On the 22nd I received an order by telegraph directing me to turn over my command to Brigadier-General Rosecrans and repair at once to Washington.*
I had already caused reconnaissances to be made for intrenchments at the Cheat Mountain Pass, also on the Huntersville road, near Elkwater, and at Red House, near the main road from Romney to Grafton. During the afternoon and night of the 22nd I gave the final instructions for the construction of these works, turned over the command to Brigadier-General Rosecrans, and started on the morning of the 23rd for Washington, arriving there on the afternoon of the 26th. On the 27th I assumed command of the Division of the Potomac, comprising the troops in and around Washington, on both banks of the river.
With this brief statement of the events which immediately preceded my being called to the command of the troops at Washington I proceed to an account, from such authentic data as are at hand, of my military operations while commander of the Army of the Potomac.
The subjects to be considered naturally arrange themselves as follows: The organization of the Army of the Potomac; the military events connected with the defenses of Washington from July, 1861, to March, 1862; the campaign on the Peninsula, and that in Maryland.
The great resources and capacity for powerful resistance of the South at the breaking out of the rebellion, and the full proportions of the great conflict about to take place, were sought to be carefully measured, and I had also endeavored by every means in my power to impress upon the authorities the necessity for such immediate and full preparation as alone would enable the Government to prosecute the war on a scale commensurate with the resistance to be offered.
On the 4th of August, 1861, I addressed to the President the following memorandum, prepared at his request:
The object of the present war differs from those in which nations are usually engaged mainly in this, that the purpose of ordinary war is to conquer a peace and make a treaty on advantageous terms. In this contest it has become necessary to crush a population sufficiently numerous, intelligent, and warlike to constitute a nation. We have not only to defeat their armed and organized forces in the field, but to display such an overwhelming strength as will convince all our antagonists, especially those of the governing, aristocratic class, of the utter impossibility of resistance. Our late reverses make this course imperative. Had we been successful in the recent battle (Manassas), it is possible that we might have been spared the labor and expenses of a great effort.
Now we have no alternative. Their success will enable the political leaders of the rebels to convince the mass of their people that we are inferior to them in force and courage, and to command all their resources. The contest began with a class; now it is with a people. Our military success can alone restore the former issue.
By thoroughly defeating their armies, taking their strong places, and pursuing a rigidly protective policy as to private property and unarmed persons, and a lenient course as to private soldiers, we may well hope for a permanent restoration of a peace-full Union. But in the first instance the authority of the Government must be supported by overwhelming physical force.
Our foreign relations and financial credit also imperatively demand that the military action of the Government should be prompt and irresistible.
The rebels have chosen Virginia as their battle-field, and it seems proper for us to make the first great struggle there. But, while thus directing our main efforts, it is necessary to diminish the resistance there offered us by movements on other points both by land and water.
Without entering at present into details, I would advise that a strong movement be made on the Mississippi, and that the rebels be driven out of Missouri.
*See Vol. II of this series, p. 753.