On the morning of July 29, 1862, Major General John Pope boarded a train that was to carry him seventy-five miles, from the summer swelter and noxious intrigue of wartime Washington, D.C., to the scenic foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where he would assume a command he had not wanted, peopled with officers and men who did not want him. The war in the eastern theater was at a standstill, and President Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet looked to Pope to instill an aggressive, no-truck-with-traitors spirit in the Eastern soldier.
Preferring to remain in the West with his own Army of the Mississippi, Pope had marshaled a legion of arguments to convince Lincoln that he was the wrong man for the eastern job. Each of the three generals whose armies were to be consolidated under him were his senior in rank, Pope reminded the president. They undoubtedly would take offense at the slight and communicate their resentment to their troops. The appointment of a general from another theater would be especially galling and would tend to foster a divisive feeling, added Pope, rather than the close cooperation needed to mold three disparate armies quickly into an effective force. And there was an unspoken argument for his remaining in the West, perhaps more compelling to Pope than those he had made before the president: on July 19, his first- born child died in St. Louis at the age of two months. But Pope's arguments were unavailing. President Lincoln was adamant, and so Pope left for the front, feeling much like a "strange dog, without even the right to run out of the village." 1
Pope passed the night of July 29 at a vacant girl's school in Warrenton, where "from the upper windows. . . . I caught my first view of the Blue Ridge." The scene thrilled him. "The moon was nearly full that night, the air came soft and cool from the not distant hills, and there was a deep silence and quiet upon the whole scene. A more lovely landscape or a more charming country the eye of man has not looked on, and the remembrances of that scene under the bright moonlight will always be a delight to me."
Pope continued his journey the next morning on horseback. Again, the beauty of the land caused him briefly to forget his burden. Reflecting on the