July 25, 1862 (Friday)
It had been a week since the United States Congress approved the Confiscation Act of 1862. Among things like freeing the slaves of owners who supported the Rebellion, the Act also gave the pro-secessionists sixty days to cease “aid, countenance, and abet such rebellion, and return to his allegiance to the United States.” If they failed to do so, “the estate and property, moneys, stocks, and credits of such person shall be liable to seizure” and used by the Federal government.1
This measure was a warning. The countdown of sixty days was to begin as soon as President Lincoln decreed. And on this day, he made it so.
In a proclamation, Lincoln warned the people of the South “to cease participating in, aiding, countenancing, or abetting the existing rebellion, or any rebellion, against the Government of the United States, and to return to their proper allegiance to the United States, on pain of the forfeitures and seizures….”2
The wording was lifted from the first paragraph of his draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, which was submitted to his Cabinet three days before. Originally, he had planned to release the entire proclamation, fully driving home just what the war was going to cost the slave-holding South. On the urging of Secretary of State William Seward, however, Lincoln decided to wait until there was a Union victory in the battlefield.
This new measure, hoped the President, would be enough for now.
Union General John Pope must have been completely ecstatic. He had been issuing similar, and even harsher orders to his own Army of Virginia over the past week. Adding to what the South saw as brutality, Pope let loose another on this date.
“Hereafter,” declared Pope, “no guards will be placed over private houses or private property of any description whatever.” He decreed that while the commanding officers should keep their own troops in line with the Articles of War, “soldiers were called into the field to do battle against the enemy, and it is not expected that their force and energy shall be wasted in protecting private property of those most hostile to the Government.”
In conclusion, he again made it clear: “No soldier serving in this army shall hereafter be employed in such service.”3
General Halleck Meets with His New Subordinate, General McClellan
Over this week, a new player had arrived in Washington in the form of a General-in-Chief. Henry Halleck, once commanding the huge Army of the Tennessee in Corinth, Mississippi, was promoted to the commander of all Union forces, including General George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac.
McClellan’s force was still at Harrison’s Landing while their commander tried to figure out what to do. Also trying to figure out what to do was President Lincoln, who knew that a change in command was needed, but wasn’t sure who could fill it. He had offered the Army of the Potomac to General Ambrose Burnside, but Burnside declined, feeling he wasn’t up to the task.
Lincoln must have taken a very hands-off approach once Halleck arrived in Washington, giving him permission to fire or keep McClellan.
To see the situation for himself, Halleck decided to take a steamer down the Potomac River then up the James to see McClellan’s situation for himself. Though weeks had passed without McClellan providing Washington with so much as a hint of a plan, he had prepared one for Halleck when he arrived on the 25th.
McClellan’s idea was for the Army of the Potomac to be reinforced with 30,000, divide itself into two, and cross the James river to capture Petersburg, twenty-five miles south of Richmond. This would cut off most rail lines south of the Confederate capital and force General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia to abandon Richmond and attack Federal forces on ground of their own choosing.
Halleck cared little for the plan. While, in reality, the Rebels at Richmond had 60,000 troops, McClellan was absolutely convinced that they had 200,000. Couldn’t Lee, mused Halleck, simply fall on each wing of the Army of the Potomac, one at a time, defeating the entire force in turn? And if he didn’t do that, couldn’t he simply leave a small force to hold each wing at bay while he moved the bulk of his supposedly huge army north to tear apart General Pope’s Army of Virginia and even Washington?
McClellan was then given two choices. He could either advance upon Richmond or leave the Peninsula. After a bit of wrangling, Halleck was able to convince McClellan that he could assail Richmond – but only after being reinforced by 20,000 men. McClellan allowed that it might be enough men to make the attack. Halleck reboarded his steamer and headed back to Washington fairly convinced that McClellan was on the right path.
With 20,000 troops pulled from the commands of Generals Ambrose Burnside and David Hunter, whose forces combined to total around 35,000, Halleck was nearly convinced that McClellan would move. He was, of course, new to the job.4
- Confiscation Act of 1862, July 17, 1862. [↩]
- A Proclamation, July 25, 1862 by Abraham Lincoln. As printed in Abraham Lincoln: Complete Works, Vol. 2 edited by John Nicolay and John Hay, The Century Co., 1920. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p509. [↩]
- To the Gates of Richmond by Stephen Sears, Mariner Books, 1992. [↩]