Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Major General George B. McClellan to Major General Henry W. Halleck, March 3, 1862

WASHINGTON, March 3, 1862.

Maj. Gen. H. W. HALLECK,
Saint Louis:

MY DEAR HALLECK: Yours of the 24th* arrived while I was up the river. I went there to superintend the passage of the river and decide as to the ulterior movements of the troops. The passage was a very difficult one, but the Engineer troops under Duane did wonders. I found it impossible to supply a large body of troops without first establishing depots on the Virginia side, which we are rapidly doing. So I contented myself for the present with occupying Charlestown, &c., in order to cover the reopening of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. I have also occupied Martinsburg, and will to-morrow throw out a strong force to Bunker Hill. We are thus in position to attack Winchester as soon as our supplies are collected.

I hope to open the Potomac this week, provided the weather permits. It will require a movement of the whole army in order to keep Manassas off my back. I cannot count upon any effective co-operation on the part of the Navy. As soon as I have cleared the Potomac I shall bring here the water transportation now ready (at least it will be in four or five days), and then move by detachments of about 55,000 men for the region of sandy roads and short land transportation. When you have asked for 50,000 men from here, my dear fellow, you have made one of two mistakes – either you have much overrated my force or you have thought that I intended to remain inactive here.

I expect to fight a desperate battle somewhere near Richmond, the most desperate of the war, for I am well assured that the Army of Manassas remains intact, and that it is composed of the best armed and best disciplined that the rebels have, with the prestige of Bull Run in their favor. I have or expect to have one great advantage over you, as the result of my long and tedious labors – troops that will be demoralized neither by success nor disaster. I feel that I can count upon this army of mine, and shall gladly venture my life in the scale.

If you had been as long in command you would have had as good or perhaps a better army than this, of which I feel very proud, but that has been your bad luck and my good fortune. You have done all that could have been done with the means at your disposal. The fate of war is yet to decide whether I shall prove as skillful as you have been. I am sure that I have your good wishes and prayers.

I hardly know what to say as to your proposition about new grades. Why change the European order in the military hierarchy, and make a general junior to a lieutenant-general? I see no especial reason for it.

I had determined to bide my time, content with my present rank for the present, and hoping that Congress would give another grade after marked success. I have ever felt that higher grades than that of major-general are necessary in so large an army as that we now have, but I have felt great delicacy in alluding to it. But very few weeks will elapse before the questio vexata will be decided. Suppose we let it wait until then and then say what we think. I am willing, however, to defer to your judgment in the matter, and will do all I can to carry out the plan. I don't think I can do anything now. I have but few friends in Congress. The Abolitionists are doing their best to displace me, and I shall be content if I can keep my head above water until I am ready to strike the final blow. You have no idea of the undying hate with which they pursue me, but I take no notice of them, and try to keep Warren Hastings' motto in mind, Mens aqua in arduis. I sometimes become quite angry, but generally contrive to keep my temper. Do write me fully your views as to future movements in the West. I think the first thing to be done is to separate Johnston from Memphis by seizing Decatur. Buell must then force Chattanooga, and you can then, with perfect safety, operate on Memphis, &c., and open your communications with the combined expedition, which ought to gain New Orleans within three weeks from this date. Butler will have about 16,000 men. The naval fleet is tremendous in power. Nothing new from Sherman; he and Du Pont are not on good terms; they neutralize each other. Burnside is doing well.

Very sincerely, your friend,

* Not found.

SOURCES: The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Volume 11, Part 3 (Serial No. 14), p. 7-8

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