cons, I was reluctantly forced to the conclusion that the order must be issued. There was to my mind no alternative.
Allow me to allude to a few of the facts in the case. You and your officers at one interview estimated the enemy's forces in and around Richmond at 200,000 men. Since then you and others report that they have received and are receiving large re-enforcements from the South. General Pope's army covering Washington is only about 40,000. Your effective force is only about 90,000. You are 30 miles from Richmond, and General Pope 80 or 90, with the enemy directly between you, ready to fall with his superior numbers upon one or the other, as he may elect. Neither can re-enforce the other in case of such an attack.
If General Pope's army be diminished to re-enforce you, Washington, Maryland, and Pennsylvania would be left uncovered and exposed. If your force be reduced to strengthen Pope, you would be took weak to even hold the position you now occupy should the enemy turn round and attack you in full force. In other words, the old Army of the Potomac is split into parts, with the entire force of the enemy directly between them. They cannot be united by land without exposing both to destruction, and yet they must be united. To send Pope's forces by water to the Peninsula is, under present circumstances, a military impossibility. The only alternative is to send the forces on the Peninsula to some point by water, say Fredericksburg, where the two armies can be united.
Let me now allude to some of the objections which you have urged. You say that the withdrawal from the present position will cause the certain demoralization of the army, "which is now in excellent discipline and condition." I cannot understand why a simple change of position to a new and by no means distant base will demoralize an army in excellent discipline, unless the officers themselves assist in that demoralization, which I am satisfied they will not. Your change of front from your extreme right at Hanover Court-House to your present position was over 30 miles, but I have not heard that it demoralized your troops, notwithstanding the severe losses they sustained in effecting it. A new base on the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg brings you within about 60 miles of Richmond, and secures a re-enforcement of 40,000 or 50,000 fresh and disciplined troops. The change, with such advantages, will, I think, if properly represented to your army, encourage rather than demoralize your troops. Moreover, you yourself suggested that a junction might be effected at Yorktown, but that a flank march across the isthmus would be more hazardous than to retire to Fort Monroe. You will remember that Yorktown is 2 or 3 miles farther than Fredericksburg is. Besides, the latter is between Richmond and Washington, and covers Washington, from any attack of the enemy. The political effect of the withdrawal may at first be unfavorable; but I think the public are beginning to understand its necessity, and that they will have much more confidence in a unite army than in it separated fragments.
But you will reply, why not re-enforce me here, so that I can strike Richmond from my present position? To do this you said at our interview that you required 30,000 additional troops. I told you that it was impossible to give you so many. You finally thought that you would have "some chance" of success with 20,000. But you afterward telegraphed me that you would require 35,000 as the enemy was being largely re-enforced. If your estimate of the enemy's strength was correct, your requisition was perfectly reasonable, but it was utterly impossible to fill it until new troops could be enlisted and organized, which would require several weeks. To keep your army in its present position until it could be so re-enforced would almost destroy it in that climate. The months of August and September are almost fatal to whites who live on that part of James River, and even after you received the re-enforcements asked for, you admitted that you must reduce Fort Darling and the river batteries before you could advance on Richmond. It is by no means certain that the reduction of these fortifications would not require considerable time, perhaps as much as those at Yorktown. This delay might not only be fatal to the health of your army, but in the mean time General Pope's forces would be exposed to the heavy blows of the enemy without the slightest of assistance from you.
In regard to the demoralizing effect of a withdrawal from the Peninsula to the Rappahannock I must remark that a large number of your highest officers, indeed a majority of those whose opinions have been reported to me, are decidedly in favor of the movement. Even several of those who originally advocated the line of the Peninsula now advise its abandonment.
I have not inquired, and do not with to know, by whose advice or for what reasons the Army of the Potomac was separated into two parts, with the enemy between them. I must take things as I find them. I find the forces divided, and I wish to unite them. Only one feasible plan has been presented for doing this. If you or any one else had presented a better plan I certainly should have adopted it. But all of your plans require re-enforcements, which it is impossible to give you. It is very easy to ask for re-enforcements, but it is not so easy to give them when you have no disposable troops at your command.