Friday, August 12, 2011

Status Quo Ante

Wherein the fallout of the McClellan/Scott feud brings us back to where we were

The nation's capital in the second week of August was filled with false alarms about imminent Confederate attacks, but the most damage to the Union cause kept coming from the Union men themselves. On August 8, commander of the Military Division of the Potomac, Major General George McClellan, had deliberately tried to embarrass General-in-chief of the U.S. Army, Bvt. Lt. General Winfield Scott. On August 10, Abraham Lincoln's efforts to quash the feud paid off.

McClellan offered the olive branch in a letter addressed to Lincoln:
The letter addressed by me... to Lieutenant General Scott... was designed to be a plain and respectful expression of my views of the measures demanded for the safety of the Government... It is therefore with great pain that I have learned from you this morning... that my letter is unfavorably regarded by him... Influenced by these considerations, I yield to your request, and withdraw the letter referred to... I will only add that as you requested my authority to withdraw the letter, that authority is hereby given, with the most profound assurances of respect for General Scott and yourself.
It was not a moment too soon, because that evening word came from Missouri that Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon's army had been defeated and the general had been killed, raising the specter that all of Missouri would fall into its pro-secessionist governor's control. Scott worked tirelessly with the Adjutant General's office to make sure Major General John C. Fremont would get the reinforcements he needed to stave off disaster.

Which is why it took him until August 12 to throw a wrench in Lincoln's peace negotiations with his own missive to Secretary of War Simon Cameron (up the proper chain of command, unlike McClellan's).
...I was kindly requested by the President to withdraw my letter to you of the 9th, in reply to one I had received from Major-General McClellan of the day before... I deeply regret that, notwithstanding my respect for the opinions and wishes of the President, I cannot withdraw the letter in question...
First, McClellan's original letter "seems to have been the result of deliberation between him and some members of the Cabinet" (by which Scott probably meant Salmon Chase or Montgomery Blair), who had been influencing decisions on the conduct of the war "without resort to or consultation with me, the nominal General-in-Chief of the Army." Further, the Military Division of the Potomac had been reinforced with a number of three-years regiments, which McClellan had brigaded and encamped, not "not one of these movements has been reported to me (or anything else) by Major-General McClellan." Scott, however, was positive that the Cabinet had been told.

Second, McClellan was talented, Scott acknowledged, and he didn't cherish spending his days "filing daily complaints against an ambitious junior." And third, Scott insisted that he was still old and sick and he "should unavoidably be in the way at headquarters, even if my abilities for war were now greater than when I was young." Also, there was the small matter that McClellan had sent a copy of his letter to Scott, unsigned and with only a blank piece of paper for a cover note. "This slight was not without its influence on my mind," Scott noted.

Lincoln chose at this juncture to be too busy with the problems in Missouri to take any further action on Scott's request to be ordered into retirement, and McClellan chose to celebrate August 12 with a letter to the Secretary of the Navy about an imminent Confederate attack across the mouth of the Potomac, and urging him to transfer warships from Newport News to Aquia Creek.

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