McClellan Changes His Plan, Lincoln Asks Some Questions; Sherman On Leave

December 1, 1861 (Sunday)

When Union General George B. McClellan was given command of the Army of the Potomac, he was promised by President Lincoln that he would not be hurried. Upon becoming General-in-Chief, however, McClellan took command of all the Union armies.

This change gave him the authority to move all the forces in concert. With Generals Buell and Halleck in command in Kentucky and Missouri, he figured that the armies could make a southerly push from Virginia to beyond the Mississippi River. When both Buell and Halleck found their forces to be in deplorable shape, McClellan began to doubt his overall strategy.

With Buell and Halleck, more or less, bogged down, McClellan figured that he could still plan a campaign with his Army of the Potomac. Much of the nation expected a southerly thrust at the Rebels near Manassas, but McClellan had been contemplating a much different plan.

Knowing full well that the Union Navy controlled the sea, he conceived of a plan to ship his entire army from Annapolis, down the Chesepeake Bay, to Urbana, Virginia, on the Rappahannock River. The previous evening, McClellen met with President Lincoln, Secretary Seward, Fitz John Porter, and John Dahlgren of the Navy. After Lincoln and Seward left, McClellan brought up the vague idea of his Urbana Plan to the two Naval officers. They talked it over, but since it was just another idea being batted around, nothing came of it.1

On this date, the day after the meeting, Lincoln, growing weary of waiting for news of a campaign against the Confederates near Manassas, wrote McClellan a memo of questions.

“If it were determined to make a forward movement of the Army of the Potomac without awaiting further increase of numbers or better drill and discipline,” asked Lincoln, “how long would it require to actually get in motion?”

Lincoln was unaware that McClellan was abandoning his overland campaign idea. Originally, McClellan planned to move his army southwest from Alexandria, crossing the Occoquan River near its mouth on the Potomac. From there, he would cross Cedar Run, attacking the Rebels near Manassas from the southeast.

With this still the only idea in mind, Lincoln asked how many troops would have to be on either side of the Occoquan to defend against the Rebels. He then proposed a few of his own ideas. Lincoln suggested that McClellan divide the army in two, each side advancing on opposite bands of the Occoquan towards Brentsville. If one column was contested, thought Lincoln, the other column could fall on the enemy’s rear.

It would take McClellan ten days to formulate a very short response.2


Sherman Given Leave of Absence to Recover

General William Tecumseh Sherman arrived back in St. Louis, after being recalled by General Halleck from Sedalia. The press and army rumors had been pegging Sherman as insane for over a month. In truth, Sherman was overwhelmed and exhausted. He was overly-cautious to the point of paranoia of a Rebel attack and of seemingly little use to anyone in such a state.

Upon his arrival, Sherman found his wife waiting for him. She had traveled from Lancaster, Ohio to meet him. Sherman met with General Halleck and asked for a twenty day furlough to spend time with his family, to recover, and, as he later put it, “to allow the storm to blow over somewhat.”3

Halleck, who had been asking McClellan for more officers, had to explain his approval of the furlough. The following day, he wrote, “that General Sherman was completely ‘stampeded,’ and was ‘stampeding’ the army.” Halleck was “satisfied that General Sherman’s physical and mental system is so completely broken by labor and care as to render him for the present entirely unfit for duty. Perhaps a few weeks’ rest may restore him. I am satisfied that in his present condition it would be dangerous to give him a command here.”4

With Sherman out of the way, Halleck could focus upon finding the secessionist, General Sterling Price, and his Missouri State Guards. General David Hunter, now at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas reported that he had no idea where Price was, but that it was possible he was moving north towards Kansas City, Missouri. He suggested that a brigade from Sedalia be sent there for the winter. He also suggested one be sent to Lexington.5

  1. Army of the Potomac; McClellan Takes Command by Russel H. Beatie. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 11, Part 3, p6-7. []
  3. Memoirs by William Tecumseh Sherman. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 52, Part 1, p198-199. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 8, p399-400. []
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McClellan Changes His Plan, Lincoln Asks Some Questions; Sherman On Leave by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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