Official Records of the Rebellion

Official Records of the Rebellion

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No 1: Report of Maj. McClellan, U. S. Army, commanding Army of the Potomac, dated August 4 1863



On the 1st July I received the following from the President:

WASHINGTON, July 1, 1862—3.30 p. m.

It is impossible to re-enforce you for your present emergency. If we had a million of men we could not get them to you in time. We have not the men to send. If you are not strong enough to face the enemy you must find a place of security, and wait, rest, and repair. Maintain your ground if you can, but save the army at all events, even if you fall back to Fort Monroe. We still have strength enough in the country and will bring it out.



In a dispatch from the President to me, on the 2d of July, he says : *

If you think you are not strong enough to take Richmond just now, I do not ask you to. Try just now to save the army, material, and personnel, and I will strengthen it for the offensive again as fast as I can. The Governors of eighteen States offer me a new levy of 300,000, which I accept.

On the 3d of July the following kind dispatch was received from the President:

WASHINGTON, July 3, 1862—3 p. m.

Yours of 5.30yesterday is just received.: I am satisfied that yourself, officers, and men have done the best you could. All accounts say better fighting was never done. Ten thousand thanks for it.

* * * * * *


On the 4th I sent the following to the President:


Harrison’s Bar, James River, July 4, 1862.

I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your dispatch of the 2d instant.

I shall make a stand at this place, and endeavor to give my men the repose they so much require.

After sending my communication on Tuesday the enemy attacked the left of our lines, and a fierce battle ensued, lasting until night. They were repulsed with great slaughter. Had their attack succeeded the consequences would have been disastrous in the extreme. This closed the hard fighting, which had continued from the afternoon of the 26th ultimo in a daily series of engagements wholly unparalleled on this continent for determination and slaughter on both sides. The mutual loss in killed and wounded is enormous; that of the enemy certainly greatest.

On Tuesday morning, the 1st, our army commenced its movement from Haxall’s to this point, our line of defense there being too extended to be maintained by our [p.72] weakened forces. Our train was immense, and about 4 a. m. on the 2d a heavy storm of rain began, which continued during the entire day and until the forenoon of yesterday. The roads became horrible. Troops, artillery, and wagons moved on steadily, and our whole army, men and material, was finally brought safe into this camp. The last of the wagons reached here at noon yesterday. The exhaustion was very great, but the army preserved its morale, and would have repelled any attack which the enemy was in condition to make.

We now occupy a line of heights about 2 miles from the James, a plain extending from there to the river. Our front is about 3 miles long. These heights command our whole position, and must be maintained. The gunboats can render valuable support upon both flanks. If the enemy attack us in front we must hold our ground as we best may, and at whatever cost. Our positions can be carried only by overwhelming numbers. The spirit of the army is excellent. Stragglers are finding their regiments, and the soldiers exhibit the best results of discipline. Our position is by no means impregnable, especially as a morass extends on this side of the high ground from our center to the James on our right. The enemy may attack in vast numbers, and if so, our front will be the scene of a desperate battle, which, if lost, will be decisive. Our army is fearfully weakened by killed, wounded, and prisoners. I cannot now approximate to any statement of our losses, but we were not beaten in any conflict. The enemy were unable by their utmost efforts to drive us from any field.

Never did such a change of base, involving a retrograde movement, and under incessant attacks from a most determined and vastly more numerous foe, partake so little of disorder. We have lost no guns except twenty-five on the field of battle, twenty-one of which were lost by the giving way of McCall’s division under the onset of superior numbers.

Our communications by the James River are not secure. There are points where the enemy can establish themselves with cannon or musketry and command the river, and where it is not certain that our gunboats can drive them out. In case of this, or in case our front is broken, I will still make every effort to preserve at least the personnel of the army, and the events of the last few days leave no question that the troops will do all that their country can ask. Send such re-enforcements as you can. I will do what I can. We are shipping our wounded and sick and landing supplies. The Navy Department should cooperate with us to the extent of its resources. Captain Rodgers is doing all in his power in the kindest and most efficient manner.

When all the circumstances of the case are known it will be acknowledged by all competent judges that the movement just completed by this army is unparalleled in the annals of war. Under the most difficult circumstances we have preserved our trains, our guns, our material, and, above all, our honor.




To which I received the following reply:

WASHINGTON, July 5, 1862—9 a. m.

A thousand thanks for the relief your two dispatches, of 12 and 1 p. yesterday, gave me. Be assured the heroism and skill of yourself and officers and men is, and forever will be, appreciated.

If you can hold your present position we shall hive the enemy yet.


Commanding Army of the Potomac.

The following letters were received from His Excellency the President:


Washington City, D. C., July 4, 1862.

I understand your position as stated in your letter and by General Marcy. To re-enforce you so as to enable you to resume the offensive within a month, or even six weeks, is impossible. In addition to that arrived and now arriving from the Potomac, about 10,000 men, I suppose, and about 10,000 I hope you will have from Burnside very soon, and about 5,000 from Hunter a little later, I do not see how I can send you another man within a month. Under these circumstances the defensive for the present must be your only care. Save the army, first, where you are, if you can; secondly, by removal, if you must. You, on the ground, must be the judge as to which you will attempt and of the means for effecting it. I but give it as my opinion that with the [p.73] aid of the gunboats and the re-enforcements mentioned above you can hold your present position, provided, and so long as, you can keep the James River open below you. If you are not tolerably confident you can keep the James River open, you had better remove as soon as possible. I do not remember that you have expressed any apprehension as to the danger of having your communication cut on the river below you, yet I do not suppose it can have escaped your attention.

Yours, very truly,


P. S.—If at any time you feel able to take the offensive you are not restrained from doing so.

Major-General MCCLELLAN.

The following telegram was sent on the 7th:


Berkeley, July 7, 1862—S.30 a. m.

As boat is starting I have only time to acknowledge receipt of dispatch by General Marcy. Enemy have not attacked. My position is very strong, and daily becoming more so. If not attacked to-day I shall laugh at them. I have been anxious about my communications. Had long consultation about it with Flag-Officer Goldsborough last night. He is confident he can keep river open. He should have all gunboats possible. Will see him again this morning. Mymen in splendid spirits, and anxious to try it again. Alarm yourself as little as possible about me, and don’t lose confidence in this army.



Official Records of the Rebellion: Volume Eleven, Chapter 23, Part 1: Peninsular Campaign: Reports, pp.71-73

web page Rickard, J (20 June 2006)


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