Stonewall Jackson Resigns! Lincoln Borrows the Army for a Little While

January 31, 1862 (Friday)

General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson trudged his way through the soft and silent snow to his headquarters in Winchester, Virginia. It was early dawn and messages from the previous evening had piled upon his desk, creating miniature snowbanks across his blotter.

Since the start of the Romney Campaign, when he was joined by General William Loring’s Army of the Northwest, complaints against Stonewall Jackson’s Way had also piled up. They whipped their paths through regiments, brigades, and finally to General Loring himself, who made sure that even President Davis knew which way the wind was blowing.

Loring’s men had been left to defend Romney, while Jackson’s men occupied the relative comfort of Winchester. This was part of Jackson’s plan. He hoped to hold Romney as part of a scheme to retake Western Virginia. If the Federals held the town, the doorway to the western counties was cut off.

Davis, more politician than weatherman, met with Secretary of War Judah Benjamin, who ordered Jackson to reunite his and Loring’s men, abandoning Romney. There was an unfounded rumor that Union troops were marching to cut off Loring from Jackson. Supposedly it was that that spurred the order. In reality, however, there was no Union advance. There was only a near-mutinous coup against Jackson.

As Jackson read the short dispatch from Secretary Benjamin, he was stricken with complete disbelief. In his head, Jackson, a career military man, could have ticked off the multifarious ways it breached protocol and etiquette.

According to custom, such an order should come from Jackson’s commander, General Joe Johnston, not the Secretary of War. What’s more, Jackson, being in the field, knew there was no Union advance. Jackson’s command, while not wholly independent, was given great leeway. No explanation was provided for such a drastic change of plans. This called into question not only his authority, but his aptitude. Suddenly, after months of planning and weeks of hard marches, the Romney Expedition was rendered pointless.1

Still, a soldier to the end, General Jackson followed Secretary Benjamin’s orders to the letter. He directed General Loring to give up the defense of Romney and to return to Winchester. He knew that it would cause the militia units holding Bath, Virginia to fall back as well, but an order was an order.

Then, less than an hour after reading the telegram from Benjamin, Thomas Jackson resigned.2

Sir: Your order requiring me to direct General Loring to return with his command to Winchester immediately has been received and promptly complied with.

With such interference in my command I cannot expect to be of much service in the field, and accordingly respectfully request to be ordered to report for duty to the superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute at Lexington, as has been done in the case of other professors. Should this application not be granted, I respectfully request that the President will accept my resignation from the Army. I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

T. J. JACKSON, Major-General3

After breakfast Jackson wrote to Virginia’s Governor Letcher, explaining what happened, and asking to be reinstated as a professor at the Virginia Military Institute. The letter of resignation would take a few days to work its way back to Richmond, and Jackson was preparing for the next phase of his life – a return to the simple home life with his wife, Anna in Lexington, Virginia.4


Lincoln Orders the Army of the Potomac to Move

Nearly three weeks had slipped by since President Lincoln let slip that “if General McClellan does not want to use the army, I would like to borrow it, provided I can see how it can be made to do something.” The army he was talking about was the Army of the Potomac, whiling away the winter on the outskirts of Washington.

On the 27th, Lincoln took the first step by issuing General War Order No. 1, decreeing George Washington’s birthday, February 22, as the day when most of the Union forces should launch their attacks upon Confederate strongholds. Perhaps realizing that General McClellan would put up a fight over fighting, on this date, Lincoln took to specifics.

While McClellan was General-in-Chief, having command over all Union forces, he was also the commander of the Army of the Potomac. As recent events in the west were proving, McClellan was more or less fine with other armies advancing. When it came to the Army of the Potomac, however, he seemed sluggish, at best.

There was also the question of McClellan’s own plan, which Lincoln understood but vaguely. The General hoped to surprise the Rebels by landing troops near Urbanna, on the Virginia Peninsula. Lincoln wanted to keep Washington covered, while attacking south towards Manassas.

He had been suggesting as much all along, but finally, on this date, made it a direct order by issuing the President’s Special War Order No. 1.

Ordered: That all the disposable force of the Army of the Potomac, after providing safely for the defense of Washington, be formed into an expedition for the immediate object of seizing and occupying a point upon the railroad southwestward of what is known as Manassas Junction, all details to be in the discretion of the commander-in-chief, and the expedition to move before or on the 22d day of February next.5

When McClellan received the order, he quickly scampered to the White House to lodge a protest. Once in from the cold, McClellan asked if he could submit a paper detailing his objections. Seeing no way it could hurt, Lincoln allowed it.6

McClellan had actually been working on a rebuttal for General McDowell’s plan, which was nondifferent from Lincoln’s plan. By this date, it was nearly finished, but not final. After receiving Lincoln’s Special Order, however, McClellan revised it further. Though the twenty page document was dated January 31st, it was probably submitted to Lincoln on February 3rd. There is some debate concerning how much it was revised after reading Lincoln’s January 31st order. Since McClellan refers to information he obtained on February 1st, it’s very possible that Lincoln’s order spawned some revisions.7

While McClellan crossed his t’s and dotted his i’s, Lincoln was fully ready to consider McClellan’s plan. He began work on a series of questions that he would submit concerning McClellan’s plan. Each paper, both McClellan’s and Lincoln’s, would be ready by February 3.8

  1. Shenandoah 1862 by Peter Cozzens. []
  2. Stonewall Jackson by James I. Robertson. Robertson gives a great account of Jackson’s entire day, which, while it gives insight into Jackson’s life, is too lengthy to appear here. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p1053. []
  4. Stonewall in the Valley by Robert G. Tanner. []
  5. Appears in the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Vol. 5. []
  6. George B. McClellan; The Young Napoleon by Stephen W. Sears, Da Capo Press, 1999. []
  7. George B. McClellan to Edwin M. Stanton, Friday, January 31, 1862. Note #1. []
  8. Army of the Potomac; McClellan Takes Command by Russel H. Beatie. []
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Stonewall Jackson Resigns! Lincoln Borrows the Army for a Little While by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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