McClellan’s Own Story

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Author: George B. McClellan  | Date: 1887

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Peninsular Campaign (1862)

BY MAJOR-GENERAL GEORGE BRINTON MCCLELLAN

JUNE 15, 10.15 P.M., Camp Lincoln. . . . The chances now are that I will make the first advance on Tuesday or Wednesday. By that time I think the ground will be fit for the movements of artillery and that all our bridges will be completed. I think the rebels will make a desperate fight, but I feel sure that we will gain our point. Look on the maps I sent you a day or two ago, and find "Old Tavern," on the road from New bridge to Richmond; it is in that vicinity that the next battle will be fought. I think that they see it in that light, and that they are fully prepared to make a desperate resistance. I shall make the first battle mainly an artillery combat. As soon as I gain possession of the "Old Tavern" I will push them in upon Richmond and behind their works; then I will bring up my heavy guns, shell the city, and carry it by assault. I speak very confidently, but if you could see the faces of the troops as I ride among them you would share my confidence. They will do anything I tell them to do. . . .

June 22, [Trent’s House]. . . . By an arrival from Washington to-day

I learn that Stanton and Chase have fallen out; that McDowell has deserted his friend C. and taken to S.! Alas! poor country that should have such rulers. I tremble for my country when I think of these things; but still can trust that God in His infinite wisdom will not punish us as we deserve, but will in His own good time bring order out of chaos and restore peace to this unhappy country. His will be done, whatever it may be! I am as anxious as any human being can be to finish this war. Yet when I see such insane folly behind me I feel that the final salvation of the country demands the utmost prudence on my part, and that I must not run the slightest risk of disaster, for if anything happened to this army our cause would be lost. I got up some heavy guns to-day, and hope to give secesh a preliminary pounding to-morrow and to make one good step next day. The rascals are very strong, and outnumber me very considerably; they are well entrenched also, and have all the advantages of position, so I must be prudent; but I will yet succeed, notwithstanding all they do and leave undone in Washington to prevent it. I would not have on my conscience what those men have for all the world. . . .

. . . McClellan’s Headquarters, June 27.—Have had a terrible fight against vastly superior numbers. Have generally held our own, and we may thank God that the Army of the Potomac has not lost its honor. It is impossible as yet to tell what the result is. . . .

. . . McClellan’s Headquarters, June 28. . . . They have outnumbered us everywhere, but we have not lost our honor. This army has acted magnificently. I thank my friends in Washington for our repulse. . . .

HEADQUARTERS, ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,

SAVAGE’S STATION, June 28, 1862, 12.20 A.M.

Hon. E. M. Stanton, Secretary of War:

I now know the full history of the day. On this side of the river (the right bank) we repulsed several strong attacks. On the left bank our men did all that men could do, all that soldiers could accomplish, but they were overwhelmed by vastly superior numbers, even after I brought my last reserves into action. The loss on both sides is terrible. I believe it will prove to be the most desperate battle of the war. The sad remnants of my men behave as men. Those battalions who fought most bravely and suffered most are still in the best order. My regulars were superb, and I count upon what are left to turn another battle in company with their gallant comrades of the volunteers. Had I twenty thousand (20,000), or even ten thousand (10,000), fresh troops to use to-morrow, I could take Richmond; but I have not a man in reserve, and shall be glad to cover my retreat and save the material and personnel of the army.

If we have lost the day we have yet preserved our honor, and no one need blush for the Army of the Potomac. I have lost this battle because my force was too small.

I again repeat that I am not responsible for this, and I say it with the earnestness of a general who feels in his heart the loss of every brave man who has been needlessly sacrificed to-day. I still hope to retrieve our fortunes; but to do this the government must view the matter in the same earnest light that I do. You must send me very large reinforcements, and send them at once. I shall draw back to this side of the Chickahominy, and think I can withdraw all our material. Please understand that in this battle we have lost nothing but men, and those the best we have.

In addition to what I have already said, I only wish to say to the President that I think he is wrong in regarding me as ungenerous when I said that my force was too weak. I merely intimated a truth which to-day has been too plainly proved. If, at this instant, I could dispose of ten thousand (10,000) fresh men, I could gain the victory to-morrow.

I know that a few thousand more men would have changed this battle from a defeat to a victory. As it is, the government must not and cannot hold me responsible for the result.

I feel too earnestly to-night. I have seen too many dead and wounded comrades to feel otherwise than that the government has not sustained this army. If you do not do so now the game is lost.

If I save this army now, I tell you plainly that I owe no thanks to you or to any other persons in Washington.

You have done your best to sacrifice this army.

G. B. MCCLELLAN.

July 2, . . . Berkley, James river.—. . . I have only energy enough left to scrawl you a few lines to say that I have the whole army here, with all its material and guns. . . .

. . . 11 P.M.—I will now take a few moments from the rest which I really need, and write at least a few words. . . . We have had a terrible time. On Wednesday the serious work commenced. I commenced driving the enemy on our left, and, by hard fighting, gained my point. Before that affair was over I received news that Jackson was probably about to attack my right. I galloped back to camp, took a fresh horse, and went over to Porter’s camp, where I remained all night making the best arrangements I could, and returned about daybreak to look out for the left. On Thursday afternoon Jackson began his attack on McCall, who was supported by Porter. Jackson being repulsed, I went over there in the afternoon and remained until two or three A.M. I was satisfied that Jackson would have force enough next morning to turn Porter’s right, so I removed all the wagons, heavy guns, etc., during the night, and caused Porter to fall back to a point nearer the force on the other side of the Chickahominy. This was most handsomely effected, all our material being saved. The next day Porter was attacked in his new position by the whole force of Jackson, Longstreet, Ewell, Hill, and Whiting. I sent what supports I could, but was at the same time attacked on my own front, and could only spare seven brigades. With these we held our own at all points after most desperate fighting. . . . I was forced that night to withdraw Porter’s force to my side of the Chickahominy, and therefrom to make a very dangerous and difficult movement to reach the James river. . . .

July 4. . . . I am ready for an attack now; give me twenty-four hours even, and I will defy all secession. The movement has been a magnificent one; I have saved all our material, have fought every day for a week, and marched every night. You can’t tell how nervous I became; everything seemed like the opening of artillery, and I had no rest, no peace, except when in front with my men. The duties of my position are such as often to make it necessary for me to remain in the rear. It is an awful thing. . . .

July 8. . . . I have written a strong, frank letter to the President, which I send by your father. If he acts upon it the country will be saved. . . . I understood the state of affairs long ago, and . . . had my advice been followed we should not have been in our present difficulties. . . . I have done the best I could. . . .

July 13. . . . There never was such an army; but there have been plenty of better generals. When I spoke about being repulsed I meant our failure to take Richmond. In no battle were we repulsed. We always at least held our own on the field, if we did not beat them. . . . I still hope to get to Richmond this summer, unless the government commits some extraordinarily idiotic act; but I have no faith in the administration, and shall cut loose from public life the very moment my country can dispense with my services. . . .

July 17. . . . You ask me when I expect to reach Richmond and whether I shall act on the offensive this summer. I am at the mercy of the government. After the first 9,000 or 10,000 men sent to me they have withheld all further reinforcements. Burnside is halted at Fortress Monroe. With his own troops and those of Hunter he can bring me some 20,000 troops; but I have no idea of the intentions of the government. If I am reinforced to that extent I will try it again with the least possible delay. I am not at all in favor of baking on the banks of this river, but am anxious to bring matters to an issue. . . .

July 18. . . . I am inclined now to think that the President will make Halleck commander of the army, and that the first pretext will be seized to supersede me in command of this army. Their game seems to be to withhold reinforcements, and then to relieve me for not advancing, well knowing that I have not the means to do so. . . .

Berkley, Aug. 14. . . . Porter’s corps starts this evening, Franklin in the morning, the remaining three to-morrow and next day. Headquarters will remain here until nearly the last. We are going, not to Richmond, but to Fort Monroe, I am ashamed to say! . . . It is a terrible blow to me, but I have done all that could be done to prevent it, without success, so I must submit as best I can and carry it out. . . .

George B. McClellan, (New York, 1887), 404–468 passim.

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Chicago: George B. McClellan, "Peninsular Campaign (1862)," McClellan’s Own Story in American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1903), Original Sources, accessed July 3, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=C1B66JX4WDJNCEH.

MLA: McClellan, George B. "Peninsular Campaign (1862)." McClellan’s Own Story, in American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, Vol. 4, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1903, Original Sources. 3 Jul. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=C1B66JX4WDJNCEH.

Harvard: McClellan, GB, 'Peninsular Campaign (1862)' in McClellan’s Own Story. cited in 1903, American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. , The Macmillan Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 3 July 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=C1B66JX4WDJNCEH.