In his new and exalted position McClellan became commander of a great number of men, but not of a great army. The agglomeration of civilians, who had run away from Manassas under the impression that they had fought and lost a real battle, was utterly disorganized and demoralized. Some had already reached the sweet safety of the villages of the North; others were lounging in the streets of Washington and swelling the receipts of its numerous barrooms. The majority, it is true, were in camp across the Potomac, but in no condition to render service. All, having been enlisted for three months, now had only a trifling remnant of so-called military life before them, in which it seemed to many hardly worth while to run risks. The new call for volunteers for three years had just gone forth, and though troops began to arrive under it with surprising promptitude and many three months’ men reenlisted, yet a long time had to elapse before the new levies were all on hand. Thus betwixt departing and coming hosts McClellan’s duty was not to use an army, but to create one.
The task looked immeasurable, but there was a fortunate fitness for it upon both sides. The men who in this awful crisis were answering the summons of President Lincoln constituted a raw material of a kind such as never poured into any camp save possibly into that of Cromwell. For the most part they were courageous, intelligent, self-respecting citizens, who were under the noble compulsion of conscience and patriotism in leaving reputable and prosperous callings for a military career. The moral, mental, and physical average of such a body of men was a long way above that of professional armies, and insured readiness in acquiring their new calling. But admirable as were the latent possibilities, and apt as each individual might be, these multitudes arrived wholly uninstructed; few had even so much as seen a real soldier; none had any notion at all of what military discipline was, or how to handle arms, or to manoeuvre, or to take care of their health. Nor could they easily get instruction in these things, for officers knew no more than privates; indeed, for that matter, one of the great difficulties at first encountered lay in the large proportion of utterly unfit men who had succeeded in getting commissions, and who had to be toilfully eliminated.