President Abraham Lincoln reluctantly restores Union General George B. McClellan to full command after General John Pope’s disaster at the Second Battle of Bull Run, Virginia, on August 29 and 30. McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac, saw much of his army transferred to Pope’s Army of Virginia after his failure to capture Richmond, Virginia, during the Seven Days’ Battles in June 1862.
Pope, who had one chance to prove his leadership at Second Bull Run against Confederate General Robert E. Lee, failed miserably and retreated to Washington, D.C. He had not received any help from McClellan, who sat nearby in Alexandria, Virginia, and refused to go to Pope’s aid. After a summer of defeats, the Union forces in the east were now in desperate need of a boost in morale. Even though McClellan was, in part, the architect of those losses, Lincoln felt he was the best available general to raise the sagging spirits of the men in blue. The president recognized McClellan’s talent for preparing an army to fight, even if he had proven to be a poor field commander. Lincoln wrote to his secretary John Hay: “We must use the tools we have. There is no man in the Army who can man these fortifications and lick these troops into shape half as well as he. If he can’t fight himself, he excels in making others ready to fight.”
There was little time for the Union to dawdle after Second Bull Run. Lee’s army lurked just 25 miles from Washington, and had tried to cut off the Union retreat at Chantilly, Virginia, on September 1. Even as Lincoln restored McClellan’s command, the Confederates were starting to move northward. McClellan was soon on the road in pursuit of Lee’s army.