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    General McClellan blames the Lincoln administration for his loss at Gaines' Mill - "you have done your best to sacrifice this army"

    General George B. McClellan Autograph Letter Signed "G. B. McClellan" to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton blaming the Lincoln administration for his loss at the intense Battle of Gaines' Mill. Two pages of a bifolium, 7.5" x 8.75", "Hd Qts Army of the Potomac, Savage Station [Virginia]," "June 28 12h20m am / 62." Only hours after losing the Battle of Gaines' Mill (also known as the Battle of Chickahominy River), Union General George McClellan writes this seething and antagonistic "telegram" to War Secretary Stanton asserting that he "lost this battle because my force was too small." He argues that if he had more men - "20,000 . . . or even 10,000" - he could "tomorrow . . . take Richmond." The blame, he forcefully and passionately argues, does not rest on him - twice writing "I am not responsible for this" - but on "the Govt": "say to the Presdt that I think he is wrong. . . . the Govt has not sustained this army. . . . you have done your best to sacrifice this army." Inlaid on a larger sheet (overall 8.75" x 12.75") which allows viewing from both sides. Detached along the central vertical fold. The clean paper is gently age-toned. Bold and clear ink, particularly McClellan's signature. Docketing on the fourth page reads, "Telegram of Genl. McClellan to the Sect. of War, June 28, 1862 In relation to battle of Gaines' Farm." This historically significant letter reads in full:

    "I now know the full history of the day. On this side of the River - the right bank - we repulsed several very strong attacks. On the left bank our men did all that men could do, all that soldiers could accomplish but they were overwhelmed by vastly superior numbers, even after I brought my last reserves into action. The loss on both sides is terrible - I believe it will prove to be the most desperate battle of the war.

    "The sad remnants of my men behave as men -those battalions who fought most bravely and suffered most are still in the best order. My regulars are superb, & I count upon what are left to turn another battle in company with their gallant comrades of the Volunteers. Had I (20,000) twenty thousand or even (10,000) ten thousand fresh troops to use tomorrow I could take Richmond, but I have not a man in reserve & shall be glad to cover my retreat & save the material & personnel of the army. If we have lost the day we have yet preserved our honor, & no one need blush for the Army of the Potomac. I have lost this battle because my force was too small. I again repeat that I am not responsible for this, & I say it with the earnestness of a general who feels in his heart the loss of every brave man who has been needlessly sacrificed today. I still hope to retrieve our fortunes, but to do this the Govt must view the matter in the same earnest light that I do. You must send me very large reenforcements, & send them at once.

    "I shall draw back to this side of Chickahominy - I think I can withdraw all our material. Please understand that in this battle we have lost nothing but men, & those the best we have. In addition to what I have already said I only wish to say to the Presdt that I think he is wrong in regarding me as ungenerous when I said that my force was too weak - I merely intimated a truth which today has been too plainly proved. I should have gained this battle with (10,000) ten thousand fresh men. If at this instant I could dispose of 10,000 fresh men I could gain the victory to-morrow. I know that a few thousand more men would have changed this battle from a defeat to a victory - as it is, the Govt must not & cannot hold me responsible for the result.

    "I feel too earnestly tonight - I have seen too many dead & wounded comrades to feel otherwise than that the Govt has not sustained this army. If you do not do so now the game is lost.

    "If I save this army now I tell you plainly that I owe no thanks to you or to any other persons in Washington - you have done your best to sacrifice this army."

    In early March 1862, President Lincoln, who had become impatient with McClellan's slowness and his insubordination, demoted the general from general-in-chief to commander of the Army of the Potomac. Later that month, McClellan began his Peninsula Campaign, which had as its mission to march Richmond. As the Union general moved closer to his destination, Robert E. Lee and his much larger force, which consisted of over 55,000, met McClellan in a series of battles known as the Seven Days Battles beginning at the end of June. The final battle occurred at Gaines' Mill, along the Chickahominy River in eastern Virginia. It began at noon on June 27 when Lee attacked the right flank of General McClellan's force of nearly 35,000, but the most successful Confederate assault occurred around 7:00 p.m., driving all Union forces during the night across the Chickahominy River. Fortunately for the Union, the Confederates did not pursue them across the river. The loss unnerved McClellan, as is apparent in this letter, which he wrote just after midnight, and although he doesn't say in this letter, this night he had decided to abandon his march toward Richmond. Shocked by what he read in the telegram, Colonel Edward Sanford, a War Department telegrapher, likely saved McClellan's job for the time being when, after receiving this telegram in Washington, he deleted the final lines - "If I save this army now I tell you plainly that I owe no thanks to you or to any other persons in Washington - you have done your best to sacrifice this army" - from the copy sent to Secretary Stanton. Col. Sanford's actions weren't known until 1907, and McClellan did not know that the final lines were never read by the president or his war secretary, which might have encouraged him to further disrespect them, which he certainly did in the next few weeks. Still, McClellan's fate was set. On June 28, President Lincoln ordered General Henry Halleck to send 25,000 men immediately to McClellan, which helped little. Meanwhile, the relationship between McClellan and Lincoln deteriorated even further. Only four months later in November, Lincoln removed McClellan from command following the Battle of Antietam.


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    April, 2015
    9th Thursday
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