18 - The Victor of Antietam
The Victor of Antietam.The Battle of Antietam, in September 17, 1862, near Sharpsburg, Maryland, was a standstill—and the bloodiest encounter of the war—that nevertheless impeded Lee’s invasion of the border state and became a turning point for the North in the war. But the too-cautious McClellan failed to pursue Lee, and soon after, Lincoln relieved him of his command. This dismissal was not General George B. McClellan's first. In July 1861, after General Irvin McDowell lost the first battle of Manassas, he had been elevated to commander of the Army of the Potomac. Once General Winfield Scott retired that November, McClellan was then promoted to General-in-Chief of the Federal Armies. A better organizer than strategist, McClellan was admired by his Union troops, “instilling in them a remarkable esprit de corps”; however, he frequently quarreled with Lincoln and was relieved of his command in March 1862, after the Seven Days' Battles (including Malvern Hill) and the general failure of the Peninsular Campaign to take Richmond. Even so, Lincoln reinstated him after General John Pope led Union forces in defeat at the second battle of Manassas in August 1862. After Antietam the following month, Lincoln felt empowered to issue his Emancipation Proclamation on September 22 (enacted January 1, 1863), but he saw no future in McClellan's command and removed him on November 5, 1862. Melville alludes to McClellan's career throughout "The Victor of Antietam", which was later anthologized in Richard Henry Stoddard's 1873 edition of Rufus M. Griswold's
Poets and Poetry of America, 631.
When tempest winnowed grain from bran,
And men were looking for a man,
Authority called you to the van,
Along the line the plaudit ran,
As later when Antietam's cheers began.
Through storm-cloud and eclipse must move
Each Cause and Man, dear to the stars and Jove;
Nor always can the wisest tell
Deferred fulfillment from the hopeless knell—
The struggler from the floundering ne'er-do-well.
A pall-cloth on the Seven Days fell,
Who could Antietam's wreath foretell?
Authority called you; then, in mist
And loom of jeopardy—dismissed.
But staring peril soon appalled;
You, the Discarded, she recalled—
Recalled you, nor endured delay;
And forth you rode upon a blasted way,
Arrayed Pope's rout, and routed Lee's array,
Your tent was choked with captured flags
Antietam was a telling fray.
Recalled you; and she heard your drum
Advancing through the ghastly gloom.
You manned the wall, you propped the Dome,
You stormed the powerful stormer home,
Antietam's cannon long shall boom.
At Alexandria, left alone,Following the Peninsula Campaign, in which he failed to capture Richmond, McClellan withdrew his men to Aquia Creek and Alexandria, VA. Most of McClellan's men were reassigned to John Pope's command in August 1862 after McClellan was relieved of duty as commander of the Army of the Potomac.
Your veterans sent from you, and thrown
To fields and fortunes all unknown—
What thoughts were yours, revealed to none,
While faithful still you labored on—
Hearing the far Manassas gun!
Only Antietam could atone.
You fought in the front (an evil day,
The fore-front of the first assay;
The Cause went sounding, groped its way;
The leadsmen quarrelled in the bay;
Quills thwarted swords; divided sway;
The rebel flushed in his lusty May:
You did your best, as in you lay,
Antietam's sun-burst sheds a ray.
Your medalled soldiers love you well,
Name your name, their true hearts swell;
With you they shook dread Stonewall's spellBefore the Battle of Malvern Hill, the final clash of the Seven Days' battles and the Peninsula Campaign, McClellan seized a strategic position at Glendale, where the Federal army needed to advance to the James River. Lee sent several divisions, including Major General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson to attack the Union’s Glendale position, which was located between Malvern Hill and White Oak Swamp. Federal artillery prevented Jackson’s advance through White Oak Swamp (“The Seven Days Battles,” https://www.civilwar.org/learn/articles/seven-days-battles)., f
With you they braved the blended yell
Of rebel and maligner fell;
With you in shame or fame they dwell,
Antietam-braves a brave can tell.
And when your comrades (now so few,
Such ravage in deep files they rue)
Meet round the board, and sadly view
The empty places; tribute due
They render to the dead—and you!
Absent and silent o'er the blue;
The one-armed lift the wine to you,
And great Antietam's cheers renew.
[Melville's] Note e, page 69.
Whatever just military criticism, favorable or otherwise, has at any time been made upon General McClellan's campaigns, will stand. But if, during the excitement of the conflict, aught was spread abroad tending to unmerited disparagement of the man, it must necessarily die out, though not perhaps witout leaving some traces, which may or may not prove enduring. Some there are whose votes aided in the re-election of Abraham Lincoln, who yet believed, and retain the belief, that General McClellan, to say the least, always proved himself a patriotic and honorable soldier. The feeling which surviving comrades entertain for their late commander is one which, from its passion, is susceptible of versified representation, and such it receives.
[Melville's] Note f, page 71.
At Antietam Stonewall Jackson led one wing of Lee's army, consequently sharing that day in whatever may be deemed to have been the fortunes of his superior.