M'CLELLAN'S ignominious failure disappointed but did not
dishearten the Northern people. While M'Clellan was basting away from
Richmond the Governors of seventeen States assured the President of the
readiness of their people to furnish troops. The President issued a call for
an additional 3007000 men; and his call was promptly obeyed.
M'Clellan lay for two months, secure but inglorious, beside his gun-boats on
the James river. General Lee, rightly deeming that there was little to fear
from an army so feebly led, ranged northwards with a strong force and
threatened Washington. The Federal troops around the capital were greatly
inferior in number. President Lincoln summoned M'Clellan northwards.
M'Clellan was, as usual, unready; and a small Federal army under General
Pope was left to cope unaided with the enemy. Pope received a severe defeat
at Manassas, and retired to the fortifications of Washington.
General Lee was strong enough now to carry the war into Northern territory.
He captured Harper's Ferry, and passed into Maryland. M'Clellan was at
length stimulated to action, and having carried his troops northwards, he
attacked Lee at Antietam. The Northern army far outnumbered the enemy. The
battle was long and bloody. When darkness sank down upon the wearied
combatants no decisive advantage had been gained. M'Clellan's generals urged
a renewal of the attack next morning. But this was not done, and General Lee
crossed the Potomac and retired unmolested into Virginia. M'Olellan resumed
his customary inactivity. The President ordered him to pursue the enemy and
give battle. He even wished him to move on Richmond, which be was able to
reach before Lee could possibly be there. In vain. M'Clellan could not move.
His horses had sore tongues and sore backs; they were lame; they were broken
down by fatigue. Lincoln had already been unduly patient. But the country
would endure no more. General M'Clellan was removed from command of that
army whose power he had so long been (1862) able to neutralize; and his
place was taken by General Burnside.
Burnside at once moved
his army southwards. It was not yet too late for a Virginian campaign. He
reached the banks of the Rappahannock, beside the little town of
Fredericksburg. He had to wait there for many weary days till he obtained
means to cross the river. While he lay, impatient, General Lee concentrated
all the forces under his command upon the heights which rose steeply from
the opposite bank of the stream. He threw up earth-works and strongly
intrenched his position. There he waited in calmness for the assault which
he knew he could repel.
When Burnside was able to cross the
Rappahannock he lost no time in making his attack. One portion of his force
would strike the enemy on his right flank; the rest would push straight up
the heights and assault him in front. A slight sue- cess in his flanking
movement cheered General Burnside. But in the centre his troops advanced to
the attack under a heavy fire of artillery which laid many brave men low.
The Northern soldiers fought their way with steady courage up the height.
They were superior in numbers, but the rebels fought in safety within a
position which was impregnable. The battle was no fair trial of skill and
courage, but a useless waste of brave lives. Burnside drew off his troops
and re-crossed the Rappahannock, with a loss of 12,000 men—vainly sacrificed
in the attempt to perform an impossibility.
in the West
there had been no great success to counterbalance the long train of
Confederate victories in the East. The year closed darkly upon the hopes of
those who strove to preserve the Union. The South counted with certainty
that her independence was secure. Tb a prevailing opinion of Europe regarded
the enterprise which the North pursued so resolutely, as a wild
impossibility. But the Northern people and Government never despaired of the
Commonwealth. At the gloomiest period of the contest a Bill was passed for
the construction of a railroad to the Pacific. The Homestead Act offered a
welcome to immigrants in the form of a free grant of 160 acres of land to
each. And the Government, as with a quiet and unburdened mind, began to
enlarge and adorn its Capitol on a scale worthy of the expected greatness of
the reunited country.