In mid- November 1862, on the day after General Ambrose Burnside had assumed command of the Army of the Potomac, George McClellan said farewell to those long considered to be soldiers of “his” army.
One soldier later wrote that the “men were wild with excitement. They threw their hats into the air and cheered their old commander as long as his escort was in sight.” Although some officers and men recognized “Little Mac’s” shortcomings, most in his army idolized him, despite his propensity to procrastinate and his failures in battle.
News of McClellan’s firing flooded across both the North and the South. The Richmond Dispatch on November 17 reported the dismissal, caustically noting,
“We are by no means sure that the removal of McClellan from command is calculated to do the Yankee cause any great harm. It is said that he is the best General they have, and we think it probable he is. Yet they could have fallen upon no man who could have made a more signal failure that he did in his campaign against Richmond. If he be the best, they must all be exceedingly bad.”
On November 7, 1862 an officer from Washington, D.C. appeared at George McClellan’s Virginia field headquarters with the orders of November 5 removing “Little Mac” from command and turning over his army to Ambrose Burnside.
McClellan’s replacement as general in charge of the Union Army of the Potomac was not the only command changes made in the Union and Confederate armies in early November 1862.
On November 5 Lincoln also replaced General Fritz John Porter from his corps command; Porter, a pro-McClellan corps commander, would be charged with willful disobedience to orders at the battle of Second Manassas. He would be replaced by Joseph Hooker.
On Wednesday, November 5, 1862, after weeks of stress President Abraham Lincoln drafted the following telegram: “By direction of the President, it is ordered that Major General McClellan be relieved of the command of the Army of the Potomac; and that Major General Burnside take the command of that Army.”