This is the second of three consecutive posts on reactions within the Army of the Potomac on the dismissal of General McClellan. These are taken from some of the original sources that I like referencing, as they are enjoyable to read and oft quick and willing to render opinions and evaluations of events around them.
The first of two that I’ll share today in this post is from Our campaigns; or, The marches, bivouacs, battles, incidents of camp life and history of our regiment during its three years term of service. Together with a sketch of the Army of the Potomac by E. M. Woodward, adjutant, Second PA Reserves. This unit fought at Antietam in the extreme southern-most point of the East Woods at dawn of day. This is just northwest of where the Mumma Lane connects to the Smoketown Road. These troops engaged the 21st Georgia in front of them, crawling on their bellies in the woodlot. Woodward wrote:
With the exception of a violent snow-storm, nothing of note occurred while we laid at this camp, until the morning of the 10th, when we were called out to bid farewell to General McClellan, the then love and idol of the Army of the Potomac, who had been relieved of his command, and superseded by General Burnside.
His departure from the army was a scene never to be for gotten; the deafening shouts of the columns he had so often led to honor; the caps tossed high in the air; the tears, those true tests of affection, stealing their courses down the weather-beaten cheeks of the veterans of the Peninsula, truly told the deep hold he had upon the hearts of the men. The officers of some of the regiments sent in their resignations in a body, but their generals returned them, with a gentle admonition.
General Fitz John Porter soon after was relieved of his command and was subsequently dishonorably dismissed the service, by sentence of a court-martial, for his conduct at Bull Run, and forever prohibited from occupying any position of honor or trust under the Government, but we are not aware of there being any particular amount of “weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth” at the event.
Haha… that last statement is the sort that keeps me interested in these original writers and their opinions. I’ll sometime in the future post about the enigmatic Fitz-John Porter and the little village of Porterstown – on the east side of the Antietam, named after him and where his forces camped. I went there the other day to take a picture of it, but am not sure what there really is to take a picture. There is really only one house old enough to have likely been original to the time, so run-down places surrounded by junk, and a nearby housing development.
A second excerpt to be shared today comes from the History of the 76th Regiment New York Volunteers by A.P. Smith (pp. 184-185) … These troops were originally under Doubleday’s command in his brigade prior to his promotion to divisional command after South Mountain. The words here of Smith are quite measured and out of an obvious effort to be balanced and respectful.
At Warrenton, General McClellan was relieved of his command of the army. The parting scene was truly affecting. General McClellan was a kind-hearted man, and as such, endeared himself to the men; and now, as he rode along the lines, the demonstrations of the men must have in some measure, quieted his sensitive mind, naturally annoyed as being dismissed at such a time as this. He who has the hardihood to declare that General McClellan had no good traits of character, even for a general, does himself injustice. No general ever exhibited a better faculty for winning the confidence and esteem of his men; none ever took better care of his troops; few excelled him in organizing an army; but still, the fact was patent that he was an unsuccessful general on the march and in the field. Those unacquainted with military science may not be able to point out accurately the defects in his military character; but there certainly was wanting the necessary element, success. A general may be an excellent draughtsman, and make splendid maps of intended operations; he may be skilled in engineering, and detect in a moment the salient points in a given fortification; he may understand perfectly the science of approaches by parallels; but if he fails when he takes the field; if he tires the people by his dilatory marches, and fails to reap the results of repeated victories, the people will consider him and history will write him, a failure! With all his good qualities, the halting at Yorktown; the failure at Richmond; the failure to give support to Pope, and the neglect to gather the fruits which the heroism of our gallant soldiery placed in his power at South Mountain and Antietam, must ever arise to accuse General McClellan.
These are the sorts of quotes from the contemporaries of McClellan that cause me to have great difficulty in turning from the traditional and historic evaluation of the man, and to now join the movement to grant him a more gracious and generous reconsideration. I believe McClellan’s assets and liabilities are fairly well laid out in these remarks of this historian of the 76th New York.