Our Country's Fiery Ordeal

A blog about the American Civil War, written and maintained by historian Daniel J. Vermilya, author of The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (History Press, 2014) and James Garfield and the Civil War (History Press, 2015)

Dedicated to my great-great-great grandfather, Private Ellwood Rodebaugh, Company D, 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, killed at the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.

"And may an Overuling Providence continue to cause good to come out of evil, justice to be done to all men where injustice has long prevailed, and finally, peace, quiet, and harmony to come out of this terrible confrontation and our country's fiery ordeal." -- Albert Champlin, 105th Ohio, Diary entry of June 19, 1864 (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this 3rd day of October, A.D. 1863, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.
Abraham Lincoln

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Fall of William Tecumseh Sherman

150 years ago, on November 21, 1861, William Tecumseh Sherman was a man consumed by depression and anxiety. He wrote two letters that day, one to his friend General Robert Anderson, and the other to his brother, Senator John Sherman. Earlier in the month, on November 9, Sherman had been relieved of his command in the state of Kentucky. After weeks of worrying and sending frantic notices to Washington regarding the rebel menace and the threat of Kentucky falling to Confederate forces, Sherman’s superiors, Henry Halleck, Lorenzo Thomas, and George McClellan, finally had enough of his complaints. Many thought Sherman had indeed gone insane. Sherman was a man predicting that victory would take a force of hundreds of thousands of men fighting against determined Confederates in equal or greater numbers. The telegrams and letters which Sherman sent during October and early November of 1861 portray a man who believed his command and his own life were threatened by the growing Confederate threat and a lack of adequate forces to stop it. Many throughout the country thought that surely such notions of a long and protracted conflict requiring so many men must be either off base or insane.

In Sherman's letters, his inner battles and frustrations poured out to his readers. To Robert Anderson, he apprised his former commander of the situation in Kentucky and his many concerns regarding the state, as well as his own feelings of inadequacy to the task at hand:

We have now a pretty large force in Kentucky, but the Regiments are hastily assembled and poorly disciplined, and being still in a manner dependant on the Railroad they are scattered. My deep earnest conviction from the secession feeling wherever I went, and from my knowledge of the forces collected round about Kentucky I made my declaration that  we should need in this Department a very large force, and the very gingerly way in which they came induced me to think the War Department did not share with me these fears and apprehensions at not only the loss of Kentucky, but the forces sent here—I asked that Halleck or any one else be sent here, and Buell has been here a week, in command and I am ordered to Saint Louis.

I confess I never have seen daylight in the midst of the troubles that now envelope us. I am therefore disqualified to lead, and must follow—you know with what reluctance I entered on my command and have always felt that Somehow or other I would be disgraced by it.

In the letter which he wrote to his brother John, Sherman again elucidated his fears and worries regarding not only Kentucky, but the perilous state in which the nation rested:

                Your letter was received yesterday. I know that others than yourself think I take a gloomy view of affairs without cause. I hope to God tis so. All I know is the fact that all over Kentucky the People are allied by birth interest and preference to the South…
                One soldier less than two hundred thousand will be imperiled the moment the Confederates choose… I suppose I have been morose and cross—and could I now hide myself in some obscure corner I would so, for my conviction is that our Government is destroyed, and that no human power can restore it—They have sent me here old Condemned European muskets, and have sent no arms for Cavalry, and when I bought pistols wherewith to arm some scouts, the accounts have been disallowed at Washington because I had not procured authority beforehand. Troops came from Wisconsin and Minnesota without arms, and receive such as we have here for the first time, and I cannot but look upon it as absolutely sacrificing them. I see no hope for them. In their present raw and undisciplined condition they are helpless, and some terrible disaster is inevitable—Buell is however imbued with the same spirit that prevails in Washington that there are plenty of Union people, South, in Tennessee and Kentucky, and does not share with me in my fear of the People among whom we live.

                In closing, Sherman proclaims that as long as the attitude in Washington went unchanged, he would not desire or seek a command for himself. Thus, following his dismissal from Kentucky, he had only to move on to his next post. “For myself I will blindly obey my orders and report to General Halleck in Missouri—but till I can see daylight ahead I will never allow myself to be in command.”

While Sherman's next post was in Missouri with General Henry Halleck, his fears and worries followed him from Kentucky. Rumors began to spread that the general had gone insane. Some even feared he would take his own life; to that end, Sherman’s wife, Ellen Ewing Sherman, was sent to comfort and rescue her beleaguered and troubled husband. Sherman later told his wife that during this stretch of time he had thoughts of suicide. When in Missouri in late November, Halleck had Dr. J.B. Wright, the medical director for his department, examine Sherman to discover what was troubling him. Wright’s analysis suggested that Sherman was so riddled by nerves “that he was unfit for command” (Marszalek, Sherman: A Soldier's Passion for Order, 164). Because of such conclusions, as well as Sherman’s persistent worrying regarding an imminent Confederate attack all along the Union positions in the West, he was given a 20 day leave. Thus, Brigadier General William Tecumseh Sherman was sent home to Lancaster, Ohio, with his wife. Today, Sherman’s name evokes images of Atlanta in flames, a long column of Union troops snaking its way through Georgia, and a victorious march down the streets of Washington for the Grand Review of May, 1865. However, in November of 1861, all of that was but an impossible dream, as William Tecumseh Sherman had fallen from grace due to uncertainty, nerves, and fear. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Book Review: Destiny of the Republic

As a native of Ohio, I have always found James A. Garfield, Civil War general and 20th president of the United States, an extremely intriguing individual. To that end, I recently read a fascinating new book about this amazing American. Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President, written by Candice Millard, is a riveting new work detailing the dramatic story of the election, assassination, and death of James Garfield. Born into abject poverty, Garfield rose from his humble beginnings to become one of the most remarkable men ever to hold the highest office in the land. With a keen intellect, an unsatiable appetite for books and knowledge, and a drive and passion equal to the greatest figures in history, Garfield was truly a self-made man. His journey from canal boy to the presidency took him through many places. His posts along the way included becoming a young professor, the president of a university, Lt. Colonel of the 42nd Ohio, a Union general in the Civil War, and a United States Congressman. As an ardent Christian and firm abolitionist, Garfield was at the forefront of the Republican party when it came to taking a progressive stance on race relations and rights for freedpeople in the reconstructed South. In 1880, his eloquence and wisdom, evident in his nomination speech for John Sherman, elevated him to his party's nomination for the presidency, a post he did not want nor seek. Once elected, Garfield brought his faith and determination with him to the White House, hoping to clean up a corrupt and misguided government.

All that came to an abrupt end soon after taking office. On July 2, 1881, a mentally disturbed office seeker named Charles Guiteau, acting entirely on his own, shot Garfield in the back at the Baltimore and Potomac train station in Washington. Guiteau had expected praise and acclaim for his brave act of "removing" the president for the good of the country. Instead, he was greeted with righteous indignation, an anger which brought the country together in prayer for the life of their president. With fumbling doctors more concerned about their egos and credentials than germ theory, Garfield was repeatedly infected with germs through unsanitary exams and surgeries. Despite the best creative efforts of Alexander Graham Bell to find the bullet using cutting edge metal detecting inventions, the infections that ravaged Garfield's body proved too much to bear. He struggled for several months, dying on September 19, 1881.

I highly recommend Candice Millard's work, as it is an excellent read. Her narrative is engaging and tells the remarkable story of a remarkable man who was gunned down by a cowardly and insane assassin. While Garfield languishes in relative historical obscurity, his is a story which should be told. His short presidency may serve as simply a footnote or piece of trivia, but it tells us far more about our past and who we are as Americans. America is a nation which allowed a poor boy to rise to the highest office in the land, entirely on his own strengths of learning and determination. Millard emphasizes the virtue of Garfield's character, assuming an office he did not seek, simply for the good of the country. She places Garfield, his presidency, and his assassination firmly in the context of late 19th century American politics, portraying him as a promising bright light for the country that was tragically snuffed out far too soon. For those looking for a great read about a remarkable man and a tragic piece of nearly forgotten American history, Candice Millard's Destiny of the Republic is an excellent choice.

Friday, November 18, 2011

"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord"

150 years ago this morning, in the Willard Hotel in Washington D.C., Julia Ward Howe, a 42 year old poet and abolitionist, awoke from her sleep with a spark of inspiration. Visiting Washington with her husband, physician and former John Brown supporter Samuel Gridley Howe, Julia Ward Howe had spent the previous days visiting troop encampments, seeing soldiers on review, and even visiting the president. As one who was keenly aware of the deeper causes and meanings behind the conflict, Howe was deeply moved by all that she saw. As she arose that morning, while the sky outside was still dark, she began to write down lines of poetry. Howe later recalled that morning, as well as the events leading up to it:

I distinctly remember that a feeling of discouragement came over me as I drew near the city of Washington at the time already mentioned. I thought of the women of my acquaintance whose sons or husbands were fighting our great battle; the women themselves serving in the hospitals, or busying themselves with the work of the Sanitary Commission. My husband, as already said, was beyond the age of military service, my eldest son but a stripling; my youngest was a child of not more than two years. I could not leave my nursery to follow the march of our armies, neither had I the practical deftness which the preparing and packing of sanitary stores demanded. Something seemed to say to me, “You would be glad to serve, but you cannot help any one; you have nothing to give, and there is nothing for you to do.” Yet, because of my sincere desire, a word was given me to say, which did strengthen the hearts of those who fought in the field and of those who languished in the prison.
We were invited, one day, to attend a review of troops at some distance from the town. While we were engaged in watching the maneuvers, a sudden movement of the enemy necessitated immediate action. The review was discontinued, and we saw a detatchment of soldiers gallop to the assistance of a small body of our men who were in imminent danger of being surrounded and cut off from retreat. The regiments remaining on the field were ordered to march to their cantonments. We returned to the city very slowly, of necessity, for the troops nearly filled the road. My dear minister was in the carriage with me, as were several other friends. To beguile the rather tedious drive, we sang from time to time snatches of the army songs so popular at that time, concluding, I think, with
“John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the ground;His soul is marching on.”

The soldiers seemed to like this, and answered back, “Good for you!” Mr. Clarke said, “Mrs. Howe, why do you not write some good words for that stirring tune?” I replied that I had often wished to do this, but had not as yet found in my mind any leading toward it.
I went to bed that night as usual, and slept, according to my wont, quite soundly. I awoke in the gray of the morning twighlight; and as I lay waiting for the dawn, the long lines of the desired poem began to twine themselves in my mind. Having thought out all the stanzas, I said to myself, “I must get up and write these verses down, lest I fall asleep again and forget them.” So, with a sudden effort, I sprang out of bed, and found in the dimness an old stump of a pen which I remembered to have used the day before. I scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper. I had learned to do this when, on previous occasions, attacks of versification had visited me in the night, and I feared o thav erecourse to a light lest I should wake the baby, who slept near me. I was always obliged to decipher my scrawl before another night should intervene, as it was only legible while the matter was fresh in my mind. At this time, having completed my writing, I returned to bed and fell asleep, saying to myself, “I like this better than most things that I have written.”
The poem, which was soon after published in the “Atlantic Monthly”, was somewhat praised on its appearance, but the vicissitudes of the war so engrossed public attention that small heed was taken of literary matters. I knew, and was content to know, that the poem soon found its way to the camps, as I heard from time to time of its being sung in chorus by the soldiers. [Julia Ward Howe, Reminiscences (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1899), 274-276].

The poem which Julia Ward Howe wrote that November morning in 1861 went on to become perhaps the most well known and definitive piece of music to emerge from the American Civil War. It spoke to the war's underlying cause of slavery, as well as the overriding belief by millions of Americans that the war was not theirs alone, but God's as well. With Howe's words, Union soldiers became an God's Army, marching against sin and slavery. Every soldier who sacrificed his life in the struggle was undertaking an act of Christ-like sacrifice for his nation and for over 4 millions slaves. The war was a form of God's justice being enacted on the country for national sins. Howe's lyrics permeated the Union and imbued a deeper meaning and spirit to the fight which had forever altered the nation. What Howe wrote that morning became the Battle Hymn of the Republic...

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His day is marching on.

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
"As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on."

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Since God is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
While God is marching on.

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is Wisdom to the mighty, He is Succour to the brave,
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of Time His slave,
Our God is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Our God is marching on.

Friday, November 11, 2011

American Veterans


The above picture, taken on a chilly November afternoon, shows the statue of Color Sergeant George Simpson atop the 125th Pennsylvania monument at Antietam, standing guard over the Antietam battlefield nearly 150 years after that terrible September day. It is a fitting reminder of the countless men and women who have bravely stood guard over this nation and American liberty for over 235 years. Let us honor and remember all our veterans not only today, but each and every day. Perhaps the words of one of Antietam's veterans put it best:

“In the private soldier I seem to see typified the union of purpose, the union of valor, and the union of probity, which gave to this war the benediction of God, and, to our own cause, a glorious victory. Among all nations and throughout all time the soldier, who endures the throes of warfare for the sake of his home and his conceptions of liberty and justice, should merit universal esteem.”
-Captain John Stevenson, veteran of the 100th Pennsylvania, speaking at the dedication for the 100th Pennsylvania Monument at Antietam, September 17, 1904

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Civil War 150: An Essential To-Do List, by the Civil War Trust

I just recently came across a copy of a new book for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. It is titled, The Civil War 150: An Essential To-Do List for the 150th Anniversary, and was put together and published by the folks at the Civil War Trust.

The Civil War Trust is an outstanding organization that has done incredible work preserving battlefields and educating Americans about our nation's fratricidal conflict. With their new guide for the 150th, the Civil War Trust has an interesting, engaging, and worthwhile book for both the casual observer and the major Civil War buff.

The book contains 150 suggested things to do, books to read, movies to watch, and places to visit to properly commemorate the sesquicentennial of the war. For the list of things to do, watch, and read, items include reading a Bruce Catton book, watching the movie Glory, taking in a reenactment, and getting a kid interested in Civil War history. The list of sites to see is divided into several geographic categories, and includes famous sites such as Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chickamauga, Gettysburg, and Antietam. The list also includes off the beaten path places as well, such as the National Museum of Civil War medicine in Frederick, MD, the Shepherdstown ford where Lee's army recrossed the Potomac after Antietam, and the gaps of South Mountain. The list also pays equal attention to non battle sites, such as famous monuments, national historic sites and buildings, as well as places such as the National Portrait Gallery. To top it all off, each item has its own page, with details on the activity or place and why it is essential for properly commemorating the 150th anniversary of the war.

Now, I know that some folks might see this and think, "Oh, I don't need a silly book to tell me what Civil War sites I should see, I know them all!" Well, even if you are a reincarnated version of Robert E. Lee himself, I think you might still be able to find this little guide an interesting addition to your collection. It includes many diverse items and sights and touches on the many different ways in which the Civil War is a fascinating topic for Americans in the 21st century (one suggestion is to use your smartphone for a tour at a Civil War site, as the Civil War Trust is developing battlefield tour apps for many important battlefields). Even if you have already held a minnie ball in your hand, seen the movie Glory, and walked across the Burnside Bridge at Antietam, the book can still be a fun and interesting addition to your Civil War 150th commemorations. To top it all off, it is affordable and is produced by some great people at a great organization.

For the casual observer and major buff alike, the Civil War Trust's 150th "To-Do" List guide is a nice addtional to your plans for commemorating Sesquicentennial of the Civil War.

"I think I die in victory": Lt. Col. Wilder Dwight at Antietam

I came across this page on the Massachusetts Historical Society website. It tells the story of Lt. Col. Wilder Dwight of the 2nd Massachusetts at Antietam through primary documents and pictures. If you are not familiar with Lt. Col. Dwight's story, it is one of the more heart wrenching stories of the battle.

Dwight's regiment, the 2nd Massachusetts, began their day with the rest of the 12th corps, in reserve in the East Woods and along the Smoketown Road, listening to the sounds of war bellowing over the landscape as Joseph Hooker's 1st Corps was bloodied and battered in the Cornfield. That morning, the 29 year old Dwight had begun writing a letter to his mother, informing her of the developing battle. However, with the onset of the 12th corps attack, Dwight was forced to leave his letter to his mother behind.

The deployment of the 12th Corps at Antietam is a highly confusing matter, due in large part to the number of green regiments in the corps, as well as the mortal wounding of 12th Corps commander Joseph Mansfield soon after he arrived on the field. Lt. Col. Dwight and the 2nd Massachusetts were in George Gordon's brigade of Alpheus Williams's division. Between 8 and 8:40 AM, the 2nd Massachusetts was on the northern edge of the cornfield, with its flank bordering the Hagerstown turnpike. By 9:30, with Sedgwick's advance into the West Woods, the 2nd Massachusetts, along with the rest of Gordon's Brigade, had been repositioned and then occupied the East Woods, facing due west toward the Confederate lines and the West Woods. With the massive Confederate counter attack in the West Woods and the route of Sedgwick's division, the 2nd Massachusetts and the 13th New Jersey, both 12th Corps regiments in Gordon's brigade, advanced forward to the Hagerstown turnpike in an attempt to stem the losses of Sedgwick's men, as well as to stop the Confederate assault in the West Woods. It was here, along the Hagerstown Turnpike, where Dwight met his fate that day. As the 2nd Massachusetts attempted to stop the advancing Confederates emerging from the West Woods, they took very heavy casualties. Among those casualties was Lt. Col. Wilder Dwight.

As Dwight lay dying on the field, his thoughts drifted home and to his family. Despite his close proximity to Confederate forces, as well as his severe wounds, Dwight picked up the letter he had begun that morning and continued to write his mother (you can see the letter at the link above, complete with Dwight's blood stains still on the paper). You can find scans of the letter itself at the link to the Massachusetts Historical Society webpage. The text of the letter is as follows:

Near Sharpsburg. Sept. 17th 1862.
On the field

Dear Mother,

It is a misty moisty morning. We are engaging the enemy and are drawn up in support of Hooker who is now banging away most briskly. I write in the saddle to send you my love and to say that I am very well so far --

Dearest mother, I am wounded so as to be helpless. Good bye if so it must be I think I die in victory. God defend our country. I trust in God and love you all to the last.

Dearest love to father and all my dear brothers. Our troops have left the part of the field where I lay-

Mother, yrs

All is well with those that have faith

 Lt. Col. Wilder Dwight died on September 19, 1862, from the wounds he received at the Battle of Antietam.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Rise of George B. McClellan: "Whatever it may be I will try to do my duty to the army and to the country"

On October 30, 1861, George McClellan was on the verge of the greatest accomplishment of his life. As tides of unease were growing in the north, major changes were in the works for the Union war effort. Winfield Scott, who only trailed Washington on the list of the greatest American generals at that time, was advanced in years and poor in health. Scott's inability to take command in the field significantly hampered his abilities as general-in-chief of the Union forces. While Scott's career was more decorated and remarkable than any other officer of the time, north or south, it was drawing to a quick end. And who would it be to replace such a man? None other than the "Young Napoleon", a man whose youth and vigor were the perfect solution to Scott's age and ailments.

The contrasts between these two men ran deeper than age and health. In August, 1861, McClellan, the rising star of the Union armies, had proposed a grandiose plan to Lincoln, outlining a strategy encompassing all the theaters of the war. The crux of the plan rested on McClellan moving an army of over 270,000 men directly against Richmond, taking the Confederate capital by sheer numerical force. Other aspects of the plan involved Union forces moving down the Mississippi River, moving from Kansas into Texas, and liberating Eastern Tennessee and driving to take Memphis. Such a plan was bold, no doubt, but it also stepped on the toes of the current general-in-chief, Winfield Scott. Scott had already been overruled by Lincoln on two major events: the resupplying of Fort Sumter and the Union advance toward Manassas (both of which Scott had opposed). Further inflaming the situation were telegrams which McClellan sent to Lincoln greatly exaggerating Confederate troop strengths in Virginia. McClellan's estimates of troops also contributed to fears over a Confederate invasion of Maryland in September of 1861 (one year exactly before the Antietam Campaign). After several months of political fighting and bickering over policy and the strength of the enemy, in late October, it appeared as though McClellan would be elevated to overall command of Union forces. On October 19, McClellan said as much in a letter to his wife: "I seems to be pretty well settled that I will be Commander in Chief within a week. General Scott proposed to retire in favor of Halleck (General Henry Halleck, who became general-in-chief the following year). The President and cabinet have determined to accept his retirement, but not in favor of Halleck."1.

Just a few days later, on October 30, McClellan again described his views on the matter in a letter to his wife. He went on at some length concerning his feelings about his role in the conflict, speaking of God's intentions for him during the war. He displays semblances of humility in the letter, seemingly odd from a man who so many view only as a narcissist:

… You may have heard from the papers etc. of the small row that is going on just now between General Scott and myself—in which the vox populi is coming out strongly on my side. The affair had got among the soldiers, and I hear that officers and men all declare that they will fight under no one but “Our George,” as the scamps have taken it into their heads to call me. I ought to take good care of these men, for I believe they love me from the bottom of their hearts. I can see it in their faces when I pass among them. I presume the Scott war will culminate this week—and as it is now very clear that the people will not permit me to be passed over it seems easy to predict the result.
Whatever it may be I will try to do my duty to the army and to the country—with God’s help and a single eye to the right I hope that I may succeed. I appreciate all the difficulties in my path—the impatience of the people, the venality and bad faith of the politicians, the gross neglect that has occurred in obtaining arms, clothing, etc.—and also I feel in my innermost soul how small is my ability in comparison with the gigantic dimension of the task, and that, even if I had the greatest intellect that was ever given to man, the result remains in the hands of God. I do not feel that I am an instrument worthy of the great task, but I do feel that I did not seek it—it was thrust upon me. I was called to it, my previous life seems to have been unwittingly directed to this great end, and I know that God can accomplish the greatest results with the weakest instruments—therein lies my hope. I feel too that, much as we live in the North have erred, the rebels have been far worse than we—they seem to have deserted from the great cardinal virtue.2

The very next day, on October 31, 1861, Winfield Scott retired from the army. On November 1, Abraham Lincoln elevated George Brinton McClellan to commander of all Union armies. Upon entering his new role as General-in-Chief, McClellan famously remarked, "I can do it all." That same day, in General Order 19, General-in-Chief McClellan, McClellan made note of the awesome responsibility which now fell upon his shoulders: "In the midst of the difficulties which encompass and divide the nation, hesitation and self distrust may well accompany the assumption of so vast a responsibility; but confiding as I do that Providence will favor ours as the just cause, I cannot doubt that success will crown our efforts and sacrifices."3 McClellan certainly had large shoes to fill, yet his confidence in his abilities, as well as his trust in God, gave him cause to believe that only success could result from his elevation to command. On November 2, 1861, McClellan wrote to his wife to tell her of the new duties which he had recently assumed, as well as the frenetic pace at which he had been working to begin his tenure as General-in-Chief:
I have been at work with scarcely one minute's rest ever since I arose yesterday morning--nearly 18 hours. I find the "Army" just about as much disorganized as was the Army of the Potomac when I assumed command--everything at sixes and sevens--no system, no order--perfect chaos. I can and will reduce it to order--I will soon have it working smoothly.4

Thus, the Union war effort had received new life and direction under its new commander, George B. McClellan. What lay in store for McClellan and his army, no one knew; yet, 150 years ago, hope was high in Washington and throughout the North that the "Young Napoleon" would deliver victories befitting his promising moniker.

1. James McPherson, Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief (New York: Penguin Press, 2008), 51.
2.  Stephen Sears, Ed., The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan: Selected Correspondence, 1860-1865 (New York: Da Capo Press, 1989), 112-113.
3. Ibid., 122
4. Ibid., 123