A more hapless general than John Pope (1822-1892) can scarcely be imagined. An 1842 graduate of West Point, Pope was brevetted in the Mexican War and afterwards saw duty with the Regular Army on the Western frontier. When the War Between the States began, then-Captain Pope was commissioned a brigadier general of U.S. volunteers, eventually commanding the Army of the Mississippi until President Lincoln brought him east in March of 1862 to head the newly created Army of Virginia.
To say that Pope made a poor impression on his new command would be an understatement. His initial address to the Army of Virginia included this now-infamous passage:I have come to you from the West, where we have always seen the backs of our enemies; from an army whose business it has been to seek the adversary, and to beat him where was found; whose policy has been attack and not defense....I desire you to dismiss from your minds certain phrases, which I am sorry to find so much in vogue amongst you. I hear constantly of "taking strong positions and holding them," of "lines of retreat," and of "bases of supplies." Let us discard such ideas.The implication of Pope's words was not lost on his men. They resented his lack of faith in their fighting abilities and his verbal jabs at their previous commander, the much-loved if ineffectual George B. McClellan.
He also earned the undying hatred of Virginians living in occupied portions of the state. Pope had little sympathy for Southern supporters and considered them, their property, and their possessions fair game. There was much rejoicing in the Old Dominion when Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart surprised Pope near Catlett's Station on August 22, 1862, and managed to make off with his personal baggage, including his uniform (which was subsequently displayed gleefully in a Richmond storefront window).
Pope's tenure as commander of the Army of Virginia came to an abrupt end a week later, when he was defeated by the combined brilliance of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and James Longstreet at the Battle of Second Manassas. Although Pope's opening moves had been well orchestrated, he quickly lost control of the battle, and the Union Army suffered its second disastrous loss on the banks of Bull Run in 13 months. Lincoln removed Pope from command on September 2 and returned the army to McClellan.
Although Pope was subsequently given command of the Department of the Northwest, which included Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and the Territories of Nebraska and Dakota, his role as an active player in the War was over. Pope retired from the Regular Army four years after the War's conclusion.
"Hunter, the Hound" and "Butler, the Beast" are Union Generals David Hunter, who would terrorize the Valley of Virginia later in the War and oversee the burning of the Virginia Military Institute, and Benjamin Butler, whose larcenous ways and harsh treatment of the civilian population in occupied New Orleans would earn him the nickname "Beast."
The reference to President Lincoln as "Kilmansegg pere" comes from the popular contemporary poem "Miss Kilmansegg and Her Precious Leg" by British poet Thomas Hood (1799-1845), who was well-known for his whimsical creations. Miss Kilmansegg was "an heiress of great expectations with an artificial leg of solid gold." The line "Seemed washing his hands with invisible soap" is a direct quote from the poem.
This poem was found in War Songs and Poems of the Southern Confederacy, 1861-1865, by an Ex-Confederate, compiled by H.M. Wharton and published in 1904. Dr. Wharton writes of this poem:In the "Reminiscences" introducing this volume, I have said that some of these poems would be found a little rugged in character, so to speak. The following is a case in point. Let it be remembered that it was in the midst of the strife when harsh things were not only being said, but were being shot from musket and cannon at the very hearts of the two opposing sections. It is all over now. Let us read it, and sympathize with the wild spirit of those times.
[NOTE: In Wharton's book, lines 4 and 5 of verse 3 appear in reverse order. It is assumed that this is a misprint, inasmuch as both the rhyme scheme and the sense of the poem are improved when they appear as they do here. Also, a word seems to have been omitted from line 4.]
"A Farewell to Pope"