Friday, August 31, 2012

August 31, 1862

August 31, 1862: Gen. Halleck Gen. Pope holds his army in position although larges numbers of them are on the road of retreat to Alexandria and Washington. Pope telegraphs to Halleck his report, clearly anxious for reinforcements, and also wondering whether he should retreat to Washington or not:
Numbers 87. HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF VIRGINIA, Centreville, August 31, 1862-10.45 a. m.
Major-General HALLECK,

   Our troops are all here in position, though much used-up and worn-out. I think it would perhaps have been greatly better if Summer and Franklin had been here three or four days ago; but you may rely on our giving them as desperate a fight as I can force our men to stand up to.
    I should like to know whether you feel secure about Washington should this army be destroyed. I shall fight it as long as a man will stand up to the work. You must judge what is to be done, having in view the safety of the capital.
    The enemy is already pushing a cavalry reconnaissance in our front at Cub Run-whether in advance of an attack to-day I do not yet know. I send you this that you may know our position and my purpose.

    Major-General, Commanding.
Maj. Gen. John Pope, USA

—During this campaign, McClellan has been holding back many of his troops: Sumner’s corps, the rest of Burnside, and Franklin. Now, wires Gen. Halleck, offering assistance to Gen. Pope, but not-so-subtlely hinting that he would like to be given overall command: "I am ready to afford you any assistance in my power; but you will readily perceive how difficult an undefined position, such as I now hold, must be. At what hour in the morning can I see you alone, either at your own house or the office?" Indeed, the lack of clarity about command structure has plagued the campaign from the beginning. There are already calls for McClellan’s dismissal.

—Gideon Wells, the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, writes of such activities in his journal, when other members of the Cabinet come to him about McClellan’s dismissal:
August 31, Sunday. For the last two or three days there has been fighting at the front and army movements of interest. McClellan with most of his army arrived at Alexandria a week or more ago, but inertness, inactivity, and sluggishness seem to prevail. The army officers do not engage in this move of the War Department with zeal. Some of the troops have gone forward to join Pope, who has been beyond Manassas, where he has encountered Stonewall Jackson and the Rebel forces for the last three days in a severe struggle. The energy and rapid movements of the Rebels are in such striking contrast to those of our own officers that I shall not be seriously surprised at any sudden dash from them. The War Department — Stanton and Halleck—are alarmed. . . .

Yesterday, Saturday, P.M., when about leaving the Department, Chase called on me with a protest addressed to the President, signed by himself and Stanton, against continuing McClellan in command and demanding his immediate dismissal. Certain grave offenses were enumerated. Chase said that Smith had seen and would sign it in turn, but as my name preceded his in order, he desired mine to appear in its place. I told him I was not prepared to sign the document; that I preferred a different method of meeting the question; . . . that I did not choose to denounce McC. for incapacity, or to pronounce him a traitor, as declared in this paper, but I would say, and perhaps it was my duty to say, that I believed his removal from command was demanded by public sentiment and the best interest of the country.

Chase said that was not sufficient, that the time had arrived when the Cabinet must act with energy and promptitude, for either the Government or McClellan must go down. He then proceeded to expose certain acts, some of which were partially known to me, and others, more startling, which were new to me. . . . I proposed as a preferable course that there should be a general consultation with the President. He objected to this until the document was signed, which, he said, should be done at once.

This method of getting signatures without an interchange of views with those who are associated in council was repugnant to my ideas of duty and right. . . .
We hear, this Sunday morning, that our army has fallen back to Centreville. Pope writes in pretty good spirits that we have lost no guns, etc. The Rebels were largely reinforced, while our troops, detained at Annandale by McClellan’s orders, did not arrive to support our wearied and exhausted men. McClellan telegraphs that he hears "Pope is badly cut up." . . . But my faith in present security and of ultimate success is unshaken. We need better generals but can have no better army. There is much latent disloyal feeling in Washington which should be expelled. And oh, there is great want of capacity and will among our military leaders.

—Stephen Minot Weld, a young officer in the 18th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, writes to his father, the day after the battle:
Centreville, Aug. 31, 1862.
Dear Father, — We had a severe battle at Bull Run yesterday, and were obliged to retire to this place. The retreat was conducted in good order, and without the loss of wagons, etc. General Porter’s corps did most of the fighting. Pope made a complete muddle of the whole affair and ordered us into a place where we were hit hard. I can only thank God that I got out safe. We were under a very severe fire of musketry, round shot, shell and case-shot. My horse was slightly wounded in the leg by a musket shot. If we ever reach Washington in safety, it will be more than I expect.
Pope has blundered terribly. He let Jackson get between him and Washington, destroy any number of cars and the railroad track at Manassas Junction and the telegraph. Jackson then went to Centreville, then to Bull Run. . . . Pope knows he is dead if he retreats to Washington and so he keeps us here, where the enemy may cut off our supplies. The place itself is very strong and we occupy the enemy’s old works. . . .

—Drenching rains begin the night before, and continue throughout the day in northern Virginia. The Confederates, especially Stonewall Jackson, are impatient to launch a pursuit of Pope and to threaten Washington.

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