Civil War Daily Gazette

A Day-By-Day Accounting of the Conflict, 150 Years Later

McClellan is in Command Again! Three Cheers!

September 2, 1862 (Tuesday)

Stanton: Mac must go!

While John Pope’s Union Army of Virginia beat a hasty path back into the defenses of Washington, the Federal capital was abuzz with rumors – some apparently spread by Pope’s rival, George McClellan. As McClellan’s Army of the Potomac was returning from their ill-fated tramp up and back down the Virginia Peninsula, Confederates under Robert E. Lee moved north, defeating Pope’s Army on the plains of Manassas.

For that fight, McClellan’s Army was given to Pope in the field. During the battle, McClellan, who was without a command, asked General-in-Chief Henry Halleck if he could be with his troops. He was denied such a privilege and specifically forbidden to have any control over any of Pope’s troops, including the units from his own Army of the Potomac.1

This was due in part to a growing rift between McClellan and pretty much everyone in Washington. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, specifically had it out for him. When McClellan made an offhand suggestion that Lincoln “leave Pope to get out of his own scrape” at the Battle of Second Manassas, Stanton flew into a fury. He wanted McClellan gone.

Chase: Quite right, Edwin! Be gone, Mac!

Immediately, Stanton went to Halleck and asked him if McClellan acted too slowly in following the orders to remove his men from the Peninsula. Halleck conceded that his order “was not obeyed with the promptness I expected and the national safety, in my opinion, required.”2

When Stanton received Halleck’s opinion, the battle had ended and McClellan was getting much of the blame. According to his detractors, he had withheld troops that should have gone to Pope’s aid. Additionally, McClellan was spreading the rumor that there were 20,000 of Pope’s stragglers between Centreville and Washington. Pope and McClellan’s adversaries in Washington, insisted otherwise. When Stanton received Halleck’s opinion, the battle had ended and McClellan was getting much of the blame. According to his detractors, he had withheld troops that should have gone to Pope’s aid. Additionally, McClellan was spreading the rumor that there were 20,000 of Pope’s stragglers between Centreville and Washington. Pope insisted otherwise.

Stanton, armed with Halleck’s opinion, helped draft a plea to President Lincoln, urging him not to put McClellan back in command of anything as he was a disloyal traitor. The letter was drafted by Stanton, with help from Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase. Soon, Secretary of the Interior Caleb Smith was on board. When Attorney General Edward Bates saw the missive, he agreed with it, but thought it too loud and penned his own version omitting the bits about disloyalty.3

Welles: Perhaps, but then again, maybe not.

Naval Secretary Gideon Welles liked it better than Stanton’s draft, but refused to sign it. William Seward, Secretary of State, was suspiciously absent, probably trying to avoid this whole fiasco. Nevertheless, Stanton and Chase planned to present the written protest to Lincoln at the Cabinet meeting held on this date.4

But word was flowing into Washington that Pope was whipped, and Stanton knew that he had lost his ground. If Pope would have been victorious, McClellan’s ouster would have been an easy decision. But with the defeat came the fear that Washington would be taken by the Rebels. The city flew into a frenzy. Thousand left town, while many more packed their bags just in case. Even Stanton gathered his papers in preparation to flee. All of this, according to Stanton, was McClellan’s fault. It was he who refused to reinforce Pope.

Stanton’s clerk, A.E.H. Johnson, later wrote “that if McClellan had been present when the news of Pope’s defeat came in, the Secretary would have assaulted him.”5

Smith: Why doesn't anyone ever remember me?

At breakfast on this date, Lincoln met with Halleck and McClellan. Halleck, at McClellan’s request, had sent a member of his staff on General Pope’s retreating army to ascertain the rumors of 20,000 stragglers. When Halleck received the confirmation, McClellan was proven right, while Stanton, Chase and the rest were proven wrong. And though it was merely one point of many, it suddenly clouded all.6

In Lincoln and Halleck’s eyes, Pope was clearly the braggart and liar many had accused him of being. It would do nobody any good to keep him in command of the army. Since McClellan was a fine organizer, he was the man to take command of the troops coming into Washington.7

This order gave McClellan command of both the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Virginia. Before long, everyone, including Secretary of War Stanton, knew that McClellan was back in command.

Stanton’s plan to present the written protest at the Cabinet meeting was foiled and pointless. Just as it was opening, Lincoln had to leave for a bit. The discussion quickly turned to Pope’s recent failures. For this, McClellan and others from the Army of the Potomac, got much of the blame, though Pope was hardly held in high regard.

Lincoln: Oh he's not THAT bad!

Then, in a quiet voice, Stanton took over. He was absolutely livid over the news that McClellan was given command of all the troops. Those who had not yet heard were equally shocked. During this talk, Lincoln returned. When he caught wind of what was being said, he interjected.

He took full responsibility for whatever travesty might happen next, but added that Halleck agreed to it. He then built his case. McClellan knew well the ground around Washington. He was a find defensive commander, engineer, and organizer. This task would draw upon all of this good qualities, while avoiding his worst, which Lincoln referred to as “the slows.”

There was little the Cabinet could do but acquiesce, and even with that, some believed McClellan’s appointment would prove a national calamity.8

McClellan: Too true, Abe, watch this!

For General Pope, this was a very bad day. As he and his army marched towards Washington, he was engaged in a conversation with Irvin McDowell, one of his corps commanders. As they approached Munson’s Hill, they came across General George McClellan, bedecked in a new, clean uniform.

McClellan explained to Pope that he (McClellan) had been put in command of the troops entering Washington, and gave Pope orders where to place which units. Pope said nothing, but gave a salute in return.

General John Hatch, however, could hardly contain himself. He had been bitter since Pope had demoted him from the cavalry to infantry. Hatch was leading a column of his troops past where McClellan and Pope were meeting. As McClellan took command, effectively relieving Pope of his duty, Hatch rode to the front of his column.

“Boys!” bellowed Hatch, “McClellan is in command again! Three cheers!” The men all around them erupted into spirited huzzahs, while bands struck up jaunty tunes in celebration.9



  1. McClellan’s Own Story by George B. McClellan, C. L. Webster & Company, 1887. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p706, 739. []
  3. Edwin McMasters Stanton by Frank Abial Flower, Geo. M. Smith, 1905. []
  4. Diary of Gideon Welles by Gideon Welles, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1911. []
  5. Edwin McMasters Stanton by Frank Abial Flower, Geo. M. Smith, 1905. []
  6. Letter from George McClellan to Mary Ellen McClellan, September 2, 1862, as printed in The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan by Stephen W. Sears, Da Capo Press, 1989. []
  7. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p807. []
  8. Diary of Gideon Welles by Gideon Welles, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1911. []
  9. Military Reminiscences of the Civil War by Jacob Cox, 1900. []
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McClellan is in Command Again! Three Cheers! by Eric is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported

2 Responses

  1. Meg Thompson says

    Your captions have inspired me–have you read my stuff on the Republican Convention at emergingcivilwar? They are my “Eric tribute.”

    • Eric says

      Wonderful! I have noticed them and love it. I think captions are really where you can do your best to add a bit of humor. You can usually tell be my captions what kind of day I was having. If they’re attempting to be humorous, I was probably having a good day. If not, I was either grumpy or feeling very uncreative.

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