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John Pope and George McClellan at Second Manassas
By David M. Smith
September 19, 1991
Thanks so much for allowing me the opportunity to address you here tonight. We all end up studying the American Civil War for a wide variety of reasons, but I suspect that most of us here tonight find the shear variety and magnitude of personalities that abound in Civil War literature utterly fascinating.
Whether you study the chief executives, Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis, their cabinets -- memorable men such as Edwin Stanton, Charles Sumner, Salmon P. Chase, Alexander Stephens, or Judah Benjamin -- the politicians and civilians, such as Clement Valandigham or Mary Chestnut; all provide a rich array of interest and fascination.
And then there are the military leaders. Nowhere in American history do we find the diversity and color we find in the men that fought in the war. Whether leading Billy Yanks or Johnny Rebs, they came from all backgrounds. Some had West Point training, some had private military educations, some came from the militia, and others had no practical training at all. There were successes and failures from all of these categories.
This talk is not intended, by any stretch, to be a tactical discussion of the Second Manassas campaign, nor will it get into any detail regarding the actual fighting that occurred on August 28 through August 30, 1862. All we will do in that regard is spend a few minutes providing you an overview of the campaign and what eventually happened. The remainder of the talk will revolve around our two principal protagonists.
Lee promptly took the tactical offensive, beginning a series of running battles with the Federal army that resulted in the retreat of the Army of the Potomac. The Seven Days battles ended with the stunning Federal repulse of Confederate forces at Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862, but McClellan, fearing he was still grossly outnumbered by the imaginary Confederate hosts, ordered his army to retreat to its base at Harrison Landing on the James River, effectively taking itself out of consideration for any attempt to capture Richmond.
In the meantime, President Abraham Lincoln took steps to further the capabilities of Union forces in and around the capital of Washington City. Taking remnants of a number of units that had been chasing Confederate Major General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson in the famous Shenandoah Valley Campaign, he formed them together into a new unit dubbed the Army of Virginia, and placed them under the command of our other principal, Major General John Pope. Pope had come east, having served successfully out west as a brigadier and major general. Among his successes were the capture of Island Number 10 on the Mississippi River, as well as a reputation for fighting and audacity as a wing commander after the battle of Shiloh under Major General Henry Halleck. Of course, it did not take much to be viewed as audacious when compared to the less than lightening marches of Henry Halleck.
Pope took his new forces and immediately avowed his intent to finish off what McClellan had started. He began by issuing a number of bombastic orders that will be discussed further in this talk. Lee, deciding that McClellan was bottled enough at Harrison Landing, set out to bag Pope. His lead forces under Jackson got into a fierce fight at Cedar Mountain, and although the Federals left the field to the Confederates, they fought very credibly and gave the mighty Stonewall everything he could take.
Pope moved quickly to finish Jackson before Lee could bring the other wing of his army, commanded by Major General James Longstreet, up to reunite with Jackson. Although he managed almost a complete day of pounding at the defensively minded Jackson just outside of the Manassas battlefield of the previous year, Longstreet delivered a smashing counterattack on August 30, and the short-lived Army of Virginia fled back to the defenses of the capital.
During the campaign of Second Manassas, the personalities and politics of the two senior commanders in the field, George B. McClellan and John Pope, became central issues to the understanding of why the numerically superior Federals were defeated by the Confederate trio of Lee, Jackson and Longstreet. As we will discuss a bit later, one of McClellan's favorites and biggest supporters, commander of the V Corps FitzJohn Porter, eventually got himself court-martialed for his alleged lack of support for the efforts of Pope.
John Pope was a Westerner, like Abraham Lincoln, and was born in Louisville, Kentucky on March 16, 1822. Shortly thereafter the family moved to the village of Kaskaskia, Illinois, located on the Mississippi River. His family was the typical western blend of North and South. His father's side came to Virginia in 1635, lived as planters and served in the Revolutionary War. On his mother's side, Pope was descended from the Pilgrims. These ancestors were involved in the founding of Hartford, Connecticut.
Pope's father, Nathaniel Pope, had a profound influence on young John. It was Nathaniel Pope who brought the family to Kaskaskia, which in 1809 was named as capital of the Illinois territory. He later served as a district judge and a young Illinois attorney named Abraham Lincoln practiced in his court. A Rockford, Illinois lawyer recalled Judge Pope: "He had a head like a half- bushel, with brains enough for six men. He was learned, but rough and gruff. He had a wonderful knowledge of human nature and was utterly without fear. General Pope [speaking of John] had many of his father's qualities."
Since his father's salary of $1,000 per year would preclude young John's attending college, his father had been working to secure an appointment to West Point from the time John was 14. In March of 1838, sixteen year old John Pope accepted an appointment to West Point with the class of 1842. He was a stocky, barrel-chested young man of medium height, given to roaring posturing and swaggering. They were traits that would serve him throughout his military career.
Pope graduated on June 30, 1842, standing number seventeen in a class of 56. He chose the Topographical Engineers as his branch of service. As a topographical engineer, Pope could expect to see a large portion of the rapidly expanding United States, but would certainly be far from any peacetime military action. Accordingly, his first tour was spent in the pines of north Florida helping lay out 160 acre tracts for settlers. Not happy with that assignment, he moved to Savannah in 1843, but quickly tired of that post and connived to get a post in the west. he then violated military principle and wrote Senator James Semple of Illinois, who wrote the Chief of Topographical Engineers on young Pope's behalf. The Chief, Colonel Abert, was not complimentary in his reply:
. . . The irregularity of Lieut. Pope's course deserves some rebuke and is the more surprising as it was presumed that his education could have imbued his mind with more correct notions of military propriety. If the positions and duties of officers could be influenced by applications of this kind, the command of the Corps should cease to be in its Chief but would be actually in any public man to whom an officer might apply. Lieut. Pope has in his application not only violated sound military principles, but also the regulations which define the course which officers should pursue on any matter connected with their public relations."
If going through non-military channels would not work, Pope determined to try more direct military ones. In September of 1844 he completely bypassed the whole Corps of Topographical Engineers and wrote directly to the Adjutant General, seeking for three weeks leave because "Business of a private and personal nature requires my presence in the west & it is absolutely necessary for me to be there." Colonel Abert, in whimsical reply, assigned Pope to duty in Houlton, Maine. And still John Pope continued to try to pull strings to get an assignment in Minnesota.
As the Mexican War opened, John Pope brought the physical abilities that had marked him to good stead. In his initial action, Major Joseph Mansfield, who would later fall leading a corps at Antietam, wrote that "Lieut. Pope executed his duties with great coolness & self-possession & deserves my highest praise." The courage under fire he would exhibit later in the Civil War was in evidence during the Mexican War.
Pope served under General Zachary Taylor at the battle of Monterrey and received additional praise for his conduct. However his personality might be reflected, it was obvious that young John Pope possessed adequate knowledge of his job and was fearless under fire. The man was certainly no coward.
John Pope received a pair of brevets for his conduct and left the Mexican War a brevet Captain. These awards enabled him to get the posting in the west he had long coveted, and spent the years leading up to the Civil War on various topographical assignments in the West. His experiences were not without notoriety -- he became embroiled in claims he plagiarized mapping work previous engineers had performed. While working in New Mexico, trying to find water for use by potential railroads, Pope passed himself off as a budding geologist, although nothing in the record indicated he was particularly correct.
What we find, as the Civil War approaches, is a man who is self-assured, contentious, physically imposing, and not above mixing it up with anyone who took a contrary side. That self- assurance seemed to continually get him into trouble with his superiors, for John Pope had not seemed to come to grips with military protocol, except for the period of time spent in Mexico. Of course, one could argue that the wilds of Mexico would little afford any junior officer the chance to go around superiors. The Civil War, with its greatly increased communications, certainly afforded that opportunity.
By 1859, Captain Pope was assigned to duty in Cincinnati, Ohio to design lighthouses for the Great Lakes. While in Cincinnati, he became embroiled in politics for the first time, becoming an intimate of the Republican party, which certainly included anti-slavery views. In 1859 he married Clara Horton, eldest daughter of Valentine B. Horton, a Republican member of Congress. He recognized at an early time the inevitability of war. In fact, in a speech to the Literary Society of Cincinnati, he went so far as to comment on the administration of President James Buchanan in these terms: "It is impossible to control the astonishment and indignation which every American must feel when he considers in what a position a few months of the administration of a bad or weak man have placed this great and prosperous country. If we overcome this damage, it will at least serve as a warning, and a most impressive one, to the American people, to be careful for the future in the selection of a chief magistrate." The astonishment and indignation had to be on the part of President Buchanan, who as Commander in Chief must have expected more from soldiers from West Point.
Thus, at the outbreak of hostilities, John Pope had some 18 years of service with the United States army, with no practical experience commanding troops in battle. He was, in point, a civil engineer.
On June 22, 1862, John Pope was summoned to Washington City by Secretary of War Stanton. His biographers, Wallace Schutz and Walter Trenary, provide the comment that:
While his acts helped to open the Mississippi, which was sound strategy, a closer analysis of his conquests than reporters usually made would show them spotlessly bloodless but nearly toothless; and his greatest feat, the Island No. 10 canal, sprang from another's mind. In the end what both soldiers and civilians saw in Pope was a man of dash who organized well, moved fast, and carried out what his superiors wanted without wasting time. By June of 1862 Pope had done as well as any other Union general, which was not yet saying much, and he could accept public applause feeling he had earned it.
This was the Pope who came to Washington three days before our other principal, George Brinton McClellan, was to have the Seven Days' campaign initiated by Robert E. Lee. Let us take a minute or two and review the history of McClellan.
A West Point graduate of the class of 1846, finishing second in his class, McClellan was born on December 3, 1826 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His parents moved in the upper circles of Philadelphia society, but the assumption of family debts by his father undoubtedly pushed George into seeking an appointment to West Point. After a brilliant career at the Point, George moved right into the growing conflict in Mexico as an engineer.
As early as his initial forays into Mexico, the twenty year old began his habitual practice of severely criticizing anyone in a position of control -- especially presidents of the United States. He could not imagine a "weaker head" for the government than President Polk, he wrote; even a petty Italian city-state would display more energy in prosecuting the war. At this early date, he also developed a deep dislike for the volunteer army, and especially volunteer officers. In writing of the commanders of the newly formed regiments, he noted: "[they are] deficients of the Mil.[itary] Academy, friends of politicians, & bar room blaquards." He had already determined in his mind that war was a matter for professionals, not for volunteers.
Second Lieutenant McClellan served with a group of engineers that included Captain Robert E. Lee, and First Lieutenants P.G.T. Beauregard and Isaac I. Stevens. The topographical engineers, besides Lieutenant Pope, included Captain Joseph E. Johnston and First Lieutenant George Meade.
McClellan served at the battles of Cerro Gordo, Contreras, Churubusco, Chapultepec and Mexico City. He received the first of two brevets for gallantry at Churubusco and Contreras. Bravery at Chapultepec earned him the other. His conduct, while praiseworthy, was perhaps no more so than any other of the young corps of officers who would grow to command in the Civil War, including John Pope.
What does come through from his exploits in Mexico was a profound distaste for the volunteer or civilian in military affairs. An October 31, 1847 letter to a U.S. Senator, rashly stated:
In the name of God, Sir, does the History of the world present such another instance as that of our govt., which having at its disposal men trained to be soldiers from their boyhood who were educated expressly for the army, in probably the best Military Academy in the world, passes over these men . . . & goes behind the curtain, into county courthouses, & low village bar rooms to select her generals, her colonels & all the officers of her new regiments?
He concludes with harsh indictments of the two political generals, Robert Patterson (who would surface in the Civil War for a brief period during the First Manassas campaign) and Gideon Pillow, who would serve in an undistinguished manner for the Confederacy). McClellan had served under both men.
Peacetime army life proved a boor for George McClellan. Even then he pressed his view on issues in so demanding a tone that they drew rebuke from his superior officers. He performed river navigation and exploration duties in the west, and served as engineer in a mapping expedition to look for a northern route for the trans-continental railroad. Sure enough, conflict caught up with the young man. When his suggestions regarding a particular pass through the mountains were not accepted, he furiously wrote in his journal: "I have done my last service under civilians & politicians . . . I will not consent to serve any longer under Gov. S.[tevens] unless he promises in no way to interfere -- merely to give the general orders & never to say one word as to the means or time of executing them." Notes biographer Steven Sears, at this early date, he began practicing his bent for self-deception: "The great consolation is that I was detailed in this service without either my knowledge or consent."
The other plum in George McClellan's prewar career was his assignment by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to participate in a military commission to study the latest developments in the war being fought in Crimea. It was during this time that he was also promoted to Captain of the newly created 1st Cavalry.
In 1857, the relative boredom and slowness for advancement in the peacetime army led him to resign his commission and accept a position as chief engineer, then vice president, of the Illinois Central Railroad. In 1860 he became president of the Ohio and Mississippi.
His location in Cincinnati at the outbreak of the war, combined with his high prewar standing, led Governor William Dennison of Ohio to appoint him major general of Ohio volunteers. He immediately showed the administrative and morale building skills that would serve him so well with the Army of the Potomac, and that, in conjunction with the credit he received for victories at Rich Mountain and Corrick's Ford in Western Virginia, caused president Abraham Lincoln, desperately searching for a strong military leader in the aftermath of First Manassas, to call McClellan forward to head the eastern Federal army.
But McClellan finally put his army into motion, and the resulting campaign on the Peninsula near Richmond resulted in the eventual retreat of the Army of the Potomac back to its base at Harrison Landing and to set the stage for the resulting action between John Pope and Robert E. Lee.
Although this is not a talk about the military capabilities of either John Pope or George McClellan, a comment or tow about McClellan's abilities to fight a battle are in order before we proceed. George Brinton McClellan was that curious combination of soldier that was superb at equipping, sustaining and building an army, but when it came time to direct a battle, seemed totally incapable of achieving desired results. In that sense he resembles Confederate General Braxton Bragg. Some have indicated that one of the reasons was an abhorrence on his part for seeing his men die in battle. Contrast such an attitude with that of U.S. Grant or Robert E. Lee, men who understood the tragic side of war.
Perhaps the most civil period of time that occurred between these two men was at the outset of the campaign. On July 4, 1862, Pope wrote to McClellan and outlined his thoughts: "I beg you to understand that it is my earnest wish to cooperate in the heartiest and most energetic manner with you, and there is no service, whatever the hazard or labor, which I am not ready to perform with this army to carry out that object." He later comments on his scattered commands, and begins his push to pull McClellan away from the Peninsula with these words: "Under these circumstances my position here is difficult and embarrassing. While I am very anxious to render you all the assistance in my power, the imperative necessity of insuring the safety of the capital must control my operations."
On the 7th of July, McClellan wrote back, taking care to enclose a copy of his letter to the President in order to show the spirit of cooperation between the two. Little Mac concludes:
I must say in conclusion that so far as my position is concerned I feel abundantly able to repulse any attack. I fear for the other side of the river and for my communications. To preserve the morale of my men I must maintain my present position as long as it is possible. Therefore I shall not fall back unless absolutely forced to do so.
Thus, the ground rules of the forthcoming saga are set -- for John Pope, the withdrawal of McClellan's forces from the Peninsula to reinforce his scattered command, and for George McClellan, an intense desire to keep his command intact in front of Richmond at Harrison Landing.
Having exchanged pleasantries, John Pope settled down to use his pen to stir things up. On July 10, he released his infamous General Orders No. 7, in which he stated:
The people of the Valley of the Shenandoah . . . are notified that they will be held responsible for any injury done to the track, line, or road, or for any attacks upon trains or straggling soldiers by bands of guerrillas in their neighborhood. No privileges and immunities of warfare apply to lawless bands of individuals not forming part of the organized forces of the enemy nor wearing the garb of soldiers, who, seeking and obtaining safety on pretext of being peaceful citizens, steal out in rear of the army, attack and murder straggling soldiers, molest trains of supplies, destroy railroads, telegraph lines, and bridges, and commit outrages disgraceful to civilized people and revolting to humanity.
Pope goes on to order houses to be razed, and inhabitants imprisoned if soldiers were fired upon from a home. More dramatically, "Any persons detected in such outrages, either during the act or at any time afterward, shall be shot, without awaiting civil process." Many find the influence of Secretary of War Stanton in this and other Pope general orders.
Such oratory would certainly rile the sensibilities of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. As he dispatched Major General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson to the vicinity of Gordonsville, he told him to "suppress Pope." In fairness, Pope was only advocating a style of war later used with such effectiveness by U.,S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and Philip Sheridan less than two years later.
Compounding his bombastic oratory was an address made to his troops on July 14. Supposedly written with the heading "Headquarters in the Saddle", he said to his soldiers:
Let us understand each other. I have come to you from the West, where we have always seen the backs of our enemies, from an army whose business it has been to seek the adversary and to beat him when he was found. Whose policy has been attack and not defense. In but one instance has the enemy been able to place our Western armies in a defensive attitude. I presume I have been called here to pursue the same system, and to lead you against the enemy. It is my purpose to do so and that speedily. I am sure you long for the opportunity to win the distinction you are capable of achieving. That opportunity I shall endeavor to give you. Meanwhile, I desire you to dismiss from your minds certain phrases I am sorry to find so much in vogue amongst you. I hear constantly of "taking strong positions and holding them," of "lines of retreat," and "bases of supplies." Let us discard such ideas. The strongest position a soldier should desire to occupy is one from which he can most easily advance against the enemy. Let us study the probable lines of retreat of our opponents and leave our own to take care of themselves. Let us look before us, and not behind. Success and glory are in the advance, disaster and shame lurk in the rear. Let us act on this understanding, and it is safe to predict that your banner shall be inscribed with many a glorious deed and that your names will be dear to your countrymen forever."
And finally, July 23 found General Orders No. 11, in which he authorized the arrest of all disloyal male citizens within Federal lines. These citizens would be given the chance to take the oath of allegiance -- those refusing would be considered spies if found within the lines again. Those found violating the oath would be shot. Noted Confederate James Longstreet in his memoirs:
This was a measure of unnecessary severity towards noncombatants, and had an unsalutary effect. When men volunteer to fight in their country's cause they should be credited with faith in its righteousness, and with the expectations of meeting soldiers worthy of their mettle. Appeals to turn their strength against women and children and noncombatants are offensive to manhood, demoralizing in influence, and are more likely to aggravate and prolong war spirit than to open ways of order and amity.
John Pope's famous "Headquarters in the Saddle" address must have rankled McClellan to no end, for it well could have been written as a play against McClellan's Army of the Potomac July 4 address to his troops, in which he praised them for their efforts in the Seven Days campaign. "Attacked by vastly superior forces (a common problem with Little Mac), and without hope of reinforcements, you have succeeded in changing your base of operations by a flank movement, always regarded as the most hazardous of military expedients.". Just ten days later, Pope ridiculed such talk of "bases of operations" and the like. Neither commander was above resorting to Napoleonic-like addresses to his troops.
The month of July saw no major battles fought by either army once the Peninsula Campaign had ended. George McClellan, however, was to spend a very busy month getting himself in deep trouble with the administration of President Abraham Lincoln, as well as struggling to retain control of his army on the Peninsula.
On July 7, McClellan wrote a letter to President Lincoln in which he presented his views on the conduct of the war. In a letter to his wife, written the next day, he confided that if the President "acts upon it, the country will be saved." The letter to Lincoln stated:
This rebellion has assumed the character of a War; as such it should be regarded; and it should be conducted upon the highest principles known to Christian Civilization . . . It should not be, at all, a war upon population; but against armed forced and political organizations. Neither confiscation of property, political executions of persons, territorial organization of states or forcible abolition of slavery should be contemplated for a moment.
He later in the letter reiterated his position that there was no place in the conflict for slavery. He also advocated the appointment of a commander-in-chief, although modestly declining such a position for himself. This latter request, however proved to be a major problem, for on July 11, 1862, Major General Henry W. Halleck was name to command the land forces of the United States armies. Halleck would prove to be the means to effect the removal of McClellan's army from the Peninsula.
By the 8th of July, Little Mac was into it with Secretary of War Stanton. In a letter from Harrison's Landing, he informed the Secretary:
When you were appointed Secretary of War, I considered you my intimate friend and confidential adviser; of all men in the nation you were my choice for that position . . . But from the time you took office, your official conduct towards me as commander in chief of the Army of the US . . . was marked by repeated acts done in such manner as to be deeply offensive to my feelings and calculated to affect me injuriously in public estimation.
Having planted barb, he turned around and made a halfhearted offer of reconciliation. It is no wonder the two remained at odds throughout McClellan's tenure with the army.
So you want to know how I feel about Stanton, & what I think of him now? I will tell you with the most perfect frankness. I think that he is the most unmitigated scoundrel I ever knew, heard or read of; I think that (& I do not wish to be irreverent) had he lived in the time of the Saviour, Judas Iscariot would have remained a respected member of the fraternity of the Apostles, & that the magnificent treachery & rascality of E.M. Stanton would have caused Judas to have raised his arms in holy horror & unaffected wonder -- he would certainly have claimed & exercised the right to have been the betrayer of his Lord & Master, by virtue of the same merit that raised Satan to his 'bad eminence.' I may do the man injustice -- God grant I may be wrong -- for I hate to think that humanity can sink so low -- but my opinion is just as I have told you.
That little piece of personal correspondence is one of my all-time favorites of George McClellan. Imagine in these times similar letters being written by highly placed military figures, and the media feeding frenzy that would likely result were the letters to be made public.
By the middle of July, George McClellan realized that it was extremely important for him to do something with his army. For if he did not, the Administration would allow John Pope to do so. To McClellan, it was a simple matter of concentration, but his proposed solution was to send every available reinforcement to him at Harrison Landing. The Administration was moving in favor of reinforcing Pope to allow him to maneuver near the plains of Manassas.
By the 20th of July, McClellan was forwarding word that enemy forces were shifted to the vicinity of Gordonsville. he reported to Nelly on the 17rh, referring to President Lincoln in his letter, that "a certain eminent individual is 'an old stick' -- & of pretty poor timber at that. I confess I do not at all appreciate his style of friendship." On the 22d, he confided to his wife that
I see the Pope bubble is likely to be suddenly collapsed -- Stonewall Jackson is after him, & the paltry young man who wanted to teach me the art of war will in less than a week either be in full retreat or badly whipped. He will begin to learn the value of 'entrenchments, lines of communication & of retreat, bases of supply, etc.' -- they will learns bye and bye.
On the 25th, the beginning of the end of the Peninsula Campaign commence. George Brinton McClellan had over three weeks with which to do something with his army -- and had failed to do so. Now, Henry Wager Halleck paid a visit, and by Halleck's interpretation, convinced Little Mac of the necessity of concentrating forces, and that the best course of action was to unite with Pope.
Well, perhaps. Well, maybe for a few minutes. On the 30th, McClellan wrote Halleck that "I still feel that our true policy is to re-enforce the army by every available means and throw it again upon Richmond. Should it be determined to withdraw it, I shall look upon our cause as lost and the demoralization of the army certain." On August 4, he again entreated Halleck to rescind the order to move the Army of the Potomac out of its base at Harrison Landing, pushing for the opportunity to take the offensive with "the least possible delay." In spite of the tenor, they could not have been inspiring words for Lincoln, for George McClellan never took the offensive with little delay. With McClellan, delays always seemed endless.
Reinforcements began to arrive. Two divisions of hotly contested for troops fresh from North Carolina under Gen. Ambrose Burnside arrived on August 14. A cavalry raid on Verdiersville netted Pope a letter written by Lee to J.E.B. Stuart, which highlighted the resolve of Lee to finish off Pope post haste. The next two weeks were a harrowing time for the Federal high command -- drama, in great style, was being played in front of them, and they knew very little themselves. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase wrote in his diary, dated August 19, that "President uneasy about Pope." With the Confederates continuing to grasp for ways to pass around his right flank, John Pope continued to look to the south for help.
These reinforcements, as they began to come up., presented John Pope with a problem that he never seemed to come to grips with -- namely, an insecurity of command. For all of his bombasticy and his conceit, I do not think he was ever fully comfortable in his command, and never capable or willing to fully assert it. Much of this, it is true, can be laid at the heels of the Federal administration, who played politics against military objective and left Pope in the middle.
On August 25, a scant several days prior to the culminating events of the campaign, Pope wrote Halleck a letter in which he asked a reasonable, albeit distressing question: Who's in charge? And what is my charge? In the words of Pope:
I understood you clearly that at all hazards I was to prevent the enemy from passing the Rappahannock. This I have done and shall do. I don't like to be on the defensive if I can help it, but it must be so as long as I am tied to Burnside's forces, not wholly arrived at Fredericksburg. Please let me know, if it can be done, what is to be my command, and if I am to act independently against the enemy . . . The troops arriving here come in fragments. Am I to assign them to brigades and corps?
And a bit later in the message, more miscommunications: "It has been my purpose to conform my operations to your plans, yet I was not informed when McClellan evacuated Harrison's Landing . . ." Halleck's reply, and granted, he was new at this commander-in-chief business, but, "Just think of the immense amount of telegraphing I have to do and then say whether I can be expected to give you the details of the movement of others." That John Pope would feel an almost certain amount of despair is not unreasonable.
The Army of the Potomac was filtering north at a pace that, if you were a McClellan supporter, was all that could reasonably be expected -- if you were a Pope man, or McClellan hater, a pace that was full of inexcusable delay. V Corps commander FitzJohn Porter, close friend of McClellan, wrote another Little Mac supporter, Ambrose Burnside upon reaching Bealeton with his troops: "Everything here is at sixes and sevens, and I find I am to take care of myself in every respect. Our line of communication has taken care of itself, in compliance with orders. The army has not three days provisions. The enemy has captured all of Pope's and other's clothing and from McDowell the same including liquors." Irwin McDowell was not a favorite of the McClellan clique and notoriously fond of drink.
Thus, the "fat was in the fire." Robert E. Lee, through his able lieutenants, started the final movements of the campaign with the flanking movement of Jackson described earlier and helped himself to Pope's supplies at Manassas Junction. Indeed to use the phrasing of John Pope, disaster and shame did lurk in the rear.
George McClellan arrived at Aquia Landing on August 24 and repaired at once to Alexandria. From that Virginia city, he found himself in the odd position of ranking commander without an army. Jackson had cut communications from Pope's army to Washington City. During the crisis that unfolded through of August, Halleck and Lincoln bombarded McClellan with a string of requests for updates on the front. How they expected Little Mac to have more definitive information remains a mystery.
McClellan became unofficial military advisor to President Lincoln as John Pope had done when he first came from the West. It was not an unreasonable request on the part of the President. During this time, the Young Napoleon argued for some form of defense of the capitol, and tried to deep the 25,000 men of the II and VI Corps near Washington in case of the precipitous retreat of the Army of Virginia, an event he fully expected. And while it is true that he would have felt personal pleasure at seeing John Pope personally fail, it is abundantly clear that he honestly expected Robert E. Lee to whip Pope, for Little Mac did not feel Pope a first rate military commander.
Be that as it may, the VI Corps finally marched on the 29th, too late to participate in the general fighting. On that same day, at 2:45 p.m., McClellan may have sealed the fate of his ultimate career when he wired Lincoln, " . . . I am clear that one of two courses should be adopted -- 1st To concentrate all our available forces to open communication with Pope -- 2nd To leave Pope to get out of his scrape & at once use all our means to make the Capitol perfectly safe. No middle course will now answer . . ." Lincoln, Stanton and others chose to assume that McClellan wished to abandon Pope.
The President was very outspoken in regard to McClellan's present conduct. He said it really seemed to him that McC[lellan] wanted Pope defeated . . . The President seemed to think him a little crazy. Envy, jealousy and spite are probably a better explanation of his present conduct. He is constantly sending despatches to the President and Halleck asking what is his real position and command. He acts as chief alarmist and grand marplot of the army.
"He is constantly . . . asking what is his real position and command." Spoken by George B. McClellan, they provide a wonderful echo of the very words used by John Pope during the campaign. While most of the troubles inherent with their commands may be laid at the feet of our two army commanders, it never seems to have occurred to the Administration that they could have been the cause of such great uncertainty.
Hay continues, referring to a dinner he had just had with Edwin Stanton: "Stanton was loud about the McC[lellan] business. He said that after these battles there should be one Court Martial, if never any more. He said that nothing but foul play could lose this battle & that it rested with McC[lellan] & his friends."
John Pope was, of course, badly beaten in the three days of fighting at Groveton and Second Manassas. Like each of the engagements fought during the war, there was untold valor on the part of both sides. And like most engagements, the personalities and politics of the commanders in the field and those back home were key elements in the eventual outcome.
So let us try to summarize what we have heard here tonight about John Pope and George McClellan. In some ways, they were very similar. In others, worlds apart.
From a political perspective, George McClellan was very Democratic while John Pope was a staunch Republican. McClellan was in constant communication with those in the highest councils of the Democratic Party. As a Democrat, he favored fighting the war for the restoration of the Union only. Slavery, for Little Mac, head no place in the war. For John Pope, Republican, the war was wrapped in the radical aims of the Republican party. The abolition movement was an important part of the war. As indicated by his general orders, he was in favor of vigorously prosecuting the war -- one that included the involvement of citizens if necessary. And needless to say, Pope had the political backing of the Lincoln Administration, something McClellan never enjoyed. George McClellan was an enigmatic threat who had the love of the army and a great deal of the line officers, but not of the Cabinet of the President, and certainly none of the radical element of Congress.
Both men were brash, and, on the outside, self assured. Their styles, in their pronouncements and official correspondence, gave the air of men totally in charge of their own and their army's destinies. In John Pope, Lincoln, his Cabinet, and Congress found a politically stable West Pointer who gave the appearance of the promise of action. George McClellan, personally self assured, nevertheless lived in something of a dream world that would only allow the acceptance of his view of reality. Actions, suggestions and orders that conflicted with his views were treated with the utmost of contempt. For McClellan, the world completely black and white.
Amazingly, when you read about the man and also what he wrote, he does not appear to be one of the types that is mentally incompetent in his trade, but politically astute and always keeping one step ahead of the wolves. He honestly felt , or wanted to believe, that the Confederates had over 200,000 men in the trenches in front of Richmond, and that daily reinforcements were showing up. It was, in the end, that honest conviction of the right of his position that cost him with the civilian authorities in Washington.
John Pope, on the other hand, appears to have never come to grips, at least comfortably, with the command situation he faced in Virginia. His initial army was composed of three corps of troops that had a checkered history behind them. He was very uncertain as to his role over the troops of the Army of the Potomac as they filtered north to join his command. And finally, his correspondence with his superiors included a number of references to being embarrassed over his predicament and requesting clarification over the scope of his command.
Both men had problems accepting blame for lousy results and pinned such blame on others. McClellan was very fond of telling Lincoln and Halleck that forthcoming failure would be in no way blamable to him, but would squarely rest on their shoulders for whatever reason he was working with at the moment -- faulty strategy, lack of reinforcements and the like. John Pope pointed the accusing finger at McClellan and his cronies, arguing malfeasance on their part to cost him a victory.
And finally, neither man was particularly adept at the tactics of fighting a battle. McClellan was extremely inept, never seeming to understand the opportunities available to him in his concern over perceived inadequacies in troop strength. And Pope put his forces in piece meal, allowing Jackson to repeatedly beat back attacks without ever trying to flank the position of the Confederates. Of all the charges Pope could level over the conduct of the Army of the Potomac, an unwillingness to close with the enemy was not one.
So many of the commanders of the Civil War were relatively bland characters who worked and made some sort of mark without causing controversy. Not these two men. Each was outspoken, quick to find fault with others, and sure of his own abilities. That they came together at such a critical junction in the course of the war was unfortunate for the Federal high command, and the results of the campaign, which led to the eventual tainted Union victory at Antietam, but continued field prominence by the Confederates, helped to drag the war through its eventual four years. A great opportunity had presented itself to the Union cause, but neither John Pope nor George McClellan were equal to the task.
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