Lincoln Says Good-Bye to Scott; McClellan Takes Command

November 1, 1861 (Friday)

For President Lincoln and his Cabinet, the day began at 9am. They met to discuss and debate General-in-Chief Winfield Scott’s request to be placed on the retired list. The Cabinet was unanimous that it should be accepted and General George B. McClellan should be given the position. Lincoln, however, was not convinced. He wasn’t just unsure of the young McClellan, but was leery on the idea of anyone being General-in-Chief.

Retaining McClellan as the head of only the Army of the Potomac, thought Lincoln, would allow him to focus on building up the army without having to worry much about the other theaters of war. What’s more, if Scott’s position was left vacant, there could be no one to meddle in McClellan’s affairs. It seemed like the best of both worlds.

The Cabinet, however, was pushing for McClellan. Attorney General Edward Bates tried to reason with Lincoln, telling him that the position of General-in-Chief was merely a lieutenant. The President was the true Commander-in-Chief and able to appoint any general to serve as Scott had. The obvious choice, of course, was McClellan.

To this, Lincoln agreed. This idea of a lieutenant to the President would free up Lincoln from micro-managing the war (in theory), but would still allow him a great deal of control. It may not have been the exact “best of both worlds” that Lincoln originally wanted, but it was hard to argue with second best.

Having formally accepted Scott’s resignation, that afternoon, the President and the entire Cabinet visited the aged General in his office. Scott was reclining on a sofa and had to be helped to his feet to greet them.

Each shook Scott’s hand and said a few kind words of praise and thanks. The old warrior was visibly touched and near tears as they all said their good-byes. Scott would shortly leave for New York the next morning.

That evening, President Lincoln visited General McClellan to inform him that Scott had retired and that he (McClellan) was now General-in-Chief. Lincoln thanked the General and told him that it was a great relief to have him.

To formally accept the position, McClellan wrote and issued General Orders No. 19. In it, he first assured the country that they would be victorious; “Providence will favor ours as the just cause.”

He then turned to General Scott, heaping praise after praise upon him. Between each commendation, however, was a reminder of Scott’s age, his infirmary, or a reference to choosing the office over the battlefield. It concluded in much the same way:

Let us all hope and pray that his declining yearn may be passed in peace and happiness, and that they may be cheered by the success of the country and the cause he has fought for and loved so well. Beyond all that, let us do nothing that can cause him to blush for us; let no defeat of the army he has so long commanded imbitter his last years, but let our victories illuminate the close of a life so grand.1


Rebel Attack in Western Virginia!

In western Virginia, Union General Rosecrans had pulled back to Gauley Bridge and General Lee had pulled back to Meadow Bluff. The two armies were over forty miles away from each other. Confederate General Floyd had taken his brigade around the Union right flank, but was unnoticed by Rosecrans, who stilled seemed to expect an attack on his front.

He was caught completely by surprise when Rebel artillery began shelling his right and rear from Cotton Hill, across the Kanawha River. Floyd’s targets were the Federal supply depot and the the ferries. Rosecrans had never expected the Rebels to take Cotton Hill and so never bothered to protect it.

This attack completely unnerved the Union General. It was two miles in their rear and completely cut them off from their supplies, escape route and communications. Though rattled, he managed to save the ferry boats and ordered a brigade to push towards Sewell Mountain, where Rosecrans still believed an attack would come. He also ordered a battery to fire upon the Rebel skirmishers gathering on the banks of New River. Before dusk, his entire army was shifting to meet this new attack.2


Union Fleet in Danger around Cape Hatteras

The Union Naval fleet carrying the joint expedition to Port Royal, South Carolina had rounded Cape Hatteras the previous day, but though the weather had been calm in the morning, it quickly turned dark. By the morning of this date, the seas went from rough to treacherous as a gale blew in from the southeast.

As the winds drew to hurricane strength, the fleet of seventy-seven ships were in grave danger. The crew of the Isaac Smith, a man-of-war not built for such waters, was forced to throw the artillery overboard to stay afloat. The Smith was thus able to come to the rescue of the chartered steamer Governor, which was carrying the precious cargo of a battalion of Marines. With the help of the Sabine, all but seven of the Marines were rescued from drowning as the Governor went under.

Things went slightly better for the Peerless, a troop transport vessel that was quickly sinking. The Mohican pulled along side of her and all twenty-six on board were saved.

The seas calmed as night drew over the scattered fleet.3

  1. General Orders No. 19, November 1, 1861 – As reprinted in Harpers Weekly November 16, 1861. []
  2. Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Volume 1 by Jacob Dolson Cox. []
  3. Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol 12, p259-260. []
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Lincoln Says Good-Bye to Scott; McClellan Takes Command by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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