Butler Practically Removed from Command; Still More Bickering in WV

Saturday, August 17, 1861

This day was a bureaucratic shake up. Commanders and departments were changed, combined and eliminated. General Benjamin Butler, Union commander of the Department of Virginia, headquartered at Fortress Monroe, had received notice on August 11 that General John Ellis Wool was to replace him. No further orders were issued for Butler, so all he had left to do was wait and wonder.

General Wool, a 77 year old Mexican War hero, had been selected by General-in-Chief Winfield Scott to “reinforce that department for aggressive purposes.” Scott, who was also near retirement and could barely get out of his chair by himself, must have known that Wool, who was in a state of semi-retirement, may not have been up to the task. “Is your health equal to that command?” asked Scott of Wool. “If yes, you will be ordered thither at once.”1

On this date, Wool arrived at Fortress Monroe, assuming command of the Department, which included anything within a sixty mile radius of Monroe, plus any parts of North and South Carolina occupied by the Union army.

Perhaps because the situation was an awkward one, or maybe because he was too old and in no shape to command a fort, let alone a department, Wool placed Butler in command of all troops, except the Regulars, in and around Fortress Monroe.

Meanwhile, in and around Washington, the Departments of the East, Northeastern Virginia, Shenandoah, and Washington were combined into the Department of the Potomac, which had been the District of the Potomac within the Department of the East. The department was placed under the command of General George B. McClellan. Though it would take a few days to become official, the Army of Northeastern Virginia, once commanded at the Battle of Bull Run by General McDowell, became the Army of the Potomac, also under General McClellan.2

A few of these changes had been made in late July and early August, but nothing became official until this date. General McClellan now commanded all Union troops in the vicinity of Washington and northern Virginia. For the time being, McClellan was busy reorganizing the Army of the Potomac and keeping his eye turned towards Manassas, where he feared the Confederates were growing in numbers.


“PS – Remain there until further orders.”

The Western Virginia odd couple, Generals Wise and Floyd were still at each others’ throats. On this day, they again exchanged saucy letters.

Wise, who was now near Big Sewell Mountain, wrote to Floyd to let him know that not only did he not appreciate Floyd giving orders directly to officers under his [Wise’s] command, but that General Robert E. Lee himself agreed that the importance of communication of all orders to Wise’s command be made via Wise was “so apparent” that Lee thought no orders were needed to establish it.

Floyd, who was probably sick of dealing with Wise, had, the previous day, decided to go over the head of General Lee and drag President Jefferson Davis into the pointless fray. With little more to say to his second-in-command, Wise was ordered to remain at Big Sewell Mountain until further orders.3

  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 4, p600. []
  2. Index to the Executive Documents Printed by Order of the Senate for the Second Session of the Fortieth Congress, 1867-’68. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p791. []
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Butler Practically Removed from Command; Still More Bickering in WV by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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