On this date of October 2nd in 1862, President Lincoln arrived in the Sharpsburg area from Harpers Ferry in a trip to visit the Army of the Potomac and General McClellan largely unannounced. Along with a genuine heart for the soldiers and expressing his appreciation for them, he hoped as well to goad McClellan after the Rebels in an effort to strike them while bruised and shaken. The President would continue his stay through the morning of the 4th.
During this time, the President and his General viewed portions of the battlefields of Antietam and South Mountain, along with a variety of meetings and discussions. Little is recorded of them, though perhaps the best glance behind the tent flaps comes from a Lincoln letter to McClellan from a week after the visit – after McClellan was still in place and requisitioning supplies. He wrote, “You remember me speaking to you of what I called your over-cautiousness. Are you not over-cautious when you assume that you cannot do what the enemy is constantly doing? Should you not claim to be at least his equal in prowess, and act upon the claim?”
An oft-told story of this visit is of a conversation between Lincoln and his confidante and Illinois friend Osias Hatch. From a hillside overview of the vast Union forces, Lincoln asked, “Do you know what this is?” Hatch simply replied that “It is the Army of the Potomac.” Lincoln’s response was, “So it is called, but that is a mistake; it is only McClellan’s bodyguard.”
Within days of the visit, a peremptory order came to McClellan through Halleck – commanding him to move to strike a blow to the enemy. Halleck declared that “Your army must move now while the roads are good.” But it would be another three weeks before the Army departed to the south.