War of the Rebellion: Serial 012 Page 0129 Chapter XXIII. GENERAL REPORTS.

Search Civil War Official Records

the capital of the nation was blockaded and that capital kept in a partial state of siege by a greatly-inferior enemy, in face of a movable army of 150,000 men. In the winter 1861-62 Norfolk could and should have been taken. The Navy demanded it, the country demanded it, and the means were ample. By its capture the career of the Merrimac, which proved so disastrous to our subsequent operations, would have been prevented. The preparation of this vessel was known, and the Navy Department was not without forebodings of the mischief it would do. Though delay might mature more comprehensive plans and promise greater results, it is not the first case in which it had been shown that successful war involves something more than abstract military principles. The true question was seize the first practicable moment to satisfy the perhaps unreasonable but natural longing of an impatient nation for results to justify its lavish confidence, and to take advantage of an undivided command and untrammeled liberty of action while it was possessed.

When the army did move, a plan was adopted perfectly certain to invite, nay, to compel, interference, and when the army was to go by Annapolis to the Lower Chesapeake I felt confident that one-half would scarcely have embarked before the other half would be ordered back to Washington. The enemy was then at Manassas, and the feint (even if no reality) of an attack on Washington was so obvious, so certain to create a panic which no Executive could resist, that interference with the removal of the mass the army was certain.

When the enemy had fallen back behind the Rappahannock and destroyed the railroad bridges the circumstances were greatly changed, and there were strong arguments for the line adopted; yet results have proved how many reasons there were to be considered besides the purely military one which opposed themselves to the adoption of such a line. The facts connected with the withholding of Mc Dowell's corps have been so completely exhibited in the proceedings of the McDowell Court of Inquiry that every one who wishes can form his own judgment. Whether it was wise or unwise, it was one of those things resulting from the taking a line of operations which did not itself cover Washington.

At the time the Army of the Potomac landed on the Peninsula the rebel cause was at its lowest ebb. Its armies were demoralized by the defeats of Port Royal, Mill Springs, Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, Roanoke Island, and Pea Ridge, and reduced in numbers by sickness, loss in battle, expiration of period of service, &c., while the conscription law was not yet even passed. It seemed as if it needed but one vigorous gripe to end forever this rebellion, so nearly throttled. How, then, happened it that the date of the initiation of the campaign of the magnificent Army of the Potomac was the date of the resuscitation of the rebel cause, which seemed to grow strong pari passu with the slow progress its operations?

However I may be committed to any expression of professional opinion to the contrary (I certainly did suggest it), my opinion now is that the lines of Yorktown should have been assaulted. There is reason to believe that that were not held by strong force when our army appeared before them, and we know that they were far from complete. The prestige of power, the morale, was on our side. It was due to ourselves to confirm and sustain it. We should probably have succeeded, and if we failed it may well be doubted whether the shock of an unsuccessful assault would have been more demoralizing than the labors

9 R R-VOL XI