McClellan’s Paranoia and Delillusions; Rumors of Stonewall

June 22,1862 (Sunday)

“The rascals are very strong & outnumber me very considerably,” wrote General George McClellan to his wife, “but I will yet succeed nothwithstanding all they do & leave undone all they do in Washington to prevent it.”1


The Federal Army of the Potomac had been at the gates of Richmond for weeks. When they left Washington for the Virginia Peninsula, General McClellan, their commander, wanted 130,000 men to make the assault upon the Confederate capital. By the middle of June, he had nearly that amount.

In response to repeated calls from the War Department and President Lincoln in Washington, McClellan time and again repeated that it was the weather, the unfavorable “condition of earth & sky,” that kept his army from battle. He also asked for more and more reinforcements. Ever since General Irvin McDowell’s First Corps had been pulled beyond his grasp, he had wanted it back, and finally, that was partially happening. McCall’s Division was already with him, and, as it appeared on this date, the rest of the Corps would follow soon.2

McClellan had also become leery, even paranoid, about the political machinations of Washington. His chief intelligence gatherer, Allan Pinkerton, had been no help in this matter. Previously, Pinkerton reported that the Rebels were upwards of 120,000-strong (roughly twice their number at the time). More recently, after returning from Washington on this date, Pinkerton spun gossip-lined tales for McClellan’s ear.

General McClellan and his wife.

In a letter written to his wife, dated June 22, he told her the stories. Secretaries Stanton and Chase were fighting, “McDowell had deserted his friend C & taken to S!!” And while Secretary of State Seward and Postmaster General Blair “stand firmly by me – Honest A has again fallen into the hands of my enemies & is no longer a cordial friend of mine!”

With everyone in Washington against him (and thus somehow against winning the war), this led naturally to delusions of grandeur. “I am anxious as any human being can be to finish this war,” he continued, “yet when I see such insane folly behind me [in Washington] I feel that the final salvation of the country demands the utmost prudence on my part & that I must not run the slightest risk of disaster, for if anything happened to this army our cause would be lost.”

Not only was Washington against him, his own officers, if left to their own devices, would be the Army’s undoing. “I feel too that I must not unnecessarily risk my life,” he went on, “for the fate of my army depends upon me & they all know it.”3

General McClellan battled weather, lack of reinforcements, the politicians in Washington, even his own officers – everything but Confederates. And Washington had taken notice.


A Sunday of Rumors and Intrigue in and out of the Shenandoah Valley

Of all McClellan’s complaints, lack of reinforcements carried the most weight. Though he had roughly 130,000 men under his command, he had been re-promised General McDowell’s Corps. By this time, however, only McCall’s Division had joined his ranks. The remaining 30,000 under McDowell were spread from the Blue Ridge Mountains to Fredericksburg.

General Wool hears things and almost doesn't believe them.

Though the Federals had completely lost track of Stonewall Jackson’s 18,000 Rebels, fresh rumors were filtering in that might not make things turn McClellan’s way.

From General Franz Sigel, commanding a Division under Nathaniel Banks, at Front Royal, General John Wool heard “that Jackson had 40,000 to 60,000 men and seventy pieces of artillery.” Though he considered the numbers “probably exaggerated,” he had also learned from a “person considered reliable that Jackson will in a short time attack Banks and his forces.”

“If Jackson has the number of troops reported,” continued Wool in a message to Secretary of War Stanton, “I think we ought to be looking after Washington.”4

Another rumor, this time from General John C. Fremont’s camp at Strasburg, reported General Ewell with 4,000 Rebels was marching upon his right flank towards Moorefield. Confederate cavalry was also reported in that area. “These reports were most probably exaggerations,” admitted Fremont, “but it would be well to guard against the chance of their being true.”5

Meanwhile, Generals Stonewall Jackson and Richard Ewell were not storming towards Front Royal or Moorefield. They were en route to Richmond and spread between Gordonsville and Fredericks Hall, fifty-two miles from the Rebel Captial.

For Jackson, the day was not filled with rumors and worry, but with prayer. It was a Sunday and the General took advantage of the camp preaching in a Texas Brigade commanded by General John Bell Hood.

His day, however, was not completely filled with honesty and forthrightness. Knowing that it would take some time to get his army fully to Richmond, Jackson decided to leave the men in command of staff officer Major Robert Dabney, while he made the trek to General Robert E. Lee’s headquarters and the Army of Northern Virginia.

The situation in Virginia today.

Fearing he would be recognized if he took the train, he decided to ride. Jackson removed any of his uniform that signified his rank, and, with a guide and two other officers who were instructed to address him as “colonel,” he left his army at 1am.

Jackson even went as far as to have one of his division commanders, General Whiting, write a pass that would allow this mysterious colonel through the lines.

In less than fourteen hours, General Jackson would be before General Lee with the Federals being none the wiser.6

  1. Letter from George B. McClellan to Mary Ellen McClellan, June 22, 1862. As found in The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan edited by Stephen W. Sears, Da Capo Press, 1992. []
  2. To the Gates of Richmond by Stephen W. Sears, Mariner Books, 1992. []
  3. Letter from George B. McClellan to Mary Ellen McClellan, June 22, 1862. As found in The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan edited by Stephen W. Sears, Da Capo Press, 1992. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p425. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p426. []
  6. Stonewall Jackson by James I. Robertson, MacMillan, 1997. []
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McClellan’s Paranoia and Delillusions; Rumors of Stonewall by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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