Lincoln Promises McClellan He Will Not Be Hurried

Thursday, October 10, 1861

By this time, Union General George McClellan had positioned his Army of the Potomac in a fine defensive position around Washington. All of his divisions protected the capital from any sort of Rebel invasion. From south to north, Heintzelman and Franklin covered Alexandria, Sumner and Keyes covered the ground between Alexandria and Munson’s Hill, which was held by McDowell. Across the Leesburg & Alexandria Turnpike, and on the other side of Falls Church, Porter, Smith and McCall held the more northerly approaches to the city. To ensure the Rebels didn’t try to cross the Potomac, General Stone had his troops spread out covering the ground opposite Leesburg and Balls Bluff to Point of Rocks and Harpers Ferry.

On the evening of this date, President Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward visited General McClellan at his headquarters to discuss the recently occupied positions around Washington. McClellan was pleased as punch with his men. They had marched to their new positions without stopping to plunder and without rowdiness of any sort.

As Lincoln was leaving, McClellan pulled him aside, telling him that he believed his Army could make a “strong reconnaissance about Monday [October 14] to feel the strength of the enemy.” He also added that he intended “to be careful and do as well as possible.” As a final request, he implored Lincoln, “don’t let them hurry me is all I ask.”

Lincoln then affirmed McClellan’s wishes, “You shall have your own way in this matter, I assure you.”1

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Old Stars to Sherman

General Ormsby M. Mitchel, commander of the Department of the Ohio, wasn’t exactly demoted or moved to another department, but on this date, he was ordered by Secretary of War Simon Cameron to move from his headquarters in Cincinnati and “assigned to duty in the Department of the Cumberland.” Also, he was to report to General Sherman, the Department’s commander, and “be governed by such further orders as he may give.”

Mitchel was a West Point graduate from the Class of 1829, the same class that produced Robert E. Lee and Joseph Johnston. He excelled in mathematics and taught in several schools, including West Point and Cincinnati College. There, he discovered his love for astronomy and toured the east coast and Europe lecturing on the stars and publishing a slew of books.2

He, however, was a late-comer to the war, having joined the Union Army in August. By September 21, he was the commander of the Department of the Ohio, taking over for General Rosecrans who was in the mountains of western Virginia.

Mitchel was ordered to Camp Dick Robinson, near Lancaster in Garrard County, Kentucky. There, he was to “prepare the troops for an outward movement, the object being to take possession of Cumberland Ford and Cumberland Gap, and ultimately seize the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad and attack and drive the rebels from that region of country.”3

Wasting no time, Mitchel wrote to the commander of Camp Dick Robinson, General George “Pap” Thomas, informing him of the order and to prepare his men to prepare to move out. “It is my purpose to leave for the camp,” wrote Mitchel, “as soon as I am assured that supplies, transportation, ammunition, and other necessaries are certain to be sent forward.”4

Supplies, transportation, ammunition and other necessaries, however, weren’t so easy to come by. Since taking over the Department of the Cumberland two days ago, General Sherman was quickly beginning to understand why General Anderson, the Department’s former commander, retired. On this date, Sherman wrote to President Lincoln summarizing his woes.

Sherman, who believed that the Confederates would “make a more desperate effort to gain Kentucky than they have for Missouri,” told the President that the “force now here or expected is entirely inadequate.” The citizens of Kentucky were absolutely no help at all, said Sherman, they, “instead of assisting, call from every quarter for protection against local secessionists.” There were troops in Indiana and Ohio who were “ready to come to Kentucky, but they have no arms, and we cannot supply them arms, clothing, or anything.” Clearly disgruntled, Sherman ended the terse dispatch with one word: “Answer.”5

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Tennessee Tries to Give Troops

On September 21, after receiving the permission to do so, Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston called upon the State of Tennessee for 30,000 troops for the Southern cause. On the 26th, Harris issued his own proclamation, echoing the call for troops. Though Johnston’s original request established several rendezvous points for the troops, Harris thought it better to establish a few more, making it easier for his state to raise the 30,000.

Additionally, he promised the new recruits that once they were formed into regiments, they would have the authority to elect their own field officers. Had he not promised this, he believed that many fewer would join.6



  1. Army of the Potomac; McClellan Takes Command by Russsel H. Beatie. []
  2. Biographical information from Encyclopedia of the American Civil War edited by David and Jeanne Heidler. A quick search of Mitchel’s name at Google Books will display a large selection of his books on astronomy. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 4, p300. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 4, p301-302. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 4, p300. []
  6. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 4, p442-443. []
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Lincoln Promises McClellan He Will Not Be Hurried by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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