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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

Leaving McDowell on the Potomac


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wooden guns, however little damage they could do to the Federal army, did a good deal of damage to the reputation of the Federal commander. Lincoln, though pressed to replace him, refused to do so, having no one obviously better to put in his room, and knowing that the outcry against him was partly political--for McClellan was a Democrat. The general now undertook the execution of a plan of his own for the reduction of Richmond. Leaving McDowell on the Potomac, he transported the greater part of his force by water and effected a landing on the peninsula of Yorktown, where some eighty years before Cornwallis had surrendered to Washington and Rochambeau.

The plan was not a bad one, but the general showed the same lack of enterprise which had made possible the escape of Johnstone. It is probable that if he had struck at once at the force opposed to him, he could have destroyed it and marched to Richmond almost unopposed.

Instead of striking at a vulnerable point he sat down in a methodical fashion to besiege Yorktown. While he was waiting for the reinforcements he had demanded, the garrison got away as Johnstone had done from before Manassas, and an attempt to push forward resulted in the defeat of his lieutenant, Hooker, at Williamsburg.

McDowell, who was at Fredericksburg, was ordered to join and reinforce McClellan, but the junction was never made, for at the moment Jackson

took the field and effected one of the most brilliant exploits of the war. The Union troops in the Shenandoah Valley were much more numerous than the force which Jackson had at his disposal, but they were scattered at various points, and by a series of incalculably rapid movements the Southern captain attacked and overwhelmed each in turn. The alarm at Washington was great, and McDowell hastened to cut him off, only to discover that Jackson had slipped past him and was back in his own country. Meanwhile McClellan, left without the reinforcements he had expected, was attacked by Lee and beaten back in seven days' consecutive fighting right to Harrison's Landing, where he could only entrench himself and stand on the defensive. Richmond was as far off as ever.

One piece of good news, however, reached Washington at about this time, and once again it came from the West. Towards the end of April Farragut, the American admiral, captured the city of New Orleans. The event was justly thought to be of great importance, for Grant already dominated the Upper Mississippi, and if he could join hands with a Union force operating from the mouth of the great river, the Confederacy would be cut in two.

Perhaps the contrast between the good fortune which had attended the Federal arms in the West and the failure of the campaign in Eastern Virginia was responsible for the appointment of a general taken from the Western theatre of war to command the army of the Potomac. Lincoln, having supported McClellan as long as he could, was now obliged to abandon his cause, and General Pope was appointed to supreme command of the campaign in Eastern Virginia.


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