2nd Manassas - Aug. 1862
Aftermath of Antietam - Saturday, November 8, 1862
President Lincoln Removes General McClellan

General McClellan's Farewell to the Army of the Potomac

In October of 1862, Generals McClellan and Couch had an unusual conversation, at least for them. As described by General Darius Couch, General McClellan would say to his immediate subordinate, "Yes, Couch, I expect to be relieved from the Army of the Potomac, and to have a command in the West; and I am going to take three or four with me," calling off by their names four prominent officers. queried if "so and so" would be taken along, naming one who was generally thought to be a great favorite with McClellan. His curt reply was, "No, I sha'n't have him."

Major General George Brinton McClellanThis brief conversation opened a new world for me. I had never before been to any extent his confidant, and I pondered whether on a change of the commanders of the Army of the Potomac the War Department would allow him to choose the generals whose names had been mentioned. I wondered what would be the future of himself and those who followed his fortunes in that untried field. These and a crowd of other kindred thoughts quite oppressed me for several days. But as the time wore on, and preparations for the invasion of Virginia were allowed to go on without let or hindrance from Washington, I naturally and gladly inferred that McClellan's fears of hostile working against him were groundless. However, the blow came, and soon enough.

On the 8th of November just at dark, I had dismounted, and, standing in the snow, was superintending the camp arrangements of my troops, when McClellan came up with his staff, accompanied by General Burnside. McClellan drew in his horse, and the first thing he said was: "Couch, I am relieved from the command of the army, and Burnside is my successor."

I stepped up to him and took hold of his hand, and said, "General McClellan, I am sorry for it." Then, going around the head of his horse to Burnside, I said, "General Burnside, I congratulate you." Burnside heard what I said to General McClellan; he turned away his head, and made a broad gesture as he exclaimed: "Couch, don't say a word about it."

His manner indicated that he did not wish to talk about the change; that he thought it was not good policy to do so, nor the place to do it. He told me afterward that he did not like to take the command, but that he did so to keep it from going to somebody manifestly unfit for it. I assumed that he meant Hooker. Those of us who were well acquainted with Burnside knew that he was a brave, loyal man, but we did not think that he had the military ability to command the Army of the Potomac.

McClellan took leave on the 10th. Fitz John Porter sent notes to the corps commanders, informing them that McClellan was going away, and suggesting that we ride about with him. Such a scene as that leave-taking had never been known in our army. Men shed tears and there was great excitement among the troops. I think the soldiers had an idea that McClellan would take care of them,--would not put them in places where they would be unnecessarily cut up; and if a general has the confidence of his men he is pretty strong. But officers and men were determined to serve Burnside loyally." [59]

Perhaps the most beloved commander the Army of the Potomac would see, the General would not return. As General McClellan rode away from the army he loved, he offered one last time to his men, "I wish you to stand by General Burnside as you have stood by me, and all will be well. Good-bye."