Pope validating McClellan

We have all read of Pope's arrival in the east. The standout anecdote involves his message to the troops about "lines of retreat" and the "enemy's backs," etc. In some of the deeper histories, we encounter snippets of his July testimony to the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War (CCW), in parts of which he denigrated McClellan before Congress well in advance of their mandated cooperation.

But this same testimony (7/8/62) holds more interest than these two bits. In describing his initial plan of operations for the Army of Virginia (Pope was appointed June 26), Pope accidentally touches on the forces-defending-Washington controversy, the correct overland line of advance (McClellan's second Richmond campaign would take Pope's line), and the logic of interposing an army between the ANV and D.C. Have a look.

1. Pope's concept of McClellan's position
Pope tells the CCW (p. 106) that he initially intended to march the Army of Virginia (AOV) down the Valley and attack Richmond from the W/SW, cooperating with the Army of the Potomac (AOP) in the East. Given McClellan's recent change of position, Pope says, Lee could now "interpos[e] the whole body of the enemy between them [AOP] and Washington ... perhaps, endanger[ing] the safety of the capital..." This suggests that Pope perceived the defense of Washington to be the AOP's job while he would be free to move out of position (the front of Washington) in a strategic maneuver down the Valley. Events near Richmond, Pope seems to suggest, limit the AOP's defense-of-Washington capability. This causes Pope to revise his first plan of campaign.

2. Pope's concept of the operation
Pope says,
I am, therefore, now assembling them [his units] at points on the east side of the Blue Ridge, and at the outlets of the passes into the Shenandoah valley, and at points on the east side of the Blne Ridge, some twenty-five or thirty miles south of Front Royal, and immediately in front of the passes leading through the Blue Ridge into the Shenandoah valley, occupying Culpeper Courthouse with cavalry, and at a point 20 miles in front, in the direction of Richmond, so that, in case any of the enemy's troops succeed in penetrating into the valley of the Shenandoah I occupy such a position that, by marching upon Gordonsville, I have a shorter distance to march than they will have in turning back, and shall be able to cut them off completely.
Pope envisions sealing the Rebels out of the Valley in the same way McClellan sealed Jackson in during his second attempt on Richmond. But isn't a march along the Blue Ridge leaving D.C. open to attack? Emphasis added:
I shall be in such position that in case the enemy advance in any considerable force towards Washington, I shall be able to concentrate all my forces for the defence of this place, which I propose to defend, not by standing on the defensive at all, or confronting the enemy and intrenching myself, but I propose to do it by laying off on his flanks and attacking him from the moment that he crosses the Rappahannock, day and night, until his forces are destroyed, or mine. I have no apprehension, with my troops stationed in that position, although I have but forty-three thousand men, that even eighty thousand of the enemy would be able to get to Washington at all.
Notice that the Rappahannock is made a test of intentions for an attack on Washington, oddly enough; that he mentions the possibility of the destruction of his army; and he proposes that in the worst case, Rebels would get through him to attack the capital if they number over 80,000. He is telling this to the people outraged by McClellan's plan for the defense of Washington and it is a wonder that hearing this they did not recall McClellan from the Peninsula immediately. He continues:
...my whole command is being now concentrated, and is now in the immediate neighborhood of the points I have designated. They have all been marching for the last four or five days, and some of them are now encamped where I intend to place them, and the bulk of them will be in the places assigned by them to-morrow.
The CCW asks how far he will be from Richmond when done moving. The answer is 90 miles away.
Question. The position you are now taking is the one which you deem the best to occupy for the time being, for the defence of Washington and the whole valley of the Shenandoah?
Pope answers yes. He views it as too risky to approach Richmond any closer.

3. The defense of D.C.
The CCW gets to a favorite topic:
Question. What will be the number of troops left in the intrenchments about Washington?

Answer. In numbers they will be about twelve thousand; in condition they are very poor, indeed. They consist of new regiments, perfectly raw, and broken fragments of old regiments sent here to recruit. The force is not an effective one by any means.
Breathtaking honesty. Pope will march along the Blue Ridge with an "ineffective" garrison in Washington and a guarantee that it will take more than 80,000 Rebels to get past him to attack the ineffectives. Recall that McClellan left Banks in the Valley with a Washington defense mission in addition to 20,500 troops in the capital (Wadsworth complained that he could only find 19,000 present for duty).

Pope's testimony suggests that the defense of Washington lies outside Washington.
... if they should come this way with a very large force, it seems to me that the only sort of defence of Washington I can afford, with the force I have, is to lie off upon the flanks of their army and attack them day and night at unexpected times and places, so as to prevent them from advancing. It will be· hard work, but I do not see anything else so likely to prevail against them.
The committee responds,
Question. Would you not in all these movements feel embarrassed with the knowledge that while you are moving forward on the enemy you are looked upon as the protector of the capital here?

Answer. No, sir; for I am fully convinced I am doing the best I know to effect that object. It is not necessary, in my opinion, in order to protect the capital, that I should interpose myself between the enemy and the place itself; in fact, it would be the very worst policy to do so now, for wherever I could put myself, they could place themselves between me and the capital by attacking my flanks. By laying off on their flanks, if they should have only forty thousand or fifty thousand men, I could whip them. If they should have seventy thousand or eighty thousand men, I would attack their flanks and force them, in order to get rid of me, to follow me out into the mountains, which would be what you would want, I should suppose. They could not march on Washington with me lying with such a force as that on their flanks. I should feel perfectly satisfied that I was doing the best I could with my force, to dispose of them in that way. There is a sufficient force in the intrenchments here to protect the city against any sudden dash upon it, even of a considerable force.
Interesting that Pope thinks he could bottle up Confederates in the mountains but it does not occur to him they could to do the same to him. He does well, however, in the prophecy that "for wherever [before D.C.] I could put myself, they could place themselves between me and the capital by attacking my flanks."

Where pop history is concerned, "the science is settled" and Lincoln is right where Pope and Mac are wrong; and yet, with regard to the defense of Washington, both generals were free to act on their conviction, Pope being even freer than McClellan in this...