Saturday, May 12, 2012

May 10, 1862 (Saturday): McClellan Contemplates a Change of Base

Old Saint John's Church-West Point, Virginia

May 10, 1862. (Received 5 p. m.)
Honorable E. M. STANTON,
Secretary of War:
    I have fully established my connection with the troops near West Point, and the dangerous movement has passed. The West Point Railway is not very much injured. Materials for repairs, such as rails, &c., cars, and engines, may now be sent to me. Should Norfolk be taken and the Merrimac destroyed, I can change my line to the James River and dispense with the railroad.
    I shall probably occupy New Kent in force to-morrow, and then make my first preparations for battle. As it is, my troops are in advance of their supplies. I must so arrange my depot that we can follow up success. When at New Kent I will be in position to make a thorough examination of the country so as to act understandingly.
    General Johnston cannot well be in front of Fremont, for two reasons: First, he has no business there; second, I know that I fought him on Monday, and that he is now on the Chickahominy. I have used his vacated headquarters from day to day. He is certainly in command here with all the troops he can gather.
    Two of three more of the cavalry regiments I left on the Potomac would be very acceptable. I am overworking what I have.


Official Records, Series I., Vol. 11, Part 3, Page 160.

As seen here, there was still confusion in Washington as to the location and intent of Confederate forces.  Some believed Johnston was moving with part of his force toward Washington, but McClellan clearly understood he was in front of his forces on the Peninsula, slowly giving way.  It is also interesting to note McClellan is already considering the advantages of an advance along the James.  His later change of base after being attacked by Lee is regarded as a panicked move, and it certainly represented an overreaction.  But there were clear advantages to moving up the James, as it would allow a greater role for the Navy in protecting the advance and perhaps even threatening Richmond itself.

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