- Jul 30, 2018
November 7, 1862: Catharinus P. Buckingham, adjutant to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, arrives at the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac – with the order that relieves Major General George B. McClellan of command. His replacement: Major General Ambrose Burnside.
This decision caused quite an uproar within the army. The rank and file loved McClellan; he was their man. Veteran regiments threatened to throw down their arms, some actually did. It would not have taken much for mutiny to break out.
The impression I got from early on is that many higher ranked officers – in both armies – were more concerned with their personal agendas instead of the bigger goal of winning the war. Rather than working together toward victory they were squabbling with each other. And in the Army of the Potomac a favorite topic seemed to have been who would be a good commander.
The more surprised and impressed I was when reading up on Winfield Scott Hancock and finding that he kept out of these squabbles. He had every reason for being grateful to McClellan – he owed him his rank and quick promotions after all – but he didn’t argue like so many others when the administration removed McClellan and put Burnside in command. Quite the opposite; as he wrote his wife, “The Army are not satisfied with the change, and consider the treatment of McClellan most ungracious and inopportune. Yet I do not sympathize with the movement going on to resist the order. ‘It is useless,’ I tell the gentlemen around me. ‘We are serving no one man; we are serving our country.’”
I find that quote quite poignant, especially considering the point in the Civil War it was written. With the nation hanging in the balance, the work to save it is too important for petty rivalries. The Army of the Potomac was not really able to work together as a unit until Meade; there were always those plotting against the commanding general when the highest priority should have been defeating Lee and the Army of the Northern Virginia. Thankfully, some Union soldiers – like Hancock – kept the big picture in mind so that the “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
- Hancock The Superb by Glenn Tucker
- Reminiscences of Winfield Scott Hancock by Almira Hancock
- Lincoln's Lieutenants: The High Command of the Army of the Potomac by Stephen W. Sears