Official Records of the Rebellion

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


On the 4th I had received General Halleck’s order of the 3d (which appears below), directing me to withdraw the army to Aquia, and on the same day sent an earnest protest against it. A few hours before this General Hooker had informed me that his cavalry pickets reported large bodies of the enemy advancing and driving them in, and that he would probably be attacked at daybreak.

Under these circumstances I had determined to support him; but as I could not get the whole army in position until the next afternoon I concluded, upon the receipt of the above telegram from the General- in-Chief, to withdraw General Hooker, that there might be the least [p.79] possible delay in conforming to General Halleck’s orders. I therefore sent to General Hooker the following letter:

Berkeley, August 6, 1862—10 p. m.

MY DEAR GENERAL: I find it will not be possible to get the whole army into position before some time to-morrow afternoon, which will be too late to support you and hold the entire position, should the enemy attack in large force at daybreak, which there is strong reason to suppose he intends doing. Should we fight a general battle at Malvern it will be necessary to abandon the whole of our works here, and run the risk of getting back here. Under advices I have received from Washington, I think it necessary for you to abandon the position to-night, getting everything away before daylight. Please leave cavalry pickets at Malvern, with orders to destroy the Turkey Creek Bridge when they are forced back. The roads leading into Haxall’s from the right should be strongly watched, and Haxall’s at least held by strong cavalry force and some light batteries as long as possible. I leave the manner of the withdrawal entirely to your discretion. Please signal to the fleet when the withdrawal is about completed. Report frequently these headquarters.

General Sumner was ordered up to support you, but will halt where this passes him, and will inform you where he is.

Major- General.

General J. HOOKER, Commanding at Malvern Hill.

And the following reply was sent to General Halleck:

Berkeley, August 6, 1862—11.30 p. m.

Dispatch of to-day received. I have not quite 4,000 cavalry for duty in cavalry division, so that I cannot possibly spare any more. I really need many more than I now have to carry out your instructions. The enemy are moving a large force on Malvern Hill. In view of your dispatches and the fact that I cannot place the whole army in position before daybreak, I have ordered Hooker to withdraw during the night if it is possible. If he cannot do so I must support him. Until this matter is developed I cannot send any batteries. I hope I can do so to-morrow if transportation is on hand. I will obey the order as soon as circumstances permit. My artillery is none too numerous now. I have only been able to send off some 1,200 sick. No transportation. There shall be no delay that I can avoid.

Major-General, Commanding.

Maj. H. W. HALLECK, commanding U. Army.

Five batteries, with their horses and equipments complete, were embarked on the 7th and 8th, simultaneously with General Hooker’s operations upon Malvern. I dispatched a cavalry force, under Colonel Averell, toward Savage Station to ascertain if the enemy were making any movements toward our right flank. He found a rebel cavalry regiment near White Oak Swamp Bridge and completely routed it, pursuing well toward Savage Station. These important preliminary operations assisted my preparations for the removal of the army to Aquia Creek, and the sending off our sick arid supplies was pushed both day and night as rapidly as the means of transportation permitted.

On the subject of the withdrawal of the army from Harrison’s Landing the following correspondence passed between the General-in- Chief and myself while the reconnaissances toward Richmond were in progress:

On the 2d of August I received the following:
WASHINGTON, August 2, 1862—3.45 p. m.

You have not answered my telegram of July 30, 8 p. m., about the removal of your sick. Remove them as rapidly as possible and telegraph me when they will be out of your way. The President wishes an answer as early as possible.




To which this reply was sent:

Berkeley, August 3—11 p. m.

Your telegram of 2d is received. The answer to dispatch of July 30 was sent this morning. We have about 12,500 sick, of whom perhaps 4,000 might make easy marches. We have here the means to transport 1,200, and will embark to-morrow that number of the worst cases. With all the means at the disposal of the medical director the remainder could be shipped in from seven to ten days. It is impossible for me to decide what cases to send off, unless I know what is to be done with this army. Were the disastrous measures of a retreat adopted, all the sick who cannot march and fight should be dispatched by water. Should the army advance, many of the sick could be of service at the depots. If it is to remain here any length of time, the question assumes still a different phase.

Until I am informed what is to be done I cannot act understandingly or for the good of the service. If I am kept longer in ignorance of what is to be effected, I cannot be expected to accomplish the object in view. In the mean time I will do all in my power to carry out what I conceive to be your wishes.

Major- General, Commanding

Commanding U. Army, Washington, D. C.

The moment I received the instructions for removing the sick I at once gave the necessary directions for carrying them out. With the small amount of transportation at hand the removal of the severe cases alone would necessarily take several days, and in the mean time I desired information to determine what I should do with the others. The order required me to send them away as quickly as possible, and to notify the General-in-Chief when they were removed.

Previous to the receipt of the dispatch of the 2d of August, not having been advised of what the army under my command was expected to do, or which way it was to move, if it moved at all, I sent the following dispatch:

Berkeley, August 3, 1862.

I hear of sea steamers at Fort Monroe. Are they for removing my sick? If so, to what extent am I required to go in sending them off? There are not many who need go. As I am not in any way informed of the intentions of the Government in regard to this army, I am unable to judge what proportion of the sick should leave here, and must ask for specific orders.

Major- General, Commanding. HALLECK, Comdg. U. Army, Washington.

If the army was to retreat to Fort Monroe it was important that it should be unencumbered with any sick, wounded, or other men who might at all interfere with its mobility; but if the object was to operate directly on Richmond, from the position we then occupied, there were many cases of slight sickness which would speedily be cured and the patients returned to duty.

Official Records of the Rebellion: Volume Eleven, Chapter 23, Part 1: Peninsular Campaign: Reports, pp.78-80

web page Rickard, J (20 June 2006)