The Harrison’s Landing Letter

This weekend marks the 150th anniversary of George B. McClellan’s letter of advice to Abraham Lincoln on how to crush the rebellion.  The letter should have not come as a surprise to Lincoln, for McClellan had indicated that he wanted to present his thoughts to the president, and Lincoln had agreed.  Nor do I put much stock in the notion that McClellan was out of his depth in presuming to offer advice on politics and policy, for many a Union general (and several Confederate generals, including Robert E. Lee) did precisely that.

Lincoln reviews McClellan’s army at Harrison’s Landing

So let’s try something a little different.  Here’s the text of the letter.  Read it.  Tell me what you make of McClellan’s reasoning.  And yes, tell me what you make of it … not what someone else has told you to make of it.  All too often people simply take historians at their word when they could make up their own mind simply by reading the document itself, and I think this is such a case.  Then you can offer what you think of the letter in context … but, once more, draw upon your own thinking.

McClellan’s headquarters at Harrison’s Landing

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64 thoughts on “The Harrison’s Landing Letter

  1. I get from the letter that George McClellan was a decent man.

    I also get that he was trying to wage war against the Confederate states as he thought best which would be, from his words, in a “conservative” way and not a “radical” way. What he meant by conservative seems to be that he wanted to defeat the Confederate military in the field of battle while limiting the amount of economic damage done to Confederate states. By radical he seems to have meant waging war on the Confederate economy, especially by focusing on the abolition of slaves. He seems simply to have wanted to piece the Union back together as it was immediately prior to secession.

    His reasoning didn’t play out because ultimately the Emancipation Proclamation was promulgated and later slavery was ended without compensation to the slave-master. He failed to see that by the summer of 1862 the Union couldn’t just be pieced back together, as it had been before secession, by a Lincoln administration . He didn’t see how the demise of slavery was becoming a more definitive object of the Republican administration’s war efforts because of evolving views on the war in the public and thereby the armies.

    I enjoy Joe Ryan’s videos by the way. He gets to some good locations to film from. I don’t agree with many of his conclusions, but enjoy his efforts to get out there and study the Civil War. His website is pretty interesting too.

  2. Okay, let’s parse this:

    “although they do not strictly relate to the situation of this Army or strictly come within the scope of my official duties. These views amount to convictions and are deeply impressed upon my mind and heart.”
    ———
    So Mac understands this is not within his purview, but feels the need to impart his personal views to Lincoln. Why? It seems to me that he felt views like his weren’t being considered by the administration and needed to be considered.

    “Our cause must never be abandoned; it is the cause of free institutions and self government. The Constitution and the Union must be preserved, whatever may be the cost in time, treasure and blood. If secession is successful, other dissolutions are clearly to be seen in the future. Let neither military disaster, political faction or foreign war shake your settled purpose to enforce the equal operation of the laws of the United States upon the people of every state.”
    ———————
    Lincoln presumably would have no problem with this. This seems to mirror LIncoln’s viewpoint. Perhaps Mac is establishing common ground with the President, showing him that they both share the same ultimate goal.

    “The time has come when the Government must determine upon a civil and military policy, covering the whole ground of our national trouble. The responsibility of determining, declaring and supporting such civil and military policy and of directing the whole course of national affairs in regard to the rebellion, must now be assumed and exercised by you or our cause will be lost. The Constitution gives you power sufficient even for the present terrible exigency.”
    —————
    Grand strategy involves coordinating military and other elements of national power to achieve national objectives. Mac is proposing something on that level. He’s the commanding general of the primary Federal army, which is a pretty high position, and grand strategy is not necessarily outside of his sphere of influence.

    “This rebellion has assumed the character of a War: as such it should be regarded; and it should be conducted upon the highest principles known to Christian Civilization. It should not be a War looking to the subjugation of the people of any state, in any event. It should not be, at all, a War upon population; but against armed forces and political organizations. Neither confiscation of property, political executions of persons, territorial organization of states or forcible abolition of slavery should be contemplated for a moment. In prosecuting the War, all private property and unarmed persons should be strictly protected; subject only to the necessities of military operations. All private property taken for military use should be paid for or receipted for; pillage and waste should be treated as high crimes; all unnecessary trespass sternly prohibited; and offensive demeanor by the military towards citizens promptly rebuked. Military arrests should not be tolerated, except in places where active hostilities exist; and oaths not required by enactments — Constitutionally made — should be neither demanded nor received. Military government should be confined to the preservation of public order and the protection of political rights.”
    ————–
    The first reaction I have is that isn’t McClellan the guy who decided to arrest members of the Maryland legislature suspected of being disloyal? Certainly something is going on here, and he’s reacting to things he’s seeing happening. The First Confiscation Act was law, the Second Confiscation Act was being debated in Congress, public pressure for emancipation was building, Lincoln had already had two emancipation proclamations by generals revoked, fugitive slaves were not being returned, and the hard war phase was about to commence. Mac believed still that the way to facilitate reunion was to win the hearts and minds of the southern people and to not alienate them.

    “Military power should not be allowed to interfere with the relations of servitude, either by supporting or impairing the authority of the master; except for repressing disorder as in other cases. Slaves contraband under the Act of Congress, seeking military protection, should receive it. The right of the Government to appropriate permanently to its own service claims to slave labor should be asserted and the right of the owner to compensation therefore should be recognized. This principle might be extended upon grounds of military necessity and security to all the slaves within a particular state; thus working manumission in such [a] state — and in Missouri, perhaps in Western Virginia also and possibly even in Maryland the expediency of such a military measure is only a question of time. A system of policy thus constitutional and conservative, and pervaded by the influences of Christianity and freedom, would receive the support of almost all truly loyal men, would deeply impress the rebel masses and all foreign nations, and it might be humbly hoped that it would commend itself to the favor of the Almighty. Unless the principles governing the further conduct of our struggle shall be made known and approved, the effort to obtain requisite forces will be almost hopeless. A declaration of radical views, especially upon slavery, will rapidly disintegrate our present Armies.”
    ———–
    He favors a conservative approach, and he’s not necessarily opposed to emancipation of slaves, but believes that by the Constitution, owners would have to be compensated for the loss of their property. Lincoln himself had always favored compensated, gradual emancipation, so this is in line with Lincoln’s previously stated position. Mac, again, is reacting to what is going on in Congress and in the newspapers.

    “The policy of the Government must be supported by concentrations of military power. The national forces should not be dispersed in expeditions, posts of occupation and numerous Armies; but should be mainly collected into masses and brought to bear upon the Armies of the Confederate States; those Armies thoroughly defeated, the political structure which they support would soon cease to exist.”
    ————–
    Here’s military advice, and I suspect even Stephen Sears would agree Mac was perfectly within his rights to offer this to Lincoln as his view of things. And this is fairly sound advice, as well. It incorporates the modern principles of mass and objective.

    “In carrying out any system of policy which you may form, you will require a Commander in Chief of the Army; one who possesses your confidence, understands your views and who is competent to execute your orders by directing the military forces of the Nation to the accomplishment of the objects by you proposed. I do not ask that place for myself. I am willing to serve you in such position as you may assign me and I will do so as faithfully as ever subordinate served superior.”
    ————-

    Mac syas he will be a loyal subordinate to Lincoln. Does he mean it? That’s an open question. He may mean it but then won’t be able to follow through, considering his personal view of Lincoln as “the Original Gorilla.”

    Actually, I don’t really find a whole lot objectionable about the letter. High ranking officers at Mac’s level need to be concerned about civil-military affairs, so I don’t find it surprising he took the opportunity to give Lincoln his views.

    • I should stress that by not finding a whole lot objectionable I mean McClellan’s using this letter to give Lincoln his views. I do disagree with him regarding slavery, but I believe he hasn’t really gone outside permissible lanes in giving this letter to Lincoln.

    • Here’s my “big picture” problem, Al (and see mine below for a “little picture” view). We need to keep in mind that this letter has context – specifically, that infamous telegram during the Seven Days which a War Department clerk fortuitously (for McClellan) side-tracked. Seen in that light this letter (for me) takes on a certain cast. Of course, whether appropriate to send or not, McClellan clearly missed the Tide of History bus on this one.

      • John, I agree he was on the wrong side of the tide of history, but I don’t think that’s a huge consideration in assessing the letter and Mac’s line of reasoning. He very clearly believed that it was necessary to avoid disrupting the institution of slavery in order to make it easier for reunion after the war, and he very clearly allowed that it may be necessary to free some slaves, if not all of them, in order to win the war, and in that case the U.S. ought to strictly abide by the constitutional provision that property is not to be taken without compensation to the owner. As Brooks pointed out, Lincoln shouldn’t have been surprised that McClellan presented his views. “Late in June McClellan had asked Lincoln for permission to present in writing his views on the state of military affairs throughout the country. Lincoln had replied that if it would not take too much of McClellan’s time he would be glad to have the General’s ideas.” [T. Harry Williams, Lincoln and His Generals, p. 132] I don’t think the letter connects with the last part of Mac’s telegram, which had been withheld by the clerk. I think Mac believed he was acting loyally to Lincoln with this letter in giving him the advice he felt Lincoln ought to hear in light of what he saw going on in the Republican Party at the time and the public pressures being brought to bear on Lincoln.

        • Full disclosure, Al. I have an entrenched view of McClellan and a lot of the chipping away that has been done by Harsh, Roland, et al. is in my opinion just that – chipping away but leaving the core in place. As I posted below I have no problem with McClellan weighing in on military strategy (indeed, as you note, AL invited it) or even on the “grayer” areas of how the war would be conducted regarding civilians, etc. My problem is with the portions which dive into poltical matters – both because of the subject matter and because, as we know from his numerous other writings and actions, McClellan utterly lacked respect for his civilan CinC. As i also posted below, this letter reveals that even by July McClellan was stuill taking refuge in his absurdly inflated estimates of Confederate strength.

  3. Looking at the letter in isolation, I agree with Al. Aside from the fact that I’m not sure if warfare was ever as neat and gentlemanly as McClellan’s view, look at the date of the letter. It was 2 1/2 weeks before Lincoln met with his cabinet to present them with the draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, making it clear that the decision on whether or not to issue it at all was not on the table. History was on the march and it was marching away from McClellan’s views. I think it was just one sign that Lincoln had not found his general.

  4. My latest book, due out in late August, “McClellan’s Other Story, The Political Intrigue of Colonel Thomas M. Key, Confidential Aide to General George B. McClellan” tells the story of a little-known figure in history. Colonel Key was the author of all of McClellan’s political letters/orders including the famed July 7, 1862 “Harrison’s Landing Letter.” I have discovered Key’s unpublished papers and as Stephen Sears told me, “they open up a new dimension on McClellan.”

    • I look forward to a detailed ex[loration of the )to date) notorious Col. Key. I have three simple observatuions. (1) the use of the word “overwhelmed” is vintage McClellan excuse-proferring and indicates that even at this late date he was still enamoured of Pinkerton’s/his own ridiculous “200,000″; (2) this is a general attempting to dictate overall political policy to his civilian CIC. I have no problem with the parts relating to military strategy or even to those in the “grayer” area regarding treatment of civilians or property, but it goes over the line; (3) see (2) – I’ve read this letter before but for the first time I am struck by the fact that this could have been signed by Douglas MacArthur – “overwhelmed”, “brink of eternity”, etc. I believe it was Eisenhower who said “I learned the military art from Marshall and drama from MacArthur”. The only phrase Little Mac left out had to do with descending into “the Stygean darkness:”

  5. Bill-That’s funny. I’m no expert on such things, but I’ve ghost written enough official correspondence in my time that my reaction (since I’ve read some of the letters McClellan wrote his wife) was “I wonder who wrote that for him.” I know there are differences between official and casual styles, particularly in the 19th century, and a ghost-writer should always remember who the official author is (and, by signing it and taking responsibility for its contents, the official makes the letter his/her own) However, there was something about this letter that made me think third party. I’ll look forward to your book. I’ve heard of Key but not much.

  6. Maybe I’m guilty of viewing this with an eye on events that followed, but this seems to be not so much advice as it is an effort by McClellan to get in front of that which he saw coming.

    It seems to me that when Lincoln accepted Scott’s Anaconda Plan, he defined the war as something more than military: Scott’s plan would plainly not only blockade international shipments of war materiel, it would also create economic hardship for the general population of the Confederacy. Wouldn’t it follow that, short of immediate Confederate capitulation, there may be a need to impose more direct methods of warfare on the Confederate economy- including, but not limited to, emancipation, destruction of infrastructure, destruction/confiscation of crops- in order to both destroy the ability of the Confederacy to economically support its armies and to demoralize the general population so that they wouldn’t want to support those armies if they could? Or am I placing an undue burden of perspective on someone who was well-versed in Jomini but not Clausewitz?

    Shifting gears…Brooks, you wrote:

    “Nor do I put much stock in the notion that McClellan was out of his depth in presuming to offer advice on politics and policy, for many a Union general (and several Confederate generals, including Robert E. Lee) did precisely that.”

    I don’t think what you’re asking isn’t about depth, but rather prerogative. He certainly had the prerogative of position to advise the President. I think he might have been out of his depth in that he might have been incapable of processing the complexity of the war outside of its purely military realm, something of which others of high rank (Scott, Grant, Sherman) were capable.

  7. I was going to do a paragraph by paragraph response, but Al got there first; Margaret adds to the discussion by offering the context. Mac is trying to influence the C-in-C’s policy, at a time when Mac’s position is a year out of date.

    This statement ““This rebellion has assumed the character of a War” is the first thing Mac says that makes it clear he is unfit for the post. It is July, 1862 – First Bull Run occurred a year earlier; Shiloh, three months earlier; the Seven Days and the AoTP’s retreat within the previous two weeks, and despite all that, Mac is only now calling the conflict a “War”? With a capital W, no less?

    Cripes, I’m surprised Lincoln didn’t sack him then and there…

    Basically, my reaction (as a veteran) is when the commander-in-chief shows up in your theater – which only exists because the theater commander’s own chosen strategy/concept of operations – to find out what the hell is going on, it is time to shut up and soldier, in terms of “yes, sir, no, sir, three bags full.”

    If Mac was not willing to do that, he should have resigned. What a useless bag of suet the man was…Lloyd Fredendall in 1862…

    Best,

    • Why would Lincoln have sacked him right there? Because he said the suppression of the rebellion was becoming a war? There are military operations that fall short of warfare.

      I was on the staff of the Commander, US Pacific Command. The Four-Star had civil-military affairs as part of his job. He passed on his observations to the President through the CJCS. Of course, that’s today, not during the Civil War. During the Civil War there really weren’t any rules against a general giving political views to the President. Heck, Winfield Scott ran for President as a serving officer.

      • My comment was to the point of what they hell did Mac think the conflict was before that date, a prizefight?

        McClellan lost, IIRC, about 25,000 US dead in the AoTP between Yorktown and the Seven Days – I’d think Lincoln, as C-in-C, would have expected Mac should have figured out he was at war a long time before July, 1862.

        John’s comment re the McClellan/MacArthur parallel is pretty damn apt in terms of the dramatics; but I think Fredendall is closer, for several reasons; braggadoccio being one, physical cowardice and incompetence in the field being others…

        • Yeah, TF, that might be a better analogy – although Dugout Doug had more than a few of Little Mac’s “qualities”. Hardly a tactical superstar (see: Manila, December 8, 1941 and New Guinea, generally).

          • Huh. You’d think that he’d have known the difference when he presented his plan for the Peninsula Campaign the previous January. Concentrating 120K+ troops with plans to drive on Richmond seems rather like war, doesn’t it?

            • Seems like he was planning to overwhelm the rebel defenses and take Richmond, thus crushing the rebellion. I think it’s useful to understand there is a differentiation between the suppression of a rebellion and a public war.

              • What is that differentiation, Al? There does seem to be the obvious: If Congress had officially declared war, it could open the door for foreign nations to establish official relations with the CSA, so that option was out the window. I can sort of see this justification for seeing it as suppressing a rebellion if the Confederates had never acted aggressively, but, ya know, they fired on Fort Sumter.

                The US government had seven different armies (admittedly of different sizes) in the field when McClellan (or his staff) penned this letter, not seven different units of federal marshals with truncheons and paddy wagons. Seven armies in the field doesn’t simply suggest a de facto state of war, it screams it while jumping up and down.

                Please don’t take this as a joke at your expense, Al. I’m willing to take you at your word that Mac actually thought of the events up to that time as a suppression of a rebellion. I think the man had to be performing some awfully intricate mental gymnastics to justify a notion that ran contrary to everything his senses, his “outward wits”, had to be telling him.

                • I think Vattel’s 1758 work, “The Law of Nations,” is useful here. Vattel differentiates between public war, civil war, insurrection, and popular commotion, or uprising if you prefer. In reading the letter, I see McClellan looking at this as putting down an insurrection and not yet having reached a war level. There’s really no level of troops or number of armies involved that determines one from the other, rather it is the types of actions.

                  http://www.lonang.com/exlibris/vattel/vatt-301.htm

                  http://www.lonang.com/exlibris/vattel/vatt-318.htm

                  • We also need to keep in mind that in 1862 lincoln was walking a tricky line here – treating the fight as something in which he could call upon war powers while at the same time not giving the CSA belligerent status. Leiber had just started working on his Laws of War which as they emerged in 1863 would address some of this conundrum.

                  • Looks like Vattel’s threshold, per Section 293 (in your second link), had been met.

                    Ҥ 293. A civil war produces two independent parties.
                    It is foreign to our purpose in this place to weigh the reasons which may authorize and justify a civil war: we have elsewhere treated of the cases wherein subjects may resist the sovereign. Setting, therefore, the justice of the cause wholly out of the question, it only remains for us to consider the maxims which ought to be observed in a civil war, and to examine whether the sovereign in particular is, on such an occasion, bound to conform to the established laws of war.”

                    “A civil war breaks the bands of society and government, or, at least, suspends their force and effect: it produces in the nation two independent parties, who consider each other as enemies, and acknowledge no common judge. Those two parties, therefore, must necessarily be considered as thenceforward constituting, at least for a time, two separate bodies, two distinct societies. Though one of the parties may have been to blame in breaking the unity of the state and resisting the lawful authority, they are not the less divided in fact. Besides, who shall judge them? who shall pronounce on which side the right or the wrong lies? On earth they have no common superior. They stand therefore in precisely the same predicament as two nations, who engage in a contest and, being unable to come to an agreement, have recourse to arms.”

      • Those are good points, Al. There were no “rules”, as you indicate. Hence my focus on what we know about McClellan outside the four cprners of the letter. He regarded his CinC as a simpleton of great inferiority to himself. Leaning into areas of political policy was in my view wrong but also part and parcel of McClellan’s utter lack of respect for the Executive. I will give him his due on one thing, however – when he was finally fired, he left rather than attempting a “Seven Days in May” scenario.

        • Something that struck me in reading Stephen Sears’ The Young Napoleon is how Mac’s attitude changed with the wind. In one breath he could be calling Lincoln “The Gorilla” and in another he could be gushing, “The President is a true friend of mine.”

          • I’ve always thought that McClellan went too far too fast. He had a somewhat rivileged background; got in and out of West Point at absurdly young ages; before he was 30 served as an official observor of the Crimean War; had success in the railroad business; and was given command of the armies at 34. I find it hardly surprising that he would have developed a superiority complex, partucularly in relation to Lincoln. And while, as you note, his views were subject to change, ultimately I think the mindset which was dismissive of the Executive as an inferior won out.

    • You think this because you haven’t contextualised the letter.

      In early 1862 it was the opinion of Lincoln, McClellan and most prominent northern leaders that the “slave power” had deceived the majority of the population, and only needed a sufficient demonstration of force to bring them to their senses. We’re seeing McClellan being disabused of this notion, and it was breaking down in Lincoln’s head as well – hence 2nd July 1862 Lincoln orders recruiting centres reopened, and assembled an overwhelming army in the east, and handed it to Burnside (make of it what you will, but I graphed the numbers from the surgeon-generals figures here: http://67thtigers.blogspot.be/2010/08/strength-of-army-in-east-and-west.html ). Perhaps it truly had taken on a more war-like character, and McClellan’s call for massive concentrations against the main enemy armies and destroying them in the field is basically what Grant tried to do.

      The background of the letter is the Confiscation Bill, being debated at the time (and signed into law 16th July). This promoted a war of chevauxes on the Southern people rather than armies. Unsurprisingly McClellan is against this. The best treatment I’ve been of this is Chapter 4 of Mark Grimsley’s “The Hard Hand of War”, which is probably overdue a reread.

      As to relationships between senior generals and the political CinC, the one thing the CinC does not want is a general who “shuts up and soldiers”. Such a man is an empty shirt. Lt-Colonels like their Lts to shut up, but that (should) disappear as you go up the ranks.

    • That is the first time I have ever seen Fredendall used as an insult in the context of ACW leadership! Outstanding.

      • Kind of fits with the whole “considered to be good at training, but not so good at command” meme against Mac, doesn’t it?

        Gallagher has a good point in his Peninsula book that one of the attributes of a quality commander at the army/army group/theater level is the old “put in all your troops” chestnut, otherwise known as not burning out one command and leaving a second untouched.

        Obviously, the tactical and opertional situation has a huge impact, but it is also worth considering how much or how little Mac exercised his responsibilities as a commander in ensuring that his five corps were used “equally” – it is a little hard to track, given the transfers between corps to create the V and VI, but it is worth considering the “generalship” Mac displayed in those terms.

        Best,

  8. I have included in my book a previously unpublished letter written by Colonel Key to a member of Lincoln’s Cabinet, four days after the famed July 7 letter (by-the-way, both letters are in Key’s handwriting). This July 11 letter is much more volatile and harshly critical of President Lincoln, and will explain much regarding the mindset inside the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac at Harrison’s Landing. Colonel Key was more than a typical “ghost-writer” for General McClellan–he was considered by other members of the staff as “the power behind the throne” and many later blamed Key for his bad political advice which ruined Mac’s career.

  9. The one thing I point out that most people miss is McClellan’s call to effect manumission in the remaining loyal states by the backdoor:

    ” The right of the Government to appropriate permanently to its own service claims to slave labor should be asserted and the right of the owner to compensation therefore should be recognized. This principle might be extended upon grounds of military necessity and security to all the slaves within a particular state; thus working manumission in such [a] state — and in Missouri, perhaps in Western Virginia also and possibly even in Maryland the expediency of such a military measure is only a question of time.”.

    That’s quite often ignored, and it has unexplored implications.

    • I agree that this point is important, and I should have referred to it in my initial post. The thought as expressed is a bit confusing, because the notion of “appropriat[ing] to itself slave labor” and “manumission” could be seen as containing an inherent contradiction. It’s also somewhat inconsistent with the rest of the proposed olicy for conduct of the war. I would be shocked, for example, if Little Mac was ratifying in any way Butler’s actions in May-June, 1861 – which seem to fall to some extent within these two sentences. But then I admit to having dofficulty moving past McClellan’s continuing hallucination about being “overwhelmed” and facing the “brink of eternity”. Even Tenney c. 1992 couldn’t get Lee past c. 110,000, and got there with some possible defects in methodology.

      • Bring slaves into US service was the “classical” way to effect manumission. The slave is effectively forcibly purchased by the USG then, after a period of service, released as a freeman. The elites of the time knew their classics, and knew how the Spartans filled their armies with Helots in return for manumission after the war (to the point of wiping out their social system eventually). Since books cost if I may point you to a podcast with Stanley Engerman on the matter: http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2006/11/engerman_on_sla.html

        As to the obsession with numbers, Tenney did get over 110,000. Including two regiments arriving during the Seven Days 113,282 PFD are located (inc. Richmond’s garrison). Steven Newton calculates the day after Seven Pines there were 94,813 PFD exc/the Richmond garrison, but before taking into account casualties the previous two days. This is with access to the records. In summer 1862 every commander was overestimating, even Grant. Accurate pictures take time to grow up.

        • thanks. As for estimates, several did indeed inflate, but McClellan was just “better” at it. 200,000 was ridiculous, and his being wedded to that fanciful number puts the lie to the implication that if only McDowell’s 30,000 hadn’t been withheld from him he would have taken Richmond. His perceived odds would merely have gone from 1:2 to 1:1.67. When the Seven Days commenced McClellan already had an “attitude” and that played out over the next week. When dealing with our friend McClellan, I try to separate the inquiry into two categories – (1) the strategist/”big picture” thinker and (2) the field commander/tactician. The somewhat successful debating stance taken by Harsh, Roland, et al. is mostly focused on (1), and I would agree that there probably has been much wrong-headed anti-McClellan bias in the thinking there. (2) is different. I have yet to see anybody mount a successful defense of Little Mac in that realm. Praise the Lord that, for example, Nimitz was not McClellan in June, 1942.

          • The possibility of 200,000 was based upon intelligence coming out of Washington that Beauregard was leaving Bragg with a rearguard at Tupelo and entraining the bulk of his force eastwards. This was not correct, Beauregard was in Richmond to explain his actions, and Sterling Price was there as well. The bulk of the main Confederate western army was entraining eastwards, but to Tennessee, not Virginia.

            A while back elsewhere I did a quick survey of what estimates McClellan reports up (not Pinkerton to McClellan) contained in the OR. They were:

            7th April 62: Yorktown has 30,000 men (OR1, 11(3), 76) (to Stanton), estimated after Johnston’s reinforcements are detected (OR1, 11(3), 77, in which he also estimates his own force to 68,000 “for duty”).

            20th April 62: Lee has taken command, more than 80,000 against me, reinforcements moving towards you (OR1, 11(3), 115) (to Burnside)

            (25th April: Hitchcock estimated McClellan at 70,000 men (OR1, 11(3), 121)

            8th May 62: 80,000 -120,000 (OR1, 11(3), 151) (to Stanton)

            (19th May 62: Wool sends int that the force at Richmond is over 100,000, which he disbelieves but acknowledges may be true) (OR1, 11(3), 182) (Wool to Stanton)

            16th June 62: Mansfield gets int of 130,000 at Richmond, possibly 150,000 (OR1, 11(3), 231) (McClellan forwards to Stanton)

            18th June 62: Movement of Whitting’s Division to Jackson detected, estimated at over 10,000 by McClellan and 10-15,000 by observers, (OR1, 11(3), 232)

            25th June 62: The 200,000 number appears, but doesn’t relate to Lee’s command, it relates to the possibility that Jackson (est. elsewhere at 30,000 ISTR) and Beauregard have joined Lee. (OR1, 11(1), 51), Lincoln responds on the 26th (OR1, 11(3), 259) and reading both it is clear that neither is sure about the 200,000 figure but both decide to act prudently based on it. At the same time McClellan forwards Lincoln the latest estimates from Pinkerton (organisation of 180,000, i.e. roster strength = aggregate present and absent)

            (28th June 62: Stanton attempts to make good on Lincoln’s promise and orders Halleck to send 25,000 men to McClellan, which Halleck later dodges) (OR1, 11(3), 271).

            McClellan himself is estimating he faces about 150,000 in the aggregate present category (not any stripped down PFD or “effectives”). He was probably overestimating a bit. The Confederate returns of the period have PFD running at about 75% of aggregate present (and about half of aggregate present and absent) and so we can estimate that including Jackson Lee had about 150,000 men in the strength category McClellan estimated. Very ballpark, and a pinch of salt needed. So (error excepted) McClellan himself (after accounting for Jackson’s men) was probably estimating on the order of 15% high.

            It seems that Lee’s army had a much worse sick rate than McClellan’s. Perhaps not surprising, but no-one at the time knew that.

            • There’s still a good deal of creativity involved in hyping it to 200,000. Tenney’s number includes Jackson, of course. Even accepting Tenney there’s nearly a 100% inflation factor. That’s a lot of fictional Rebels scattered about the environs of Richmond. Fantasy’s a lot easier to accept if it suits your purposes or fits your preconceptions.

              • IIRC, Tenney was calculating PFD. What does the 200,000 number in McClellan’s June 25 letter refer to — PFD or a total head count?

                • I’ll let others weigh in but my view is that it’s vague. Here’s the excerpt from Pinkerton’s June 26 letter:

                  “The summary of general estimates of the rebel army shows their forces to be at this time over 180,000 men, and the specific information already obtained warrants the belief that this number is probably considerably short of the real strength of their army, which is as follows: Two hundred regiments infantry and cavalry, including the re-enforcements just arrived of Jackson’s and Ewell’s forces (eight battalions), five battalions artillery, twelve companies infantry and independent cavalry, and forty-six companies of artillery– in all about forty or fifty brigades. The forces under General Jackson just arrived have been ascertained by general estimate and by partial specific information, and the number is probably about 30,000, which includes about 10,000 sent from Richmond to re-enforce him lately, and which only reached him and formed a junction at a very recent date.”

                  Then there’s this from Pinkerton’s August 14 letter:

                  “The summary of general estimates shows 200,000 men to have composed the rebel army of Richmond about the time of the Seven-days’ Battle, which estimates are abundantly confirmed by the specific information obtained up to date of this report, as will be seen by reference to the table showing organization of the rebel army accompanying and part of this report” and in an attachment “The whole Richmond army now (July 10) numbers probably 200,000 men, and has been estimated at 250,000.”

                  These numbers are sufficiently large (and ridiculous) that it really doesn’t matter whether Pinkerton’s “estimates” were PFD or larger. Personally, I subscribe to Fishel’s scathing analysis of this “intelligence” and McClellan’s willing suspension of disbelief.

                  • I dont understand why 200,000 is ridiculous if talking about aggregate present. On July 20 the Confederate report is that Lee had around 95,000 aggregate present in the Army of Northern Virginia. This total did not include Jackson’s command, any of the troops which had been sent back to North Carolina after the Seven Days, or the Department of Henrico. Once these commands are added as well as the casualties suffered in the Seven Days, 200,000 aggregate present does not seem ridiculous to me.

                    • We’ll have to disagree. Are you seriously suggesting that the 200,000 was a real number? Tenney would love to know, among many others. And if you read the excerpts closely, you’ll notice that Pinkerton (and McClellan) viewed that as “conservative”. Lee/Richmond never had anything close to that number. What is your source for Lee’s PFD of 95,000 after Jackson departed? There are sources which put it at 70,000. Until now the argument has not been about whether Lee actually had 200,000 – it’s been about whether McClellan’s erroneous estimate should have been rejected at the time. You seem to think that the 200,000 (or, as Pinkerton suggested, 250,000) is real. I’d welcome some specific sources on that. In context, of course, the number even appears silly. The South had a significantly smaller population on which to draw.There wre sizable Cobfederate forces in the western theater at the time. An army of 200,000+ would have strained logistics around Richmond beyond the breaking poin t. Have at it.

    • McClellan seems to be looking at his manumission plan as a way to keep the border states from going wobbly and tilting South. He must have been thinking, like Lee, that Maryland and the other border states might could still tilt South.

      In this letter he really doesn’t care to look at the problem of paying slave masters for their runaway/taken Confederate slaves during the middle of a war. How much sense does enforcing a pro-slavery Federal law, to the benefit of the Confederacy, during a war against the Confederacy make? He just hadn’t gotten there in his mind yet.

  10. On July 6 he wrote his wife Ellen, “I go into this battle with the full conviction that our honor makes it necessary for me to share the fate of my army.” He believed he was heavily outnumbered. Even Lee had written, “Under ordinary circumstances the Federal Army should have been destroyed.” McClellan likely believed, when he wrote the letter, that he would be attacked by a force that greatly outnumbered his own.

  11. This is a reply to John Foskett’s comment from this morning.

    John asks: “Are you seriously suggesting that the 200,000 was a real number?”

    I never said it was the real number. I am saying it is not a ridiculous number.

    “What is your source for Lee’s PFD of 95,000 after Jackson departed?”

    Did I used the term PFD? If you pay attention you will see I wrote “aggregate present” which is different than PFD. My source is the little thing called the Official Records.

    “The South had a significantly smaller population on which to draw.”

    So? This is a silly point. The population of military age men was large enough to field plenty more than a 200,000.

    • Indeed, the south managed to mobilise the vast majority of her military population, and throughout the early stages of the war had an overall strength at least roughly equal to the Union. It is the Seven Days that convinces Washington to reopen recruiting and have a numerically superior army if possible. What’s more the Confederacy was better at concentrating their combat power. During 1861-3 the northern army was nearly twice the size of the southern one (on average), but in contact her armies were 78% the strength of the northern ones (Hattaway and Jones: http://books.google.be/books?id=TPx18EZrgqAC&pg=PA721 ), and this may be an underestimate. In actual tactical actions Marc Barloon has shown that the Confederates on average outnumbered the Union *at the point of contact* (Marc Barloon, Combat Reconsidered, unpublished PhD thesis, Uni. N. Texas; http://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc3066/m2/1/high_res_d/dissertation.pdf ).

      In short, Jefferson seems to have known more about running a war than Lincoln and his people. Still lost when the Union played to their strengths (numbers, engineering, maritime mobility) rather than weaknesses.

      • Did Lee have 200,000 men floating around the Richmond area on June 25, 1862? If he did, the ANV/VA must have had a sickness/AWOL rate vastly higher than anything the federals experienced.

        • I don’t think you’re quite understanding the argument, so I’ll break it down.

          1. The figure of “200,000″ was that if Beauregard’s western army had united a large portion of itself with Lee’s eastern army. It is clear that McClellan doubted he had, but acknowledged the possibility.

          2. McClellan’s own estimates of what he faced was ~ 150,000 including Jackson’s army.

          3. This was an estimate of ration strength, i.e. aggregate present.

          4. If Lee’s sick rate was running at 25% (high, not unquestionable, McClellan’s assumption was 15%) then when we take Tenney’s figures* and convert them to aggregate present at 25% sick then 150,000 is about right.

          5. McClellan was aware that his “effective” strength was much less than his paper strength. No systematic survey has ever been carried out but as an example Warren reports he had about 450 “effective men for duty” in the 5th NY and about 575 “men for duty” in the 10th NY. Tenney (via Brett Schulte’s digitisation) gives 735 and 671 respectively for 1,025 in line of battle out of 1,406 present for duty (effective strength = 73% of the PFD and obviously a smaller fraction of the aggregate present, which isn’t to hand). This means Warren’s brigade was quite good when Carman estimates that only 60-80% of PFD could ever be formed into line of battle. Depending on your sampling methodology if you attempt to determine the bayonet** strength then McClellan had somewhere between 50 and 70,000 infantrymen available for combat, with it being more likely to be in the upper half of that range.

          6. As an indicator of how bad int was see Meigs’ highly critical estimate of the enemy strength in the Seven Days at http://ebooks.library.cornell.edu/cgi/t/text/pageviewer-idx?c=moawar;cc=moawar;q1=muskets;rgn=full%20text;idno=waro0014;didno=waro0014;view=image;seq=0342 Here the int is Hood leading a Virginia Brigade under Jackson, and there are numerous errors. Intelligence pictures are hard.

          * I have not read the original masters thesis, only Harsh’s summary and would love to see the original if anyone has a copy. Annoyingly google has digitised it, but it is not available due to copyright (correctly).

          ** The American officers of the term used “musket strength”, but I’m British and we use the term “bayonet strength”, but they are synonymous. As a matter of interest the 19th century British Army reported “Present Under Arms”, a far more definite figure that only counts men in line of battle which leads to quite significant distortions, since the French report essentially PFD. It magnifies the achievements of the British soldier, leading to distortions not unlike the different figures for US and CS armies.

    • ‘My source is the little thing called the Official Records”. Most people actually cite to volume, page, etc. and add in a reference to date, type of document, and author. It’s a pretty big set, as I’m sure you know. Even a cut and paste might do the trick. Lee did not have 200,000 men (let alone Pinkerton’s :maybe 250,000) available in any form for the Seven Days. Not even close. Bank it.

      • So I suppose you aren’t “most people” since you didn’t provide cites when you presented information.

        I will try to clarify my point in hopes that you stop misrepresenting it. You pointed out that the issue is about “whether McClellan’s erroneous estimate should have been rejected at the time.” I am not claiming Lee really had 200,00 men. I am claiming that an estimate of 200,000, though wrong, was not ridiculous or silly simply because it was a big number.

        • Look up the definition of “misdirection”. I gave you excerpts from two dated letters by Pinkerton. You’ve given me “the Official Records” – with no specific reference – series/volume/page; document description; date – for your reference to 95,000 as an actual number without Jackson. Instead, we’re apparently making progress. We apparently agree that Lee in fact had nothing close to 200,000 (or, as McClellan’s crackerjack intelligence expert postulated, 250,000). Now we can move on to Pinkerton’s/McClellan’s blatantly flawed methodology for getting to fantasyland.

          • 250,000? This figure appears only once in a raw int report, which gave the following figures:

            Jackson’s army of the valley was 15,000 prior to recent re-enforcements from Richmond.
            Rebels had opposed to us at the Seven-days’ Battles 100,000 men, and estimated our force at 70,000.
            One hundred and twenty-five thousand men said to have followed our army on its retreat.
            Jackson’s valley force was 8,000 to 10,000 men; was re-enforced by Ewell with 10,000 from the Rappahannock, making it 18,000 to 20,000.
            Twelve thousand to 15,000 men were sent from Richmond to re-en force Jackson, but did not reach him until he was on his way to Richmond from the Shenandoah Valley.
            Jackson’s force now consists of Ewell’s division, about 12,000 men, G. W. Smith’s division, about 12,000 to 15,000 men; Jackson’s own division, about 8,000 to 10,000 men.
            The whole Richmond army now (July 10) numbers probably 200,000 men, and has been estimated at 250,000.
            Georgia regiments recently filled by recruiting to 1,100 or 1,200.
            Said to be 20,000 to 25,000 troops at Petersburg. Troops from Beauregard’s army are daily arriving.
            Heard a rebel lieutenant say that the rebel army numbered 190,000; our army generally estimated by the rebels at 130,000.
            Surgeon Powell, returned Union prisoner, states that the admitted rebel loss in the Seven-days’ Battles was 19,000.
            A British subject who arrived per flag of truce, and is a compositor by trade, states that he set up for the Richmond Examiner an item stating that of 14,000 men led into the second day’s fight by General A. P. Hill he only brought out 6,000.
            Rebel troops in the Seven-days’ Battles, including Jackson’s whole force, estimated at 220,000 to 260,000.
            Jackson’s forces going north are usually estimated at 50,000, but the estimates range from 30,000 to 80,000.
            It is customary at the South, in speaking of regiments, to call them thousands, but the regiments will not average over 700.
            Jackson was said to have taken with him into the valley one hundred regiments.
            Rebel army previous to the late battles was estimated at 250,000 killed and wounded, 45,000 to 50,000.
            About 20,000 troops are in the vicinity of Petersburg. About July 5 50,000 were encamped between Petersburg and Richmond.
            That about two weeks ago 25,000 troops were received from the South per Petersburg Railroad, said to have come from Charleston, S. C.
            Jackson said to have taken 40,000 troops with him to the valley.
            Rebel killed and wounded in the late battles estimated at 25,000 to 75.000.
            Jackson said to have with him in the valley 60,000 men.
            Rebel army of Richmond estimated at 130,000, exclusive of Jackson’s forces and the troops south of James River.
            Jackson’s estimated at 110,000, of which number 30,000 were recently sent him from Richmond and 60,000 from the south via Lynchburg.
            One hundred pieces and three or four car loads of artillery from the South went to Fredericksburg depot on July 29, 1862, said to be for Jackson.
            Beauregard’s forces are believed to be mostly in Richmond.
            Thirty thousand to 40,000 disciplined troops supposed to have been received in Richmond shortly before the commencement of the Seven days’ Battles.
            About 50,000 troops were encamped around General Lee’s headquarters on July 28, 1862.
            One hundred and eighty thousand at Richmond prior to re-enforcements from Charleston; 40,000 taken by Jackson to the valley. He was afterwards reenforced by 60,000 from the cotton States.
            Rebel army estimated at 250,000 by the people of Richmond.
            (The above statement was made by officers of the Federal Army who escaped from Richmond.)
            Two trains daily of ten to fifteen cars each, loaded with troops, entered Richmond from Petersburg for four or five weeks prior to August 8, 1862.
            Fifty thousand troops reported in Richmond to have been sent to Jackson within four weeks prior to above date.
            Jackson said to have taken 75,000 troops from Richmond.
            Nearly the whole rebel force said to have been employed against McClellan at the battle of Mechanicsville.

            Just because a piece of int comes in does not mean it is necessarily believed. Pinkerton’s interrogation of prisoners (his main source) gave at best a partial picture and was processed with other data. You have to deconflate McClellan’s own estimates of what was going on from the raw int.

            • His “main source”? Pinkerton was quite clear that he used a number of ‘sources” at varying times, all of which would be classified as questionable in any context. He then applied a questionable estimating method to come up with his aggregate. Minimize the 250,000 all you want as a “raw int report”, but it reflected the consistent view that 200,000 was considered “conservative”. The unassailable fact, and starting point, is that Lee had nowhere near that number. The rest of this is entertaining argument but Pinkerton/McClellan didn’t miss by a whisker. They missed by a full mile. It’s a bit like arguing that McClellan left everything in good order at Glendale on June 30 to take care of more pressing business. A neast argument but non-factual.

              • No-one is arguing he had that number. However you’re missing the point. You’ve cherry picked the highest estimates in raw int and made the assumption that it was not processed further. The idea that McClellan believed the enemy had more than 200,000 only exists in one place in this argument – your mind.

                How many Lee did Lee have? An educated guess for Lee’s force is:

                “Regiments of all arms” = 221
                Roster strength of this force when units formed: ~ 250,000
                Aggregate present and absent: ~ 200,000
                Aggregate present: ~ 150,000
                Present for duty: ~ 113,000
                Of which infantry: ~ 100,000
                Of which in line of battle: ~ 75,000 (using Carman’s basic estimate)

                These would be more accurate if I had time to look up some of these figures that are actually available, but do you see the huge differences in strength categories?

                See one of the notes in Pinkerton’s int above, “It is customary at the South, in speaking of regiments, to call them thousands, but the regiments will not average over 700.”. Surely then it was realised by Pinkerton that what he was receiving were rough estimates of regiments…. In fact a “regiment of all arms” was about 513 strong for the Confederacy and 558 for the Union (partially an artifact of artillery batteries being larger than a normal company and partially the Federals were a bit healthier).

                However, Pinkerton’s methodology was based on getting the high end “aggregate present and absent” (numbers bourne on muster rolls) and applying a modifier down to aggregate present. It was flawed, but was not producing numbers anything like “muskets”. The mistake you’re making is trying to “compare apples and oranges” with estimates of aggregate present against a stripped down figure. Yes Pinkerton was high. McClellan’s own estimates were lower than Pinkertons.

                The most egregious abuse of differing strength categories was by none other than Robert E. Lee on 14th August 1862 when he told J. Davis that the four divisions he was leaving at Richmond consisted of 72,047 men. He was reporting his aggregate present and absent.

                • McClellan’s estimates were not lower than Pinkerton’s. In fact, there were occasions when McClellan took Pinkerton’s numbers (which often were unspecific as to “carried into battle”, PFD, available, aggregate, plus-disabled by sickness, or any of the other neat categories which come in for microanalysis today) and used them as “effecrive strength”. McClellan also applied a different analysis to Pinkerton’s/Lee’s alleged numbers than he did to his own. Presumably he also knew that Pinkerton initially focused on identifying the specific units in the ANV (and came credibly close) and then switched to his other, less reliable methods for deriving total numbers/”estimates”. We’ll have to disagree on whether those estimates were reasonable at the time or not. It appears that we do agree that they were well beyond what Lee actually had to confront McClellan. Too bad the Galena lacked a calcilator.

          • I gave you a dated war department strength report. Not really any different that you giving a dated reference to a Pinkerton letter. You did not give any reference to a series, volume, page. So what do you expect when you dish the attitude yet what you have written is no better. You’re a smart guy, try looking up strength reports in the ORs for Lees army for the date I referred to. It’s a nice little table. Probably same one other sources use for te 70,00 PFD.

            • By the way, where are Pinkerton’s estimates charscterized as “aggregate, including X% disabled by sickness/AWOL/deserted, etc”? They’re not. McClellan treated them as effective strength – which is consistent with Pinkerton’s ambiguous “180,000-200,000 on the low side”. In actual fact that was fantasy. We can keep chasing this but it seems clear we won’t agree. You think that McClellan’s persistent belief on the Peninsula that he was significantly outnumbered was reasonable. I don’t. It’s the same reaction I have to his “estimate” of Lee’s numbers in the Maryland Campaign – which was even more wildly out of whack with the reality.

  12. In reply to Al Mackey (damned too-skinny-for=replies threads!):

    “I believe Mac was acknowledging that in his letter.”

    But he seems to be saying that it had become that in the very near past (“The time has come when the Government must determine upon a civil and military policy…”, “This rebellion has assumed the character of a War…”). The deep South had already effectively kicked the legitimate government of the United States out of the region by the time Fort Sumter was attacked. It had been civil war for nearly 15 months, not just the 11 days since Lee had started getting aggressive towards McClellan back at Beaver Dam Creek/Mechanicsville.

    I’m trying to put myself in McClellan’s shoes, but I keep thinking, “Well, if I’m Mac, I know that Shiloh was fought while I was besieging Yorktown,,,Stop right there! Mac has to be either the most self-centered s.o.b. in the history, or….Stupid? Insane?”

  13. I thought it was an excellent letter although marred at times by McClellan’s usual overly dramatic language. First, his military advice was excellent regarding a C-in-C and the need for concentration. Lincoln agreed about the C-in-C and got Halleck, he disagreed -wrongly – about the need for concentration and continued throughout the war to disperse and scatter the Union forces throughout the theaters of operation.

    As for his Political advice, it was rightly ignored by Lincoln. McClellan was a decent man who was still trying to fight a clean, conservative war. Sadly, things had escalated beyond that. Grant -speaking for mainstream Northern opinion put it this way:

    ” I never was an Abolitionist, not even what would be called anti-slavery, but I try to judge fairly & honestly and it became patent to my mind early in the rebellion that North and South could never live at peace with each other except as one nation; and that without Slavery. As anxious as I am to see peace re-established I would not therefore be wiling to see any settlement until this question is settled forever.”

  14. And I must say that some of comments seem to be rather over-the-top. McClellan is writing a PRIVATE, respectful letter to the President, a man he’s worked with as C-in-C and known well before the war. Lincoln read it, said nothing, and that was that. People bring up MacArthur, MacArthur wrote a letter to a Republican congressman – who disclosed it on the House floor – stating he disagreed with Truman’s Korean “die-for-a-tie” policy. There’s no comparison.

    Further, McClellan also knew that powerful people in DC (Like Stanton, Chase and Seward) hated his guts and were accusing him -among other things – of being a traitor. He probably thought of this letter as his “last words” before Lincoln fired him – which Lincoln would’ve done if Burnside had agreed to take over command of the AOP.

    • For those who wish to read further on this subject, my new book: McClellan’s Other Story–The Political Intrigue of Colonel Thomas M. Key, Confidential Aide to General George B. McClellan was published on September 17, 2012.
      Newly discovered evidence proves beyond any doubt that the famed “Harrison’s Landing Letter” to President Lincoln was actually written for General McClellan by Colonel Thomas M. Key–McClellan’s “Confidential Aide” and “Political Adviser” (his words, not mine).
      Also published for the first time, a recently discovered “Second Harrison’s Landing Letter” which was written by Key on July 11 to Secretary Salmon P. Chase, further restates the suggestions of the letter of July 7.

      All previous Historians’ writings on the July 7 Harrison’s Landing Letter will have to be reconsidered after reading the unpublished letters of Colonel Thomas M. Key.

      Stephen Sears has said that McClellan’s Other Story “opens a new dimension on McClellan.”

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