Sunday, May 13, 2012

May 14, 1862 (Wednesday): McClellan Pleads For More Troops

View Down the James in the Direction the Union Ships Came From (Wikipedia)

Honorable E. M. STANTON,
Secretary of War.
On the 14th of May I sent the following telegram to the President:

    I have more than once telegraphed to the Secretary of War, stating that in my opinion the enemy were concentrating all their available force to fight this army in front of Richmond, and that such ought to be their policy. I have received no reply whatever to any of these telegraphs. I beg leave to repeat their substance to Your Excellency, and to ask that kind consideration which you have ever accorded to my representations and views. All my information from every source accessible to me establishes the fixed purpose of the rebels to defend Richmond against this army by offering us battle with all the troops they can collect from east, west, and south, and my own opinion is confirmed by that of all my commanders whom I have been able to consult.
    Casualties, sickness, garrisons, and guards have much weakened my force, and will continue to do so. I cannot bring into actual battle against the enemy more than 80,000 men at the utmost, and with them I must attack in position, probably intrenched, a much larger force, perhaps double my numbers. It is possible that Richmond may be abandoned without a serious struggle, but the enemy are actually in great strength between here and there, and it would be unwise, and even insane, for me to calculate upon anything but a stubborn and desperate resistance. If they should abandon Richmond it may well be that it is done with the purpose of making the stand at some place in Virginia south or west of there, and we should be in condition to press them without delay. The Confederate leaders must employ their utmost efforts against this army in Virginia, and they will be supported by the whole body of their military officers, among whom there may be said to be no Union feeling, as there is also very little among the higher class of citizens in the seceding States.
    I have found no fighting men left in this Peninsula. All are in the ranks of the opposing foe.
Even if more troops than I now have should prove unnecessary for purposes of military occupation, our greatest display of imposing force in the capital of the rebel Government will have the best effect. I most respectfully and earnestly urge upon Your Excellency that the opportunity has come for striking a fatal blow at the enemies of the Constitution, and I beg that you will cause this army to be re-enforced without delay by all the disposable troops of the Government. I ask for every man that the War Department can send me [by water*]. Any commander of the re-enforcements whom Your Excellency may designate will be acceptable to me, whatever expression I may have heretofore addressed to you on that subject.
    I will fight the enemy, whatever their force may be, with whatever force I may have, and I firmly believe that we shall beat them, but our triumph should be made decisive and complete. The soldiers of this army love their Government and will fight well in its support. You may rely upon them. They have confidence in me as their general and in you as their President. Strong re-enforcements will at least save the lives of many of them. The greater our force, the more perfect will be our combinations and the less our loss.
    For obvious reasons I beg you to give immediate consideration to this communication, and to inform me fully at the earliest moment of your final determination.


*The words "by water" are in the dispatch as received at War Department. 

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 11, Part 1, Page 27.

McClellan knew when he left for the Peninsula how many men he would have available, knew there would be losses to camp illness and casualties, knew (to his mind) how many Confederate troops he faced.  To then go to the Peninsula and begin requesting reinforcements was somewhat disingenuous.  If these were insurmountable obstacles, McClellan could have declared them such prior to leaving for the Peninsula and stuck with the safer overland route which would have possibly given Lincoln more confidence the Capital was covered (which, in turn, might have prompted him to release more troops for the defenses of Washington).  It should be kept in mind that on the day this was written Union warships were steaming up the James for Richmond unimpeded and there would have appeared to have existed a fair chance they would take the city.  Certainly, this was the concern of Lee and Johnston as the Monitor and Galena approached Drewry's Bluff.

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