Sunday, September 25

This Week in The Civil War: Sunday, Sept. 25

Pressure for a Union plan of attack

Major Gen. George B. McClellan, tapped to lead the Army of the Potomac after the Union defeat at First Bull Run, comes under growing popular pressure in late September 1861 to attack Confederate forces outside Washington. The commander chafes at strident calls for action, knowing he could be made the scapegoat for any disastrous misstep that turns the tide of war against the Union. Nonetheless, McClellan's weeks of training and drilling have begun to shape green and largely untested troops into a fighting force. And McClellan is still being allowed time by President Abraham Lincoln to plot his war strategy. One of McClellan's chief worries is that he not leave Washington undefended, at times believing the Confederates could be plotting a major assault on the capital. Reports speak of Confederates in northern Virginia nearly within site of Washington. Months later, McCellan will go on to failure with his Peninsula Campaign - his ambitious thrust toward Richmond from Virginia's seaboard side. Later he will halt Confederate Robert E. Lee's invasion of Maryland at bloody Antietam yet still lose his command for settling for a draw that tests Lincoln's patience as the president thirsts for crushing victory. This month, the South's Gulf Coast farmers recoil from stormy weather that ruins corn and cotton crops needed to feed and clothe the Confederate army. News dispatches speak of bickering in the Confederate congress over ill-fed and badly uniformed recruits. Misinformation flies. One Southern newspaper claims Confederate troops number an astonishing 185,000 men - far more than McClellan's - and adds they are "clothed and fed on a scale of amazing liberality, and are regularly paid in gold or bank paper." One commentator scoffs such numbers are impossibly inflated and the situation is the reverse with near "nakedness and starvation" among some Confederate troops.

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