Lincoln had grown tired of excuses and inactivity from his generals. His armies had time after time delayed in seizing the offensive against Confederate forces.
This move sent a message to the commanders regarding Lincoln’s irritation with the pace of the war.
Edwin Stanton had replaced the corrupt Simon Cameron as secretary of war. The president, himself, had also been brushing up on military strategy. He reasoned that “if enough force were brought to bear on the Confederates simultaneously, they would break”. If the Confederates “…weakened one to strengthen another”, his Union army could “seize and hold the one weakened”.
His primary reason for this order was General George McClellan. He commanded the Army of the Potomac in the East. The general was contemptuous of the president and this was becoming increasingly apparent ever since his appointment by Lincoln in July 1861. McClellan was reluctant to share his plans with the president “and exhibited no signs of moving his army in the near future”.
Lincoln’s plan to instill a sense of urgency in his military leaders worked in the west. Under General Ulysses S. Grant, the armies in Tennessee moved and captured Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River. The president’s order “called for strict accountability for each commander who did not follow the order”. McClellan failed to respond but Lincoln had to handle the general carefully. McClellan was backed by a number of Democrats and he had transformed the Army of the Potomac into fine fighting shape over the winter months. The president had no choice but to allow McClellan to continue to command in the field.
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