Both Lincoln and McClellan Chastise Buell; Jackson Cannot Take Hancock

January 6, 1862 (Monday)

President Lincoln had taken temporary control of the Union army since General George McClellan, its commander, had fallen gravely ill. In the past few days, however, McClellan was recovering. By this time, he was even well enough to tolerate a visit from Lincoln, who wanted to share the evolving situation in Kentucky and Kansas with the General.

Two days prior, Lincoln had wired General Don Carlos Buell in Louisville, to ask if arms had gone forward into Eastern Tennessee. The next day, Buell replied that “arms can only go forward for East Tennessee under the protection of an army.” Buell had never been a fan of an advance into Eastern Tennessee and had told Lincoln in no uncertain terms that he had “been bound to it more by my sympathy for the people of East Tennessee and the anxiety with which you and the General-in-Chief have desired it than by my opinion of its wisdom as an unconditional measure.”1

Buell, favoring an advance on Nashville, was convinced that the real Confederate threat was between Bowling Green and Columbus, in the central and western parts of the state.

After receiving Buell’s reply, Lincoln, on this date, visited with McClellan and shared Buell’s response with him. Both Lincoln and McClellan replied to the errant General.

Lincoln, though admittedly “not competent to criticize your views,” explained that he “would rather have a point on the railroad south of Cumberland Gap than Nashville.” Lincoln reasoned that a move into Eastern Tennessee would cut the Rebel communications and would bring loyalists to the Union colors. Taking Nashville would do neither.2

McClellan’s reply expressed a deep regret that Buell had “from the beginning attached little to no importance to a move in East Tennessee.” General McClellan had worked out his “own general plans for the prosecution of the war,” and in those, Bowling Green and Nashville were “of very secondary importance.”

The eyes of McClellan were fixed not on Eastern Tennessee alone, but also “West North Carolina, South Carolina, North Georgia, and Alabama.” There were, he believed, Unionists abounding who would adhere to the Federal cause.

The original plan had been for General Halleck in Missouri to keep the Rebels in his front too busy to reinforce those on Buell’s. Halleck, however, was certain that his troops were too small in number and in no condition to move. In light of that, McClellan asked Buell, “Why not make the movement independently of and without waiting for that?”3

As if to drive that point home, General Halleck penned a letter to the President, which would make it to Washington in about four days’ time. In it, he explained the difficulties in commanding troops in Missouri. Many of the foreign troops were mutinous, in hopes that General Fremont would be restored. In the northern part of the state, bridges were being burned and telegraph lines being cut. Most importantly, what Halleck needed were competent officers.

“I am in the condition of a carpenter who is required to build a bridge with a dull ax, a broken saw, and rotten timber,” complained Halleck, bitterly.

Of General Buell’s plans, Halleck claimed to know little, but if he planned to move one of his columns on Bowling Green, while another moved on Columbus, “it will be a repetition of the same strategic error which produced the disaster of Bull Bun.”4

Such a thought was very sobering to Washington.


Jackson Checks and is Checked at Hancock

Still in Bath, across the Potomac River from Hancock, Maryland, General Stonewall Jackson had, the previous day, sent Colonel Turner Ashby across the river to parlay with Union General Frederick Lander, recently arrived and commanding 4,000 nearby Federals. Jackson gave Lander an ultimatum: In two hours, the Confederate artillery would shell the town unless it was surrendered.

Lander, who had no mind to surrender anything, refused. For the rest of the day, Jackson’s artillery sporadically lobbed shells into Hancock. The Union artillery replied, but neither side caused much damage or bodily harm. That night, all through till the morning of this date, the snow fell heavy on both sides of the Potomac.

The Union troops completely ransacked the town, while the Rebels, across the river, did what they could to keep warm. Some tried to dig trenches, but the ground was too frozen to pierce. The pickets on both sides nearly froze to death. A Rebel picket wrote after the war that he did not “stand picket,” as the army terminology went, but rather, he “ran picket for hours around and around a big tree; I had to do it to keep from freezing.”

Union General Lander had pleaded with General Nathaniel Banks at Martinsburg to send reinforcements to Hancock. Late on the 5th, he released a brigade to make a forced march to Lander’s command. They would not arrive soon enough to make a difference, however.

At sunset, Jackson gave a river crossing one last shot at Sir John’s Run, but Lander proved too well entrenched to move. The Federals could see his every move and he had lost the element of surprise.

Jackson, seeing that the small outpost at Hancock had grown from a few companies of infantry to a veritable army, realized that it might be time to get back to his main objective: taking Romney, sixty miles southwest.

Though he had failed to take Hancock, his jog to Bath was not without fruit. He had destroyed the railroad bridge at Big Cacapon Creek and tore down telegraph lines, severing all communication between the Potomac and the Alleghenies. Romney was now cut off from the rest of the Union armies. Though not accomplished in any way resembling neat and tidy, Jackson met his objective at Bath. The next morning, he would begin his march on Romney.5

  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p530-531. []
  2. Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln, Vol. 5, p112. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p531. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p532-533. []
  5. Following Jackson’s Romney campaign, I’m relying upon three books, primarily. Shenandoah 1862 by Peter Cozzens, Stonewall Jackson by James I Robertson and Stonewall in the Valley by Robert G. Tanner. []
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2 thoughts on “Both Lincoln and McClellan Chastise Buell; Jackson Cannot Take Hancock

  1. Strange as it may seem, Gen. Buell was correct. The best course of action would eventually be shown to be a push to Nashville and from there to the east. The rail lines through Kentucky were not sufficient to supply the army along any other line of advance.

    1. By this time, yes, it was too late. The Confederates had, more or less, squashed the resistance. If Sherman would have sent a force as he was supposed to, things would have been different for the Unionists. I’m not sure it would have effected much beyond that, but to the Unionists in East Tennessee, it was a fairly big deal.

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