December 1, 1861: Memo to McClellan


One hundred and sixty-onme years ago Abraham Lincoln sent a memo to General McClellan.  McClellan had been in command of the Army of the Potomac since shortly after Bull Run.  Although he had demonstrated great talent in organizing, equipping and training his army, it was becoming increasingly clear to Lincoln that McClellan was reluctant to risk his force in battle.  This memorandum, which McClellan ignored, was Lincoln’s first attempt to prod the “young Napoleon” into action.  McClellan ignored the memo, an attitude which would lead Lincoln to dismiss McClellan twice from his command in the next year.  Here is the text of the memo:

If it were determined to make a forward movement of the Army of the Potomac, without awaiting further increase of numbers, or better drill & discipline, how long would it require to actually get in motion?

After leaving all that would be necessary, how many troops could join the movement from South-West of the river?

How many from North-East of it?

Suppose, then, that of those South-West of the river 50,000 move forward and menace the enemy at Centerville.

The remainder of the moveable force on that side move rapidly to the crossing of the Ocoquan by the road from Alexandria towards Richmond; there to be joined by the whole moveable force from North-East of the river, having landed from the Potomac just below the mouth of the Ocoquan, moved by land up the South side of that stream to the crossing point named; then the whole move together, by the road thence to Brentsville, and beyond, to the railroad just South of it’s crossing of Broad Run, a strong detachment of cavalry having gone rapidly ahead to destroy the railroad bridges South and North of the point.

If the crossing of the Ocoquan by those from above be resisted, those landing from the Potomac below to take the resisting force of the enemy in rear; or, if the landing from the Potomac be resisted, those c[r]ossing the Ocoquan from above to take that resisting force in rear. Both points will probably not be successfully resisted at the same time.

The force in front of Centreville, if pressed too hardly, should fight back slowly into the intrenchments behind them.

Armed vessels and transportation should remain at the Potomac landing to cover a possible retreat.


Published in: on December 1, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on December 1, 1861: Memo to McClellan  
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