September 7. The report prevalent yesterday that the Rebels had crossed the upper Potomac at or near the Point of Rocks is confirmed, and it is pretty authentic that large reinforcements have been added.
Found Chase in Secretary’s room at the War Department with D. D. Field. No others present. Some talk about naval matters. Field censorious and uncomfortable. General Pope soon came in but stayed only a moment. Was angry and vehement. He and Chase had a brief conversation apart, when he returned to Stanton’s room.
When I started to come away, Chase followed, and after we came down stairs asked me to walk with him to the President’s. As we crossed the lawn, he said with emotion everything was going wrong. He feared the country was ruined. McClellan was having everything his own way, as he (Chase) anticipated he would if decisive measures were not promptly taken for his dismissal. It was a reward for perfidy. My refusal to sign the paper he had prepared was fraught with great evil to the country. I replied that I viewed that matter differently. My estimate of McClellan was in some respects different from his. I agreed he wanted decision, that he hesitated to strike, had also behaved badly in the late trouble, but I did not believe he was unfaithful and destitute of patriotism. But aside from McClellan, and the fact that it would, with the feeling which pervaded the army, have been an impolitic step to dismiss him, the proposed combination in the Cabinet would have been inexcusably wrong to the President. We had seen the view which the President took of the matter and how he felt at the meeting of the Cabinet on Tuesday.
From what I have seen and heard within the last few days, the more highly do I appreciate the President’s judgment and sagacity in the stand he made, and the course he took. Stanton has carried his dislike or hatred of McC. to great lengths, and from free intercourse with Chase has enlisted him, and to some extent influenced all of us against that officer, who has failings enough of his own to bear without the addition of Stanton’s enmity to his own infirmities. Seward, in whom McC. has confided more than any member of the Administration, from the common belief that Seward was supreme, yielded to Stanton’s malignant feelings, and yet, not willing to encounter that officer, he went off to Auburn, expecting the General would be disposed of whilst he was away. The President, who, like the rest of us, has seen and felt McClellan’s deficiencies and has heard Stanton’s and Halleck’s complaints more than we have, finally, and I think not unwillingly, consented to bring Pope here in front of Washington; was also further persuaded by Stanton and Chase to recall the army from Richmond and turn the troops over to Pope. Most of this originated, and has been matured, in the War Department, Stanton and Chase being the pioneers, Halleck assenting, the President and Seward under stress of McClellan’s disease “the slows,” and with the reverses before Richmond, falling in with the idea that a change of commanders and a change of base was necessary. The recall of the army from the vicinity of Richmond I thought wrong, and I know it was in opposition to the opinion of some of the best military men in the service. Placing Pope over them roused the indignation of many. But in this Stanton had a purpose to accomplish, and in bringing first Pope here, then by Pope’s assistance and General Scott’s advice bringing Halleck, and concerting measures which followed, he succeeded in breaking down and displacing McClellan, but not in dismissing and disgracing him. This the President would not do or permit to be done, though he was more offended with McC. than he ever was before. In a brief conversation with him as we were walking together on Friday, the President said with much emphasis: “I must have McClellan to reorganize the army and bring it out of chaos, but there has been a design, a purpose in breaking down Pope, without regard of consequences to the country. It is shocking to see and know this; but there is no remedy at present, McClellan has the army with him.”
My convictions are with the President that McClellan and his generals are this day stronger than the Administration with a considerable portion of this Army of the Potomac. It is not so elsewhere with the soldiers, or in the country, where McClellan has lost favor. The people are disappointed in him, but his leading generals have contrived to strengthen him in the hearts of the soldiers in front of Washington.
Chase and myself found the President alone this Sunday morning. We canvassed fully the condition of the army and country. Chase took an early opportunity, since the report of Pope was suppressed, to urge upon the President the propriety of some announcement of the facts connected with the recent battles. It was, he said, due to the country and also to Pope and McDowell. I at once comprehended why Chase had invited me to accompany him in this visit. It was that it might appear that we were united on this mission. I therefore promptly stated that this was the first time I had heard the subject broached. At a proper time, it seemed to me, there would be propriety in presenting a fair, unprejudiced, and truthful statement of late disasters. The country craved to know the facts, but the question was, Could we just now with prudence give them? Disclosing might lead to discord and impair the efficiency of the officers. The President spoke favorably of Pope, and thought he would have something prepared for publication by Halleck.
When taking a walk this Sunday evening with my son Edgar, we met on Pennsylvania Avenue, near the junction of H Street, what I thought at first sight a squad of cavalry or mounted men, some twenty or thirty in number. I remarked as they approached that they seemed better mounted than usual, but E. said the cavalcade was General McClellan and his staff. I raised my hand to salute him as they were dashing past, but the General, recognizing us, halted the troop and rode up to me by the sidewalk, to shake hands, he said, and bid me farewell. I asked which way. He said he was proceeding to take command of the onward movement. “Then,” I added, “you go up the river.” He said yes, he had just started to take charge of the army and of the operations above. “Well,” said I, “onward, General, is now the word; the country will expect you to go forward.” “That,” he answered, “is my intention.” “Success to you, then, General, with all my heart.” With a mutual farewell we parted.
This was our first meeting since we parted at Cumberland on the Pamunkey in June, for we each had been so occupied during the three or four days he had been in Washington that we had made no calls. On several occasions we missed each other. In fact, I had no particular desire to fall in with any of the officers who had contributed to the disasters that had befallen us, or who had in any respect failed to do their whole duty in this great crisis. While McClellan may have had some cause to be offended with Pope, he has no right to permit his personal resentments to inflict injury upon the country. I may do him injustice, but I think his management has been generally unfortunate, to say the least, and culpably wrong since his return from the Peninsula.
He has now been placed in a position where he may retrieve himself, and return to Washington a victor in triumph, or he may, as he has from the beginning, wilt away in tame delays and criminal inaction. I would not have given him the command, nor have advised it, strong as he is with the army, had I been consulted; and I feel sad that he has been so intrusted. It may, however, be for the best. There are difficulties in the matter that can scarcely be appreciated by those who do not know all the circumstances. The army is, I fear, much demoralized, and its demoralization is much of it to be attributed to the officers whose highest duty it is to prevent it. To have placed any other general than McClellan, or one of his circle, in command would be to risk disaster. It is painful to entertain the idea that the country is in the hands of such men. I hope I mistake them.