Monday, July 25, 2011

Starting Anew

In which U.S. leaders decide to get back on the horse

Burnside (center) and the leadership of the 1st Rhode Island, back home
On July 25, Colonel Ambrose Burnside reluctantly formed up the 1st Rhode Island and prepared to lead them out of Washington for the last time. Because Burnside had pulled them back to Matthew's Hill to rearm rather than send them up Henry Hill, the regiment was in considerably better condition than most in the army. Burnside reported 13 killed, 39 wounded, and 39 missing. But their 90 days of Federal service had been reached, so it was back to Rhode Island, where the men would return to their homes and Colonel Burnside would again become a private citizen.

They left behind a capital trying to get back on track after the shock of their defeat on the hills overlooking Bull Run. The attempts to reconstitute the Northern war effort began immediately as the first troops stumbled through the terrible storm back to their fortified positions, but on the 25th it finally began coalescing into something like concrete changes.

In the Senate, Senator Andrew Johnson (D-TN) called for a vote on a resolution he had introduced that was the twin of one introduced by Representative John Crittenden (Unionist-KY8) in the House. The Crittenden-Johnson resolution clarified the aim of the war, signalling to Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware that slavery would continue to be a Constitutionally protected right in the Union and when the full Union was restored, lest one of those border states decide to join the Confederacy after demonstration of their military prowess (in fact, Missouri was already at war with itself over secession). Senator John Hale (R-NH), a fervent abolitionist, praised the resolution for making this clear, saying that he had always believed the Federal Government had "no more right, no more legal or Constitutional authority to interfere with slavery in the States than they had to interfere with the conditions of the serfs in Russia..."

The resolution read:
Resolved that the present deplorable war has been forced upon the country by the disunionists of the Southern states now in revolt against the constitutional Government and in arms against the Government; that in this nation's emergency Congress, banishing all feeling of mere passion or resentment, will recollect only its duty to the whole nation; that this war is not prosecuted upon our part in any spirit of oppression, nor for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, nor for the purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those States, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and in all laws made in pursuance thereof, and to preserve the Union, with all the dignity, equality and rights of the several states unimpaired; that as soon as these objects are accomplished the war ought to cease.

Senator Trusten Polk (D-MO) tried to amend the resolution to cast blame on disunionists in both the North and the South, but was defeated 4-33 (Senator Hale pointedly noted that he could not think of any Northern states in revolt against the Government). Senator John Breckenridge (D-KY) used his debate time to lambast the President and say the war could have no aim except subjugation since the seceded states would never come cowering back to Washington with terms (prompting angry rebuttals from John Sherman [R-OH] and James Doolittle [R-WI], who demanded to know whose side he was on). After more semantics over word choice, Breckinridge lifted his objection to voting and the resolution passed 30-5 (though nearly derailed when some Senators left the floor and deprived the chamber of a quorum).
A view of Civil War Washington, from the July 27 Harper's Weekly

Down Pennsylvania Avenue, Abraham Lincoln was going through his own assessment of the war. Since July 23 he had been working on a memorandum for military policy going forward, thinking about all the major hot spots his forces were engaged in, so he could give Winfield Scott clear instructions on how to do his job, something the aged general-in-chief could only have bristled at. First, and most importantly, Lincoln realized he had to strengthen the blockade more quickly, to keep the South from resupplying. Additionally, the South was deficient in miles of railroad track, so shutting down any traffic by sea would majorly delay troop movements from one side of the Confederacy to the other.

Lincoln then turned to the small commands, the Union army at Fort Monroe in Virginia's Hampton Roads, the army in Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia), and the army in the mountains of western Virginia that had been his only victorious one thus far. Lincoln wanted all three to secure their positions, lest the Confederates rapidly shuffle their units to attack and overwhelm one of them. Lincoln included Baltimore among these weak points near the capital saying that it should "be held, as now, with a gentle, but firm, and certain hand." He had not forgotten the plan to assassinate him there in March or the riots, and considered rebellion in Baltimore a major threat (even if history has forgotten it).

To buy more time for the reconstitution of the "forces late before Manassas" and the capital's main defense, Lincoln decided to urge Major General John C. Fremont in command of operations in the West to take aggressive action in southern Missouri and secure the state and threaten Arkansas. The need to counter that threat, Lincoln reasoned, should allow the army defeated near Manassas Junction be reorganized in a new command structure, minus the ninety-days militia who should be discharged as soon as possible if they would not enlist for three-years.

On July 27 he would add to the memorandum that when all his previous points had been accomplished, Manassas Junction and Strasburg (in the Shenandoah Valley) should be seized and fortified, to provide a giant railroad rhombus, from Washington to Harper's Ferry to Strasburg to Manassas Junction. Two other lines of advance would complete the Union offensive Lincoln envisioned, one from Cairo, Illinois to Memphis, Tennessee, and one from Cincinnati into East Tennessee.

If Lincoln was inspired to grand strategy by the defeat at Manassas, his top military man, Bvt. Lt. General Winfield Scott was inspired to focus on the men under his command. First gone was the troublesome Robert Patterson, who Scott blamed entirely for the defeat in battle. He would later tell Congress that despite Patterson's erroneous claim he was ordered to attack Joe Johnston and keep him from joining Beauregard at Manassas Junction with so few troops it was suicide that "he was certainly told, and expected, even if with inferior numbers, to hold the rebel army in his front on the alert, and to prevent it from re-enforcing Manassas Junction, by means of threatening manoeuvres and demonstrations—results often obtained in war with half numbers."

In Scott's mind, Patterson had been nothing but a problem since the Mexican War, and he was annoyed that the general had been foisted on him in the first place. He put Major General Nathaniel P. Banks in his place. Banks was still a political general (he had been a Governor of and then Congressman from Massachusetts and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, but was now a Republican), but he had been the military supervisor of Baltimore and actively and aggressively followed Scott's orders to arrest suspected secessionists there.

Then Scott set about planning to triple the size of the army in front of Washington. He would do it by directing the new three-years regiments to Washington and by robbing from other, less active commands (on July 26, he would send for Edward Baker's 1st California from Fort Monroe). Scott would be aided by laws signed on July 22 and July 25 to create an army of United States Volunteers that would make the incoming state militias Federal troops, and allow the Federal Government to treat them as U.S. Army for the duration of the war (which would include providing standardized uniforms as a top priority). The law also allowed the creation of "volunteer" military grades (though still Senate confirmed), to allow Scott to make clear who ranked who for the duration of the war, without touching the contentious issue of increasing the size of the regular army and navy.

Most consequential was Scott's decision about commanding the army in front of Washington. While Scott sympathized with Irvin McDowell and believed he alone had done his part, it was clear that he would be over-matched with organizing a larger force and that he would continue to have trouble commanding the respect of troublesome subordinates (such as Daniel Tyler). So Scott concurred with public opinion and sent for the only general with a winning record, Major General George Brinton McClellan. On July 25, he named him commander of the new Military District of the Potomac, to include Joseph Mansfield's Department of Washington and  McDowell's Department of Northeastern Virginia. He was scheduled to arrive in the capital on July 27.

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