The Winter (and Spring)
of Union Discontent
The first snowstorm of the oncoming Virginia winter provided a backdrop for the first in a series of events that would make the winter and spring of 1862-63 one of the bleakest periods of the war for Union sympathizers. Late on the night of November 7th, 1862, General C.P. Buckingham arrived in a blinding snowstorm at Rectortown, Virginia after a harrowing train ride from Washington. Buckingham went to the tent of General Ambrose Burnside and the two men then walked over the icy paths to the headquarters of George Brinton McClellan, with the purpose of notifying him that Lincoln had relieved him of the command of the Army of the Potomac. Three days later McClellan waved farewell to his army in one of the most emotional episodes of the war. One Union officer insisted "every heart was filled with love and grief; every voice was raised in shouts expressive of devotion and indignation; and when the chief had passed out of sight, the romance of war was over for the Army of the Potomac."
McClellan's removal was the final part of a two-stage purge of Federal army commanders put in motion by Abraham Lincoln two weeks earlier when he had fired Don Carlos Buell from command of the Army of the Cumberland for his lack of vigor in pursuing Braxton Bragg after the battle of Perryville. Now it was McClellan's turn to meet the fate of generals who Lincoln determined were afflicted with "the slows." The President summed up his feelings about his most exasperating general when he insisted, "he is a pleasant and scholarly gentleman. He is an admirable engineer, but he seems to have a special talent for a stationary engine." Now bolder but somewhat unproven men such as William Rosecrans and Ambrose Burnside would get their opportunity to become the heroes of the hour.
Burnside was honest, popular and modest, but his appointment was a