Major General John Pope Sought to Clear His Name
In Pope's mind the facts remained the same: Officers charged with the gravest crimes are not only not tried but advanced to higher commands. The government refuses to publish the truth behind the campaign. The commander of the army is reassigned to the far northwest. The General in Chief refuses to make any public acknowledgment of that commander's services at all.
The general public, who does not command all the facts, could draw only one simple conclusion; that Major General John Pope stood condemned by the government he served so faithfully. He felt there must be a reason for these things. Someone was being shielded by unjustly ruining the reputation of an honorable soldier. McClellan, Porter and Griffin all retained high commands charged with treachery and baseness, and substantiated by the papers attached to the report that contained them. The President, himself, told Pope of Porter's likely actions beforehand.
All that the former army commander had asked of the government was the acknowledgment that Major General John Pope had done his duty in Virginia bravely and skillfully and nothing more would be said about those officers, who he felt performed criminal acts against him. In regard to the things the General in Chief could not explain, the newly appointed department commander warned him that he'd use every means possible; military, political and social to set the record straight.
The general complained that it had been too late for a court of inquiry that Washington had so promised to convene. The proceedings would have no doubt been held in secret as had the entire Harper's Ferry episode. The principal witnesses to the actions that caused the disaster were sent off to Minnesota with General Pope, and the spot where his post was made it a two hundred mile journey through snow to communicate with any railroad. For those reasons the court of inquiry would amount to nothing to rectify that injustice.
It seemed plain that the government had been very willing to sacrifice his honor and reputation, whose services were so highly lauded in private and permitted his public condemnation. Since it was not the General in Chief's position to publicly acknowledge Pope's merits even if but for word only, than it was true that his position was one not to be envied; and certainly one his friend in Minnesota would like to see him out of.
General Pope had thought the need to continue further in correspondence in the matter was no longer necessary, until certain public statements of officers in the east began to surface regarding the failed summer campaign. Once again, at the end of October, he wished to know whether; any mistake or blunder had been made on his part in the conduct of the campaign or conducted with skill and energy? Had the withdrawal of the forces into the entrenchments at Washington been due to any want of mismanagement or simply by circumstances beyond his control? Was the union between the Armies of Virginia and the Potomac made as early as contemplated or sufficiently early to enable him to make a greater resistance to Lee's advance?
General Halleck simply replied a week later that the questions he proposed particularly those regarding the re-enforcements were reported on by him to the War Department and would be, perhaps the basis of the court of inquiry. The inquiry was not being ordered to find any fault in the operations of General Pope himself; however the real point of attack would be on Halleck for wishing to detach any of the forces from McClellan's army from the Peninsula. He left it with General Pope not knowing all that was going on in Washington, but assured him that patience and silence was the better course of action at that moment.
After a long exchange, the department commander began to settle down a bit with a realization that his friend in Washington would, when the time came, make a report of the campaign in Virginia that would do him justice. The newspapers however, had already had a field day with his reputation and poisoned the mind of the general public against him. The profound silence of the government through it all seemed as if the stain upon his name would be rather impossible from that point to eradicate.
George McClellan enjoyed partial success by returning to the army, gaining those soldiers defeated under Pope, and drove the rebels out of Maryland. Those corps assigned that saw combat in Northern Virginia, Samuel P. Heintzelman, Fitz John Porter and John Reynolds, half of which was commanded by General Porter had performed with no effort whatsoever on behalf of his army. All told, the force perhaps amounted to twenty one thousand men.
Pope had been a stranger to the east, called up and placed in command of three corps, all of which had senior ranking major generals attached; that would have rendered his position a hard one. Add the bitter vindictiveness of the officers from the Army of the Potomac and the campaign had become an impossible one.
The new assignment was one of misery for the abandoned general officer. In his opinion, the creation of the new department was an unfortunate one for the government. The land so vast and responsibilities so little all that would be required by way of manpower would be a brigade. The entire area would have been better downsized to a district along with Dakota and placed under the responsibility of the department commander in St. Louis.
In this waist land of the Northwest, Major General John Pope would wait and serve patiently, only to succeed in bringing charges and conviction against Major General Fitz John Porter for his disobedience during battle at Second Bull Run. He would continue on in a military roll only far from every battlefield that joined North and South again. Major General George McClellan would be left to the President, relieved only after the 1862 Congressional elections gained the Republican Party success. In the failed campaign of the Army of Virginia, it seemed John Pope served the government's purpose, but forever after remain another icon of historical obscurity.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org