Major General John Pope Sought to Clear His Name
Less than thirty days after the government's decision to reassign Major General John Pope to the Department of the Northwest, headquartered in the heart of Minnesota, the crestfallen commander desired to express his disgruntlement to Major General Henry Halleck regarding the late campaign in the summer of 1862, the absence of cooperation between the joint forces operating within the state of Virginia at the time, the failure to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia, and the blame assigned for its deficient results in stopping Confederate resistance there.
There was no love loss between Pope and Major General George B. McClellan, who possessed the charisma of many in the army, and of those enjoying high rank; however with Washington in possession of the facts regarding the recent failures; it had not necessitated nor justified, the former commander of the Army of Virginia being reassigned to a remote and unimportant post, while his antagonist was advanced further in regaining command of the operations in the eastern theatre.
He had hoped the general would have rendered his unyielding support and for that would have remained a faithful loyal friend; however, by the retention of the Little Napoleon, the government had handed the Confederates a club in which to do nothing less than beat Halleck's brains out. His ambitions had sought no restraint in doing all it could in the disposal of President Lincoln's top military advisor; he and his clique would omit nothing to destroy him.
In the aftermath of the failed campaign of the Army of Virginia, Pope had attempted to seek exoneration when asked by urgent request the proof of conduct not only of McClellan, but of Major General Fitz John Porter, and Brigadier General Charles Griffin. This had been substantiated through word of their own correspondence during the campaign. He initially did not desire to press the matter any further, but seemed his duty, should the government continue these officers in their present position, while the former army commander remained displaced in an out of the way region, he would take action if but for the simple question of justice to himself.
Prior to General Pope's departure for Minnesota, he had filed for a court of inquiry to examine into all the facts related to his campaign in Northern Virginia the previous month; but suspended for the sake of the government to relieve him of the atrocious injury done to his character as a soldier. If, at that point, the government wished to sweep everything under the rug, he would take his concerns one step further and make them a public Congressional inquiry.
He held his superior accountable for having been in possession of the facts and allowing for his transfer into oblivion while the popular clique of officers remained influential to both the people in Washington as well as the newspapers throughout the North. Any sort of formal inquiry would not have remained on the major general's mind, had he been reunited with the western theatre, and in light of interviews between the President and General Halleck, all that had previously been discussed about the anticipated cooperation from the Army of the Potomac, he was urged to remain in the east in spite of the misgivings that the soldiers in the Army of Virginia would be sacrificed by the men whose release from the James River was going to undergo such risk and hardship. Although, warned prior, those who had been ultimately responsible for the disaster which befell the government in the late summer of 1862, were rewarded for their betrayal of trust, while those betrayed were banished to the lonely waist land of the north western frontier.
Now, the praetorian faction of that army, he further advised would seek to remove every officer, who did not meet their personal interests. Major General Joseph Hooker was brought to the attention of Halleck, whom he possessed no admiration for, in that he had become dangerous and would perhaps be the next one singled out by those McClellan supporters. Pope foretold that the days of Major General George B. McClellan would be numbered, and that nobody in the army would be greater the successor than Joseph Hooker.
The General in Chief was dismayed by the tone and accusations that his friend had laid blame upon him in regard to decisions that were entirely out of his hands. The reassignment to the Department of the Northwest had been one that, he had argued against, and was subsequently overridden on. Every detachment that was sent to Northern Virginia had been done under protest and once McClellan had arrived from the Peninsula, being senior in rank, he expected to take command of the operation; which in fact had been denied him, and was placed solely in command of the defenses around Washington.
When Pope's army fell back into the Washington defenses then, by right, McClellan could claim command. When placed back in command operationally during the Confederate invasion of Maryland, neither the General in Chief, nor the War Department had any say in the President's decision to reinstate McClellan as commander of the army. The decision was President Lincoln's alone.
The postponement of the hearing regarding the facts related to Second Bull Run, had been solely based upon the account that all officers were then needed in the field and could not be spared. Since repelling the rebel invasion of Maryland a new court had been ordered for both Generals Porter and Griffin. The publication of the general's after action report regarding the Northern Virginia Campaign was denied by the President and Secretary of War; yet it had been General Pope that allowed its publication to leak to the newspapers; since its intent backfired on the author, General Halleck was appalled that Pope would give the slightest attempt at blaming him for that.
Even if the Western Department could have been reorganized, naming an officer to command, it did not fall upon the shoulders of the government's military advisor. The letter written certainly misjudged the General in Chief's character, the factor of his personal likes and dislikes influencing the performance of his duties was entirely unfounded.
Having accepted command of the Army of Virginia, Major General John Pope had, as the record shown, followed all the orders the War Department had issued. He had not complained of unfriendliness for had he, the tone of his letter would have been strictly official. He only sought justice from those who had done him wrong in the last campaign and since the department had remained silent for the record; it may have encouraged that great wrong to have been done.
To be concluded next week
Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at email@example.com