Marker Text: At Rectortown, four miles north, General George B. McClellan received the order relieving him from command of the Army of the Potomac, November 7, 1862. As Burnside, his successor, was present, McClellan immediately turned over the command to him.
Location: On Virginia Route 55 (East Main Street – John Marshall Highway) in Marshall at the intersection with Virginia Route 710 (Rectortown Road) in the lawn next to a drive-in bank. Erected by the Virginia Conservation Commission in 1942.
Photo taken looking west on Route 55 in Marshall, VA. Click any photo to enlarge.
I have not posted for a couple months due to other responsibilities and projects needing my attention. Being in the middle of the 150th Anniversary of many U.S. Civil War events and battles, I naturally have hundreds of historical marker related to the Civil War. With other projects I have been doing and the number of markers I could have posted, I discovered I was not enjoying myself and I photograph markers and post them here because I enjoyed it. So I needed a break.
Today's post marker tells the story of Union General George B. McClellan being relieved of his command over the Army of the Potomac. On Oct. 26, 1862, almost six weeks after Confederate General Lee had retreated from Antietam, General McClellan ordered the Army of the Potomac to cross into Northern Virginia, a process that took nine days. Abraham Lincoln was not pleased with General McClellan following the Battle of Antietam when he failed to pursue General Lee's Confederate Army as it returned to Virginia. McClellan had yet to do anything to dispel Lincoln’s sense that he was unwilling to take the fight to the enemy.
Photo taken looking east on Route 55.
Late on the evening of Nov. 6, 1862, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton dispatched Brig. Gen. Catharinus P. Buckingham, a West Point classmate and friend of Robert E. Lee’s, to the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac, located north of Marshall, VA (formerly called Salem) in Northern Virginia. Buckingham carried two messages, one good news and another bad news for each of two Union generals. Gen. Buckingham carrying Lincoln's orders arrived by train in Marshall, VA on the evening of November 7, 1862 in the midst of one of the worst snowstorms on record. Gen. Buckingham first sought out Gen. Ambrose Burnside to deliver a presidential order naming him as the new commander of the Union Army replacing General McClellan.
Then both generals traveled the 3 to 4 miles to McClellan’s headquarters at Rectortown to officially post the change. Burnside, McClellan’s friend to the end, asked the outgoing general to stay around a few days. Burnside was convinced, he was not up to the job (events would soon prove him right). But he accepted after Buckingham told him that, if he refused, Lincoln would turn instead to one of his rivals, Gen. Joseph Hooker.
Many men might have erupted in anger; McClellan played it cool. In a letter to his wife, Nelly that same evening, McClellan reported that “I read the papers with a smile [and] turned to Burnside and said, ‘Well Burnside, I turn the command over to you.’” He went on: “Poor Burn feels dreadfully, almost crazy.” He was surprised, he said, but “not a muscle quivered nor was the slightest expression of feeling visible on my face.” Lincoln and his cabinet, he swore, “have made a great mistake.”
The photo taken in Rectortown at the old store or warehouse used by Mosby as a prison for Union troops. It is said that the walls still have writing on the walls made by Union troops. Some you can see at the link below.
Rectortown was a significant location during the Civil War, today a Civil War Trails marker is located near Rector’s Warehouse. The trains passed through Rectortown between Delaphane and Manassas where a year earlier Confederate troops had boarded trains in Delaplane going to the First Battle of Manassas (or Bull Run), the first major battle of the Civil War.
Railroad tracks can be seen to the right behind the building. Location of McClellan’s tent is not known for sure, but he might have used a home in the area.
Rectortown was a later frequently used as a base of operations in Northern Virginia by Colonel John S. Mosby. Colonel John Singleton Mosby was among the most colorful and talented of the Confederacy’s military leadership. His free-lance and daring attacks on Union forces and supply lines are well known in Confederate military history. Mosby’s Confederate Rangers wreaked havoc on Union forces throughout the area in 1864 and 1865. In November 1864 Rectortown was the site of Mosby’s notorious lottery to determine which captured soldiers from General George A. Custer’s troops were to be executed in retaliation for Custer’s order resulting in the hanging of six of Mosby’s men at Front Royal a few months earlier.
Today, Rectortown is predominantly a residential area with its own post office. The train still passes through town, although it no longer stops, and most of the stores have been converted into dwellings. To drive through Rectortown is to experience a fairly intact collection of buildings that capture the town’s character during the late 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries.
Other photos of Rectortown and additional information can be found at the following on the Historical Markers Database called “Rectortown - McClellan’s Demise, Mosby’s Raffle”