A Princely Service

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He got along well with McClellan. “Little Mac” reminded him of Bonaparte because of his youth, his love of letters, his small stature, and his hand in his frock coat. He was admired and even worshipped by his soldiers. The general plan to follow seemed simple to Joinville. There could be no question of conquering and occupying the immense territory of the South. But through a blockade the navy could succeed in isolating this region effectively. It captured New Orleans and blockaded the Mississippi on April 25, 1862. “That was the most important thing,” said Admiral de Joinville; “in this way we put the key in our pocket.” As for the Army of the Potomac, its objective was to drive the Confederates from Richmond. …

In Washington the more timid said: “But the enemy is still across the river from the city in Manassas and Centreville. If the army withdraws, Washington will be in danger.” On the evening of March 9, 1862, a friend tapped the Prince de Joinville on the shoulder: “Don’t you know? The enemy has evacuated Manassas and the army is leaving tomorrow.” Joinville sketched brilliantly, both in drawing and in writing. Here is his version of the departure: “The next day, in fact, the whole city of Washington was in a commotion. A mass of artillery, cavalry, and wagons filled the sujets, moving toward the bridges over the Potomac. On the sidewalks one could see officers tenderly bidding adieu to their ladies in tears. The civilian population dispassionately watched them leave. There was a marked absence of enthusiasm. Perhaps it was the fault of the rain that fell in torrents.”

In the midst of the batteries … he met General McClellan on horseback, worried, riding off alone, without aides. “Anyone who could have seen into the general’s soul that day would have detected the bitterness that was later to accumulate there so cruelly.” There was no lack of cause for bitterness. For a long time McClellan had been preparing to make a crossing to the Virginia Peninsula. Opening the campaign had been imposed on him unseasonably. His superiors reproached him for not having attacked the badly defended positions at Manassas and for letting himself be intimidated by wooden cannons, and even by a stovepipe that looked like a cannon. Joinville defended him: “McClellan knew better than anyone what to expect from the forces that occupied Manassas and Centreville, but he also knew that until April the Virginia roads would be in such a state that it would only be possible to move transport and cannons by building wooden roads, an arduous task. …” [Since assuming command of the Northern troops on July 27, 1861, McClellan had been hard at work in Washington creating a new national army to replace the ninety-day militia regiments which had made up the bulk of the Northern forces in the first months of the war. Joinville obviously approved of his professionalism. McClellan did not want to move against Richmond until he felt that his army was ready, but his caution brought charges of cowardice and even disloyalty from the radical Republicans. On March 11, 1862, Lincoln relieved McClellan of supreme command of the Northern forces. Hc was left in command of the Army of the Potomac and ordered to begin operations against Richmond at once.]

Whatever the case, McClellan was severely attacked. When forced to explain his plans, he submitted them; and the next day they were known to the enemy, doubtlessly informed, Joinville said, “by those thousands of female agents who spy for him even in the most intimate nooks.” Should they march overland to Richmond or continue with the landing plan for which the ships were not yet assembled? Joinville considered pursuit overland impossible. Taking into consideration the requirements of the American soldier and the cnormousness of his rations, as well as the need to bring everything into an area where nothing was to be found, the army could subsist only by relying on the railroads or navigable waterways. Since the enemy had rendered the railways impracticable, it was necessary to resort to transportation by water. … [McClellan rejected the plan to move against Richmond overland via Manassas, and decided to go down to Fort Monroe on Hampton Roads by steamboat and then advance tip the Virginia Peninsula, using the rivers for supply and communication. His army began embarking from Alexandria, Virginia, on March 17.]

Joinville’s naval talents now come to the forefront: “In the West the Union armies marched from success to success thanks to the support of the navy; in the East the contrary was true. One single sea battle in Confederate waters was perhaps going to paralyxe the Federal army. … How true it is that experience has not yet taught even the most powerful seafaring nations the great advantage to be gained in land warfare from a well-organixed navy!” [Union gunboats had played a major role in the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson in Tennessee in February; a month later they were decisive in the fall of the Confederate strongpoints of New Madrid, Missouri, and Island Number Ten, Tennessee, in the Mississippi. But the appearance of the Confederate ironclad Merrimac at Hampton Roads on March 8 threw the North into a panic.]