January 27 —
On this day in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issues General War Order No. 1, ordering all land and sea forces to
advance on February 22, 1862. This daring decision sent an unmistakable message to his commanders that the president was tired of the excuses and delays in seizing the offensive against Confederate forces. Lincoln had a new and aggressive secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, who replaced the corrupt Simon Cameron, and who considered McClellan a
traitor for his lack of energy in taking the fight to the Confederates. The unusual order was the product of a number of factors. The primary reason for the order, how-ever, was General George McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac in the East. McClellan had a deep and evident contempt for the president that had become increasingly apparent since Lincoln appointed him in July 1861. McClellan had shown great reluctance to reveal his plans to the president, and exhibited no signs of moving his army in the near future. McClellan, however, did not respond. Lincoln’s order called for strict accountability for each commander who did not follow the order, but the president had to handle McClellan carefully. Because the general had the backing of many Democrats and had whipped the Army of the Potomac into fine fighting shape over the winter, Lincoln had to give McClellan a chance to command in the field.
The president had also been brushing up on his readings about military strategy. Lincoln felt that if enough force were brought to bear on the Confederates simultaneously, they would break. This was a simple plan that ignored a host of other factors, but Lincoln felt that if the Confederates “…weakened one wall to strengthen another,” the Union could step in and “seize and hold the one weakened.” It was a good strategy, but it was about two years too soon.
Lincoln would later describe General McClellan as “having a severe case of the slows”. Lincoln had tolerated this flagrant disrespect from McClellan only because he had no one else to put in his place…yet. But he was coming, and he was coming East from the Western Army.
Lincoln had wanted to convey a sense of urgency to all of his military leaders, and it worked very effectively in the West. Union armies in Tennessee began to move, and General Ulysses S. Grant captured Fort Henry and Fort Donelson on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, respectively.
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