That which was to be done, McClellan was well able to do. He had a passion for organization, and fine capacity for work; he showed tact and skill in dealing with subordinates; he had a thorough knowledge and a high ideal of what an army should be. He seemed the Genius of Order as he educated and arranged the chaotic gathering of human beings, who came before him to be transmuted from farmers, merchants, clerks, shopkeepers, and what not into soldiers of all arms and into leaders of soldiers. To that host in chrysalis he was what each skillful drill-master is to his awkward squad. Under his influence privates learned how to obey and officers how to command; each individual merged the sense of individuality in that of homogeneousness and cohesion, until the original loose association of units became one grand unit endowed with the solidarity and machine-like quality of an efficient army. Patient labor produced a result so excellent that General Meade said long afterward: “Had there been no McClellan there could have been no Grant, for the army made no essential improvement under any of his successors.”
That the formation of this great complex machine was indispensable, and that it would take much time, were facts which the disaster at Bull Run had compelled both the administration and the people to appreciate moderately well. Accordingly they resolutely set themselves to be patient. The cry of “On to Richmond!” no longer sounded through the land, and the restraint imposed by the excited masses upon their own ardor was the strongest evidence of their profound earnestness. In a steady stream they poured men and material into the camps in Virginia, and they heard with satisfaction of the advance of the levies in discipline and soldierly efficiency. For a while the scene was pleasant and without danger. “It was,” says Arnold, describing that of which he had been an eye-witness, “the era of brilliant reviews and magnificent military displays, of parades, festive parties, and junketings.” Members of Congress found excursions to the camps attractive for themselves and their visitors. Glancing arms, new uniforms, drill, and music constituted a fine show. Thus the rest of the summer passed away, and autumn came and was passing, too. Then here and there signs of impatience began again to be manifested. It was observed with discontent that the glorious days of the Indian Summer, the perfect season for military operations, were gliding by as tranquilly as if there were not a great war on hand, and still the citizen at home read each morning in his newspaper the stereotyped bulletin, “All quiet on the Potomac;” the phrase passed into a byword and a sneer. By this time, too, to a nation which had not European standards of excellence, the army seemed to have reached a high state of efficiency, and to be abundantly able to take the field. Why did not its commander move? Amid all the drilling and band-playing the troops had been doing hard work: a chain of strong fortifications scientifically constructed had been completed around the capital, and rendered it easy of defense. It could be left in safety. Why, then, was it not left? Why did the troops still linger?