The shock of the defeat was deep and painful to the administration and the people of the North. Up to late Sunday afternoon favorable reports had come to Washington from the battle-field, and every one believed in an assured victory. When a telegram came about five o’clock in the afternoon, that the day was lost, and McDowell’s army in full retreat through Centreville, General Scott refused to credit the news, so contradictory of everything which had been heard up to that hour. But the intelligence was quickly confirmed. The impulse of retreat once started, McDowell’s effort to arrest it at Centreville proved useless. The regiments and brigades not completely disorganized made an unmolested and comparatively orderly march back to the fortifications of Washington, while on the following day a horde of stragglers found their way across the bridges of the Potomac into the city.
President Lincoln received the news quietly and without any visible sign of perturbation or excitement; but he remained awake and in the executive office all of Sunday night, listening to the personal narratives of a number of congressmen and senators who had, with undue curiosity, followed the army and witnessed some of the sounds and sights of the battle. By the dawn of Monday morning the President had substantially made up his judgment of the battle and its probable results, and the action dictated by the untoward event. This was, in brief, that the militia regiments enlisted under the three months’ call should be mustered out as soon as practicable; the organization of the new three years’ forces be pushed forward both east and west; Manassas and Harper’s Ferry and the intermediate lines of communication be seized and held; and a joint movement organized from Cincinnati on East Tennessee, and from Cairo on Memphis.
Meanwhile, General McClellan was ordered from West Virginia to Washington, where he arrived on July 26, and assumed command of the Division of the Potomac, comprising the troops in and around Washington on both sides of the river. He quickly cleared the city of stragglers, and displayed a gratifying activity in beginning the organization of the Army of the Potomac from the new three years’ volunteers that were pouring into Washington by every train. He was received by the administration and the army with the warmest friendliness and confidence, and for awhile seemed to reciprocate these feelings with zeal and gratitude.
General Scott’s Plans—Criticized as the “Anaconda”—The Three Fields of Conflict—Fremont Appointed Major-General—His Military Failures—Battle of Wilson’s Creek—Hunter Ordered to Fremont—Fremont’s Proclamation—President Revokes Fremont’s Proclamation—Lincoln’s Letter to Browning—Surrender of Lexington—Fremont Takes the Field—Cameron’s Visit to Fremont—Fremont’s Removal