After the disappointing and embarrassing loss of the Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861, President Lincoln realized that the Union cause depended upon finding a new commander and developing a more professional army. Impressed by Gen. George B. McClellan’s successful West Virginia campaign, Lincoln appointed him commander of the Army...
After the disappointing and embarrassing loss of the Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861, President Lincoln realized that the Union cause depended upon finding a new commander and developing a more professional army. Impressed by Gen. George B. McClellan’s successful West Virginia campaign, Lincoln appointed him commander of the Army of the Potomac on July 26. McClellan reorganized and trained the army, and brought a high degree of discipline and spirit to its men. On November 1, feeling that the post needed the energy of a younger man, the elderly Winfield Scott, General-in-Chief of the Union armies, retired from his post. McClellan was named as his replacement on November 5, 1861. With this senior position in hand, and the support of the President and War Department, McClellan was now in a position to make strategy, develop master plans and move great armies. He quickly set about concepting an invasion of Virginia that would come to be known as the Peninsula Campaign, and building the command infrastructure that would be necessary to accomplish it.
McClellan addressed the President himself to secure appointments of the men he desired to be his staff officers. Autograph Letter Signed, Head Qtrs. of the Army, Washington, December 10, 1861, to Lincoln. “I have the honor to request that Mr. Wm. F Biddle of Phila. may be appointed an aide de camp on my staff with the rank of Captain.”?He signed the letter “Geo. B. McClellan, Maj. Gen. Comdg.” The President was anxious to comply, writing this Autograph Endorsement Signed, Washington, on the same date: “Let the appointment be made according to Gen. McClellan’s request. A. Lincoln.”
Records indicate that William F. Biddle was appointed one of McClellan’s aides de camp the same day, though his nomination for the rank of Captain came through somewhat later. He served on the General’s staff during the Peninsula Peninsula and was prominent enough to rate mention in a fine history of that campaign: To the Gates of Richmond by Stephen Sears, as well as in McClellan’s biography.
Lincoln’s honeymoon with McClellan was short-lived. The President soon became concerned about the general’s inaction and secrecy, while the general considered Lincoln an incompetent. The two men would square off in the 1864 Presidential election.
Wardate letters of McClellan are uncommon enough. However, this letter, addressed to Abraham Lincoln and containing Lincoln’s return written endorsement complying with McClellan’s request, stands on its own as an exceptional rarity. Our search of auction records over the past 30 years shows no other.
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