In which Charles P. Stone testifies a second time
McClellan's winter offensive came sputtering to a halt on the last day of January. Since the end of his illness, he had worked politically to regain complete control of the U.S. war effort, and he thought he had achieved it. But on January 27, President Lincoln had issued General Order No. 1 ordering all Federal armies to begin advancing by February 22. Throughout the week he rapidly put together a plan and pitched it to the President, but on January 31, McClellan received the President's rejection--by reading a copy of Special Order No. 1, directed to the commander of the Army of the Potomac (McClellan, concurrently with his responsibilities as general-in-chief), as shown to him by a member of the press.
Ordered, That all the disposable force of the Army of the Potomac, after providing safely for the defense of Washington, be formed into an expedition for the immediate object of seizing and occupying a point upon the railroad southwestward of what is known as Manassas Junction; all details to be in the discretion of the General in Chief, and the expedition to move before or on the 22d day of February next.One thing McClellan didn't take into account was the fracturing of Lincoln's political base over the winter, best epitomized by the rise of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. The Radical Republican-dominated Committee had spent most of January interviewing McClellan's division commanders about the possibility of forward advance. They had concluded it was, and they had conveyed that assurance to Lincoln's new Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton. McClellan wasn't aware of it yet, but despite Stanton's reliable Democratic politics his views on the war were actually closely aligned with the Committee's. While McClellan had spent a great deal of time consulting with Stanton before his appointment to Secretary of War, it was almost certainly Stanton who suggested Lincoln's two orders.
Stanton's regular meetings with members of the Committee had yielded another decision in their favor that struck a blow at McClellan's control of the Army of the Potomac. On January 28, almost certainly on the advice of members of the Committee who had met with him the previous day, Stanton issued an order to arrest Brig. General Charles P. Stone.
McClellan was aghast. Not only was Stone one of his handpicked division commanders (even though he had also been a protege of Winfield Scott, a rarity), but the attacks in the Republican press and in both chambers of Congress had taken on a decidedly partisan tone towards Stone's conservative politics, which happened to be McClellan's as well. Eager to avoid carrying out the order, McClellan convinced both Stanton and the members of the Committee that Stone's first, confrontational testimony before the Committee had been incomplete, and to allow him another chance.
On January 31, Stone was ushered into the Committee's meeting room, and began again, but this time more deferential:
The Secretary of War said to me yesterday that certain testimony had been given before this committee which affected me in such a way that I ought to come before you and explain these matters. The only indication given to me of what that evidence is, is that it touches my loyalty. Further than that, I do not know what it is. I am here to give any explanation that the committee may desire.Since the Committee met in secret (the above is from a transcript published in 1863), Stone had no way to know that since January 5, a steady stream of witnesses had been showing up to testify against him. In fact, he had thought that his earlier testimony had lain clear the facts of the case, and that his troubles were almost over. Instead, he was facing an insurrection from within the ranks of his own division.
The Committee's chairman, Senator Benjamin Wade (R-OH), did not show Stone the testimony, claiming that he would be able to determine who had given it and carry out reprisals against them. So instead he summarized it:
In the course of our investigations here, there has come out in evidence matters which may be said to impeach you. I do not know that I can enumerate all the points, but I think I can. In the first place is your conduct in the Ball's Bluff affair, your ordering your forces over without sufficient means of transportation, and in that way, of course, endangering your army in case of a check by not being able to re-enforce them. That is one of the points.
|Brig. General Charles P. Stone|
But that account had been savaged by Francis Young, an aide-de-camp to Baker during the battle. Young certainly had plenty to hold against Stone. One of the many young men more enraptured by the romanticism of warfare than the reality, Young had been deeply devoted to Baker and deeply resentful when Stone's report of the battle published in the newspapers bluntly blamed the senator's battle inexperience for the catastrophe. Shortly after, Young had been away without leave (as he was frequently without reproach under Baker), and Stone had court-martialed him and had him kicked out of the Army. By any measure, the unabashedly partisan Young was an unreliable witness.
But he told the Committee the things they wanted to hear, specifically that Stone had told Baker to cross his whole brigade and fight, an impossible order given the lack of boats. At a moment where everyone involved with the war effort was imagined to be suspect, the members were prone to trust statements that confirmed their worldviews over those that contradicted it. And their paranoia was not entirely unjustified. Three members of the Senate that had voted along side them at the time of the Bull Run disaster were now with the Confederacy--two were wearing the stars of Confederate generals. Likewise, Stanton had served in the Buchanan Administration with a Secretary of War (John B. Floyd) that had funneled arms to the nascent Confederate government, and was now also wearing stars. Floyd had even stocked the District of Columbia militia with secessionists in hopes that they could rise up and prevent Lincoln's inauguration.
It had been Charles P. Stone that the incoming administration had turned to in order to secure the capital and purge the militia.
Stone responded to Wade's first point right away, with a direct contradiction of Young's account:
I will answer that one. I think I stated in evidence myself here very clearly and distinctly the facts in the case. I do not know how far the committee may have conceived that I risked the troops there. I certainly did risk the first party sent over, but, I think that to any military eye, I explained very clearly how I arranged for their return. I gave discretionary power to the next officer, who had command of a sufficient number of troops--discretionary power, he being the judge of the propriety of passing over, and the means he had to do so--whether he should retire what troops were over there, or whether he should advance more... I do not hold that I was responsible from the time I sent Colonel Baker to the crossing point with discretionary power to pass or not to pass.Wade responded that even so, Stone should have sent troops to Baker from Edwards' Ferry. This was a charge that had been made by members of the 2nd New York State Militia (though it had been redesignated the 82nd New York in December). Under the auspices of Colonel George W. B. Tompkins, as many as ten members of the unit conspired to give testimony damaging to Stone, including asserting that there were no Confederate batteries near Edwards' Ferry and no threats to reenforcing Ball's Bluff by moving along the Virginia side of the Potomac.
|Col. G.W.B. Tompkins|
So Stone released Tompkins and asked him to submit his resignation. Tompkins bitterly refused, and had been leading his regiment at Edwards' Ferry on the day of the disaster. He had even briefly had command of the field while Stone rushed back to the Maryland side to attempt to determine what was happening at Ball's Bluff, until Frederick Lander showed up spewing obscenities and recommending to Tompkins that his men ought to be shot for unsoldierly behavior. Tompkins and his men had volunteered themselves to the Committee and reassured them that it was a deliberate choice on Stone's part to abandon Baker.
Stone protested to Wade's recitation of the accusation that Baker had more than sufficient men, if he had crossed them in some organized fashion. And that, besides, there was not a way to quickly move his men from Edwards' Ferry to Ball's Bluff along the Virginia side of the river without greatly endangering them. He pleaded with the Committee:
And I would be greatly pleased if two members of this committee, or three, or four, or the whole of them, would just take a trip up to that ground, and look at it a half an hour, and see if they do not become thoroughly satisfied of the impracticability and false soldiership which would have been shown if we had attempted to pass troops from Edwards' Ferry to the right at that time."We are not military men, any of us," Wade scolded him.
"But you judge military men," Stone bit back.
Yes sir, but not finally. We only state what in our opinion tends to impeach them, when the evidence seems to do so, and then leave it to better judges to determine. Those two points, we thought, tended to impeach your conduct on that occasion. Another point is, you are apparently impeached. I say "impeached." The evidence tends to prove that you have had undue communication with the enemy by letters that have passed back and forth, by intercourse with officers from the other side, and by permitting packages to go over unexamined to known secessionists.This, too, was courtesy of Tompkins and the 2nd New York Militia. They had detailed any number of accounts about Stone sending messages to the Confederates at Leesburg, which were based enough in truth to remain plausible. In Fall 1861, the armies were still informally exchanging screened mail across the lines, allowing a very general letter to travel from New York to Savannah, for example. And civilians on both sides of the lines sent care packages to their troops that had been captured by the other side (though the preponderance came from the people of the relatively more prosperous North). Tompkins and his men convinced the Committee, though, that Stone was using this normal exchange for nefarious purposes, a charge they were all too willing to believe.
"That is one humiliation I had hoped I never should be subjected to," Stone replied bitterly to the accusation.
I thought there was one calumny that could not be brought against me. Any other calumny that anybody can raise I should expect after what I have received, but that one I should have supposed that you personally, Mr. Chairman, would have rejected at once. You remember last winter when this government had so few friends, who had this city, I might almost say, in his power? I raised all the volunteer troops that were here during the seven dark days of last winter. I disciplined and posted those troops. I commanded them, and those troops were the first to invade the soil of Virginia, and I led them.Wade was slightly taken aback. "I was not so unjust as to not mention that circumstance."
But Stone had become indignant.
I could have surrendered Washington. And now, I will swear that this government has not a more faithful soldier--of poor capacity, it is true--but a more faithful soldier this government has not had from the day General Scott called me, the 31st day of December 1860, up to this minute. As to any particular cases of carrying letters across the river, it is utterly false that I have had the slightest improper communication with the enemy. The charge is too false almost for a soldier to answer. I can give every instance of communication over there. I had unfortunately soldiers under my command who were prisoners in Leesburg, who were wounded, and I felt very anxious for those soldiers--Wade cut him off: "The next and only other point is--"
But Stone snapped right back: "I think I should be allowed an opportunity to speak."
"Certainly," Wade responded, wresting back control, "you shall have the amplest opportunity to say all you desire. But I thought it best for me to conclude all I that I have to say, and then allow you to make whatever statements you deem proper."
He listed off another charge courtesy of Tompkins, that Stone had allowed the Confederates to build a fort near Leesburg when he had every means to stop them.
"That is equally false," Stone snapped. "I will first take up this matter of communication with the enemy."
The more accommodating Stone was gone, and the general had resumed his indignant lecturing of the Committee, clearly frustrated by their inability to recognize what he regarded as meticulous leadership, straight from the Army manuals. He explained to them in great detail the decisions he had made regarding mail and other communications, not realizing that what he regarded as precision the Committee regarded as pedantry or worse. Tompkins, Young, and the others had painted Stone as haughty, arrogant, and aristocratic, closer to the Southern gentlemen of the Slave Power that had so irked Wade and his allies before the war, and for the second time Stone's West Point precise testimony fit perfectly into that mold.
"Did you notice the first part of my statement, that the matter of sending a flag of truce, with reference to my prisoners, was left to my discretion?" Stone asked rhetorically.
I asked for authority, before I presumed to do such a thing. The reply was, "It is left to your discretion." That discretion I have exercised, to the best of my ability, and by it I have been enabled to relieve my wounded soldiers there prisoners.It was all precisely correct under Army regulations and good command practice, and all politically disastrous for Stone in Washington, 1862. But he piled it on, compounding his problem over and over again.
"I should look upon that general who, standing in front of a country which he hoped ever to occupy, should refuse a flag of truce as a fool."
"I require frequent reports of all the outpost officers... I require of them a report at any instant, when any movement of the enemy is discerned. There has been a great deal of negligence sometimes among these officers in sending their reports to me."
"I am an old artillery officer. I think I know the power of artillery, the time to use it, and the way to use it."
"It is utterly absurd to use [20-lb Parrots] as playthings. Every shot you fire from those guns costs the government money, and a great deal of it; and I do not care to let the enemy know I have those large guns until the time comes to use them. I have four of those guns, but they do not know it."
As Stone began to wind down, he started to try to guess who his secret accusers were. Were they artillery officers? Were they men of rank? But Wade refused to mention who they were. Stone again became desperate to exonerate himself in the eyes of the Committee.
In coming to your conclusion that I should have re-enforced Colonel Baker from his left, there were several things that should have been taken into consideration. Was it remembered that I stated that there were forces there in unreconnoitred ground with artillery? Was it remembered that the power to pass over at Harrison's island was discretionary with Colonel Baker? Was it remembered that my original disposition was to cross near Conrad's Ferry, and that it was changed by subsequent authority? Was it remembered that Colonel Baker excused to me for making the crossing he did by stating that he had increased his transportation and rendered it secure by getting a rope? Was it remembered that I received no report of an alarming character whatever from Colonel Baker until it was an impossibility to have made any movement for his security?"We have not forgotten your explanation," Wade informed him, noncommittally.
"By those who do not understand all the circumstances," Stone protested in one last ditch effort, "I may be blamed for many things I have done or not done."
I may be censured for not destroying a mill near Conrad's Ferry--Smoot's mill. There is no doubt I can destroy it any day I please, but I have considered it in this light: even if the enemy do get a small quantity of flour from that mill, of which I am not certain, the only result of destroying it would be the destruction of so much private property, without doing the enemy any harm. All he would have to do would be to go to any one or more of a dozen other mills that are situated a little further back where he could just as easily be supplied. I would be merely depriving the owner of that mill of so much private property without doing the enemy any harm, and he [the enemy] would immediately retaliate by destroying all the private dwellings along my line, and which would be at his mercy. He would be justified in doing so for I should certainly retaliate in the same way upon him if he should destroy any of the mills about there from which we, upon our side, get supplies. I have no desire to inaugurate such a barbarous system of warfare until I am ordered to do so. If ordered I will batter that mill down at once.Though Stone didn't mean to, he had perfectly summarized the problem at the heart of his relationship with the Committee. He wanted a limited war, to reestablish the Union as it was, and they wanted a total war, to establish the Union as it should have been. The views were incompatible, and Charles P. Stone was about to become a victim in the war over the war.
- Morgan, 200-202.
- Sears (Controversies), 36-49.
- Tap, 64-67.