Friday, July 13, 2012

July 14, 1862 (Tuesday): Pope Takes Command

General John Pope

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF VIRGINIA, Washington, D. C., July 14, 1862.
To the Officers and Soldiers of the Army of Virginia:
    By special assignment of the President of the United States I have assumed the command of this army. I have spent two weeks in learning your whereabouts, your condition, and your wants, in preparing you for active operations, and in placing you in positions from which you can act promptly and to the purpose. These labors are nearly competed, and I am about to join you in the field.
    Let us understand each other. I have come to you form the West, where we have always seen the backs of our enemies; from an army whose business it has been to seek the adversary and to beat him when he was found; whose policy has been attack and not defense. In but one instance has the enemy been able to place our Western armies in defensive attitude. I presume that I have been called here to pursue the same system and to lead you against the enemy. It is my purpose to do so, and that speedily. I am sure you long for an opportunity to win the distinction you are capable of achieving. That opportunity I shall endeavor to give you. Meantime I desire you to dismiss from your minds certain phrases, which I am sorry to find so much in vogue amongst you. I hear constantly of "taking strong positions and holding them," of "lines of retreat," and of "bases of supplies." Let us discard such ideas. The strongest position a soldier should desire to occupy is one from which he can most easily advance against the enemy. Let us study the probable lines of retreat of our opponents, and leave our own to take care of themselves. Let us look before us, and not behind. Success and glory are in the advance, disaster and shame lurk in the rear. Let us act on this understanding, and it is safe to predict that your banners shall be inscribed with many a glorious deed and that your names will be dear to your countrymen forever.

Major-General, Commanding.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 12, Part 3, Page 474.

Pope's message would live in history books, but not for the reasons his vanity would have imagined.  He once told a reporter his headquarters would be in the saddle, which prompted the famous quip, "his headquarters was where his hindquarters should be".  His hubris exceeded his military abilities by a a considerable margin, and his cheap insult of McClellan's "change of base" gives good evidence of his character.  When he eventually failed as a commander he was sent West to fight the Dakota in Minnesota late in 1862.

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