Thus at last it came about that McClellan’s plan lost its only remaining friend, and on August 3 came the definite order for the removal of the army across the Peninsula to Acquia Creek. The campaign against Richmond was abandoned. McClellan could not express his indignation at a policy “almost fatal to our cause;” but his strenuous remonstrances had no effect; his influence had passed forever. The movement of the army was successfully completed, the rear guard arriving at Yorktown on August 20. Thus the first great Peninsula campaign came to its end in disappointment and almost in disaster, amid heart-burnings and criminations. It was, says General Webb, “a lamentable failure,—nothing less.” There was little hope for the future unless some master hand could control the discordant officials who filled the land with the din of their quarreling. The burden lay upon the President. Fortunately his good sense, his even judgment, his unexcitable temperament had saved him from the appearance or the reality of partisanship and from any entangling or compromising personal commitments.
In many ways and for many reasons, this story of the Peninsula has been both difficult and painful to write. To reach the truth and sound conclusions in the many quarrels which it has provoked is never easy, and upon some points seems impossible; and neither the truth nor the conclusions are often agreeable. Opinion and sympathy have gradually but surely tended in condemnation of McClellan and in favor of Lincoln. The evidence is conclusive that McClellan was vain, disrespectful, and hopelessly blind to those non-military but very serious considerations which should have been allowed to modify the purely scientific strategy of the campaign. Also, though his military training was excellent, it was his misfortune to be placed amid exigencies for which neither his moral nor his mental qualities were adapted. Lincoln, on the other hand, displayed traits of character not only in themselves rare and admirable, but so fitted to the requirements of the times that many persons have been tempted to conceive him to have been divinely led. But against this view, though without derogating from the merits which induce it, is to be set the fact that he made mistakes hardly consistent with the theory of inspiration by Omniscience. He interfered in military matters; and, being absolutely ignorant of military science, while the problems before him were many and extremely perplexing, he blundered, and on at least one occasion blundered very badly.