Articles by Karl Marx in Die Presse 1862

American Affairs

Source: MECW Volume 19, p. 178;
Written: in late February 1862;
First published: in Die Presse, March 3, 1862.

President Lincoln never ventures a step forward before the tide of circumstances and the general call of public opinion forbid further delay. But once “Old Abe” realises that such a turning point has been reached, he surprises friend and foe alike by a sudden operation executed as noiselessly as possible. Thus, in the most unassuming manner, he quite recently carried out a coup that half a year earlier would possibly have cost him his presidential office and only a few months ago would have called forth a storm of debate. We mean the removal of McClellan from his post of Commander-in-Chief of all the Union armies. Lincoln first of all replaced the Secretary of War, Cameron, by an energetic and ruthless lawyer, Mr. Edwin Stanton. An order of the day was then issued by Stanton to generals Buell, Halleck, Butler, Sherman and other commanders of whole areas or leaders of expeditions, notifying them that in future they would receive all orders, open and secret, from the War Department direct and, on the other hand, would have to report directly to the War Department. Finally, Lincoln issued some orders which he signed as “Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy”, an attribute to which he was constitutionally entitled. In this “quiet” manner “the young Napoleon” was deprived of the supreme command he had hitherto held over all the armies and restricted to the command of the army on the Potomac, although the title of “Commander-in-Chief” was left to him. The successes in Kentucky, Tennessee and on the Atlantic coast propitiously inaugurated the assumption of the supreme command by President Lincoln.

The post of Commander-in-Chief hitherto occupied by McClellan was bequeathed to the United States by Britain and corresponds roughly to the dignity of a Grand Connetable in the old French army. During the Crimean War even Britain discovered the inexpediency of this old-fashioned institution. A compromise was accordingly effected by which part of the attributes hitherto belonging to the Commander-in-Chief were transferred to the War Ministry.

The requisite material for an estimate of McClellan’s Fabian tactics on the Potomac is still lacking. That his influence, however, acted as a brake on the general conduct of the war, is beyond doubt. One can say of McClellan what Macaulay says of Essex:

“The military errors of Essex were produced for the most part by political timidity. He was honestly, but by no means warmly, attached to the cause of Parliament; and next to a great defeat he dreaded nothing so much as a great victory.”

McClellan and most of the officers of the regular army who got their training at West Point are more or less bound by esprit de corps to their old comrades in the enemy camp. They are inspired by the same jealousy of the parvenus among the “civilian soldiers”. In their view, the war must be waged in a strictly businesslike fashion, with constant regard to the restoration of the Union on its old basis, and therefore must above all be kept free from revolutionary tendencies and tendencies affecting matters of principle. A fine conception of a war which is essentially a war of principles. The first generals of the English Parliament fell into the same error.

“But,” said Cromwell in his speech to the Rump on July 4, 1653, “how changed everything was as soon as men took the lead who professed a principle of godliness and religion!”

The Washington Star, McClellan’s special organ, declares in one of its latest issues:

“The end and aim of all General McClellan’s military combinations is the restoration of the Union just as it existed before the Rebellion began.”,

No wonder, therefore, that on the Potomac, under the eyes of the general-in-chief, the army was trained to catch slaves! Only recently, by a special order, McClellan expelled the Kutchinson family of musicians from the camp because they sang anti-slavery songs.

Apart from such “anti-tendency” demonstrations, McClellan covered the traitors in the Union army with his saving shield. Thus, for example, he promoted Maynard to a higher post, although Maynard, as the papers made public by the committee of inquiry of the House of Representatives prove, was active as an agent of the secessionists. From General Patterson, whose treachery determined the defeat at Manassas, to General Stone, who brought about the defeat at Ball’s Bluff in direct agreement with the enemy, McClellan managed to save every military traitor from court martial, and in most cases even from dismissal. The Congress committee of inquiry has revealed the most surprising facts in this respect. Lincoln resolved to prove by an energetic step that with his assumption of the supreme command the hour of the traitors in epaulets had struck and a turning point in the war policy had been reached. By his order, General Stone was arrested in his bed at two o'clock in the morning of February 10 and taken to Fort Lafayette. A few hours later, the order for his arrest, signed by Stanton, appeared; in this the charge of high treason was formulated, to be judged by court martial. Stone’s arrest and putting on trial took place without any previous communication to General McClellan.

As long as he himself remained in a state of inaction and merely wore his laurels in advance, McClellan was obviously determined to allow no other general to forestall him. Generals Halleck and Pope had resolved on a combined movement to force General Price, who had already been saved once from Fremont by the intervention of Washington, to a decisive battle. A telegram from McClellan forbade them to deliver the blow. General Halleck was “ordered back” by a similar telegram from the capture of Fort Columbus, at a time when this fort stood half under water. McClellan had expressly forbidden the generals in the West to correspond with one another. Each of them was obliged first to apply to Washington whenever a combined movement was intended. President Lincoln has now restored to them the necessary freedom of action.

How advantageous to secession McClellan’s general military policy was is best proved by the panegyrics that the New-York Herald continually lavishes upon him. He is a hero after the Herald’s own heart. The notorious Bennett, proprietor and editor-in-chief of the Herald, had formerly held the administrations of Pierce and Buchanan in his power through his “special representatives”, alias correspondents, in Washington. Under Lincoln’s Administration he sought to win the same power again in a roundabout way, by having his “special representative”, Dr. Ives, a man of the South and brother of an officer who had deserted to the Confederacy, worm himself into McClellan’s favour. Under McClellan’s patronage, great liberties must have been allowed this Ives at the time when Cameron was at the head of the War Department. He evidently expected Stanton to guarantee him the same privileges and accordingly presented himself on February 8 at the War Office, where the Secretary of War, his chief secretary and some members of Congress were discussing war measures. He was shown the door. He got up on his hind legs and finally beat a retreat, threatening that the Herald would open fire on the present War Department in the event of its withholding from him his “special privilege” of having, in particular, Cabinet deliberations, telegrams, public communications and war news confided to him in the War Department. Next morning, February 9, Dr. Ives had assembled the whole of McClellan’s General Staff at a champagne breakfast with him. Misfortune, however, moves fast. A non-commissioned officer entered with six men, seized the mighty Ives and took him to Fort McHenry, where, as the order of the Secretary of War expressly states, he “is to be kept under strict watch as a spy”.