Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Scott Strikes Back

Wherein the blue-on-blue violence continues

On October 4, Winfield Scott launched his counterattack. The 75 year old general-in-chief of the U.S. Army had been sidelined by his subordinate, the ambitious 35 year old George McClellan. Scott, responsible for winning the war, and McClellan, responsible for defending Washington, were originally at odds about the best strategy and about the nature of the threat to Washington. It quickly became a personal battle, and the two men became consumed by their dislike of each other.

On September 16, Winfield Scott had set a trap for McClellan, to give him a legitimate grievance to take to the civilian leadership. Scott had issued two orders through his chief of staff, both aimed at McClellan's most common offenses. The first ordered all officers in the army to use the proper chain of command for communications. So McClellan had to communicate to Scott, and Scott to Secretary of War Simon Cameron (and Cameron to the President). The second ordered McClellan to send Scott a detailed description of the units in the Army of the Potomac.

Scott gave McClellan two weeks, during which he and McClellan appeared before Lincoln and the Cabinet on their worst behavior (one secretary called it an "unpleasant interview"). "Sir: You are, I believe, aware that I hailed the arrival here of Major-General McClellan as an event of happy consequence to the country and to the army," he wrote to Secretary Cameron.
Indeed, if I did not call for him, I heartily approved of the suggestion, and gave it the most cordial support. He, however, had hardly entered upon his new duties, when, encouraged to communicate directly with the President and certain members of the Cabinet, he in a few days forgot that he had any intermediate commander, and has now long prided himself in treating me with uniform neglect, running into disobedience of orders of the smaller matters - neglects, though, in themselves, grave military offenses.
Scott then copied out his orders for Cameron to see, though a copy of them was on file in the War Department already.
With this order [to use the chain of command] fresh in his memory, Major-General McClellan addressed two important communications to the Secretary of War, on respectively the 19th and 20th of the same month, over my head, and how many since to the Secretary, and even to the President direct, I have not inquired, but many, I have no doubt, besides daily oral communications with the same high functionaries - all without my knowledge.
Scott blew through the charge without even acknowledging that the recipient of the letter actively encouraged McClellan to correspond with him directly.
Eighteen days have now elapsed, and not the slightest response has been shown to either of these orders by Major-General McClellan. Perhaps he will say. in respect to the latter [reporting the army's numbers], it has been difficult for him to procure the exact returns of divisions and brigades. But why not have given me proximate returns, such as he so eagerly furnished the President and certain secretaries? Has, then, a senior no corrective power over a junior officer in case of such persistent neglect and disobedience?
Scott had a solution: "The remedy by arrest and trial before a court-martial would probably soon cure the evil." But not even the great internecine warrior Winfield Scott was willing to go there (yet).
But it has been feared that a conflict of authority near the head of the army would be highly encouraging to the enemies and depressing to the friends of the Union. Hence my long forbearance; and continuing, though but nominally, on duty, I shall try to hold out till the arrival of Major-General [Henry] Halleck, when, as his presence will give me increased confidence in the safety of the Union - and being, as I am, unable to ride in the saddle, or to walk, by reason of dropsy in my feet and legs and paralysis in the small of my back - I shall definitely retire from command of the army.

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