Tag Archives: George B. McClellan

Wainwright’s Diary, March 13, 1864: “I also heard that there were strong rumours again”

Colonel Charles S. Wainwright began his diary entry for March 13, 1864 as he often did – describing the weather:

March 13, Sunday.  We are now having real March weather, at least as to changableness; no two successive days being alike.  Still, the spring is opening.  What little grass there is about here begins to look green; the birds have commenced singing of a morning, while the frogs and tree toads keep it up all the night long.

If only spring would hurry up (be that in 1864 or 2014).

I went up to Army Headquarters on Friday. There they told me that the consolidation question was at a standstill, and that now the chances seemed to be that it will not be carried out at all; so much opposition being brought to bear by the generals who would be deprived of commands – reduced from a corps to a division, or from a division to a brigade. Could the present corps be filled up to 25,000 or 30,000 effective men, it would be wrong to sink their past history: but as they are now only some 10,000 or 15,000 strong, it is absurd to have such large staffs and such a multiplication of papers.

I could not put it better myself.

I also heard that there were strong rumours again that General Meade was to be relieved.  There is no doubt of his unpopularity at Washington, but their great trouble is to find some one to take his place. [William Farrar] “Baldy” Smith is most talked of. I know nothing of him except his laziness at the first Fredericksburg, and his insubordination on the “mud march.”

So it was fair to say W.F. Smith would not get a Christmas Card from Wainwright.  But as he might have had the measure of “Baldy,” in his next paragraph there was much wide of the mark:

General Grant spent Thursday night at Army Headquarters. He was called out West suddenly, but expects to be back in ten days. He said while here that the people of Alabama and Mississippi were in a much more subdued condition than the secessionists of Kentucky and Tennessee. Also that there really had been over 10,000 deserters from the rebel armies out there since the the battle of Chickamauga.  Supposing this to be all so, the rebellion must be pretty well put down out there. Indeed, they have never shown the pride and obstinacy at the West that has been displayed in the older Atlantic States. It is here that they will fight the longest, as they have by far the hardest.  Everything has been aimed on their part to retain Virginia – and what a noble history hers would have been had her cause only been a just one! I cannot help admiring the constancy of the “Old Dominion” in the midst of such suffering and desolation as has been totally unknown to any other part of the country. Her people have not only poured out their money and their blood without stint, but from this state have come all the greatest and best men; Lee, Sidney Johnston, and Stonewall Jackson will always figure as the greatest and purest generals on the rebel side in this war.

Maybe Albert Sidney Johnston could be a “son of Virginia” if old Kentucky were considered originally part of Virginia.  Seems a hard sell to me.  As Nevins points out in a footnote to this diary entry, Wainwright seemed to have no recognition of the hard fighting in the western theater through this point in the war.  Perhaps we see the “eastern theater bias” developing even before the war was finished?

For the remainder of the diary entry, Wainwright offers his thoughts on General George McClellan’s Report covering his time commanding the Army of the Potomac.  He had started reading the published report shortly after returning from leave and finished by March 13.  To say Wainwright felt positive of McClellan would be much an understatement.

I now think him about as near being a great general as it is possible to come without arriving at it.  Certainly none of our other generals have come nearly so near to it, so far as I am able to judge them…. The whole report shows a man confident in the purity of his intentions, and the perfect honesty of all his actions…. I am more than ever convinced that where he was not right he had good reason for being wrong….

In no single instance is there the least attempt to shift responsibility on the shoulders of his subordinates.  Through the whole report runs a care and consideration for his men, an actual love for his army, which is most beautiful. No wonder we all loved him if there is any truth in the old proverb that “love begets love.”  ….

It would be hard to say which is the most intolerably disgusting in the light they appear here by their dispatches: the obstinate conceit of the President in his own ideas of military matters, the petty spite of Halleck, or the rancorous hate of Stanton.  When calm history comes to be written, Mr. Lincoln must appear as one of the smallest of men, ever harping on trifles.  But enough of this; ‘twould be treason were it known at Washington that I did not think them demigods….

More confidently now than ever before I say that had McClellan been allowed to land 120,000 men at Altoona, we should have been in Richmond before the 4th of July, ans the close of 1862 would have seen the close of the war.  But then, where would now be the great question of emancipation; where the firm status of the Republican Union (!) party; where all the glory that other generals have earned?

A soldier’s first commander can be, in some ways, like his first love.

(Citations from Charles S. Wainwright, A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journals of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright, 1861-1865, edited by Allan Nevins, New York: Da Capo Press, 1998, pages 329-32.)

150 Years Ago: The turning of the leaves and changes of command

After the Confederate campaigns into Maryland and Kentucky petered out in the fall of 1862, there were several changes in the lineup of Federal field commanders. I suspect most readers are familiar with the relief of George McClellan, replaced by Ambrose Burnside, which occurred this week 150 years ago. At the end of last month, I wrote about William Rosecrans moving to command the “new” Department of the Cumberland which was really the “old” Army of the Ohio.

But there was another change of command queued up for the fall of 1862, and it also occurred, on paper at least, during the early days of November:

Washington, November 8, 1862.
By direction of the President of the United States Maj. Gen. N. P. Banks is assigned to the command of the Department of the Gulf, including the State of Texas.

By order of the Secretary of War:
Assistant Adjutant-General.

And with General Banks then in charge of the Department of the Gulf, who was on the outs?

More explicit orders came the next day from General Henry Halleck:

… The President of the United States having assigned you to command of the Department of the Gulf, you will immediately proceed with the troops assembling in transports at Fort Monroe to New Orleans and relieve Major-General Butler….

McClellan, Buell, and Butler…. all going on the bench. Burnside, Rosecrans, and Banks now taking the field. And meanwhile some fellow named John McClernand was traveling west with these orders in hand:

Washington City, October 21, 1862.
Ordered, That Major-General McClernand be, and he is, directed to proceed to the States of Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, to organize the troops remaining in those States and to be raised by volunteering or draft, and forward them with all dispatch to Memphis, Cairo, or such other points as may hereafter be designated by the general-in-chief, to the end that, when a sufficient force not required by the operations of General Grant’s command shall be raised, an expedition may be organized under General McClernand’s command against Vicksburg and to clear the Mississippi River and open navigation to New Orleans.
The forces so organized will remain subject to the designation of the general-in-chief, and be employed according to such exigencies as the service in his judgment may require.

Secretary of War.

On the outside, it appeared that even General U.S. Grant was also vulnerable (although through the lens of history we know better).

Were all these changes an indication of failures in the field by these generals? Or was it a change in direction, emanating from the chief strategist in the White House? Or a little of both?

(Citations above from OR, Series I, Volume 15, Serial 21, page 590 and Series I, Volume 17, Serial 25, page 282.)