McClellan Reorganizes While Pope Exiled to the West

September 6, 1862 (Saturday)

With the Rebels crossing the Potomac about twenty miles upstream from Washington, even General George B. McClellan knew something had to be done. With General-in-Chief Henry Halleck urging him to move as quickly as possible, McClellan did what came naturally to him: organizing.

The Armies of the Potomac and Virginia had been mashed together as John Pope retreated back to Washington following the debacle of Second Manassas. Even before he was officially relieved of command, McClellan began the task of putting together a new Army of the Potomac; a fine fighting outfit comprised of units picked by the General himself.

The corps and divisions chosen by McClellan were enlarged, bringing the army’s total to 85,000 men in five corps. Only six of the sixteen divisions were with him on the Virginia Peninsula. The rest came from operations in Western Virginia, the coast of North Carolina, and Pope’s Army of Virginia.

To defend Washington, he left 72,500 men – more than adequate for the task. He seemed to have learned some very valuable lessons since his excursion to the Peninsula.1

McClellan also wanted the charges against Generals Porter, Franklin, and Griffin to be suspended. All three were accused of disobeying John Pope’s orders during the battle of Second Manassas. In fact, one of the main reasons Pope was given for his dismissal from command was so he could testify against the three questionable Generals.

Porter: Ha! See? What did I tell you?

McClellan wrote to both Lincoln and Halleck, in hopes of getting his way, that the charges against them be “suspended until I have got through with the present crisis.” He had already passed this by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Lincoln handed off the decision to Halleck, who allowed Porter, Franklin and Griffin to resume their old commands.2

The release of these three Generals left Washington without a reason to keep General John Pope around. In the Cabinet meeting, Lincoln spoke highly of him. Pope was brave, said Lincoln, patriotic. He had done his duty. The problem wasn’t Pope, resolved the President, but “army prejudice against him.” It was because of this that he had to leave.3

Out in the West, the Dakota Sioux Uprisings weren’t going away. Governors from Wisconsin and Minnesota were both urging Washington to send back the troops they had given to the armies in the east. What the situation needed was a fine general. And here was John Pope, with a calendar as wide open as the West itself.4

Let's try an old map for a change. By Robert E. Lee Russell, 1932.

“You will receive herewith an order of this Department constituting you commander of the Department of the Northwest,” came the orders from Secretary of War Stanton. Pope was to leave immediately and establish his headquarters at St. Paul, Minnesota. Stanton wanted him to “take such prompt and vigorous measures as shall quell the hostilities and afford peace, security, and protection to the people against Indian hostilities.”

The wording of the order gushed praise and admiration. Stanton opined that the situation required “the attention of some military officer of high rank, in whose ability and vigor the Government has confidence.”5

But Pope could easily see through Stanton’s inane platitudes. He was being exiled to the West. That evening, he retired to Willard’s Hotel to drown his grief. He would leave for St. Paul three days later.6

While Pope packed his bags, McClellan shifted his new Army of the Potomac to the northern defenses of Washington. The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was almost entirely on the northern side of the Potomac River, establishing itself in Frederick. Presently, their line formed along the banks of the Monocacy River. Aside from some cavalry, they had no brushes at all with the Federal forces.7

Frederick, Maryland - 1862

  1. George B. McClellan by Stephen W. Sears, Da Capo Press, 1999. []
  2. Letters from George McClellan to Henry Halleck and Abraham Lincoln, September 6, 1862. As printed in The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan edited by Stephen W. Sears, Da Capo Press, 1989. []
  3. Diary of Gideon Welles by Gideon Welles, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1911. []
  4. General John Pope by Peter Cozzins, University of Illinois Press, 1997. []
  5. Official Records, Vol. 13, p617. []
  6. General John Pope by Peter Cozzins, University of Illinois Press, 1997. []
  7. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 19, Part 2, p596. []
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McClellan Reorganizes While Pope Exiled to the West by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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4 thoughts on “McClellan Reorganizes While Pope Exiled to the West

  1. Eric: On the Frederick City map, that would be Hood College just below right center. The road running from bottom center and going slightly left towards the top is National Pike, also called the National Road, which ran through the Battle of South Mountain a few days later.Keep up the good work!– Mac

    1. Thanks!

      I used to spend a lot of time along the National Road (it goes along with my weird fascination for old roads). Same goes for the South Mountain area. Having seen pretty much all of the country, Northern Maryland is still one of my most favorite landscapes.

        1. Oregon really is wonderful. Same goes for central and eastern Washington. I’m conveniently close enough to visit both regularly. We don’t have history out here, so it’ll have to do. 🙂

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