Thursday, April 26, 2012

Vive le President!

Wherein Lincoln almost loses his head to the French

The New York Times ran the story on April 27, a full day before the local Evening Star.
The President's visit to the French frigate Gassandi this afternoon was an event of historical importance; it was the first time a President of the United States ever went on board of a foreign vessel of-war that ever came to Washington. 
On Saturday, April 26, 1862, Lincoln had done a bit of diplomatic relations, inextricably tangled with his natural curiosity. Things had been tense with the French since the Trent affair, when the Emperor Napoleon III had sided with the British in demanding the return of Confederate diplomats. The French had declared themselves neutral in the American Civil War, a step for which Secretary of State Seward had lambasted them. But Seward's warm welcome of the kinsmen of the exiled King Louis-Philippe, the Prince de Joinville and his two nephews (both of whom were on the Peninsula serving as aides-de-camp to George McClellan), had equally infuriated the French.

And now, there was a multi-national force of British, French, and Spanish soldiers in Mexico to force the Juarez government to repay its debts, despite Seward's futile protests about the Monroe Doctrine. With the rebellion of the Southern states there was no credible threat he could make to keep the Europeans out of the Western Hemisphere. News hadn't made it to Washington yet, but the British and Spanish had realized the French had even greater ambitions in Mexico and begun withdrawing their forces.

The French Ambassador, Henri Mercier, had called on the President a few days earlier to invite him to the Gassandi for an official visit. The ship had just returned from Hampton Roads, where it had been moored when the CSS Virginia had dueled the USS Monitor, its crew having received front row seats for the historic battle. Lincoln was ravenous for news about the battle and Seward thought he recognized an olive branch opportunity, so the two were off, along with Seward's son Frederick.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Aquia Creek

Wherein we learn the strategic value of a forgotten tributary

On April 20, 1862, the Revenue Cutter Miami sat in Aquia Creek. The Miami was a sleek, 150 foot craft with a schooner-rigged screw-driven steamship that looked like a glamorous luxury yacht. She was. The Revenue Service (one of the forerunners of today's Coast Guard) had purchased her in January from Arthur Leary, owner of one of the largest lines of merchant vessels in the world (briefly in business with Sir Edward Cunard, son of the founder of the Cunard Line--to sneak a Titanic centennial in here, the unsinkable ship was built by White Star in response to Cunard's building of the Lusitania). Like the Harriet Lane, which had become the flagship of the Potomac Flotilla, the Revenue Service had outfitted the Miami for war.

Her arrival at the Navy Yard to receive her guns and ordnance the first week of April had drawn crows of admirers, including Abraham Lincoln, who insisted on a cruise to Alexandria with his family in her. On April 20, Lincoln was again on board, but this time with a more serious purpose. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase, and a gaggle of staff of various ranks were with him, all on their way to visit the Army of the Potomac on the Virginia Peninsula.

Lincoln had stopped at Aquia Creek to confer with the commander of the Department of the Rappahannock, Maj. General Irvin McDowell. McDowell had captured Fredericksburg the day before, the latest in a series of Union victories occurring everywhere except for the Virginia Peninsula (as a city on the Rappahannock, Fredericksburg is outside of the purview of this blog, but there is a remarkably exciting collection of official reports relating to the capture that are worth a read, if you like such things).

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Anchored Weighed, The Engines Put In Motion

Wherein Hooker misses out [but not really]

On April 11, Hooker's old brigade at last arrived in Hampton Roads and were treated to a sequel of March's paradigm-shifting battle. Martin Haynes of Company I, 2nd New Hampshire Infantry, and later the regimental historian, recalled:
As if it had been specially arranged to give the regiment a view of the whole outfit, it was not long before the Merrimack was seen coming down from Norfolk, accompanied by two large steamers and swarms of tugs. It was her first appearance since the famous combat in Hampton Roads, and all was excitement in anticipation of another big fight. Every vessel that could not fight struck out into Chesapeake Bay, while the war ships came in and took position to contest the passage of the rebel fleet.
The whole thing turned out to be a bit of a dud.
As the South America went out, she passed the frigate Minnesota coming in--a gallant show, with her men at the guns and her decks cleared for action; yet, alone, she was no match for the rebel monster, and the hop of successful battle rested with that uncanny little raft and turret [the Monitor] which had once sent the Merrimack crippled, back to her den. A half-dozen shots, perhaps, were exchanged at long range between the Merrimack and the Riprap battery, when the rebel procession headed back for Norfolk and disappeared behind Sewell's Point.
Though not entirely, since the ex-Merrimack captured three merchant ships, events that apparently were not memorable to Haynes, or were at least not in comparison to the lack of battle. The feeling of missing out was probably pretty strong among the New Hampshire men, and not just them but their fellow brigade members.

Reconnaissance on the Potomac (Frank Lesley's Illustrated Newspaper)
The division of Brig. General Joseph Hooker had spent a cold, isolated winter in Charles County, Maryland, suppressing secessionist inhabitants and plotting to end the activities of a series Confederate batteries that was shutting down traffic on the Potomac. The 2nd New Hampshire had marched there with him as part of his brigade, then been turned over to its senior colonel when Hooker was elevated to command the division that included then-Brig. General Dan Sickles' Excelsior Brigade. A third brigade of New Jersey regiments was added (called the "Second New Jersey Brigade" to avoid confusing them with their more famous brethren commanded by Phil Kearny) about midway through the winter.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Entirely Secure

Wherein Lincoln turns to McDowell to defend Washington...again

On Tuesday, April 1, 1862, Maj. General George B. McClellan had sailed away from Alexandria en route to the Virginia Peninsula. On Wednesday, April 2, 1862, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton moved to banish him from the capital region for good.

Stanton, like Winston Churchill, was a pedantic, obnoxious, arrogant, unlikable, borderline sociopath, without whom the world as we know it today would not exist. Like Churchill, Stanton's highest loyalty was to his own ideas, and the resulting wild shifts in political affiliations led to accusations of opportunism. Both men were beyond stubborn, and held no beliefs loosely, and had become fanatically devoted to ideas they had hatched that proved disastrously wrong. Both also got the most important question of their lifetime right, and their single-minded devotion to seeing it achieved saved democracy for their countries.

For Stanton, that idea was the primacy of the Union, which required the full efforts of a dominant Federal government to establish and sustain. Stanton was a lawyer from Ohio, who had dropped out of Kenyon College when his father died and completed his studies reading with a lawyer in his home town. He was relentless in his cases, and early on earned a reputation for ruthlessness or dedication, depending on which side of the court room one sat. He earned national fame when he defended then-Congressman Daniel Sickles from charges of murder when he shot District of Columbia U.S. Attorney Philip Barton Key (son of the author of the Star Spangled Banner) to death in Lafayette Park. Sumner argued successfully for the first time in an American court room that Sickles had become temporarily insane because of Key's affair with the Congressman's wife (in the opinion of this blogger the defense was a lie; Sickles was permanently insane).

In 1858, Attorney General Jeremiah Black sent Stanton to California, deputized to settle land disputes. Stanton's well-known anti-slavery Democratic politics made him appealing to the Buchanan Administration, which was trying to split the difference between its Northern and Southern wings. His popularity at getting the Democrat Sickles off in what had become a very political celebrity trial made his appointment a victory of sorts for Northern Democrats, who felt they were losing out by Buchanan's gentle treatment of Southerners. But in California, Sickles turned his formidable intellect and pit bull personality on the land disputes and uncovered a massive conspiracy to defraud the Federal government. On top of his celebrity, he had turned out to be useful.

In December 1860, Buchanan's Northern Democrat Secretary of State resigned in protest, because the President had refused to deploy the U.S. Army to defend Federal property in South Carolina after it announced secession. Buchanan quickly asked Black to serve in the position. Black advocated a less confrontational approach: reinforce Fort Sumter, but let the South Carolinians cool down and then reengage diplomatically. Stanton was appointed Attorney General to replace Black.

If Buchanan thought Stanton might support his administration's balanced approach to session, he was disastrously wrong. Stanton instead almost single-handedly dragged Buchanan to condemn secession, and thundered about the need for immediate military action. When it became clear Buchanan would not do so, and that Secretary of War John Floyd was secretly supplying information to the South Carolinians, whipping for secession votes in his home state of Virginia, and making it easy for secessionists to seize arsenals in the South, Stanton decided to begin supplying information to President-elect Lincoln and general-in-chief Winfield Scott. It's largely thanks to Stanton that the Lincoln Administration had even limited ability to respond to the secession crisis when it was sworn in in March.

The new Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, was clearly in way over his head, at best. At worst, he may have been a corrupt war profiteer. Either way, Lincoln asked Stanton to stay on as a special counsel at the War Department. In that role, Stanton befriended fellow Ohio Democrat George McClellan, who had come to the capital after Bull Run to make things right. Or so McClellan thought. Stanton, like the famous paraphrase of Lord Palmerston's remarks to Parliament, had no friends, only interests. When it became clear that Cameron was tragically inept, Stanton made use of McClellan (who at least could recognize good ideas) to push for the organization of an army strong enough to impose Federal will on the rebellious states.

When Lincoln told Cameron he was resigning, Stanton was brought in to root out the corruption at the War Department. With fanatical zeal he turned his brain to ungumming the bureaucracy and creating an efficient machine for the administration of what later generations of Americans would learn to call total war. But with himself in the driver's seat and able to depress the gas pedal fully, McClellan had become the impediment to reinstating the Union as quickly and thoroughly as possible. And so, Edwin Stanton turned his relentless talents towards destroying McClellan.

It was probably Stanton who was responsible for Lincoln's change of heart towards his role as commander-in-chief. During Cameron's time at the War Department, the President had believed war was best left to general-in-chief Scott and his replacement, McClellan. But since January, the President had issued orders for all armies to advance, had forced McClellan to step down as general-in-chief, had created corps for the Army of the Potomac, and had set conditions for McClellan to meet before his plans could receive approval. Stanton had probably convinced him that  the first word of commander-in-chief had real meaning. At the very least, Stanton had empowered him to act on beliefs he had developed himself.

Stanton had also decided to balance McClellan's dominance of the new upper echelon of the Army created by the promotion of his favorites to brigadier generals of U.S. Volunteers, by elevating prominent members of the old pre-war Army. At the operational level, four were now McClellan's corps commanders, much to his irritation. At the national-strategic level, Stanton pulled Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas out of the dusty corner he had been confined to by McClellan, and reinstated as a major general Ethan Allen Hitchcock, to be a special advisor to the Secretary. Both men had been born around the turn-of-the-century, and both men had had senior roles in the army before the Mexican War. They were perfect for Stanton's scheme of pitting experience against the youthful "genius" of McClellan.

On April 2, Stanton turned to them to exorcise the ghost of McClellan from the capital. He submitted a request to the two men to review five papers he provided and "report to me whether the President's order and instructions have been complied with in respect to the forces to be left for the defense of Washington and its security and at Manassas."

First up was the President's General War Order No. 3, issued on March 8, which forbade shifting the base of operations of the Army of the Potomac until McClellan and all four corps commanders certified Washington was safe. The second document was that certification, with the Fourth Corps' Erasmus Keyes, the Third's Sam Heintzelman, and the First's Irvin McDowell, all further stipulating that if all the forts on the Virginia side of the Potomac were garrisoned, then only 25,000 men would be needed. The Second Corps' Edwin Sumner calculated differently, saying a total force of 40,000 men would be needed, but still agreed the city was safe under McClellan's plan. The unanimous agreement had shocked and irritated Stanton, who believed the capital needed a significantly larger force to defend it.

Third, was Stanton's own concurrence with the plan approved by the corps commanders, further stipulating that not only must Washington be secure, but Manassas Junction must be secured for the duration of the war. It's unclear how much Stanton did this to secure the line of communication that had caused disaster in July 1861 when the Valley Confederates and the Northern Virginia Confederates were able to support each other, and how much Stanton did this to move the goal posts on McClellan. It managed to accomplish both.

Fourth was McClellan's own report written on board the Commodore on April 1 as he was departing. It left under the military governor of Washington, Brig. General James Wadsworth, 18,000 men for the forts and the city, as well as under Maj. General Nathaniel P. Banks 55,456 men for defending the Valley, Warrenton, Manassas, and Charles County on the Lower Potomac.

Finally, the April 2 report from Wadsworth that precipitated Stanton's request from Thomas and Hitchcock, showing 20,000 men under his command, but complaining that he had, in fact, far less, since McClellan had ordered him to send nearly half to places Banks was supposed to defend. Stanton would have had McClellan's report, which Wadsworth did not, and know that the defense scheme called for Banks to replace Wadsworth as soon as he was done finally putting an end to Stonewall Jackson in the Valley, but it was Wadsworth's other charge that the troops under him were untrained and the worst of the regiments brought in during the winter that angered him and gave him an opportunity to eliminate the deliberate, limited war waging McClellan.
I deem it my duty to state that, looking at the numerical strength and character of the force under my command, it is my judgment entirely inadequate and unfit for the important duty to which it assigned. I regard it very improbably that the enemy will assail us at this point, but this belief is based upon the hope that they may be promptly engaged elsewhere and may not learn the number and character of the force left here.
 Hitchcock and Thomas made a reply the very same day. On examining the documents they determined that 55,000 men would be necessary total to accomplish, with 30,000 men manning the forts (every fort, unlike McClellan's scheme to man only the Virginia forts) around Washington and 25,000 in a mobile corps, that could engage launch counterattacks. So far, so good, for McClellan. He even received unexpected support when they declared Stanton's order about Manassas Junction unnecessary, since "as the enemy have destroyed the railroads leading to it it may be fair to assume that they have no intention of returning for the reoccupation of their late position...."

But when comparing Wadsworth's report to McClellan's, Thomas and Hitchcock struck the coup de grace. McClellan had double counted a brigade of Wadsworth's men as defending Washington and defending Manassas Junction. Since the men couldn't be in both places, no matter what their quality, McClellan's report was inaccurate. An argument can be made that the commanding general was exhausted from the long hours loading his army for transport and simply made a mistake, but Stanton was happy to claim perfidy.

Thomas and Hitchcock gave him the conclusion he needed:
In view of the opinion expressed by the council of the commanders of the army corps of the force necessary for the defense of the capital, though not numerically stated, and of the force represented by General McClellan as left for that purpose, we are of opinion that the requirement of the President that this city shall be left entirely secure, not only in the opinion of the General-in-Chief, but that of the commanders of all the army corps also, has not been fully complied with.
It took until April 4 for Stanton to take action, he first had to convince Lincoln to interfere with the plan McClellan had made and that all his corps commanders had approved. But finally the president agreed, and Lorenzo Thomas issued an order by telegraph the day that McDowell's First Corps had been scheduled to board transports in Alexandria: "By direction of the President, Gen. McDowell's army corps has been detached from the force under your immediate command, and the general is ordered to report to the Secretary of War."

It would take several days for the letter Thomas also mailed explaining that the detachment was because of the insufficiency of forces to defend Washington, but by that point McDowell's First Corps had been officially turned into the Department of the Rapphannock, with authority from its namesake river to the Patuxent River in Maryland, and west to the Blue Ridge Mountains, where the new Department of the Shenandoah under Nathaniel Banks picked up. Both former subordinates of McClellan now reported directly to Stanton, and McClellan's authority was at last confined only to the troops within his army.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Full Pressure

Wherein McClellan tries to escape Washington

On March 31, 1862, the wharfs at Alexandria were a flurry of activity. The largest army that the United States had ever seen had been sailing out of the port for Fort Monroe on the Virginia Peninsula, and the previous two weeks men, animals, and supplies from all over the North had squeezed their way through the narrow streets to board the rickety ships converted from civilian use to transport them.

The man orchestrating it all was Maj. General George B. McClellan, one time general-in-chief of the U.S. Army, now confined only to command the Department of the Potomac. In the months since he returned from his illness, McClellan had become deeply unhappy with Washington, and longed to get away from Secretary of State Edwin Stanton's oppressive scrutiny. Once Stanton and McClellan had mocked Lincoln together, but the Secretary had switched sides and, unlike his predecessor, he knew McClellan all too well. Paranoia was nothing new to McClellan's worldview, he always believed powerful forces were arrayed against him, but with Stanton at the War Department, for once, McClellan was right.

So McClellan was transferring the Army of the Potomac as quickly as he could to get to a place where he was the top officer in the theater (though the commander of Fort Monroe, the elderly Maj. General John Wool, was making even that a complex feat). Over 70,000 men in six divisions of the Army of the Potomac had already left through Alexandria. Two divisions (Fitz John Porter's and Charles Hamilton's) of Brig. General Sam Heintzelman's Third Corps were already fighting on the Virginia Peninsula, as was one (Baldy Smith's) of Brig. General Erasmus Keyes' Fourth Corps. Another of Keyes' divisions (Darius Couch's) was en route, along with the Reserve Division (Andrew Porter), most of the artillery and cavalry, and a division (John Sedgwick's) of Brig. General Edwin Sumner's Second Corps.

That left one division from the Fourth Corps (Silas Casey's), one from the Third Corps (Joe Hooker's), two from the Second Corps (Israel Richardson's and Louis Blenker's), and all three from Brig. General Irvin McDowell's the First Corps (William Franklin's, George McCall's, and Rufus King's). Casey's Division from the Fourth Corps was the next scheduled to depart, and, when it arrived, would make the first complete corps of the Army of the Potomac on the Peninsula, as well as mean McClellan had more divisions on the Peninsula than in Northern Virginia. So the commanding general had decided to depart with it and take command in the field, leaving it to others to embark all three divisions of McDowell's First Corps on April 2, followed by Hooker's division on April 7, and the remaining two divisions of Sumner's Second Corps some time in-between.

He would then have around 150,000 men to march on Richmond, one of the largest field armies in world history in 1862. The previous army marching on fixed positions on the Virginia Peninsula had been the coalition operation under George Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau, who had 5,500 men and 9,500 men, respectively. True, Napoleon had waged the War of the Second Coalition with an army of 200,000 men, but the geographic area he had covered had been several times the size of the Virginia Peninsula. For a modern comparison, at the height of the Iraq War surge in 2007, the United States had deployed 168,000 troops to Iraq, nation-wide, plus about 10,000 coalition troops in an area 160,000 square miles (counting Kuwait, where around 25,000 troops were in reality), which the CIA World Factbook unhelpfully describes as "slightly more than twice the size of Idaho". The entire state of Virginia is only 43,000 square miles, meaning that by the third week of April the Peninsula was going to have a population density close to a modern urban area.

Or that was McClellan's plan. On March 23, Confederate Maj. General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson had thrown the first wrench in it when he attacked in the Shenandoah Valley, against any reasonable expectation, and diverted McClellan from transferring three brigades from there to Manassas Junction. That had slowed his departure schedule for the Second Corps, but there were plenty of other divisions to load in their place. It took Edwin Stanton to really derail McClellan's plans.

As McClellan readied all his baggage for transport, that blow was delivered by the President, though it is black with Stanton's fingerprints. "This morning I felt constrained to order Blenker's division to Fremont," Lincoln wrote in a note to McClellan.
I write this to assure you that I did so with great pain, understanding that you would wish otherwise. If you could know the full pressure of the case, I am confident you would justify it--even beyond the mere acknowledgement that the commander-in-chief may order what he pleases.
McClellan must have fumed. Fremont was Maj. General John C. Fremont, the Great Pathfinder who had been the first Republican nominee for president. Supporters praised him for winning California during the Mexican War, for treating the rebels with a firm hand, and for taking on the Slave Power in Missouri, by freeing the slaves of rebellious owners. Detractors saw the same events and criticized him for filibustering to interfere with operations the Navy already had well in hand, brutally turning neutrals into Jeff Davis supporters, and acting unconstitutionally based only on the might of the men with guns who surrounded him. Lincoln had sacked Fremont, but the Radical Republicans in Congress, led by the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, had come dangerously close to attacking Lincoln himself and the President had made up a new command for Fremont.

Fremont was given the Mountain Department, a newly invented command between the ridge of the Appalachian Mountains and the Virginia [now West Virginia] that Lincoln may have vaguely hoped would lead to an invasion of loyalist East Tennessee. The small number of troops he would lead happened to be the same troops that McClellan had led pre-Bull Run, and his taking command would displace McClellan loyalist Brig. General William Rosecrans. While that pleased the more radical members of Congress, they quickly understood Fremont had been stuck in an out-of-the-way corner and began demanding he be provided with troops. It was probably their ally Stanton that suggested sending Blenker's division, sitting idle at Warrenton Junction.

According to McClellan, writing years later, Lincoln had visited him in Alexandria as much as a week earlier to view the progress of embarkation and to discuss the pressure to transfer Blenker.
A few days before sailing for Fort Monroe I met the President, by his appointment, on a steamer at Alexandria. He informed me that he was most strongly pressed to remove Blenker's German division from my command and assign it to Fremont, who had just been placed in command of the Mountain Department. He suggested several reasons against the proposed removal of the division, to all of which I assented. He then said that he had promised to talk to me about it, that he had fulfilled his promise, and that he would not deprive me of the division.
The reversal on the eve of his departure would turn out to be the first in a litany of wrongs McClellan would level against the Lincoln Administration for the eventual failure of the Peninsula Campaign, and which will still throw Civil War scholars into a tizzy trying to debate McClellan's legacy. At the time, though, McClellan took the news in stride. After stating his regret at the transfer, "first because they are excellent troops" (a controversial statement itself) and second "because I know they are warmly attached to me", McClellan assured Lincoln he understood. "I fully appreciate, however, the circumstances of the case, & hasten to assure you that I cheerfully acquiesce in your decision without any mental reservation."

In his memoirs, he would harshly scold Lincoln, saying "the commander-in-chief has no right to order what he pleases; he can only order what he is convinced is right. And the President had already assured me that he knew this thing to be wrong..." But in his reply at the time, he told Lincoln:
Recognizing implicitly as I ever do the plenitude of your power as Commander in Chief, I cannot but regard the tone of your note as in the highest degree complimentary to me, & as adding one more to the many proofs of personal regard you have so often honored me with.
Again, in his memoirs he warned the result of withdrawing Blenker would be catastrophic:
I replied that I regretted the order and could ill-afford to lose 10,000 troops who had been counted upon in arranging the plan of the campaign. In a conversation the same day I repeated this, and added my regret that any other than military considerations and necessities had been allowed to govern his decision.
And once again, his note to Lincoln said something quite different:
I shall do my best to use all the more activity to make up for the loss of this Division, & beg again to assure you that I will ever do my very best to carry out your views & support your interests in the same frank spirit you have always shown towards me.
Whichever was closer to McClellan's real attitude, he had to make the arrangements. So he sent a message to Blenker's corps commander, Edwin Sumner, who was at Warrenton Junction with Richardson's and Blenker's divisions after chasing the Confederates back to the Rappahannock. Somehow the message got garbled and Sumner went ballistic. The normally reserved officer's reply seethes anger. In its entirety, it read:
I would respectfully ask to be informed what I am to understand by the withdrawal of the two principal divisions [Sedgwick's and Richardson's] from my army corps, and leaving me the German division only, which, in my opinion, is the least effective division in the whole army.
Sumner did not share McClellan's soft spot for the boisterous Eastern European troops (the "German" was often used as something of a epithet for non-Western Europeans, and Sumner certainly meant it that way), who only showed discipline (or were disciplined, for that matter) during one of Louis Blenker's frequent parades. McClellan, who already had his hands full with the administration, was in no mood to deal with Sumner too. He wrote to him directly at ten til 9:00 in the evening, condescendingly explaining everything:
By order of the President Blenker's division is to join General Fremont. I shall replace it by a division under General Mansfield [to be created from troops stationed at Fort Monroe that were not McClellan's to command]. The purpose of withdrawing the two divisions of your corps is to concentrate your corps in the field of active operations under your personal command. You will receive further instructions tomorrow. In the mean time please have Richardson's division ready to move back in the morning.
Sumner temper probably improved when he learned that he was accompanying Richardson to the Peninsula and not Blenker to the Valley and beyond. McClellan's probably did not improve, even as he joined his staff on the steamer Commodore in Alexandria harbor on the morning of April 1. Before he could finally leave he had to settle the defense of Washington, to satisfy the terms the President had set before approving the Peninsula Campaign.

For McClellan it was a toss-up between two political generals to leave in charge of defending the capital. Brig. General James Wadsworth was the military governor of the District of Columbia and Maj. General Nathaniel Banks was the head of the fifth corps of the Army of the Potomac, currently commanding in the Valley. McClellan had more confidence in Banks, who he had worked with over the winter, and left the primary responsibility of defense to him.

Banks had six brigades grouped into two divisions to work with. One brigade, McClellan supposed (prematurely), was already at Warrenton Junction. A second was marching that direction and at White Planes. But McClellan had decided to rob from Wadsworth and ordered him to send a brigade of the troops within the District of Columbia's forts directly to Manassas Junction, and then two more brigade over the course of the next week. That would be nearly all of the (poorly trained) soldiers within the fortification line. Banks should move his remaining division to Staunton at the top of the Upper Valley, to control the fertile farmland down below.

Anticipating those orders going through, McClellan ordered Richardson's division to Alexandria and Blenker's to Strasburg. Then he summarized everything for the War Department. There would be 7,780 men defending Warrenton, 10,859 at Manassas Junction, 35,467 based on Staunton in the Valley, and 1,350 replacing Hooker's Division in Charles County. A total of 55,456 men to defend the capital, plus about 18,000 men, he estimated, under Wadsworth within the fortifications of the District. McClellan probably did not realize how consequential the memo would become.

With everything completed, the steamer carrying McClellan finally pulled away from its moorings.
As soon as possible after reaching Alexandria I got the Commodore under weigh & "put off"--I did not feel safe until I could fairly see Alexandria behind us...I feared that if I remained at Alexandria I would be annoyed very much & perhaps be sent for from Washn. Officially speaking, I feel very glad to get away from that sink of iniquity...
But he had not gotten away. Not in the least.

Print Sources:
  • Sears, 219-223