Monday, July 9, 2012

July 10, 1862 (Thursday): The Case For Leaving Harrison's Landing

General Erasmus D. Keyes

Harrison's Bar, July 10, 1862
    SIR: After some inquiry, I find that my opinions agree essentially with the opinions of several officers whom I regard as the most able in this army, at the head of which is General Barnard, of the Engineers. I therefore venture to address a letter to Your Excellency.
    The simple failure of this army to reach Richmond has given a serious aspect to our affairs, and after much reflection I have considered the subject of first importance to be the position which this army ought to occupy during the next two months.

   Can this army remain here encamped at Harrison's Bar?

   Clearly not, since the confinement to a small space, the heat, and sickliness of this camp would nearly destroy the army in two months, though no armed force should assail it. Moreover, the enemy being in possession of both banks of the James River above and below us, he will shortly find the means to cut us off from our supplies, or shut us up by means of fortifications and his abundant artillery, in such a manner as will give him time, ample time, to capture Washington before we could possibly go to its rescue.

    Can this army leave its present camp to go and attack Richmond?

    No; it cannot. To make this army to march on Richmond with any hope of success it must be re-enforced by at least 100,000 good troops. No officer here, whose opinion is worth one penny, will recommend a less number. To bring troops freshly raised at the North to this country in months of July, August, and September would be to cast our resources into the sea. The raw troops would melt away and be ruined forever.
Some of our officers think that to remove this army to the neighborhood of Washington would be a virtual abandonment of our cause. I cannot regard the matter in that light at all. This army has not been defeated in battle, nor has it been repulsed in this campaign as often as it has repulsed the enemy. It is no in a strong position, with all its baggage. Sickness, and the approach of a more sickly season, together with the superiority in numbers and sanitary advantages on the part of the enemy, render it proper and advisable that we should return to our capital and a healthy country. Did not the Confederates return to their capital from Manassas, and afterward from Williamsburg did they not retreat in confusion? In the West the two armies have often been successful and unsuccessful, and have each frequently retreated in Missouri and elsewhere. Those fluctuations have in the end inured to our advantage.
    To shut up this army on the James River is to make certain its destruction or its neutralization within the next two months, and then the North will be at the mercy of the South and the sport of the caprice of Europe.
    Bring this army back to the neighborhood of Washington, to spacious, healthy camps, pass some laws which I could suggest,and at the end of three months it will be worth much more against an enemy than it was last March. The laws I refer to would force our able-bodied men to join the army and to remain with it; would stop rogues and pettifoggers from using the courts of law to rob such as are absent fighting and would constrain to the public service all supplies and means of transportation at a reasonable price.
    When a large army reaches, or is placed in a position where it cannot hold the enemy in check not operate effectively against him, it is a military axiom to move that army without delay. With a large, well-appointed army in any camp from which it can be employed we may bid defiance to our enemies. This army cannot be employed here, and the enemy may close its egress, for which reasons and many others I respectfully recommend that immediate instructions may be issued for its withdrawal.
    All the available gunboats and men-of-war ought to assist in the movement, which ought to be made within the next forty-eight hours.
    I have the honor to be, respectfully, Your Excellency's most obedient servant,

Brigadier-General, Fourth Army Corps.

Official Records, Series I, Vol. 11, Part 3, Page 314.

Lincoln reverted on his visit to Harrison's Landing to opening himself to direct communication with McClellan's subordinates.  Although Lincoln and Stanton wrote supportively to McClellan, the President quickly lost what little faith he had in his abilities.  Here Keyes takes the liberty of communicating directly with the President behind his commander's back.  Much of what he says is true, the advice he gives reasonably sound, but the fact he would write the letter is an indication McClellan has lost the moral authority to command the Army of the Potomac. 

No comments:

Post a Comment