President’s General War Order No. 2

Executive Mansion
Washington, March 8, 1862

Ordered

1st. That the Major General commanding the Army of the Potomac proceed forthwith to organize that part of said Army destined to enter upon active operations (including the reserve, but excluding the troops to be left in the fortifications about Washington) into four Army corps to be commanded according to seniority of rank as follows:

1st. Corps, to consist of four Divisions & to be commanded by Major General McDowell.

2nd. Corps, to consist of three Divisions, & to be commanded by Brigadier General E. V. Sumner.

3rd. Corps, to consist of three Divisions & to be commanded by Brigadier General Heintzelman

4th. Corps, to consist of three Divisions, & to be commanded by Brigadier General E. D. Keyes.

2. That the Divisions now commanded by the officers above assigned to the command of corps, shall be embraced in, and form parts of their respective corps.

3. The forces left for the defence of Washington will be placed in command of Brigadier General James Wadsworth, who shall also be Military Governor of the District of Columbia.

4. That this order be executed with such promptness and despatch as not to delay the commencement of the operations already directed to be undertaken by the Army of the Potomac.

5. A fifth Army Corps, to be commanded by Major General Banks will be formed from his own, and Gen. Shields, late Gen. Lander’s Division. ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

Upon receiving this order, McClellan replied to Stanton, March 9, 1862, “In the arrangements for the advance of to-morrow it is impossible to carry into effect the arrangements for the formation of army corps. I am obliged to take groups as I find them and to move them by divisions. I respectfully ask a suspension of the order directing it till the present movement be over.”

To this Stanton replied on the same day, “I think it is the duty of every officer to obey the President’s orders, nor can I see any reason why you should not obey them in present instance. I must therefore decline to suspend them.”

At 1 A.M. on March 10, McClellan replied, “You have entirely misunderstood me, and the idea I intended to convey was simply that I could not, under the pressure of the new aspect of affairs, immediately carry out the President’s orders as to the formation of army corps. . . . I regard it as a military necessity that the divisions should move to the front at once, without waiting for the formation of army corps. . . . If the leave to suspend the order be granted, there will be no unreasonable delay in the formation of army corps. I await your reply. . . .”

Stanton replied immediately, “. . . if you think the terms of the order as it stands would. . . retard or. . . restrain movements that circumstances require to be made before the army corps are formed, I will assume the responsibility of suspending the order for that purpose. . . .”

McClellan replied at 2:50 A.M., “Your reply received. The troops are in motion. I thank you for your dispatch. It relieves me much, and you will be convinced that I have not asked too much of you.”

The corps assignments were issued in McClellan’s General Orders No. 151, March 13, 1862. McClellan’s General Report, August 4, 1863, made the following comment on Lincoln’s General War Order No2: “. . . I had always been in favor of the principle of. . . army corps, but preferred deferring its practical execution until some little experience in. . . battle should show what general officers were most competent. . . . These views had frequently been expressed by me to the President and. . . Cabinet. It was therefore with as much regret as surprise that I learned the existence of this order. . . .” 

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