McClellan Refuses to Move – Lincoln to Pay a Visit

September 30, 1862 (Tuesday)

George McClellan never believed that he was being an unreasonable ass. All he really wanted was to be left alone. A little bit of credit for winning the Battle of Antietam and driving the nearly overwhelming hordes of Rebels from northern soil wouldn’t hurt, either. But from Washington, he was receiving neither.

The Lonely Grave at Antietam

Since the bloody day of the battle, the Confederates had taken up camp around and just north of Winchester, while the Union army stayed more or less near Sharpsburg. Writing to his wife on the 29th, McClellan rejoiced that the Rebels had retired. “I will be able to arrange my troops more with a view to comfort,” he penned, before hoping for rains that would swell the Potomac, keeping General Lee and his men on one side while General McClellan took a leave of absence.

In the same letter, he complained bitterly that Washington had not thanked him. He also was vexed that he had to write a summary report of the battle. “I would really prefer fighting three battles to writing the report of one,” said the General.

At any rate, McClellan wrote his report and submitted it. Washington responded. First, General-in-Chief Henry Halleck, about whom McClellan had almost nothing nice to say, poured praise upon the Army of the Potomac. “The valor and endurance of your army in the several conflicts … are creditable alike to the troops and to the officers who commanded them,” wrote Halleck. “A grateful country while mourning the lamented dead will not be unmindful of the honors due the living.” Even this would not change McClellan’s opinion. A day after receiving the telegram, he again wrote his wife: “I do think that man Halleck is the most stupid idiot I ever heard of.”

If Halleck’s response was not personal enough for McClellan, Washington had another waiting in the wings. McClellan had repeatedly told Washington that moving the Army of the Potomac was impossible. Besides, reported the General, the Confederates outnumbered him and were just waiting for them to attack. Neither was, of course, true.

Picket firing across the Potomac River at Shepherdstown.

While some radicals believed McClellan to be an out and out traitor, Lincoln thought McClellan simply overly cautious. When the September 30th return came across the Presidential desk, Lincoln learned that McClellan had over 100,000 men (including the troops in Washington) with which to follow General Lee. The inaction for seemingly no reason at all weighed heavy on Lincoln’s mind.

Finally, he resolved to drop by for a visit. Perhaps this one, unlike the last one on the Virginia Peninsula, would spur the General into fighting the Rebels rather than the politicians in Washington. Lincoln, accompanied by several officers, Ward Hill Lamon, and the president of the B&O Railroad, would leave the next morning to press upon McClellan the necessity of moving as soon as possible.1

  1. Sources: The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan edited by Stephen Sears; Lincoln and McClellan by John C. Waugh; Lincoln’s Darkest Year by William Marvel; Recollections of Abraham Lincoln by Ward Hill Lamon; Abraham Lincoln: A History by John Hay and John Nicolay; George B. McClellan by Stephen W. Sears. []
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