The Day for a General Movement is Here — Reviewing the Troops

February 22, 1862 (Saturday)

February 22 was not only George Washington’s birthday, but was also the date given in Lincoln’s General War Order No. 1, which ordered that the “22nd day of February 1862, be the day for a general movement of the Land and Naval forces of the United States against the insurgent forces.”

Lincoln gave special mention to General Halleck’s Army of the Tennessee under General Grant at Cairo, Il, General Buell’s Army of the Cumberland in Kentucky, the forces at Fortress Monroe, the army in Western Virginia, and the Army of the Potomac.

Since today is that date, let’s find out how things are going.

Obviously, with the fall of Forts Henry and Donelson, the Army of the Tennessee under General Grant had done well. So well, in fact, that he had taken the nearby Cumberland River town of Clarksville and was itching to hit Nashville, which, by this date, had been almost fully abandoned by the Rebels. He was growing “tired of waiting for action in Washington” concerning his request to command all western armies (including Buell’s). Still worried about defending the scantily-defended Cairo, Illinois, he was urging Buell to “come down to the Cumberland and divide the responsibility with me.”1

Though he had done more than any department commander to heed Lincoln’s order, on this date, Halleck’s request to command all the troops in the west was denied by the President. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton had proposed it, but Lincoln did “not think any change in the organization of the Army or the military departments at present advisable. He desires and expects you and General Buell to co-operate fully and zealously with each other, and would be glad to know whether there has been any failure of co-operation in any particular.” Halleck would, of course, protest. In order for the west to be won, he believed that he needed to control Buell’s army.2

Buell’s Army of the Cumberland, however, was now on the move. Though he had told General-in-Chief McClellan that it would take him an indefinite amount of time to take Nasvhille, he had just told Halleck that he would “start from here [Bowling Green] to-morrow [the 22nd], and expect to be opposite or near Nashville to-morrow night.” The problem, as explained to McClellan, earlier, was that the railroad from Bowling Green to Louisville was wrecked. As it turned out, it wasn’t wrecked nearly as bad as it could have been. By this date, they had repaired two locomotives, gathered some rolling stock, shoved 1,200 troops on board and headed for Nashville.

Due to the weather (and not the Rebels), four bridges had been washed out, so Buell would take a little longer to arrive than expected. By this date, he was thirty-six miles north of the city. General Mitchel’s Division was taking to the road. Other divisions were slowly concentrating on Nashville, as well.3

The forces in and near Fort Monroe, had taken Roanoke Island. By this date, General Ambrose Burnside’s North Carolina Expedition was setting its sites upon New Bern and various other points farther inland. Though there was still opposition under Confederate General Henry Wise, they had swept the sound around Roanoke clean.4

Winters in the mountains of Western Virginia were harsh, but still General William Rosecrans, headquartered in Wheeling, was planning for spring. On February 7, he submitted a plan that would send two columns, one from the Gauley Bridge area, through Princeton, the other from the Big Sandy River, which separated Kentucky from Western Virginia, towards Abingdon, Virginia. This would clear Western Virginia of all Rebel armies. A week later, McClellan approved the plan with some modifications that would take until the middle of March to sort out.5

This left the Army of the Potomac under General George McClellan, also the General-in-Chief in command of all the armies. Four days after issuing his General War Order No. 1, President Lincoln issued a specific order for the Army of the Potomac, called Special War Order No. 1, which specifically ordered McClellan to move on Manassas by February 22.

In protestation, McClellan submitted a wholly different plan, which would require a change of base to the Virginia Peninsula. Lincoln, not really caring how McClellan got to Richmond, was more or less fine with it, just as long as the General was doing something.

The successes in the west shed some perspective on the inactivity in the east. Just after Fort Donelson fell, Secretary of War Stanton was buttonholed by Ben Wade and Andrew Johnson, two members of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. McClellan was to blame, they said, and Stanton called the General to join them for this informal chat. McClellan told them the same exact thing he told them a month earlier. He had to prepare his army, he couldn’t go into Virginia without first securing a line of retreat. While this is sound military practice, it seemed like McClellan was more focused upon losing than winning.6

Since January, Ben Wade had been trying to get McClellan to be replaced by General McDowell. After meeting with Secretary Stanton after the fall of Donelson, and again the following day (the 20th), the Secretary agreed. McClellan, due to his inactivity, had to go.

McClellan’s military philosophy of gathering a perfect Army of the Potomac, mystic and strong, to wage but one decisive battle to determine the war, wasn’t flying with Stanton. The Secretary, like Wade and Johnson, believed that it would take many battles and much time, and that the sooner it was begun, the better.

McClellan had a new plan by now, anyway. This one involved parts of the army not included in his Peninsula plan. It involved tricking the Rebels by building a pontoon bridge across the Potomac, but not using it. Meanwhile, he would build another bridge at Harpers Ferry and use that one to assail Stonewall Jackson in Winchester.

It wouldn’t be until the 25th when Stanton could make his case against McClellan to President Lincoln.7

And so President Lincoln’s War Order No. 1 had its expected effect. All of the armies were on the move, but McClellan’s Army of the Potomac, which had, at least, some plans for a spring move. It may not have been exactly what Lincoln wanted, but things were in much better shape than they were on January 27, when he issued the order.

  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p649. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p652. []
  3. Days of Glory; The Army of the Cumberland, 1861-1865 by Larry J. Daniel, LSU Press, 2004. []
  4. The Civil War in North Carolina by John G. Barrett. []
  5. Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Volume 1 by Jacob Dolson Cox, C. Scribner’s sons, 1900. The plan is printed in Official Records, Series 1, Vol.5, p721. Mac’s approval and suggestions are on p722. []
  6. George B. McClellan by Stephen W. Sears, Da Capo Press, 1988. []
  7. Army of the Potomac; McClellan Takes Command by Russel H. Beatie. []
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The Day for a General Movement is Here — Reviewing the Troops by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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