October 30, 1861 (Wednesday)
For several days, President Lincoln and General McClellan had met, along with a few Cabinet members here and there, to discuss the future of the Army of the Potomac. The rift between McClellan and General-in-Chief Winfield Scott (and their staffs) was making headlines in the press.
Winfield Scott was getting up there in age, and, at seventy-five, was fit to retire. It helped little that his big picture of a longer conflict was in opposition to the popular thought of a one large, decisive battle to end the war. Scott had even submitted a letter of resignation in August, but Lincoln had refused to accept it. The President was, at this time, reconsidering it.
If Scott had his way, General Henry Halleck, the forth-highest ranking officer in the Union army (behind Scott, McClellan and John Fremont), would pick up where Scott was leaving off. Halleck, however, was still on a boat, traveling from California.
On this date, Lincoln and Secretary of War Simon Cameron met with McClellan. The President again asked McClellan to submit a letter stating his military views. McClellan had done this several times in the past, the last being in early September. Lincoln wished to know the condition of the Army of the Potomac and McClellan’s overall plan against the rebellion.
The meeting adjourned, McClellan wrote to his wife believing to have finally convinced Lincoln to retire Scott, giving him (McClellan) the vacant position. McClellan felt “a sense of relief at the prospect of having my own way untrammeled.”
He would compose the letter Lincoln requested the following day.1
Chasing Mason & Slidell; Looking for the Wrong Ship
Confederate envoys to Europe, James Mason and John Slidell, had arrived in Cuba on October 17th. Since that time, they had moved to Havana and were awaiting a ship, the Trent, a British mail packet, that was scheduled to leave for England via St. Thomas on November 7.
Union officials believed Mason and Slidell to have slipped out of Charleston Harbor aboard the CSS Nashville. Two ships had been sent to track it down. One, the USS James Adger, on this date, had limped into Queenstown, Ireland. Not only had Commander J.B. Marchand been looking for the wrong boat in the wrong place, he had barely lived through a terrible week.
Knowing that the Nashville was a faster boat, he decided to head her off at the English Channel or off the coast of Brest. Before leaving New York, he had the Adger loaded with 333 tons of coal, more than enough for the trip, and set sail. After passing through a storm that caused his ship some damage, Marchand learned that there wasn’t actually enough coal to make the trip. He was 900 miles off the coast of England and probably didn’t have enough fuel to get him there.
The ship was also leaking. It was discovered that one of the pipes to the forward pump had burst inside the magazine. Several inches of water flooded the floor and destroyed quite a bit of the ship’s gunpowder. However, after some work, he was able to salvage over two tons, throwing the rest overboard.
The Adger arrived in Queentown with but seven tons of coal.
Once on land, Marchand learned from the newspapers that the Nashville had not yet reached a European port. Once refueled, he would cruise the Adger at the mouth of the English Channel and off the coast of Brest in hopes of catching the Nashville with Mason and Slidell on board. He was not, however, to capture the vessel. He was awaiting orders from the Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles on whether to follow the Nashville or head back to the States.2
This was all, however, quickly becoming public knowledge. On this date in New York City, an employee of the shipping house of Spofford & Tileston, informed Hiram Paulding, Commandant of the New York Navy Yard that Mason and Slidell had arrived in Havana on the 22nd or 23rd aboard the Gordon, which had recently changed her name to the Theodora. Not only that, but the ship that everyone was looking for, the Nashville, was still in Charleston Harbor.3
All this was already known to Captain Charles Wilkes. In searching for the CSS Sumter, he landed at a port on the southern coast of Cuba. There he learned that Mason and Slidell had arrived in Havana aboard the Theordora. Hoping to catch the vessel on her return trip, he refueled and sped towards the northern coast of Cuba.4
General Lee leaves Western Virginia
In Western Virginia, the campaigning was nearly at an end. General Lee was whipped. There was, naturally, some public backlash, but mostly, like the campaign itself, it ground to a slow halt.
On this day, after moving with the remnants of the Army of the Kanawha not with General Floyd probing the Union right and rear at Gauley Bridge to Meadow Bluff, Lee left for Richmond.
“Judged from its results, it must be confessed that this series of operations was a failure,” wrote Lee’s aid Walter Taylor after the war. “At its conclusion, a large portion of the State was in possession of the Federals, including the rich valleys of the Ohio and Kanawha rivers, and so remained until the close of the war.”5
While still respected in the South, few took into account the volatile relationship between Confederate Generals Floyd and Wise into which Lee was dropped. Lee could only do so much with what he had to work with. Nevertheless, most saw him as overrated. At best, he was viewed as erring on the side of the engineer that he was, preferring to dig entrenchments rather than fight.
Now sporting a full gray beard, Lee and Taylor, along with two slaves, Meredith and Perry, began the long ride back to Richmond. Lee was to again be Davis’ military adviser, until something else came up.6
- Army of the Potomac; McClellan Takes Command by Russel H. Beatie. [↩]
- Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 1, p124-126. [↩]
- Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 1, p124. [↩]
- Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 1, p129-130. [↩]
- Four Years with General Lee by Walter Taylor. [↩]
- Rebels at the Gate by Lesser. [↩]