General Lee Meets Traveller; The Rift Between Scott and McClellan

Friday, September 27, 1861

Through the rain, mud and disorganization along the Confederate lines in Western Virginia, General Robert E. Lee stared across the mile-wide gulch separating his Army of the Kanawha from General Rosecrans’ Union force. Each army occupied a spur of Big Sewell Mountain, twenty-one miles west of Lewisburg.

As Lee established his headquarters, the weather and the troops weren’t the only things on his mind. Through the autumn fog and turning leaves, he noticed a horse, ridden by Captain Joseph M. Broun, quartermaster of the 3rd Virginia Infantry, of Wise’s Legion. Named “Jeff Davis,” the gray gelding was an American Saddlebred of the Gray Eagle stock, sixteen hands high.

When Lee first saw Jeff Davis, he took a fancy to it, calling it, “my colt.” Perhaps half-joking, Lee told Captain Broun that he would need the horse before the war was over. In a few months, Lee’s words about this fine horse, who he would rename “Traveller,” would soon come true.

Four years before they met, Traveller was born in Greenbrier County, [in modern day West Virginia] near Blue Sulphur Springs. He was raised by Andrew Johnson (or possibly Johnston) and took the premium (first prize) in both 1859 and 1860 at the Lewisburg Fair. Captain Broun’s brother, Major Thomas Broun, authorized to locate and purchase “a good, serviceable horse of the best Greenbrier stock.”

This was apparently no easy task as it took the Broun brothers much searching and inquiry before coming upon Jeff Davis, then being ridden by Andrew Johnson’s son, Captain James W. Johnson. A deal was struck and the horse was theirs for $175 (gold value).

At first, Major Broun rode the mount, which was “greatly admired in the camp for his rapid, springy walk, his high spirit, bold carriage and muscular strength.” Major Broun later wrote that Jeff Davis “needed neither whip nor spur, and would walk his five or six miles an hour over the rough mountain roads of West Virginia, with his rider sitting firmly in the saddle and holding him in check by a tight rein, such vim and eagerness did he manifest to go right ahead soon as he was mounted.”

For the time being, however, General Lee would have to admire the horse from afar. Jeff Davis would not be Lee’s until several months had passed and they were both several states away from Western Virginia.1


General Scott Throws Down the Gauntlet – McClellan Picks It Up

While the Union Army of the Potomac was being built and trained by General George B. McClellan, General-in-Chief Winfield Scott was feeling left out. Many had noticed that the old warrior was growing more feeble and drowsy every day. Over the months since Bull Run, some blamed Scott for the Union defeat. Others, like Frank Blair, noticed that he was “sick – he is getting dropsical and very old.”

Some wondered if the seventy-five year old, 300lbs. Scott, suffering from gout and rheumatism, and unable to even mount a horse, was fit to command the entire Union Army. Leader of this thought (or, at least, it’s obvious benefactor) was General George B. McClellan, who, by this time, had become outwardly hostile towards “Old Fat and Feeble” Scott (playing on Scott’s Army nickname of “Old Fuss and Feathers”).

In August, McClellan wrote to his wife, describing Scott as “the most dangerous antagonist I have.” Also to his wife, he wrote that, “either he or I must leave here,” asserting that “he has become my inveterate enemy!”

The latest rift to develop between the two Generals concerned McClellan’s refusal to keep Scott informed about the number of regiments, brigades and divisions in and around Washington.

On this date, President Lincoln called a Cabinet meeting in General Scott’s office and invited McClellan to attend. Quickly, the conversation turned to the number of troops near Washington. McClellan fell silent as both Scott and Secretary of War Simon Cameron said that they had no idea of the figure. Seward, however, was in the know, which annoyed Scott even further.

Cameron tried to calm the situation by jesting that Seward meddled in every department. More than likely, thought Scott, McClellan gave the figures to Seward.

As the meeting broke up, McClellan cornered Scott. He stuck out his hand, looked him in the eye and said, “Good morning, General Scott.”

Scott, being a perfect Virginia gentleman, took McClellan’s out-stretched hand. “You were called here by my advice,” said Scott, referring to when he suggested McClellan come from the Western Virginia front. “The times require vigilance and activity. I am not active and never shall be again. When I proposed that you should come here to aid, not supersede, me, you had my friendship and confidence. You still have my confidence.”2

Later that night, McClellan wrote to his wife about the meeting. “As he threw down the glove, I picked it up,” wrote the young General, referring specifically to Scott’s parting words. “I presume war is declared – so be it. I do not fear him. I have one strong point; that I do not care one iota for my present position.”3

While McClellan looked for a way to oust Scott, the General-in-Chief, who knew he was well past his prime, looked for someone else to replace him.

  1. “General R.E. Lee’s War-Horse; A Sketch of Traveller by the Man who Formerly Owned Him” by Thomas L. Broun. Originally, the article appears in the Richmond Dispatch in 1886. Later, it was collected in the Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 35. []
  2. Army of the Potomac; McClellan Takes Command by Russel H. Beatie. []
  3. Letter from General George McClellan to his wife, September 27. 1861. []
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General Lee Meets Traveller; The Rift Between Scott and McClellan by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International