the Assassination.   ► Secretary Stanton to General Dix   ► The Death-Bed   ► The Assassins   ► Reward Offered by Secretary Stanton   ► Flight of the Assassins   ► The Conspiracy Organized in Canada   ► Booth Killed. Harold Captured   ► Reward Offered by President Johnson   ► The Funeral Official Announcements   ► Acting Secretary Hunger to Minister Adams   ► Acting Secretary Hunter to his Subordinates   ► Orders from Secretary Stanton and General Grant   ► Orders from Secretary "Welles   ► Order from Secretary McCulloch   ► Order from Postmaster-General Dennison   ► Proclamation by President Johnson of a Day of Humiliation and Mourning.   ► Secretary Stanton to Minister Adams   ► Important Letter from J. Wilkes Booth   ► Indictment of the Conspirators   ► The Finding of the Court