Coming to Terms with George McClellan

I noticed that several commenters responding to this weekend’s posts about forthcoming releases have shared their surprise that I am ambivalent about George McClellan.  And ambivalence is how I would characterize it.  Part of that is rooted in an essay I did years ago about Lincoln, McClellan, and the aftermath of Antietam, including Lincoln’s visit to McClellan’s headquarters in October 1862.  I learned things about that visit, about the attitude of Union generals on the field about renewing offensive operations on September 18, and about the condition of the forces under McClellan’s command that caused me to question some of the assumptions some historians have about McClellan.  I also approached McClellan with my understanding of the Lincoln-Grant relationship in my mind.  After all, I had read two versions of that relationship: either Lincoln looked for his general and finally found the ideal commander in Grant, one who knew his place, etc. (the anti-McClellan), or I read where even when the two men worked together, Lincoln, the natural strategist, was intuitively superior to Grant and had to keep his general on his toes (as argued first by T. Harry Williams and echoed by John Y. Simon).  I didn’t buy those versions of the Lincoln-Grant relationship: it seemed to me that Grant handled Lincoln more than Lincoln handled Grant, and that Grant did so while overcoming Lincoln’s meddling and less-than-unconditional support (hello, John McClernand).

It stood to reason that if I had a view of the Lincoln-Grant relationship that differed from the usual story, I might well want to rethink what I had read about the Lincoln-McClellan relationship without necessarily coming down on the side of those people who saw things as McClellan did and thus defended him, in the process sometimes attacking Grant (hello, Warren Hassler).  I had also noticed that discussions about McClellan tended to move towards polarizing opposites, with criticisms of McClellan sounding like pop psychology while McClellan’s supporters tended to adopt his view of things (Lincoln was ignorant, stubborn, and meddling, for example).  Even Thomas Rowland’s book on McClellan and historians/biographers set up a comparison of how historians treated McClellan with how they treated Grant and Sherman that impressed me as rather selective (for example, my work on Grant would have disrupted some of Rowland’s arguments, and so Rowland ignored those complications by ignoring my work).

My view of McClellan falls between these extremes.  I think he rose too high too fast, depriving him of valuable learning experiences and raising the consequences of failure (as he was all too well aware).  Yes, he had an ego, and yes, he sniped at Lincoln, but Lincoln also sniped at him, and by early 1862 the Lincoln-McClellan relationship was counterproductive.  Moreover, you can’t wait until everything is as you would have it before moving forward, and you can’t wage war by making excuses.  Things don’t work that way.  Lincoln placed constraints on Grant, and Grant worked and succeeded within those restraints: McClellan complained about them and hid behind them.

Lincoln and McClellan held fundamentally different views about the Eastern Theater.  Looking back at it, once sufficient force was left to protect Washington, the best way to go after the major Confederate field army and the logistical and political network that supported it was to approach Richmond from the James River.  Grant’s North Carolina plan took that a step further, and, if carried out, would have changed things significantly.  But, unlike McClellan, Grant adjusted to deal with Lincoln’s concerns, and the concept of the Overland Campaign combined an overland approach with a strike at Richmond from the James (as well as other blows directed at the CSA’s logistical network).  That was simply an improvement upon what happened in effect in 1862 with Pope and McClellan.

It impresses me that in the end McClellan’s advocates rest their argument upon letting McClellan have things his own way.  Generals rarely have that luxury.  Grant did not (thus the fallacy of the free hand).  McClellan’s advocates buy into McClellan’s mindset.  Politicians don’t understand what needs to be done; if everyone had simply left McClellan alone, he would have gotten the job done, and he was essentially right.  And yet the same can be said of Grant’s original 1864 campaign.  Ideal circumstances are ideal circumstances: Grant coped far better with the real world than did McClellan.  But that doesn’t mean that McClellan did not have good ideas or that he did not face meddling with his plan.  He did.  And let’s not forget that he believed the survival of the Union rested upon what his army did.  Many people thought as much, and that was a great deal of pressure to place upon his shoulders.  For McClellan’s advocates, however, all depends on Little Mac being left alone to do as he wanted to do, and no Union general received that courtesy.

Still, reading Joseph Harsh and Ethan Rafuse has been helpful in exposing me to different ways of looking at things.  I am a bit taken aback to see how much Ethan and I agree on some things, which makes reading his work an interesting experience for me.  Even when I disagree with him, at least he’s forced me to rethink things in creative and constructive ways (as opposed to dedicating myself to demonstrate how wrong someone is).  They aren’t the only folks who stir my intellectual curiosity: Herman Hattaway and Archer Jones’s How the North Won the Civil War is badly underappreciated, and a few other books have helped me think anew and write anew.

If that means that I’ve gone over to “the Dark Side,” so be it.  I reject the notion that it has to be “either/or,” and I’d argue there can be more than two perspectives (especially when those perspectives are simply mirror opposites).  I just happen to think that at times we as Civil War historians write too much (and write the same thing over and over) and think too little.  There’s a terrible sameness to much Civil War scholarship that is the result of not thinking and rethinking, not pausing and questioning.

I suspect that my view of McClellan (which I admit is still evolving) won’t sit well with many people, precisely because it does not follow predictable predecessors.  The same goes for my view of Lincoln’s relationship with his generals, or my thinking about George G. Meade between July 13, 1863 and the end of 1863.  And that’s fine with me.  After all, what I’ve read about Ulysses S. Grant in the last two decades sometimes sounds somewhat familiar, even if other people don’t realize it (it’s amusing to read book proposals that claim to offer a “new” understanding of Grant, or Lincoln and Grant, or whatever, and to point out that what I’m reading sounds rather familiar, even if it wasn’t nearly as familiar when I was writing it).  But being a professional historian and writer wouldn’t be terribly interesting to me if all I did was to repeat what I read, just as it wouldn’t be quite right not to acknowledge the work of people who shaped my own perspectives.  That, to me, is the Dark Side.

108 thoughts on “Coming to Terms with George McClellan

  1. James F. Epperson June 13, 2011 / 9:47 am

    I hope, my friend, you understand that my use of “the Dark Side” had a humorous component. I’m sorry if it offended you.

    I do take a more criticizing view of McClellan than you do. I think he took counsel of irrational fears far too often, and he was possessed of an arrogance that made it difficult for him to work with Lincoln—or any one else he had to be subordinate to. I think Rafuse’s book is outstanding, but still flawed in some of its conclusions.

    • Brooks D. Simpson June 13, 2011 / 11:05 am

      You didn’t offend me. I was just taking note of your concern. Now, if you had called me a “Centennialist,” that would have been different.

  2. Ray O'Hara June 13, 2011 / 11:42 am

    Mac didn’t just want things all his way he didn’t want anybody else to have anything their way.
    the first can sometimes be achieved the second almost never.

    He was afraid of being branded with being a failure. He always was looking to shift blame for what he saw was looming disaster. as Jim says he took council of his fears. I see his failure to show up at any of the Seven Days as his desire to avoid blame. how can he be blamed if he wasn’t there, it was those back-stabbing subordinates he hadn’t picked in the first place.

    At Rich Mtn he had a small campaign to learn, he gained a victory but he learned nothing, The fact his men had weapons and the enemy was equally scared was lost on him.

    It is odd how many see that admiring A means denigrating B.
    Thomas-o-philes are the most extreme in this but it is odd.
    Grant is almost always the camparee, it shows that Grant is perceived as the best in a left handed way.

  3. Chuck Brown June 13, 2011 / 12:26 pm

    McClellan was certainly not the worst commander of the Army of the Potomac. Burnside and Hooker come easily to mind. It is too often forgotten that, despite his reluctance to fight, he was the AOP’s commanding officer in two of the war’s bloodiest campaigns. In the Seven Days’ Battles, although he fought defensively, his soldiers outfought Lee’s on most of the days. Certainly he missed opportunities at Antietam, but he did attack. His victory there paved the way for the Emancipation Proclamation and the eventual destruction of slavery.

    I agree that he rose too fast, never having the opportunity to learn from experience, unlike Grant (and Lee, for that matter).

  4. Rob in CT June 13, 2011 / 1:12 pm

    My view of McClellan is that he was good at training and planning, but bad at executing his plans. He was vain but insecure, he consistently wildly overestimated Confederate strength, and he wasn’t on the same page as the President regarding the proper conduct of the war.

    My mind is open – I’d be interested in seeing a counter-argument that Little Mac was actually better than we all think (so long as it’s reality-based, of course). He did do some things right, and lots of other guys proved to be even worse, so it’s not like his job was easy.

    I sympathize with him in a way, actually. Whenever I “fight” a war in a computer game, I have a distinct tendency to wait ridiculously long to strike so I have an overwhelming advantage, because I hate taking casualties (and that’s all imaginary!). Not to mention it’s only possible for me to build up huge advantages because I am playing against the computer, not other humans (multiplayer with other humans proves this). Mac had to send flesh & blood men to their deaths in a war he believed, I think, to be a massive tragedy. Unlike me and my computer games, his opponents were intelligent human beings and they don’t sit around letting you set up a fait accompli. And he knew it all too well.

    • Ray O'Hara June 13, 2011 / 3:01 pm

      Yet Lil’Mac was the king of sitting around and waiting.

      How did Lee get to grow into the job? one day he’s a staff officer in Richmond the next he’s commander of the ANV which was closely engaged by the AoP.

      Mac also started the tradition of stopping the advance of the AoP when the ANV showed a bold front.
      it wasn’t until Grant showed up that such stunts by Lee stopped working.

      I don’t think Mac was terribly concerned about his soldiers fate, sure he loved parades and revues, he ate up the cheers, but in the Seven Days he was quite willing to sacrifice a corps or two while he escaped with the rest. If the AoP had been wiped out and he could lay off the blame elsewhere he’d have had a clear conscience.

  5. Lyle Smith June 13, 2011 / 2:03 pm

    I kind of like McClellan; so count me as a Storm-trooper. The first and only book I’ve read that is largely about him is a book on the Army of the Potomac (I think) from the 1960s or 1950s written by a Penn State professor (my mother took a class with him while in graduate school there in the late 60s). This professor, I think, also wrote a biography of McClellan. The professor comes across as being very pro-McClellan… at least that’s how I read him.

    Since then I’ve always been a bit contrarian (defensive) when it comes to G-Mac. The rank and file of the AoP apparently loved him. Were they imbeciles?

    • Brooks D. Simpson June 13, 2011 / 2:25 pm

      That’s Warren Hassler. He was very pro-McClellan, and that led him to be somewhat anti-Grant in his collective study of the commanders of the Army of the Potomac.

      Not everyone loved McClellan. That said, many men were inspired by him, and you can sense people getting enthusiastic when rumors circulated that he was to make yet another return. Some of this (among the men) would later concern the romance of war; I note that there was a cadre of officers who were more pro-McClellan than the rank and file, where the opinions were mixed (you can also see that in terms of attitudes concerning Grant’s coming east in 1864, where officers were more skeptical than were the men).

  6. Lyle Smith June 13, 2011 / 3:22 pm

    Ah, thanks for reminding me of his name. I don’t have the book now, and couldn’t check. My mother also has interestingly has T. Harry Williams’ Beauregard book since she took one his classes as well as an undergrad.

    Yeah, from what I remember reading, McClellan’s point of view was taken more seriously than any other point of view. Still, even though McClellan wasn’t Grant, he had his exceptional qualities. Grant seems to have thought this too and respected him.

  7. TF Smith June 13, 2011 / 10:41 pm

    I suppose the question can be framed as which of the US commanders in the eastern theater accomplished their missions, both administratively and operationally, and which ones held the confidence of their immediate subordinates (the army, grand division, or corps commanders) and their superiors (Stanton and Lincoln).

    Given the above, I’d suggest that although all the eastern commanders were fair to excellent organizers, only Meade and Grant achieved both organizational and operational success, and held the confidence of both subordinates and superiors.

    Those are the great differences between Grant and McClellan, along with the fact that Grant saw the theater of war as just that, a theater where the campaigns of multiple armies were interrelated; McClellan (and Halleck) did not.

    • Ned Baldwin June 14, 2011 / 6:18 am

      Seems to me that McClellan and Halleck saw the same thing Grant did regarding the theater of war.

      • TF Smith June 14, 2011 / 10:40 am

        I don’t think so – Grant was always conscious that he wore two hats in 1864-65, both as GIC and waht amounted to an army group command; his leadership (management?) of both Meade’s force and Sheridan’s simultaneously in 1865 (or even of Meade’s force and Butler’s in 1864) seems far better than Halleck’s command of Pope’s and McClellan’s forces simultaneously in 1863. Halleck’s command of what amounted to a theater/army group in the west in 1862 seems pretty lacking in comparison to Grant’s in the same post in 1862-63.

        Grant also made sure that as GiC in 1864, he left a capable and trusted subordinate (Sherman) in command in the west. Halleck’s relationship as GiC with Grant as western commander seems better, but when McClellan was GiC in 1861-62, although he seems to have had a decent relationship with Buell, I don’t see him as being particularly involved with Halleck (much less Grant).

        Granted, the command relationships were different in 1864-65 then they had been in 1861-62 or 1862-63, but even so, Halleck and McClellan, for all their organizational capacity, seem far less in tune with his subordinates – as GiC OR theater/army group commander in the East – than Grant was…

        Jones, in Right Hand of Command, makes a pretty convicincing case that Grant created and relied upon what amounted to a “modern” staff in 1863-65, whereas Halleck and McClellan (as field/theater commanders) really never seem to have done so.

        Grant’s aggresiveness and understanding that a field commander had to be in the field also is a significant difference with McClellan. Given McClellan’s choice of locations during much of the Seven Days, it is not really surprising the AOTP fought a series of corps battles.

        • Ned Baldwin June 14, 2011 / 11:45 am

          Your initial comment was that Grant “saw” something that McClellan and Halleck did not about theaters of war. You response was that his “leadership (management?) … seems far better”. To me these are two very different things. I don’t see much difference in how McClellan, Halleck or Grant saw theaters of war; I do see a difference in how they led and managed, especially a big difference between the way Halleck handled it and the way Grant handled it.

          • Ray O'Hara June 14, 2011 / 3:38 pm

            Very true. Mac and Halleck were blind ion strategy. they were just gutless when it came to actual action.. When it became time for theory to meet practice those two were to be found elsewhere. on a boat ride for instance.

          • TF Smith June 14, 2011 / 5:21 pm

            Well, perhaps “saw” was not a exact as verb as possible, but – just as one example – when MacClellan was GIC in 1861, and TW Sherman’s Port Royal experdition was being mounted, Mac was fighting over which individual regiments (the 79th NY, for example) would make up Sherman’s division. Seems pretty forest/trees for a general-in-chief.

            I think Grant saw the Virginia theater as just that, and although he rode with the AOTP and certainly expected it to be used as the main force, he was fairly hands-on when it came to the smaller armies (Sheridan’s and Butler’s, for example) in the theater and expected them to act in concert with Meade.

            When MacClellan was GIC and focused on the Virginia theater, his reluctance to give his subordinates any authority is a pretty clear contrast. Halleck’s inability to command both MacClellan and Pope in 1862, for example, seems a pretty clear contrast as well.


          • Ned Baldwin June 14, 2011 / 7:06 pm

            TW Sherman’s Port Royal expedition was mounted before McClellan was G-in-C.

            When you say that Grant was “fairly hands-on” do you mean hands-off?

            I’m confused by what you mean by McClellan’s reluctance to give his subordinates any authority.

            I do agree that Halleck’s poor showing is a good contrast to Grant.

          • TF Smith June 15, 2011 / 9:54 am

            You are correct; the back-and-forth over Sherman’s force was in September, when McClellan had the AOTP but was not yet GIC. My mistake.

            My point – however poorly made – is that Grant actually commanded as an AG/theater-level commander, both in the West and the East, when he was at that level, working closely with all his subordinates and, in my opinion, actively ensuring that the US effort on the various fronts within his theater (in the East, the Shenandoah and the James, for example) was coordinated.

            McClellan, in my view, does not seem to have seen that; his focus -even when serving as GiC and so in the closest (albeit imperfect) approximation to Grant’s authority – seems always to have been on the AOTP, not (for example) Banks’ command in the Shenandoah, the defenses of Washington, or any of the other subordinate commands in the east.

            McClellan’s opposition to creating corps commands in early 1862, which left him with a span of control (based on divisions) of 1 to 13, is another example of his shortsightedness and, I think, his reluctance to create a command structure capable of functioning. Effective span of control today is (generally) accepted to be 1 to 5; McClellan’s was more than twice that…


          • Ned Baldwin June 15, 2011 / 10:54 am

            I disagree that McClellan didnt give any focus to his subordinate commands. The records plainly contain his instructions to them. One of McClellan’s famous goof-ups was when he tried to implement a plan for Banks’ command — specifically the incident with the canal boats not fitting through the lock at Harpers Ferry.

          • TF Smith June 15, 2011 / 12:33 pm

            Perhaps “effective” focus?

            I recognize that McClellan was no longer GiC when he went south with the AOTP in 1862, but when he was in a “theater commander” position, and a division or corps-level action occurred, it seems he was pretty detached – Dranesville/Balls Bluff comes to mind.

            His performance in the field on the Peninsula, at a time when he had five corps under command, is another example, albeit an imperfect analogy for Grant in the East.

            My own opinion is that after the West Virginia campaign of 1861, McClellan was ready for a corps-level command in 1862, but he was not ready for army, army group, and theater-level commands, and the GiC post was far above his abilities at that point. As others have said, he came up too fast and too far.

            Of course, that raises the question of who could have or should have served as GiC, rather than Mac.

  8. James F. Epperson June 14, 2011 / 4:50 am

    There are lots of stories about Mac that can be used to sum up his inadequacies. This is my personal favorite: After the Seven Days, with the army encamped at Harrison’s Landing, he conceived of a plan to descend on Petersburg—Good idea, right?—Except he dropped it because of a rumor that Beauregard was coming east with the CS army from the west, and those troops would be on Mac’s left flank at Petersburg.

    Question for Brooks: A pivotal issue in the Peninsula Campaign is the change in McDowell’s orders, from marching south (from Fredericksburg) to link up w/ the AotP, to sending troops to chase Jackson in the Valley. IIRC, McDowell had four divisions, and only two were sent to the Valley. Why not have the other two march south to link up with the main force?

  9. John Foskett June 14, 2011 / 6:55 am

    From a narrower perspective the guy simply could not fight a battle. I can’t get past the Galena or his other absences during the campaign. That and the (IMHO) knowing fabrication of opposing numbers down in that neck of the woods. Does anyone honestly believe that Richmond was in danger if only McDowell had been allowed to continue to his original destination? That would have meant that Little Mac was only outnumbered by, say, 50,000 rather than 100,000.

  10. Bob Huddleston June 14, 2011 / 7:22 am

    Brian Pohanka was working on a study of the AoP’s rank and file, examining their attitude towards McClellan. He was curious about how their view of McClellan changed over time. Were they pro- during the war and then became anti- afterwards, when he was a prominent Democrat? In war-time letters, were they supportive of him or was that a CW urban myth.
    It is too bad that Brian passed away before he finished it.
    BTW, the same study would be interesting on Stonewall!

  11. Tony Gunter June 14, 2011 / 2:15 pm

    Also, when Grant came east he left behind a trusted team in the west. Compare the Sherman and Grant relationship in 1864 with the McClellan-Buell-Halleck relationship in 1862. Having a large consolidated army to roll up the Confederates was central to McClellan’s plan, as was coordinated activity in the west. Despite the fact that these were the two key components in McClellan’s plan, he received neither.

  12. Jeff Henkel June 15, 2011 / 7:36 am

    Hello all, I’m a first time poster here, very much an amateur historian, and a bit of a McClellan sympathizer. With regards to McClellan and the numbers of opposing forces facing him, I think it would be wise for historians to be a little more cautious in their judgments.

    I think a study of force calculations/intelligence by each side is probably long overdue. There is certainly plenty of material that shows other generals falling into the same trap of overestimating enemy forces. Generals on both sides did this, and allowed it to affect their campaign plans. I can think of numerous examples where McClellan wasn’t alone in hesitancy to attack during the Peninsular campaign alone (the entrenchments at Yorktown being an excellent example).

    Now, none of this absolves McClellan not attacking…but we’re looking back threw the lenses of history, knowledge of both sides forces, and absolutely no responsibility for lives. Implying the fabrication of numbers, lack of courage, or any other psych-analysis seems harsh and unbalanced to me.

    Whether we accept it, or not, George McClellan believed the Union was in his hands…Union was his to win or lose. He was a very young man for that sort of responsibility, and he brought loads of naivety to the job (and a healthy does of hubris). His failure was truly ‘tragic’ both for himself and the country, and it should probably be seen that way.

    The one thing that irks me about these discussions is the tendency to play ‘my general is better, smarter, braver and more resolved’. While it may be true, I don’t think it leads to any understanding of McClellan, his decisions and his merits (or lack there of). Just my 2 cents, and thanks for the great blog.

    • Lyle Smith June 15, 2011 / 9:47 am

      Thoughtful post. This is how I tend to read McClellan and all the other generals as well.

    • Ray O'Hara June 15, 2011 / 11:20 am

      Charles F Adams in the 1st Ma Cav ,in one letter to his father, the Ambassador to England, he brings up the McClellen estimates on the strength of the Rebel forces. He wonders if anybody at Army HQ had ever looked at a U.S.Census. because he felt the numbers claimed for Lee were wildly inflated. by HQ.

      I don’t recall any other general, other than Sherman before his “breakdown” ever obsessing about the enemy’s overwhelming strength..

      • Jeff Henkel June 15, 2011 / 11:53 am

        Oh, I think the numbers were inflated, and I agree that calmer heads should have prevailed. McClellan definitely suffered from too much concern over what the other guy was doing. Having said that, I don’t think he’s alone in that regard. I do think he stands alone as a sort of ‘punching bag’ of Civil War generalship.

        With regards to force estimation, in addition to the Sherman case, there is also the case of Halleck’s approach on Corinth as a pretty good example of obsessing on the enemies numbers and intentions. Halleck had overwhelming odds, superiority of morale, Beauregard on the ropes (with half of his army sick) and still let him slip away with hardly a shot.

  13. TF Smith June 15, 2011 / 10:04 am

    Fair points; but I think comparison with his peers in 1861-62 is also fair, and I think that is where McClellan, for all his gifts as an organizer and trainer, shows poorly.

    As GiC, McClellan had two peers, Scott and Halleck, in 1861-62; as an army/department commander, he had several, namely McDowell, Halleck, Grant, Buell, Pope, and Rosecrans; as an independent corps/division-level commander (ie, his command in West Virginia), one can add Grant (Donelson./Henry), Pope (Missouri), Burnside (North Carolina); TW Sherman (South Carolina), Butler (Louisiana), Rosecrans (West Virginia), Banks (V Corps/Shenandoah)etc.; that doesn;t even bring the corps-level commanders within an army (McDowell, Sumner, Heintzelman, Keyes, Porter, Franklin) into the mix.

    Makes for some interesting comparisons.

  14. John Foskett June 15, 2011 / 10:39 am

    On the numbers opposing McClellan – I think Pinkerton has gotten far too much blame for Little Mac’s absurd logarithms on the Peninsula. At one point Pinkerton actually came up with a very axccurate estimate of the number of regiments and batteries which Johnston fierlded. The extrapolations from those were highly suspect, at best. Burton in his Extraordinary Circumstances has provided rational estimates for the opposing forces as of late June which are within 1,000 of each other. There is good efidence that Mcclellan used different definitions of strength when assessing his own and Lee’s numbers. Oddly, for all of McClellan’s wailing about how outnumbered he was, that overwhelming strength available to Johnsrion and then to Lee never once asserted itself on the battlefield, from Williamsburg to Malvern Hill. When Lee was tossing 57,000 at Porter north of the Chickahominy, several federal commanders in front of Richmomnd saw Magruder’s chicken dance for what it was, including Hooker, Kearney, and Meade IIRC.

    • Jeff Henkel June 15, 2011 / 11:35 am

      I agree that McClellan inflated numbers. I also think he believed in a minimum of a 3-to1 ratio of attacker to defender. However, I’m not sure it proves ‘everything’ about his generalship. After you agree that his inflated numbers exist, what does it tell us about the campaign and McClellan? Do you firmly believe that a concerted push by the AOTP would have swept into Richmond and ended the war?

      It seems that what many people believe such an event would/could/should have happened in 1862. I’ve never been comfortable with that. Grant was in a much better position late in the war with regards to overall superiority (numbers, material, command organization, and arguably political support) and there was still no end-all battle/movement. It was a series of campaigns of attrition across both East and West that ended things.

      So help me understand where McClellan should have achieved so much more. Again, I think the man had lots of flaws, but I’m still not convinced he’s gotten a fair shake. There were numerous commanders who did far worse when given comparable opportunity. I think Brook’s ‘ambivalence’ is probably more appropriate.

      • Lyle Smith June 15, 2011 / 12:30 pm

        I agree with your assessment. McClellan had the largest Confederate army that was ever in the field to contend with… and the numbers were comparatively almost equal. The AoP had like 10 to 15 thousand more or something.

        Grant couldn’t accomplish the same task that McClellan had in the campaign season of ’64, and he was up against a weaker AoNV.

        • TF Smith June 15, 2011 / 7:11 pm

          Okay, but again – why did McClellan advocate for the movement to the Peninsula, over the CinC’s preferred overland effort, if he did not think the plan could have succeeded? Either way, it makes Mac look a pretty poor strategist.

          • Lyle Smith June 16, 2011 / 9:55 am

            I disagree. I read where Grant even thought the Peninsula to be the best place to get at Richmond and thought about doing almost the exact same thing McClellan did. In the end he chose not to (or was order not to — I forget), but Grant eventually maneuvered himself to the exact same place McClellan got to from a different point. Richmond wasn’t taken from the north but by way of the James River ultimately, right?

      • ray o'hara June 15, 2011 / 12:43 pm

        If he had moved forcefully up the Peninsular and not stopped for a week when meeting any force no matter how small he easily could have taken Richmond.
        his sitting and letting the CSA take all the initiative in the Upper Peninsular was a huge failing.
        he left his supply base uncovered and his flanks open and when attacked made no attempt to defend either, regardless of what he believed he was unable to carry out his own plans, he clearly had no faith in himself.

        • Jeff Henkel June 16, 2011 / 4:50 am

          A couple comments here. Most of them around preceding events and things that I think would affect any commanders thinking on the start of a plan or battle. Here are a list of things we know happened at the start of the campaign:

          1. McClellan is asked to name corps commanders. He defers, preferring to name them after combat has occurred. Lincoln seems to accept this wisdom, but at some point changes his mind and select them for McClellan (as was his right). He chooses 3 out of the 4 generals who voted down the Peninsular Campaign to begin with.

          2. Upon his arrival at the peninsula he realizes that McDowell has been stripped to protect Washington. This is his most experienced commander (i.e. his one ‘peer’ in AOTP command) and his largest corp.

          3. He also finds that (for reasons passing understanding) the recruiting stations all across the north are closed by executive order…so there will be no reinforcements. He probably knows that the enemy opposite him is trying to mandate conscription…so their manpower coffers, as it were, are about to be full.

          4. When McDowell is ‘finally’ returned to McClellan (sort of), McClellan is directs to make his dispositions so that his right-flank is pushed north to meet McDowell’s southward approach. He warns about this and cites concentration concerns (which everyone ignores). McDowell is of course turned back north after the Jackson/Banks fiasco. The resulting positioning initiates the Seven Days with the Fair Oaks battle.

          5. While McClellan is doing all of this. We have Washington and its leaders sitting with north of 100,000 men idle in various commands. That force alone could have pushed the overland route…but they were checkmated by a much smaller force. Since McClellan was no longer GiC, it was someone else who needed to see that. We all know they didn’t….however, this whole things does show it wasn’t just McClellan who saw Confederates everywhere. Once Banks is routed we see the following: Fremont, McDowell and Banks (now reinforced) are hurled into action in the valley, the recruiting stations are reopened in a panic, and Stanton wires all the northern governors for reinforcements stipulating the imminent fall of DC.

          So, I’m still not sure all the strategic blame lays at McClellan’s feet. He may have planned to accomplish a good deal more…we just don’t know. I will say that later generals dealt better with the hands the administration dealt them, but I’m still not sure it invalidates McClellan in the fashion most like to see.

          • TF Smith June 17, 2011 / 10:04 am

            Jeff – Where does the “100,000 in various commands” figure come frm? The elements of Pope’s army created out of Mountain, Shenandoah, and Rappahanock commands, plus elements of the IX Corps and the Washington defenses, (and not troops drawn from the Peninsula) numbered ~54,000 at Cedar Mountain/2nd Mansassas, at least accoridng to Stackpole in “From Cedar Mountain to Antietam” – where are the other 46,000?

            Beyond all that, according to Dyer, McClellan organized a force of 14 divisions (each of three brigades of 3-4 regiments each plus an artillery battalion at the divisional level) in the winter of 1861-62. These were organized into the I, II, III, and IV corps (3 divisions each) and V (Banks’) Corps with two by the spring; of these 14, I Corps and V Corps were kept in the DC-Virginia border, as was one division of the II Corps (which went to Fremont for the Shenandoah campaign); the remainder – eight of the available 14 – went south to the Peninsula with McClellan in the spring-summer.

            His force on the Peninsula was ultimately increased to 11 divisions in five corps (II, III, IV, V (porter’s), and VI) by the dispatch of Franklin’s and McCall’s divisions from McDowell’s I Corps and Sykes’ regular division; the remaining forces in the north amounted to about six “McClellan” equivalent divisions, which is what Pope was able to organize the Army of Virginia out of – roughly, the very understrength IX Corps; one “McClellan” division remaining in the I Corps, plus Ord’s new division; the two divisions of what had been Bank’s V Corps, and two division’s worth of troops from the Mountain Department, which included one raised originally as part of the AOTP by McClellan.

            So, very roughly, of ~17 “McClellan” type divisions available for field service in the winter-spring-summer of 1861-62 in the East, Mac ended up with 11 infantry division equivalents, a large army artillery level command, what amounted to a division’s worth of cavalry, plus elements of the IX Corps and whatever he could draw from Wool’s command. He also had, for good or for ill, five corps commands, tow of which had been filled by officers of his own choosing.

            Doesn’t seem like he was lacking in resources in comparison to the remainder of the theater, does it?

          • Jeff Henkel June 17, 2011 / 11:33 am

            Based on a casual glance at Foote (it’s a narrative, I know, but it’s all I have at hand as I am traveling). I see that McDowell had 30,00 based on the detachment of Franklin. I show 29,000 or so in the defenses of Washington, You have Fremont on one side of the Valley and Banks on the other side. They total about 38,000 (17,000 with Fremont and 21,000 with Banks. If you count Franklin with 8,000 between McClellan and McDowell, you arrive at a number in the area of 100,000. Obviously, these could come down or be modified with a better source…

            Still, even if that number is cut by 40%, they are also facing a much smaller force of Confederates. Bear in mind the following; despite all the forces under various commanders ‘not named McClellan’, both Jackson and Huger were sent to reinforce Lee on the Peninsula. Basically, to one degree or another, all the forces for the protection of Washington were in check. Jackson showed-up on the doorstep (also known as Porter’s flank) while Stanton was telling McClellan something to the effect that Jackson could be in the Valley, at the Gate of Washington or on the way to Lee. Of course, that flank was only in the air because McDowell was supposed to be on his way.

            So, like I’ve said. It doesn’t absolve McClellan in any fashion from not attacking Richmond. He probably should have attacked. It does though make me wonder about the harsh verdict of history.

            If the administration was so set on his attacking or attacking in general, why are they accomplishing nothing with such a mass of men? Why aren’t they painted with a similar brush? It seems like the protection of Washington as a paramount strategic goal, despite the cost in resources is always given a pass. Yet, when Grant shows up and strips the defenses as much as possible, he’s lauded for it. It’s one of those things I just don’t get.

          • TF Smith June 17, 2011 / 1:16 pm

            Jeff – Those figures seem really high; I think Foote was using really round numbers, to be charitable. Here are soem secondary but more specific numbers, drawn from Stackpole (1959) and from the B&L, and in turn drawn from the OR, are as follows:

            Army of Virginia at Cedar Mountain (Bank’s II Corps, AoV – which was, more or less, the AOTP’s “original” V Corps ) – 8,800 men (infantry, artillery, cavalry);

            AoV at Second Manassas (less AOTP units that had been sent north and attached):
            I Corps (drawn from the Mountain Department; later formed XI Corps) – 11,000 men
            II Corps (the AOTP’s original V Corps; later formed XII Corps) – 7,000 men (less losses from Cedar Mountain);
            III Corps (the AOTP’s original I Corps; later re-numbered) – 18,500 men (2 divisions);
            IX Corps (elements) – 8,000 men;
            Various (Drawn from DC defenses, etc) – 2,600 men;
            Three cavalry brigades – 4,500 men total;

            Based on the above, the total forces available for the field in the “northern front” in the theater, and including the higher Cedar Mountain number for Banks’ command, amounts to about 54,000.

            B&L gives the following for the Valley Campaign battles:
            Kernstown (March 23, 1862 – Shields’ division, which ultimately was one of Banks’ “original” V Corps divisions – 7,000 men
            McDowell (May 8, 1862 – Schenk’s and Milroy’s brigades – 3,000 men)
            Front Royal and subsidiary actions (May 23-25, 1862 – Williams’ division and attachments – again, one of the “original” V Corps divisions – 9200 (as of April 30) or 7100 (as of June 16)
            Harper’s Ferry garrison (May 26-30 – Saxton’s command, 7,000 men;)
            Cross Keys (June 1-9, 1862) (Fremont’s “Mountain Department” detachment – 10,500 men (which included Blenker’s division detached from II Corps, AOTP, three separate infantry brigades (including Schenk’s and Milroy’s, and a cavalry brigade);
            Port Republic (June 8-9, 1862) Shield’s division, reinforced – 10,000 (as of May 30); Ord’s division (which did not get to the battlefield) is listed at 9,000 men

            The total is 55,000, and that includes outright duplications in Shield’s division and Schenk’s and Milroy’s brigades; removing 7,000 for Shields’ division (Kernstown) and 3,000 for Schenk’s and Milroy’s brigades (McDowell) leaves 45,000. If a typical division under McClellan’s TO&E was made up of roughly 8,000 to 9,000 men, then the forces in the north totalled about six such formations.

            At the same time, according to the OR via B&L, the AOTP’s present for duty equipped at the time of the Seven Days (June 25-July 1, 1862) was 105,445 (infantry, cavalry, artillery, and engineers), split among 11 divisions in the II, III, IV, V (3 divisions), and VI corps, for an average per division of 9585. The CSA at the same period, including the “commands” (ie, corps equivalents) of Jackson, Longstreet, and Magruder, is listed as 80,000 to 90,000 effectives.

            Again, doesn’t seem McClellan was lacking in resources in comparison to the remainder of the theater, does it? Also raises the question of whether a better strategy in 1862 would have been to concentrate in the north and mount an Overland campaign.


          • Jeff Henkel June 17, 2011 / 1:36 pm

            Thanks for that. I worried that Foote was being generous.

            Still, what about the troops in the Washington defenses? I’d assume they should count, but I don’t recall an exact number of them being listed anywhere (if I missed it above, my apologies). I took Foote’s implication of 29,000 at face value…either way, it’s still a substantial chunk of troops chasing Jackson. Of course, they couldn’t even keep him pinned down as he ends up linked with Lee.

            I’m not saying McClellan was ‘lacking’ troops in regards to what we know in hindsight the Confederates had. I’m saying that he was lacking with regards to what he thought he needed (and with what he thought his plan was promised).

            If McClellan had 11 quality divisions (out of 17) at approximately 9,000 apiece, and he was facing entrenched defenses in Richmond with 60,000 to 70,000 opposing him, then I wonder if he could have driven his way in. What odds do we think, in hindsight, were truly needed for that sort of attack? The overwhelming attacks on portions of the Union command during the Seven Days certainly never resulted in any great tactical success for the attackers (lots of casualties, and loads of strategic success though).

            My point is, no one in the East in 1862, on the Union side, comes out well. I don’t think anyone would really pass the ‘smell’ test. I’d even go further and say McClellan smells a little better than most.

            He was an engineer making an engineer’s approach to Richmond. He put his army where he wanted it and he intended to blast his way in. His performance was not great, but it wasn’t worse than his ‘peers’ did in similar operational command in the same theater that year.

          • TF Smith June 17, 2011 / 3:17 pm

            Jeff –

            My pleasure; the OOB for the Military District of Washington commands are listed in Dyer as of May, 1862, as follows:
            Whipple’s Command (this is AW Whipple; troops in fixed defenses): 101st NY Vol. Inf Regiment 1st Mass Heavy Artillery Regiment; 2nd NY HAR; 4th NY HAR; 3rd NY LA battalion; 6th Maine Ind. Battery; 11th NY Ind. Btry; 12th NY Ind. Btry; Company A, 1st Wisconsin HAR;
            Sturgis’ Brigade – 9th RI, 14th RI, 59th NY; 71st NYSM; 63rd Ind., 17th US btn; 19th US btn; Battery L, 2nd NY Artillery;

            No personnel strength is given (I imagine it can be gleaned from the OR) but with a very rough TO&E estimate (1200 per HAR, 1000 per infantry regiment; appropriate derivation per battalion and company/battery) the above would total (best case) something around 12,000 men, of which about half were actually infantry – and elements of Sturgis’ brigade actually were attached to Pope’s AoV for 2nd Manassas, so it wasn’t like they were all hanging around the bar at the Willard Hotel…

            My point is that if McClellan really thought he couldn’t mount an amphibious envelopment of Richmond without leaving an adequate covering force for the Shenandoah and the Rappahanock (adequate meaning, I’d expect, at least two divisions for each, not counting the MDW forces outlined above) than he should have been straightforward about it and followed Lincoln’s lead; I really don’t see any disadvantages to an Overland approach in 1862. The result certainly could not have been worse than those of the Peninsula campaign, especially given that McClellan would have been facing JE Johnston, not Lee.

            The below is from the OR, and shows a lot about the resources available to all the US field commanders for the spring-summer 1862 campaigns:

            Dec. 31, 1861 – page 775

            Present for duty
            Florida (Brown) – 2012
            Kansas (Hunter) – 7602
            Missouri (Halleck) – 91227 (exception – all “present”)
            New England (Butler) – 6466
            New Mexico (Canby) – 4176
            New York (Morgan) – 5223
            Ohio (Buell) – 72379
            Pacific (Wright) – 4632
            Potomac (McCellan) – 183507
            Virginia (Wool) – 10552
            W. Virginia (Rosecrans) – 19500
            Exp. Corps (Sherman – NC) – 13468
            Pennsylvania – 4661
            Total – 17,907 officers and 407,498 enlisted (total of 425,405) “present for duty”; 477,193 “present” (includes present for duty: + 51,788 detached for temporary “extra or daily” duty; sick; and under arrest); total of 527,804 in service (so 50,611 “absent,” i.e. in service but not present with unit, so detached for recruiting, branch duty, on furlough; AWOL, etc.)

            Feb. 15, 1862 (p. 890)
            New England – 8332 (+ Butler Exp., 7 regts)
            D/AoTP – 211,965
            WV – 17,469
            DotOh – 92,221 (less 19,719 sick and absent, so 72,502)
            DotMo – 108,905
            DoKa – 10,956
            DoVA – 11,592
            TW Sherman – 13,482
            Burnside – 8,494
            Florida – 2,594
            NM – 5,790
            Pacific – 6,353
            Total: 498,153 (23,062 regulars, 467,910 volunteers = 490,972)


          • Jeff Henkel June 17, 2011 / 5:12 pm

            Thanks for the link to the digital resources. I agree with your thoughts on the overland campaign. McClellan should have agreed to it, if only because it’s what the C-in-C wanted and there was no major drawback. I think he went around Johnston because it was the indirect method and it was ‘his’ idea. I also think he made a major mistake in making the goal Richmond and not the opposing army.

            Still, I think his overall leadership was better than what most people give him credit for. I don’t think he was a good battlefield commander, but I do think he was probably the best ‘realistic’ candidate available at the time (given seniority, politics, experience-to-date, etc.).

            I can completely understand why some folks can stop their case at ‘he didn’t get it done’, but what would the verdict have been if he had assaulted Richmond and been bloodily repulsed at the gates? I’m sure he would have been sacked. Would historians have said ‘well he tried’ much like Burnside at Fredericksburg, or would he still be regarded as he is today? I know it’s a hypothetical, but I often wonder…

          • TF Smith June 18, 2011 / 4:07 pm

            Jeff – Hope this ends up in the right place, but it is a reply to yours beginning “thank you for the link”:

            You are quite welcome. As far as the “bloody repulse” idea, I guess the only response is the CSA leadership were afraid that the AoTP in fact, would not suffer such a result if they went at Richmond in this period – so if Davis et al were concerned, I suppose that reinforces the criticism.

            Granted, Mac didn;t know that Davis et al were concerned, and none of us know what it was like to command at Mac’s level in 1862, but the point is that the Peninsula Campaign strategy was all his, and if was unwilling to take the calculated risk to make the attempt once the army was in place on the Peninsula, not only should he not have been in command, the AoTP should not have been on the Peninsula.

            To me (20th Century reference coming up), it is akin to the what the situation would have been had the X Corps landed at Inchon and then, rather than driving for Seoul and a link-up with 8th Army, MacArthur said “let’s change the beachhead to Mokpo”…and, to be fair, Burnside although Burnside was relieved as AoTP commander, it was not “just” because of Fredericksburg – and he kept a corps command for most of the rest of the war.

            Personally, I think the best choice in the winter of 1861 would have been to promote Mansfield to GiC, give him an excellent staff (Humphreys, Barnard, and AW Whipple were all underemployed at this point), and use McClellan only as an organizer of the AOTP – then send him south overland in the spring of 1862 with 12 divisions, with a smaller force (under Rosecrans, perhaps, since they seem to have gotten along, with 6 more divisions) operating on his western flank in the Shenandoah and chew up the CSA as far north as possible. Using the 1864-65 campaign as a template (granted, their all sorts of possible exceptions), McClellan’s force could have been besieging Richmond by the summer of 1863…

            Just a thought.

          • Ned Baldwin June 18, 2011 / 6:54 pm

            You certainly are impressed with Mansfield. Any particular book that formed you view on him?

  15. TF Smith June 15, 2011 / 12:50 pm

    IIRC, the CSA high command was very concerned that even after Jackson’s corps had joined with Johnston et al, that McClellan could have been able to hold off the CSA on one flank and drive for the city on another – wasn’t the quote something like “no one but McClellan would have refrained from attacking”?

    Here’s the next point: I think everyone, no matter what their opinion of McClellan, will concede the Peninsula Campaign was his concept, based – in large part – on both Scott’s strategy in Central Mexico (amphibious landing, destroy the enemy field force, and take the capital to force a surrender) and, for that matter, the Allied strategy in the Crimea, where Mac was an observer – so the question is, if the point was not to destroy the CSA forces in Virginia and besiege the Confederacy’s capital, why go to the Peninsula?

    Lincoln suggested an analogue to the Overland Campaign in 1862, if nothing else to force the CSA forces under Johnston south of the Rappahanock or Rapidan; if Sumner or Mansfield had been CG of the Army of the Potomac in 1862, rather than Mac, that is probably what would have occurred.


    • TF Smith June 19, 2011 / 11:11 am

      Ned – trying to respond re Mansfield; may not be in the correct place.

      The only works I’ve seen on Mansfield are JG Mead’s short work on his death; which is on Project Gutenberg; that, plus some items in the Mansfield family home in Middletown and various mentions in Catton, Cullum, Warner, etc., plus JKF Mansfield’s own reports from his tours as IG in the 1850s, which (to me, at least) reveals a thorough professional with an excellent eye for detail and immense understanding of the RA and, for that matter, the US.

      But given the above as sources, I’ll try and synthesize my thoughts – first and foremost, I think the tremendous advantage the US had in 1861 over the CSA was the institution of the RA; not so much as a field force, but as a structure for command and control and service and support. The CSA extemporized a volunteer army, as did the US; but the US had a professional establishment for the administrative side of the conflict that the CSA could never match – and that is where someone like Mansfield could have shown and truly provided the US a force multiplier.

      I think what the US Army (regulars and volunteers) needed in 1861 as a GiC was a professional, who had experience with volunteers and knew their strengths and weaknesses, was a fighter and a planner, and who knew the RA intimately, because that was where – ultimately – the field commanders were going to come from AND the pool that was providing the bureau chiefs. The RA’s structure, personnel, and experience actually gave the US a tremendous advantage over the CSA; unfortunately, and in part because of McClellan, I don’t think the US was really able to take advantage of those strengths until Grant was GiC.

      In 1861, given Scott’s health, age, and politics, he was not the man, and – arguably – neither was McClellan.

      Obviously, it is simple speculation on my part, but I think Mansfield fills that bill better than anyone else on the scene in the winter of 1861-62; as a West Pointer, engineer and inspector general, senior staff officer and combat commander in Mexico with Taylor whose capabilities were recognized (2 brevets), a fighter, almost a decade’s experience as IG at the Army’s highest levels, and with that “regular” color that could make volunteers soldier with the best of the RA, I really think he would have been a good choice.

      Add the likes of Humphreys, Barnard, and AW Whipple, and the US is taking advantage of the RA – which was an intsitution the CSA didn’t have.

      • Jeff Henkel June 20, 2011 / 5:29 am

        Given the high opinion of Mansfield, and the high esteem he has, does anyone know why he wasn’t selected at any point for a higher command? Was this purely an age thing? Or was this another example of political support, or the lack thereof, hindering a qualified officer?

        I find it interesting that so many of the early generals were ‘jumped-up’ to command after smaller victories (McClellan, Pope, Burnside). I guess there was no real consensus on who should be leading the show, but I’d have though Scott would have had a better pulse on things. Was it simply the result of scrambling for someone once so many qualified officers went south?

        • Ned Baldwin June 20, 2011 / 6:36 am

          He certainly was in the top echelon of officers in the summer of ’61 — #12 by rank and command of a (small) Department. But in the fall he was reassigned to a smaller, subordinate position and by the time he was promoted to MG in July of 62, over 30 officer had been promoted ahead of him, suggesting that the esteem for him might not have been as high. As for age, Hunter, Dix, Sumner, and Wool were older than Mansfield.

          • TF Smith June 20, 2011 / 10:28 am

            I think Mansfield deserves at least a thesis, if only to explore just that issue, but my impression is that he had Scott’s confidence (he was IG under Scott as GiC for most of the 1850s, after all) and so was entrusted with the Washington defenses command (by Lincoln personally, according to the sketch in Warner); my guess is that McClellan’s rise in 1861 is – presumably – what pushed JKF Mansfield somewhat out of the spotlight.

            There definitely was a group of older RA types (some on active duty, some not) who did not receive significant posts until 1862, after it had become obvious that professional education and RA experience was a benefit – I think Halleck’s appointment to GiC had something to do with it.

            Mansfield is one example; Hitchcock and Buckingham come to mind, as do Greene, Tower, AJ Smith, and some others. Mansfield, from what I can tell, was asking for a combat command pretty much from day 1, and from what is written about him and easily available (Catton, for example), the men of the XII Corps saw him as a welcome change from Fremont and Sigel, who brought both energy and command presence.

            There’s something of Sumner and the Smiths, AJ and CF, about him – an “old soldier” in the best sense, who led from the front. That could be good or bad, depending on events (cf EV Sumner), but it was certainly better than those who “led” from their headquarters, or did not lead at all..and it speaks, I think, to the reality that the RA gave the US an advantage over the CSA that was not really taken advantage of under McClellan.


          • Ned Baldwin June 21, 2011 / 7:00 am


            You have made the comment a couple times about McClellan not taking advantage of the RA. I don’t understand what you mean. The staff McClellan chose was dominated by RA officers — Marcy, Seth Williams, Barnard, Hardie, Alexander, Woodbury, Macomb, Humphries, Abbott, Van Vliet, Ingalls, etc. The field and department commanders that he worked with were also mostly those with RA experience — Sumner, Keyes, Heintzleman, Grant, Franklin, F Porter, McDowell, Burnside, TW Sherman, Buell, Halleck, Rosecrans, Hunter, McCall, WF Smith, etc.

          • TF Smith June 22, 2011 / 9:12 am

            Sorry if I was unclear; what I am suggesting is that given the weaknesses inherent in the volunteers, what the US really needed was a someone who was RA in 1861 to replace Scott as GiC – I don;t think McClellan, as a volunteer, was up to the task, even given his organizational gifts. If one is looking for a regular who knew the organization, the wekanesses and strengths of the voluteer system, and the country, and who was mature enough to command respect from civilians and soliders, enough of a professional to avoid political entanglements, and (bonus) was a proven combat commander, and the list is pretty thin. I’d Mansfield at the top of the list, with Sumner a (not necessarily) close second.

            I’d have to pull out Warner to be sure, but of your list of field and department commanders, the only ones that McClellan actuallly selected were Porter and Franklin. He had some influence over Buell’s and Rosecrans’ selections, but the others were not his choices.

            I think an RA GiC who had a smooth transition in the takeover from Scott, and who had influence with the administration and over the selection of the various departmental commanders in 1861 would have made for a much better led (managed?) US war effort in 1861-62.

            As it was, between McClellan’s leadership as GiC in 1861, the lack of a GiC at all in the winter of 1861-62, and then Halleck’s unwillingness to exercise command once he had the position, the US war effort depended greatly on the initiative of the various army and department commanders.

            Undoubtedly it is partly presentism, but I contrast the overall direction of the war in 1861-62 with that in 1917-18 or 1941-42 and the differences are pretty striking.


          • Ned Baldwin June 22, 2011 / 10:17 pm

            You refer to McClellan as a “volunteer”, yet as of May 14, 1861 he was Major-General in the RA. He had also been RA from 1846 to 1857.

            I agree that McClellan didn’t select all the names I listed. My point was that commanding officers having RA experience was predominant during McClellan’s time in command so I don’t understand your point about the RA not being taken advantage of under McClellan. Likewise the staff he assembled was top RA talent.

            When Scott retired, McClellan was the ranking RA officer. He smoothly took over from Scott, had influence with Lincoln and influence over the selection of some of the Department and force commanders. McClellan was a regular who knew the organization, he knew the weaknesses and strengths of the volunteer system, he knew the country, he commanded respect, and he had proven command experience. So I don’t understand why Mansfield would look like a better pick at the time.

          • Jeff Henkel June 23, 2011 / 5:33 am

            Well, the Mansfield bit came-up because I asked who folks thought would be a better choice. It’s all armchair quarterbacking to some degree. Still, I think George Marshall had something no one else had…a supportive Executive and a generally supportive political climate.

            In the case of McClellan on the Peninsula, it doesn’t matter what we ‘think’ he would have done with McDowell, etc. To me the overriding fact is that McClellan thought he needed them, and they probably should have been there. Instead, he was marched back and forth to no avail. It’s the problem with command in the North in the Civil War…Grant was best at handling it, but how many bad telegrams form Halleck did he have to put-up with to get there?

            When Halleck took over, the command situation didn’t get better, it got worse. Rather than fire McClellan, the administration forwarded all his troops to Pope, and told him to sit wherever he liked…then when things went south, they called on him again. Of course they had the right to do it, but I wouldn’t call it good management.

            So in my opinion, no matter who you make GiC in 1861, there was always going to be Lincoln/Stanton and their overreaction to various situations. There were always going to be too many fingers in the pie.

          • Ray O'Hara June 23, 2011 / 6:16 am

            You keep overlooking the fact Lil’Mac wouldn’t move. He spent months marching the Army in reviews. he wouldn’t appoint Corps commanders even though pressed to do so. He could have had who he wanted but didn’t choose, so eventually Lincoln and the HQ for him, so whose fault was that?

            and the whole Peninsular Campaign came about because Lil’Mac wouldn’t just move out and confront Joe E at Centerville, so first he came up with a move to Aquia Creek and when Joe E moved back from Centerville then he chose to move to Ft Monroe. it wasn’t some long held deeply reseached plan, just a way of avoiding a fight..

            Mac’s downfall was he never understood that you have to get the show on the road,. Nobody else’s concerns mattered the least to Lil’Mac. Lincoln wanted/needed the war prosecuted, it was expensive, it took people away from their lives and little Gorgie is holding another review.

            He gets credit for training and making ready the AoP , okay, but Buell and Grant also got their armies ready without endless parades and reviews and stirring proclamations and those armies were every bit as effective {if not more so}.

            I guess it comes down to the George Patton’s saying ” A good plan, violently executed this week is better than a perfect plan next week” Lil’Mac was always willing to wait until next week or even next month. and that was what was unacceptable.

            It was Lincoln’s frustration with McClellan’s unwillingness to move that caused all the problems.
            If he had acted with celerity he’d have found Lincoln every bit as supportive as Grant found Abe.

          • TF Smith June 23, 2011 / 11:05 am

            The relationship between FDR and GCM, two men who knew history, is illustrative.

            There’s a reason FDR selected Marshall after Malin Craig retired, and it was not because GCM had been a good railroad manager or was a “War Republican”….

            The number of AUS general officers who were direct commissions, reserves, or National Guard in 1941-45 is very small – and for good reason.

          • TF Smith June 23, 2011 / 10:53 am

            Come on, Ned; even with a RA commission, McClellan was no more a “reguilar” in 1862 than Troy Middleton was in 1942…by that definition, Fremont was a “regular” as well.

            It would be interesting to take a look at the correspondence between people like Scott, the bureau chiefs, Sumner, etc. when Mc showed up; my guess is their opinions were not sky-high that someone who had received every break imaginable in the prewar era (including the Crimean tour; interesting who else made up the Delafield Commission) but chose to leave the army for industry was suddenly a “RA” major general.

            There’s an interesting parallel with the RA in the interwar (1920-30s) years; after the Great War, there were those who left for the economy and those who stuck it out in the boondocks for twenty years; not surprisingly, the latter included those who won the war (Marshall, Eisenhower, Arnold, etc.)

            There’s a reason TR didn’t get to raise his volunteer divisions in 1917 and that everyone – whether RA, OR, or NG – became AUS in 1940 when the mobilization began; Scott and Bliss, and Craig and Marshall et al were students of history, and knew what the volunteer and militia types had done, for good and especially for ill – in 1861-65 and again in 1898-1901.

            The same approach would have paid dividends in 1861-62, I think.

          • Ray O'Hara June 24, 2011 / 2:33 am

            Mac was out from 1857 until 1860, yes, in those three years he completely forgot the Army ways. West Point wore off. and those who had stuck it out learned so much. how to command a company of dragoons as Ewell pointed out and other useful skills.
            And learning to run a large business would have been a waster,. why would he need such administrative skills, what possible value could they have?.
            Mac was as RA as someone who was a Capt in a frontier post chasing the occasional Indian.

          • Ray O'Hara June 24, 2011 / 5:36 am

            The FDR-Marshall. Abe-Mac comparison is apples and watermelons.
            with FDR there was already a large Army bureaucracy, in Abe’s day there wasn’t. in FDR’s time the Army started to greatly expand to a war footing. in Abe’s it didn’t begin to grow until after the shooting started.

            Mac wasn’t some amateur politician raised up. he was a West Point Grad who had until recently had been RA. The only problem with Lil’Mac was he was an operational failure. He did a fine job everywhere up until it was time to say “Advance” then his failing became apparent, he was lacking in intestinal fortitude.

    • Bryn Monnery June 20, 2011 / 6:53 am

      It was Joe Johnston who wrote “No-one but McClellan could have hesitated to attack.” on the 22nd April 1862 referring to his lack of an assault at Yorktown. However, it is worth analysing why he wrote this. In point of fact he believed McClellan had 200,000 men against the 68,000 PFD he had in the entrenchments. In fact McClellan had ca. 72,000 “aggregate present” (i.e. reduced by 1/6th for sickness and then by 1/4th for logistics to get the equivalent figure to Confederate PFD). Not only did McClellan lack the 6:1 advantage in numbers it was believed necessary to carry entrenchments (3:1 is for the open field), he probably was actually outnumbered on the firing line. Johnston’s quote is extremely misguided when placed in context, which doesn’t stop it getting used out of context for effect.

      • TF Smith June 20, 2011 / 10:40 am

        Okay, thanks for the context, but what’s the source for the CSA had 68,000 PFD on the Peninsula in April? Is that counting the forces around Norfolk?

        Jackson was off in the Valley at that point, of course; the figure I have most at hand for Johnston at the time of the evacuation is 56,000.

        • Bryn Monnery June 21, 2011 / 2:21 pm

          I am sorry, but I must correct myself. I actually just quoted McClellan’s numbers on the 7th April rather than Johnston’s. I skipped a line whilst reading. You are correct re: Johnston, he had ca. 56,000 effectives at the time, and an approximate grand aggregate (a rather useless figure in this context) of 110,000.

          • TF Smith June 22, 2011 / 9:14 am

            Understood; the numbers are always a challenge, which is why – sometimes – reducing it to “division equivalents” (to a common TO&E, of course) makes it a little easier to way the resources available to a given commander.


      • TF Smith June 24, 2011 / 1:35 pm

        Ray – The point is that when it came to the RA, there were several individuals – Sumner and Mansfield are the obvious ones, as (respectively) one of the handful of regular general officers/department commanders and the former inspector general – who had more legitimacy (and professional standing) than McClellan did in 1861.

        Mac was as much a political general as JC Fremont was in 1861, and giving him a MG’s commission and then promoting him to GiC were, on balance, among Lincoln’s biggest mistakes as CinC, especially given the impact his (Mac’s) politics had on the AoTP for the first two years of the war.

        As far as the institutional side of the army goes, the bureaus were the tool the US had to administer the army in 1861-65, for good or for ill; and without a modern CoS, someone like Mansfield (who as IG knew the players inside and out), would have been more likely to effectively able to use the system as it was as GiC than McClellan was – even under the direction of the CinC and secretaries of war.

        The FDR-GCM comparison (or the Wilson-Scott/March one) are apt; the Army’s mobilization in 1861-62 and its “first battles” in both years were far from what could have been, and a significant element of that shortfall – certainly in 1862 – was due to GBM. He was the one willing to take the stars that were offered by the CinC, after all – if he could not handle the responsibility of working with the CinC, he should not have taken the job.

  16. John Foskett June 16, 2011 / 10:26 am

    Viewing the Peninsular Campaign at a strategic level raises a number of issues on which McClellan fairly should not take all of the blame. Viewing the actual fighting at an operational/tactical level shifts the balance strongly against him. I can’t get away from his absurdly (and IMHO to some extent deliberately) inflated odds. There was no objective evidence of any kind which remotely suggested his claimed disadvantage. And he’s the one who connected it up to his lack of success/ultimate retreat (Oops – I meant :”chahge of base”). Given that the numbers were probably pretty even by late June (and that he had an advantage to some exrtent a month earlier), he’s the one who apparently needed to justify his decisions by pointing to a mathematical fiction. This is entirely aside from his cowardly and;inept conduct at Glendale/Frayser’s Farm, when he left nobody in clear command at the critical moment of the reteat (oops again – “change of base”) while he skuiked away to the Galena.

    • Jeff Henkel June 16, 2011 / 8:33 pm

      I have one question on the change of base/retreat line of commentary. If McClellan was truly running, as you seem to believe, why did he start a shift of base on June 18th…8 days before the Confederates attacked Porter? That was when he first sent transports with food and ammunition to Harrison Landing on the James.

      I’d assume it was because he was concerned that his line of communications was hanging in the air due to the McDowell mess, and he planned a shift to protect it and at the same time keep him in front of Richmond. It’s hard, even for McClellan, to retreat prior to any battle. Especially when we know he was planning a siege of Richmond. Just food for thought.

      • Ned Baldwin June 17, 2011 / 7:06 am

        He was running as soon as he pulled back from the Fair Oaks/Seven Pines position and headed away from Richmond across White Oak Swamp. Even if he had already planned to change his base (which I’m not convinced of), giving up his position in front of Richmond was clearly a retreat.

    • Bryn Monnery June 20, 2011 / 7:35 am

      This is incorrect. There was a clear command structure at Glendale. McClellan remained in command and conducted the battle by telegraph. It was extremely novel for the time, hence the notion that arose that he “abandoned” the army.

      At Glendale McClellan personally positioned his divisions and they were placed under the commanders on the field. His formation was a classical line of battle with a refused right flank (along White Oak Swamp). Franklin had the right wing, Heitzelmann the centre, Porter the left and Sumner the reserve. Keyes was considered incompetent and sent to guard the wagons. The only tool a commander has for shaping the battlespace is the commitment of reserves, and Sumner, the senior Corps Commander and army 2i/c had the reserve. He gave them his orders and went back to the army GHQ at Haxall’s Landing.

      From Haxall’s Landing he was telegraphic links directly with the three divisions in Heitzelmann’s command (Kearny, McCall and Hooker), a telegraphic link to a relay station that links to Franklin’s three divisions (Slocum, Smith and Richardson), a link to Sedgwick’s division (where Sumner was commanding the reserve and acting as a general “fire brigade”), Malvern Hill relay station and Porter’s two divisions and to the gunboats Galena and Arrostook. Communications to Keyes were via the gunboats or the Malvern Hill station. The upshot is that as long as McClellan was standing close to one of these stations he had command and control.

      Before the Confederate attack McClellan went onto the Galena to secure Commodore Rogers’ fire support. He was there when he was signalled about the enemy massing, ordered the gunboats forward to provide fire support and retained contact with all commanders via telegraph. He came ashore quite late in the day.

      Just because he commanded from the Galena does not mean he was not in command. He was every bit as in command as Grant sitting at City Point in 1864.

      • TF Smith June 22, 2011 / 9:19 am

        Except Grant was both GiC and army group commander in 1864; McClellan was neither in 1862, true? He was an army commander. Who was Mc’s George G. Meade?

        I’m also not certain that the major battle of the first major campaign is the best time to introduce “novel” C3i methods or technologies, either.

        • Bryn Monnery June 26, 2011 / 3:22 am

          Several things.

          The idea of “army group commander” is superimposing modern ideas backwards. Halleck, Sherman and Grant are sometimes all called “army group” commanders at various points, but there was no such conception of such a thing at the time. The fact that there is a level of command between the overall commander and those of Corps does not alone make a force an “army group”. The Army of the Potomac from April 1862 to ca. March 1864 had an intermediate level of command which was generally called a “wing”.

          In 1864 Grant entered the Wilderness with what was effectively two unequal wings, one under Meade consisting of three Corps (2nd, 5th and 6th – using arabic numerals, again the use of roman numerals is a case of imposing modern ideas backwards) and another of a single Corps (9th under Burnside). However, Grant quickly started to bypass Meade and effectively made him a staff officer or perhaps 2i/c in a system that bears a passing resemblance to Prussian practice. What command Meade exercised was eroded over time, especially after the incidents with Sheridan.

          When the Army of the James was incorporated into Grant’s force it effectively crystallised into an army with three wings, Meade’s wing (Army of the Potomac, 2nd, 5th and 9th Corps), Butler’s wing (Army of the James, 10th and 18th Corps) and Sheridan’s wing (Army of the Shenandoah, 6th, “8th” and 19th Corps). Each of these was recognisably (to a European) roughly a full strength “Army Corps”.

          Grant’s General in Chief status also warrants attention. How much day to day command and control did he execute? The answer is very little. The reigns of power remained with Halleck in Washington. Grant did give orders to Halleck on what to do (which were filtered immediately by Hallecks close contact with Washington grandees such as Stanton).

          Commanding via signals is a vital necessity. With relatively small armies on a compact frontage command via runner is possible. However, McClellan’s armies operated on much more extended frontages. At Yorktown the frontage was about 6 miles (excluding piquets posted southwards and Gloucester point). At Seven Pines the armies frontage is 12 miles. At Glendale it is 8 miles (ignoring Keyes and the trains). It is simply impossible to observe and directly command over such extended frontages personally. This is the point (or one of them) of the Corps Commanders, they are able to indirectly control a frontage of 1-2 miles. They command the battleline (which is in fact controlled by the division commanders) and talk to the overall commander about what is happening. The only tool the army commander has to influence the battle is to commit reserves and coordinate artillery support (and cavalry support is major cavalry bodies are available).

          At Glendale McClellan gave the task of controlling the reserve (only a single division after filling the frontage – and the line is quite thin) to Sumner. Sumner is senior Corps commander and de facto 2i/c, so it is right and proper he have this job. McClellan spent his time coordinating the artillery support (both the naval and reserve artillery on Malvern Hill). We know he was constantly receiving reports from his subordinates and issuing battle orders via wig-wag. What ideally needs to enter the literature is the signals logbook, then we would know just what reports McClellan received and what orders he gave. The problem here is that even Rafuse does not try and mount any kind of defence here, and by not putting some research effort in the facts remain obfuscated. Someone needs to get a Masters student to do a dissertation on it that includes the primary source material – i.e. the signals logs.

          • Ray O'Hara June 26, 2011 / 10:45 pm

            Grant and Sherman were AG Commanders, they each commanded more than one army. Wings were ad hoc formations that were used on occasion but they were still intra-army formations and had no logistic tail or identity of their own and when the mission it was created for ended the wing disappeared, much like the AoP did in the days leading up to Antietam.

            You use as an example the AoP and the IXth Corps, a bad one, and the IXth was soon absorbed by the AoP. while the AoP had no say in the affairs of the Army Of the James nor did it have to provide any logistic or administrative support to the AoJ.

            that they didn’t use the term “army group” doesn’t alter the fact that’s exactly what they were,{the first US AG was Halleck’s after Shiloh when he had Grant’s and Buell’s armies together for his glacial advance on Corinth}..

          • Bryn Monnery July 2, 2011 / 5:00 am

            An “army” in this context is simply a collection of Corps. The Corps operated their own trains. The difference between an “army” and a “wing” is simple somantics.

            Taking Sherman as a example, he treats his army in 1864 as several wings. The core of his army is the Army of the Cumberland which has 3 Corps. The Army of the Cumberland was originally 14th Corps, and when it became overly large it split itself into three “wings” (each operationally a Corps) and then these wings were renamed Corps with no practical effect on their operations. Due to getting smaller the three corps had consolidated down to two, 4th and 14th. His other Corps used to be Hooker’s Wing of the Army of the Potomac (11th and 12th Corps), and for a while Hooker had been considered separate, but the 3 small divisions were eventually consolidated into a Corps. This Corps, 20th, still considered themselves a wing of the Army of the Potomac attached to the Army of the Cumberland.

            Thomas’ Cavalry Corps was taken away from Thomas and reported directly to Sherman. He did the same with the cavalry of the Army of the Ohio when it arrived. When mature Sherman posted one division to operate with the Army of the Tennessee (right flank guard for the combined army), one with the Army of the Ohio (left flank guard), one in the rear of the Army of the Cumberland (army general reserve) and the fourth was to guard the supply base for Sherman’s army (there was only one army train, and it used to be Thomas’s).

            The “Army of the Tennessee” is in fact 4 divisions taken from 2 Corps of that army and the Rebs believe it is only a Corps. Indeed, until reinforcements from 17th Corps arrive the “Army of the Tennessee” is the size of one of Thomas’s three Corps.

            The “Army of the Ohio” is a single divisions worth of infantry when it joins Sherman, who reinforces it immediately with a lot of new recruits to make a weak Corps. Operationally Thomas generally treats it as another one of his Corps, whilst remaining tactful enough always to give it the post of honour alloted to it and call Schofield an army commander whilst patently he isn’t. Realistically he is commanding an independent division with a slightly complicated command structure.

            In strength:

            Cavalry (16,600 PFD, maybe 6 or 7,000 mounted effectives) – 4 divisions

            Army of the Cumberland
            4th Corps (18,500 PFD, about 12,000 effectives)
            14th Corps (22,500 PFD, about 15,000 effectives)
            20th Corps (17,300 PFD, about 11,000 effectives)

            Army of the Tennessee
            15th Corps (12,200)
            16th Corps (10,200)
            (approx 15,000 effectives between them)

            Army of the Ohio
            23rd Corps (9,500 PFD, about 6,000 effectives)

            The real complication is that Thomas outranks Sherman. There were 13 Major-General assigned to Sherman’s force of which 11 were present at the start of the campaign. Their rank order is:

            1. Thomas
            2. Sherman
            3. Hooker – 20th Corps
            4. McPherson
            (5. Stoneman – cavalry division)
            6. Howard – 4th Corps
            7. Butterfield – 3rd Division, 20th Corps
            8. Stanley – 1st Division, 4th Corps
            9. Palmer – 14th Corps
            10. Logan -15th Corps
            (11. Blair – 17th Corps)
            12. Schofield – 23rd Corps and “Army of the Ohio”
            13. Dodge – 16th Corps

            As you can see, Thomas has seniority over Sherman, and thus is not compelled to follow his orders. Two of his division commanders rank all the Army of the Tennessee’s Corps Commanders and Schofield.

            If Sherman formally unites the “armies” into one then Thomas then has right of command. By keeping them separate on paper then Sherman has leverage against Thomas. Strictly speaking Sherman can only advise Thomas, but Thomas was no Hooker and like Burnside subborned himself to a lower ranked officer.

            Back to my main point. In this case the “army group” is somantics only to cover legal problems with the command structure. Much the same happens in the East in 1864. We get the same happening earlier. In 1862 is Johnston’s force at Shiloh an “army group”? It comprises a concentration of multiple armies? Is Lee’s force an “army group”, McClellan’s in Maryland? In these cases the problems were overcome, but in 1864 there were specific problems that stopped what were operationally wings of armies giving up their previous title of “army”. It does not make them “army groups”. It makes them slightly more complicated armies.

  17. Jeff Henkel June 17, 2011 / 7:56 am

    I honestly don’t think he intended to retreat as soon as Seven Pines. If he had, why sit with his army divided across the Chickihominy? It would have been much easier to plead a case to Washington and march right back down the Peninsula.

    Instead, he sits divided, waiting for the promised link-up, and planning on advancing his big guns for the siege of Richmond. He even made comments to his wife about things looking up now that Lee was in command. I think McClellan’s his own worst enemy. One who’s statements are always parsed for the ‘worst’ possible meaning. So when he says ‘I’m shifting my base to protect my communications and I can fall back there if needed’, he’s actually exhibiting sound generalship. People read that and say ‘oh, so he wants to fall back, does he?’

    The AoTP was in no position to live off the land and certainly, if McClellan planned a siege, leaving your supplies behind are impossible. Yet, all we do is look back and say: ‘ehh, McClellan was never going to fight anything.’ It’s probably better to say: ‘McClellan was never going to show the drive we wished he had shown’. Casting aspersions about him in general and pretending he lacked any positive values, is misleading to me, and more importantly, I think it obfuscates history.

    We all know in hindsight how many Confederates stood at Richmond, but we need to forget that fact when making judgments. We should also keep in mind the political climate where any slip (especially by a professed Democrat) would be fatal to a campaign and a career. Again, I don’t think any of this makes McClellan a genius but I this is one of those cases where a ‘simple’ answer should probably be examined much more closely.

    • Lyle Smith June 17, 2011 / 8:56 am

      I totally agree with this.

    • Ned Baldwin June 17, 2011 / 12:23 pm

      My reference to Seven Pines (“as soon as he pulled back from the Fair Oaks/Seven Pines position”) meant the physical spot and not the battle that occurred on that spot on May 31st. He withdrew the army from that location starting on the night of June 27.

      For the month preceding his move to the James he had straddled the Chickahominy in order to utilize the railroad from White House as his supply line. He would have had to straddle the Chickahominy whether or not McDowell was coming.

      • Jeff Henkel June 17, 2011 / 1:46 pm

        I understand your point, I suspect that McClellan wanted to move from the Chickahominy once it flooded and the bridging was becoming untenable. Had the waterway been at it’s normal state, being astride it would have been a moot point.

        I think once it did flood, and it was less than an ideal position, he began to contemplate the move of both his supply base and his exposed flank. However, it was the movement of McDowell by land that forced the northward extension and kept the flank open.

        Sorry for confusing the Seven Pines ‘spot’ with the battle…

  18. John Foskett June 17, 2011 / 9:42 am

    If his intentions prior to June 26 were to “change [his] base” by pulling back as he ultimately did starting June 28, he certainly had an odd way of [not] communicating that to his subordinates. This would also mean the Lee apparently “helped him along” by coinicidentally launching 2/3 of the ANV at Porter’s isolated corps, which had remained there, with no apparent intent to “change base” , through June 25. Let’s just say I’m skeptical. We know that he ended up further from the alleged objective on July 2. That’ may be a “retreat” or, instead, it may be a “change of base”. It certainly, however, is not an advance. Nor have I seen any evidence of a planned assault from the new base. The separate point concerning his miserable failures of command and control at Glendale stands. The excuse is that he was off surveying the appropriate landing spot for his army – difficult to do aboard the Galena and in any event a task eminently suited for a member of his staff with engineering background. It’s a bit like the Head Coach making certain that the game balls are sufficiently inflated while the assistants collaborate to handlethe big tactical decisions.

  19. Jeff Henkel June 17, 2011 / 11:51 am

    I don’t believe McClellan ‘could’ move Porter. I’m pretty sure he was under orders to leave him (or someone) north of the Chickahominy to await the link-up with McDowell. If anyone is to blame for the strike at the flank, it has to be someone else besides McClellan. He certainly wasn’t the one responsible for letting the Confederates march away from their covering forces (Huger and Jackson). You can blame Fremont/Banks/Shields for Jackson having a free hand or you can blame Lincoln/Stanton for the state of McDowell’s dispositions, but you can’t blame McClellan. He was shocked to lose McDowell, and he asked that his flank not be extended waiting for him.

    He wanted McDowell sent by water not by land and telegraphed Stanton: “An extension of my right-wing to meet him may involve serious hazards to my flank and line of communications and may not suffice to rescue him from any peril in which a strong movement by the enemy may threaten him.”

    So, again I don’t think he ‘wanted’ to change his LOC, I think he thought he needed to plan for it based on the fact that his right was over the Chickahominy, it was flooded, and he was (justifiably as it would turn out) worried about an attack there.

    I’ll give you Galena, but I’m not sure it’s enough to judge him by. Does Grant’s Shiloh performance (or Sherman’s for that matter) define them as generals? It’s certainly a black eye, but I don’t think it should be the whole story. When I say I have ‘sympathy’ for McClellan, it is because I think people have a tendency to have an immediate answer, and I feel a careful reading of the facts makes him seem ‘average’. He could have been worse, he could have been better…but in my opinion folks spend an inordinate amount of time and invective where he is concerned, and I don’t think it’s all warranted.

    • Ray O'Hara June 17, 2011 / 1:43 pm

      Mac sat doing nothing but complaining while the ANV would up and whacked the AoP.
      All the excuses you make for him are just excuses. An aggressive commander would have been pressing the Confederates instead of ceding all initiative them.
      McClellen was more interested in laying of blame for all the disasters his overheated imagination onto everybody else.
      be that a treacherous Washington that wanted him to fail or jealous subordinates who wanted his job.
      Fortunately he knew he was the essential man without whom everything would have been lost.

      Generals earn their money at the operational level. Mac had zero operational ability.

      • Jeff Henkel June 17, 2011 / 2:03 pm

        Well, I think we can agree that Mac wasn’t an aggressive commander.

        I simply can’t agree with the ‘making excuses’ bit. Asking that we assess someone based on their situation and peers seems appropriate to me and part of what history is about.

        McClellan was never going to flash into Richmond, despite what some of his writings suggest. He felt far too much was in the balance. I’m still not sure why everyone thinks they would have done so much better in the same situation. It’s all based on hindsight and what ‘aggression’ would have done. Would it have captured Richmond for sure…maybe? I don’t know. I do think that the fall of Richmond would not have ended the struggle in 1862, but that’s besides the point.

        • Ray O'Hara June 17, 2011 / 4:29 pm

          Mac wasn’t going to ‘flash into Richmond even” if it was undefended . He had ample time to move up the Peninsular without any trouble. When he first moved the only force was Magruder’s small command that caused Mac with 100,000+ to stop and dig in despite have at a minimum 5 times as many troops.
          He didn’t even launch a strong probe to test Magruder. he just assumed if there was one Rebel there must be 100,000 rebels,. No thoer general in the war ever obsessed over the numbers of the enemy like he did and he accepted any wild estimate if it gave him cover to stop.

          All McClellan’s failures are his alone.. Mac was the type who if given a $100 he’d complain if it was wrinkled.

  20. Jeff Henkel June 17, 2011 / 5:20 pm

    Ray, I’m not going to convince you, and that’s OK. We can agree to have different opinions on the man. I just enjoy having a civil discussion with folks around a topic I enjoy. Just out of interest, who would you have had in command of the AoTP after Bull Run, assuming McClellan isn’t available?

    Let’s assume you will pick from the Eastern Theater and some degree of seniority must be respected. You can even leave politics out of it (something Lincoln didn’t have going for him). Obviously you can’t keep McDowell.

    • Ray O'Hara June 17, 2011 / 6:47 pm

      I’d go with a Sumner or Heintzleman or even Mansfield. Mac had no credentials beyond Rich Mt. he was the fad of the week. Lincoln erred badly with him.

      For Vicksburg Grant was tied to the river. did he sit and pout and write rude letters? no he advanced within the parameters he was given.
      Even Banks who was promised Grant’s support for the Port Hudon campaign still moved when the promised support didn’t come.

      Mac wouldn’t move until he was guaranteed success, as success in war is never guaranteed he wouldn’t move.

      He should have rolled right over Williamsburg-Yorktown instead he sat. sure in his heart there were 100,000 men there but never actually committing to find out if there were.

      and if he attacked Richmond and got repulsed then try again..

  21. Ray O'Hara June 17, 2011 / 5:55 pm

    Jeff his worrying, what the verdict would have been if he failed is exactly the reason he didn’t succeed..,
    Failure is failure anf he failed in a spectacular fashion. he had every advantage and threw them away.
    Did Lee worry about how many men Mac had on launching the Seven Days? no.
    he saw an opening and took it.

    nothing is certain in war except if you do nothing you will lose. Mac did nothing.
    At ever battle on the Peninsular he never sent help. when attacked he recoiled. at 7 Pines he did nothing. any help sent was on the initiative of Heintzleman going to Keyes aid.
    the Same during the Seven Days, when Porter was attacked Mac sent no help. he took half the Army and fled towards the James. it was bad enough he wouldn’t attack. he wouldn’t fight when he was attacked.
    instead he’d pen insubordinate letters to Lincoln and whiny letters to dearest Ellen.
    Lil’Mac knew as much about his enemy as any other general knew during the war. where others coped he didn’t. as a result he failed,

    • Ned Baldwin June 17, 2011 / 9:21 pm

      What is interesting is the contrast with the Maryland campaign — he attacked at South Mt and again at Antietam.

      • Jeff Henkel June 18, 2011 / 7:42 am

        My point was that if McClellan had failed in a determined attack, he most likely would have been removed from command. I know some folks will think that’s unlikely, but with the political climate at the time, it wouldn’t have surprised me. I also think it’s important to recognize one central factor…Lee had the support of his president and thus he could pull Jackson from the valley, Huger from North Carolina, etc.

        McClellan had lost that faith. I’m not saying it wasn’t his fault, but it was Lincoln’s fault for not simply replacing him. McClellan, for all his flaws, did not foster the political environment he lived in. I know other General succeed with a similar climate later (I think of Grant here), but I’ll be the first one to admit that Grant had more cache at that point, and was obviously the better general.

        Once McClellan had lost faith with Lincoln over delays and the Peninsular campaign, I don’t see how he could have recovered from a failed assault (assuming it was a costly one). I think he knew this, and I think he let it dictate his choices as much as the over-estimated Confederates in his front. I think the Seven Days was a rude awakening for him, when he realized that it wasn’t going to be parades and a waltz.

        By the time he started coming out of his shell during the Antietam campaign, it was far too late. He did attack at Antietam and he was pretty aggressive in the first stages of that campaign and during the battle (albeit with obviously mixed results and piecemeal). But I’m pretty sure it was the follow-up after the battle that did him in, much more than the battle itself. He was still McClellan and he had more reasons ‘not’ to do something than reasons to do it…and he had no clout left to earn the benefit of the doubt.

        I think we can all sit down and write about how ‘bad’ McClellan was, but I still think that’s the ‘easy button’. If he was so obviously awful then why did he garner respect from Lee and Grant, from the officers around him, and from the men who followed him? Perhaps they were all being gentlemen or perhaps they didn’t know any better. It’s probably true that most folks were being polite. However, I suspect that Lee and Grant both understood the pitfalls of command far better than we do, they understood how close failure can be, and they knew how easy it could be to take council of their fears.

        We could continue this forever, and I doubt any of us would ever change our base stance. I think McClellan was a positive force for the army when he took command, I think he ‘built’ the AoTP to a point where it respected itself and could maneuver and win in the field with proper leadership.

        I agree with Roy that he wasn’t a good operational commander, but I do think he had good strategic ideas and I suspect in a more modern system he would have made a pretty good chief-of-staff. After that, at some level the facts do speak for themselves, but as someone else pointed out…he wasn’t the worst of the army level commanders, not by a long shot and I simply don’t think he should be regarded as the worst.

  22. Ray O'Hara June 18, 2011 / 6:03 am

    He had the famous lost order, that told him there was but a small force on South Mt and he still hesitated at Antietam and allowed Lee an extra day to consolidate his army. and then after the battle he allowed Lee to rest and then move across a river unmolested. so yes he was more aggressive but he still hesitated enough to fumble away what could have been a war ending victory.

  23. John Foskett June 18, 2011 / 7:49 am

    The “change of base” strategy is completely misleading, IMHO. To be sure, there are indications McClellan was indeed thinking of changing his supply base to the James. But that thinking definitely did not include moving the Army of the Potomac to the Harrison’s Landing area. Quite the contrary – McClellan had drawn up plans for an assault from the general lines occupied by his army . The move to Harrison’s Landing was solely a result of McClellan clutching after Gaines’s Mill. It was a “retreat” in every sense of the word, except in McClellan’s lexicography. Read his infamous telegram which the War Department clerk edited – there was no such plan in place until June 27. With all due respect, there is simply nothing about Grant at Shiloh and McClellan at Glendale which is remotely similar. Grant was at Savannah because he (wrongly) did not believe that Johnston would attack, because he was monitoring both Pittsburg Landing and Crump’s Landing, and because he was awaiting the linkup with Buell. McClellan fled to the Galena while his army was engaged in actual fighting, while it was strung out on the roads to Harrison’s Landing, and without designating any of his subordinates to take charge in his inexcusable absence. It’s as if Grant rode back to the Landing at 2 P.M,, decided to ensconce himself on the Tigress, and left his division commanders to figure out a defense. McClellan “attacking” at Antietam will have to wait for another day. Let’s just say that a whole lot of Yankee troops never saw combat against a foe who was desperately thin and had his back to a river. – on both the 17th and the 18th .

    • TF Smith June 18, 2011 / 4:12 pm

      To be fair to Grant at Shiloh, my understanding is that he did not select the area as lodgement; that was (IIUC) CF Smith’s doing, for good and for ill.


    • Bryn Monnery June 26, 2011 / 5:33 am

      A few words about the timing at Glendale.

      McClellan set off for the Galena well before the major assault. He boarded a boat for the Galena about 1530, and arrived onboard about 1600. At this time there was cannonading and skirmishing, but no signs of a major attack.

      McClellan had (correctly) identified the point of danger as being his left flank – that is Porter’s Corps (it’s no coincidence he placed his most reliable formation there). Before heading over to the Galena he had sent orders to Couch to halt his movement and be prepared to counterattack immediately if Porter was attacked. From the Galena he had a view of Porter’s Corps frontage.

      Indeed, at 1645 Holmes’ command was spotted, and on McClellan’s orders shelled by the squadron and the reserve artillery on Malvern Hill (which dropped trail in position ca. 1600).

      Longstreet’s attack at 1700 was an act of desperation by Lee. He had seen McClellan’s trains going over Malvern Hill and realised the opportunity to get into his rear was fading. However, Longstreet’s axis was wrong to get into the Federal rear. If he had achieved a full penetration where he struck there was nothing there. The point of danger was further south, where McClellan was personally observing with the strongest reserves. Had Longstreet attacked towards Malvern Hill he would have run into the strongest part of the Federal line, because it was the one that was dangerous.

      As to the major reason McClellan went to the Galena, Rodgers wanted to retreat much further downriver (to the mouth of the Chickahominy), McClellan wanted to remain at Haxall’s Landing. In the end they compromised on Harrison’s Landing (the first usable base downstream of the City Point batteries). This argument could not be entrusted to an aide (as Ethan Rafuse suggests it should have been), or it would likely have been lost and a further ~20 miles of retreat ensued.

      • Ray O'Hara June 26, 2011 / 10:31 pm

        An Army commander’s duty spot is with the army,
        Not on a boat where he is completely out of touch with his army. Any Engineer could have gone on the Galena and selected a good camp ground.
        Because as we know. while there was no attack in progress when he was derelict from his post one quickly developed. Also every preceding day that week had seen heavy fighting and he had no reason to suppose there would be none.
        As I see it there is no excuse for Lil’Mac’s actions that day or that entire week, he was as I said IMO derelict of duty.

        as for further retreats, a General who was willing to fight need not have retreated at all.
        His retreats were a reaction to merely being attacked not of being beaten. sending an unengaged Corps to the fight would have been better than taking the unengaged troops and running away all the while penning vitriolic letters accusing others of causing defeat and sloughing off all blame to himself.

  24. Ray O'Hara June 18, 2011 / 6:01 pm

    There was nothing wrong with the position at Shiloh, and in fact it forced the CSa into a blunf frontal attack.
    the problem was the Union commanders weren’t paying enough attention.
    and even with all that Grant still won.

    I wonder how Lil’mac might have handled a similar situation. I assume he’d take a boat ride to find a “new base”.

  25. Bryn Monnery July 2, 2011 / 4:24 am

    No, any commanders “post” is where he can best influence the battlespace. For a brigade commander this is at the head of his brigade. For a division commander this is behind his lead brigade(s) giving intimate control of his maneuver elements. For a corps commander this is typically at a command post keeping track of his divisions and implementing the battle. For the army commander it is whereever they are needed as long as they remain in contact with their corps commanders.

    You need to distinguish between a “leader”, a “commander” and a “manager”. They all have different functions.

    At the regimental level the Colonel is mostly a leader. He rides (or walks) with his regiment and commands them by voice. His main concern is keeping alignment and leading a minor maneuver element of the brigade. He also is the lowest level authorised to make fire control decisions. In a European Army this level of command was usually held by a Captain commanding a company/ division (i.e. 2 company formation).

    The brigade commander is a mixture of a leader and commander. In action command is exercised by giving orders to a single regimental commander whose unit is preselected as the “regulating battalion”. He is mainly responsible for making sure that the formation is acting in accord with the divisional plan. In Europe this level of command was typically held by a Major or Lt Col (sometimes a “senior Captain” in certain armies).

    The divisional commander is a commander. He has no personal contact with the troops, and is entirely concerned with tactical elements, the deployment of his 3-4 brigades and his artillery batteries. It is worth noting that the larger Confederate divisions split themselves into “demi-divisions” and operated as two (or in one case three) separate tactical entities. It was found (and was well known) that a divisional commander can’t effectively coordinate 4 brigades, and even 3 is a stretch. As part of Roon’s Prussian reforms every general officer was given 2 maneuver elements and their attachments, since it was found that a general can’t effectively handle more. It is worth noting that such a body of men in a European Army would be commanded by a Lieutenant-General*.

    At higher levels (Corps, Wing, Army) the officer becomes a manager. He is too far removed to generally alter tactical details. Exceptions occur, like Hancock throwing the 1st MN in during Anderson’s attack on 2nd July 1863, but that is actually indicative of Hancock’s bad management. he had failed to keep a formed reserve in hand and improvised.

    Disaster tends to follow when a general decides to step down to a lower level. A classical example would be the disintegration of the attack of the Federal right at Antietam. Sumner was wing commander, and 1st, 2nd and 12th Corps were all under him. He refused (unlike Burnside) to hand over the Corps and so “wore two hats”. When McClellan ordered 2nd Corps in Sumner rode with Sedgwick. He did not keep track of his other two divisions, and a gap in the march column developed and Sumner and Segdwick took the right hand fork, and French took the left. When Sedgwick was hit, Sumner stepped in and took personal command of the division and “wore a third hat” (and maybe a fourth, as he gave orders directly to regiments). Meanwhile another two of his divisions had their own separate engagement that contributed nothing to the battle. The attack on the right broke down because the man in charge of managing it decided to operate two command levels down and command a division rather than manage his nine divisions. In doing so he also robbed the overall commander of the ability to shape that battlespace since the system that orders and reports should have flowed via was broken.

    Back to Glendale.

    In this case McClellan’s personal attention was beyond the purely local affair of repulsing any Confederate attack. He had placed the divisions. He had arranged reserves. He had done all that was required to set up the plan – it was for his subordinates to implement it. He was engaged in his planning cycle for future actions. He was aloof of a mere attack on a couple of his divisions, and he as right to be so. It doesn’t make good copy, but it does make for good command. What you’re suggesting is that he abrogate his army command and play at Colonel.

    * In a typical European Army:

    250 men, a typical ACW “regiment” would be commanded by a Captain.
    1,000 men, a typical ACW “brigade” would be commanded by a Maj or Lt Col
    3,000 men, a typical ACW “division” would be commanded by a Major-General (there was no rank of “Brigadier-General”, it was a temporary appointment for a Colonel)
    6,000 men, a typical Federal “Corps” or CS Division would be commanded by a Lt-Gen.
    15-30,000 men, a typical Federal Wing or late war Corps, or a Confederate Corps would be commanded typically by a Field Marshal, or perhaps full General.

  26. Ray O'Hara July 2, 2011 / 10:54 am

    That is the most crazed defense of Lil’Mac I’ve ever seen. being out of touch with his Army during a battle is the worst thing an Army Commander can do.
    Just deploying troops is not the end of his duties, unexpected crises arise .
    What if the deployment is faulty? who decides when the reserves are committed and where.
    looking for a campsite is something any Major of the Engineers can do.

    take Gettysburg and Dan Sickles, how would an absent Army Commander have been able to handle that, What Corps Commander was to handle that?
    What if Jackson at Glendale had moved into the Union Flank and rear, who was to deal with that?

    An Army’s commander is at his headquarters or at least in tough with it.
    as for the rest of your post, in Europe formations were whittled down to nubs too. or do you think that their units were always at full strength?

  27. Bryn Monnery July 2, 2011 / 5:04 pm

    You miss the point. McClellan was at his HQ, which happened to be onboard USS Galena at the time. He had signals comms with every division and corps commander.

    If the deployment was faulty then it would have been noticed by the Army Commander, since he had personally deployed every division that morning. The deployment of reserves were ordered by the army commander (ordering Couch to move to support Porter) and the army 2i/c (Sumner when he shifted 2 brigades to Franklin, then back and used them to plug the gap).

    You completely miss the point when you describe a major operational-strategic conference as “looking for a campsite”. On board Galena that day was an argument about the future of the campaign. McClellan could not abrogate his responsibility for making the big decisions to play Colonel. He was the army commander. If McClellan had not gone in person then the army would have been pushed back another 20 air miles further than it in fact was, and may have eventually been overrun. McClellan is already planning his next offensive by this stage – crossing the James to operate against Petersburg (also Grant’s response to a similar situation).

    Let me demilitarise the situation:

    A major company is suddenly subjected to a hostile takeover bid. The President talks to his VPs explains the strategy for defending against it, and lets his VPs run their divisions. He needs to gain liquid capital from a sister company to fight the takeover and needs to ask in person their President. He thinks, should I send one of the VPs? Then notes that they’re needed to run their divisions. Should I send a junior executive with a message? Surely that will get ignored. Should I go myself? I have too, and I trust that the VPs can manage a few hours without me, and will phone if there is a problem. Off he trots, and gets the capital only to be confronted later by one VP telling him he had trouble and another VP had to transfer funds, which occurred without the need for personal authorisation by the President. Some criticise the President for being engaged in higher level activities whilst one of his VPs was struggling.

    That is a reasonable allegory. The life and death matter of war tends to heighten ideas of heroic leadership, but leadership of anything more than a small band of men is management.

    Anyway, as to Sickles, such a movement was his prerogative as a Corps Commander. He was right to do it too, displaying immense moral courage, but that’s beyond the scope of this discussion. What is within the scope is that a Corps Commander is, at least in theory, an army commander. Let me reprise the history of the army corps.

    Now, without the name, “Corps” have existed for centuries. Marlborough commanded what was in effect two Corps in most of his battles, and the other Corps was commanded usually by Eugene. However, in classical linear theory once two independently manuevring bodies join together they formed a single formation and fought as one body.

    The French revolution created comparatively vast armies. By Napoleon’s time he could count about 400,000 effectives under arms. The early revolutionaries had created a large number of armies, all of 20-30,000 men (30,000 being the effective limit of any single “army” – it is the column length of one days march). The phrase “army corps” at the time simply meant “main body”, an army would typically consist of a Vanguard, Corps, Reserve and 2 Flanking bodies. Under Napoleon all these disparate armies were united into a single named army (The Army of England, later the Army of Germany) and were numbered. Napoleon had collected 200,000 troops which he divided into 6 independently operating armies that reported to him. Each was called a “Army Body” or in French “Corps de Armee”. Each was an independently operating army that was working with a number of other armies. In the event of one “army” making contact with the enemy the others would move to reinforce, envelop or do something else. Each Corps was a full independent army, and from one point of view you could call Napoleon’s force an “Army Group”.

    Under McClellan the Corps were still operating on this system, or a variant thereof. Each of his three (later five) Corps was a full independent army with all arms. The Corps Commander was an army commander who fought his force as he saw fit with a wide degree of latitude. He was only informed of a mission (in this case usually “hold until nightfall”) and executed it by his own means. Auftragstaktik in action, if not at lower levels.

    This is one of the reasons McClellan resisted appointing Corps Commanders. A CC is a very definite thing, and a totally different beast to a DC. A Corps is an Army, pure and simple – or rather it should be. By 1863 the Corps had lost their combined arms character and fitted the Napoleonic conception of a division. Warfare degenerated back into Frederickian linear movement, complete with the lack of decision that that mode of warfare featured (Leuthen excepted).

    • Ray O'Hara July 2, 2011 / 10:59 pm

      the gymnastic you are doing to justify McClellan’s dereliction is admirable.
      HQ aboard the Galena. he might as well have been on Mars for all the good he could do there. he was completely out of touch with his Army.

      He abandoned his Army. he did it time and again and he was unable to influence any events.and he did it out what can only be called cowardice, He was afraid to fight. he was always looking to retreat and he was always looking for someone to blame..

      and your little parable has no bearing on the situation. you can’t “demilitarize” the situation, it was a battle and in a battle a commanders place is with his army. not swanning about taking a boat ride.

    • Ned Baldwin July 3, 2011 / 6:01 am

      Bryn, Interesting stuff. Do we know where Marcy was during Glendale and how McClellan utilized him as part of the command structure?

  28. Bryn Monnery July 4, 2011 / 3:48 am

    Marcy seems to have been at Haxall’s at what was effectively the central communications hub. I can only find snippets. The situation is more confused because Sears misassigned a communication from McClellan to Marcy dated 30th June as happening after the battle of Glendale whereas the most cursory examination of the letter shows it was written before the battle (probably the night before, but after midnight, hence the date stamp). The communication is in Sears’ Civil War Papers pgs 325-6 and also I think in his Young Napoleon, where it is used to construct an argument ISTR that stands no scrutiny. This error appears to be repeated in Burton’s Extraordinary Circumstances (pg 242) thus leading to the strange situation where McClellan’s GHQ moves to Turkey Bridge twice.

    The text is:

    June 30, 1862
    Haxall’s house, Turkey Island

    Please bring Hd Qrs down here. The wagons have been down towards Harrison’s bar – 6 miles below here. Navy men say we must occupy a point below City Pt in order to enable us to use transports. Let all the Engineers & Topo Engrs go to work to examine the point on which we must take up our new position. The probability is we must take up a new line parallel to that which we now hold and come down the river below City Point. Send back to Smith and ascertain how much more of the train is yet to move. Also ascertain what roads exist leading from our present position e.g. from White Oak bridge to Long Bridge & Jones Bridge.

    GB McClellan
    Maj Gen

    (Transcribed from Sears, S; Civil War Papers of George B McClellan, pgs 325-6)

    Marcy’s other appearance in Burton (pg 197) is on the 29th, when he is involved in positioning the defences forming at White Oak Swamp.

    We know that McClellan gave field command in his absence to Sumner via Marcy. Sumner in fact states it in his testimony to the JCCW:

    “I received a note from General Marcy, McClellan’s Chief of Staff, to this effect – that any orders I gave on the field would be approved.”

    Sumner also notes that while the cannonading phase of the action was occurring, but before the infantry skirmished forward at 4pm, McClellan visited him at his HQ whilst doing a complete circuit of his lines, and only went off the the Galena once this inspection was complete.

    (I’m using a gbooks scan: ).

    However, more work needs doing on Marcy. It would seem he stayed at Haxall’s. This would be in line with the theory of command the US held at the time, which copied European practice (although in Prussia the CoS would also be 2i/c). What really happened at Glendale is complicated by the sheer quantity of incorrect secondary sources that have been published, which generally flat out contradict the primary record. These in turn date back to the propaganda value of “McClellan swanning around on a boat while his troops fought” that is mainly a construct of the 1864 election campaign.

    I maintain what is needed is a good Masters student to do a full in depth study, complete with locating signals logs etc. if they’ve survived.

  29. Dudley Bokoski July 9, 2012 / 4:51 pm

    Excellent post, the more so for the balance it shows. There is a letter from General Winfield Scott to Lincoln before Scott’s retirement which speaks of McClellan’s insubordination in communicating directly to Lincoln and the War Department. Scott says he should, by rights, court martial him but for the good of the country he won’t.

    Lincoln ignored Scott and ended up with an ungrateful and arrogant subordinate. McClellan failed to realize that a Commander-In-Chief who permitted this breach of military protocol would be likely to do the same to him. And so, Lincoln and McClellan begin a marriage of convenience without any bonds of loyalty or, seemingly, much respect or good will.

    Lincoln’s failure to trust McClellan lead to him ignoring his sound advice to not be too concerned over Jackson and send along McDowell’s troops, which would have protected the right wing which, up in the air, was attacked by Lee. McClellan’s non-committal answers and failure to bring Lincoln more into his confidence is one reason, but not the only, that Lincoln went behind his back to his subordinates and meddled where he was not needed. They had in common that they both were much too sure of their own ability to plan strategy.

    All that said, the issue of McClellan’s emotional and physical state once the Seven Days began is often overlooked. In the easy narrative of the all-wise Lincoln and the insubordinate McClellan it is often overlooked that McClellan emotionally and physical broke down during the Seven Days. Once he became convinced Jackson had left the valley he had his chief engineer scouting White Oak Swamp for a route to the James before the first shot was ever fired. He became Captain Queeg, “the Old Yellow Stain” of the “Caine Mutiny”.

    The best revelation of his character, or lack of touch with reality, was his taking (days after the fiasco) time away from seeing to his command to write a letter lecturing Lincoln on what the nature of the war should be. That McClellan was ever entrusted with command after the Seven Days speaks volumes about the lack of command alternatives and the need Lincoln felt to keep the Democratic Party supportive of the war effort.

    It is not out of the realm of possibility that another President and another commander of the Army of the Potomac could have teamed to give the Union a victory which might have ended the war in 1862. It is an indictment of them both that they could not work together to achieve that end.

    • John Foskett July 10, 2012 / 10:31 am

      A very thoughtful, analytical post. For me, however, your fourth paragraph effectively summarizes why he was unfit for field command. He “broke down” at least in part due to the ridiclous fantasy cooked up by himself/Pinkerton/a combination which he persisted in despite common sense. (Pinkerton, for example, had actually come up with a fairly precise estimate of which units were present for the ANV. Somebody then hit (2X) on the calculator.) I like your analogy. The only thing missing is the ball bearings. Both were not fitted for the commands they were given. One can, of course, dispute the farther reaches of the analogy when it gets to the “fairness” of treatment by others.

  30. Michael William Stone June 18, 2015 / 1:52 am

    Well, in fairness to McClellan I can’t see any commander of thoe AoP who did noticeably better than him, until Grant became available in 1864.

    Also, were he and Grant dealing with the same Lincoln? My impression is that the Lincoln of 1864 was far more experienced and “professional” than his 1862 analogue. Had he perhaps become more realistic in what he expected of his generals?

    • monodisperse June 18, 2015 / 1:28 pm

      The impression I get is Lincoln had decided to stop interfering; Grant was given a huge amount of latitude to implement the agreed operational plan (which was essentially Lincolns). Hence he dismisses objections from Stanton and Halleck about stripping Washington to feed the grinder, and Halleck’s opinion that Lee will hold Grant before Richmond with a small force and come up the valley to attack Washington.

      Then you get the bloodbaths for apparently little gain, culminating in the Crater. Early comes up the valley and threatens Washington. Grant has become “McClellanized” before Petersburg. Lincoln reimposes his will on Grant in a meeting on 31st July ’64; a meeting apparently so traumatic to Grant that he doesn’t mention it in his memoirs. At the meeting Lincoln apparently proposed to restore McClellan to a command in the East, but that came to naught as McClellan, apparently badly burned by his previous experiences, declined the initial feelers.

      Thus it seems that Lincoln came to appreciate that McClellan was far superior to those he’d tried to replace his with: McDowell, Fremont, Pope, Hooker, Burnside, Butler and Meade had all been damp squibs, and now Grant has lost (I think) more men than all his predecessors combined to get essentially where McClellan was two years before. With Sheridan one can make a parallel with Pope two years earlier, drawing off Grants offensive edge in numbers as surely as McClellans. Unlike two years earlier Early is no Jackson, and Sheridan is no Pope, and Lincoln holds his nerve allowing the wing at Richmond to remain in place whilst the decision is really reached in the Shenandoah. I also think Lincoln had learnt the hard way that his decision to order McClellan to retreat two years earlier was probably the biggest mistake of the war….

        • monodisperse June 18, 2015 / 1:52 pm

          How so? It’s heavily drawn from John Y. Simon’s article in “Lincoln’s Generals”, and seems reasonable. Was JY Simon wrong? Am I missing data?

          • Brooks D. Simpson June 18, 2015 / 3:07 pm

            Yup. For some reason people have written about Grant’s Civil War career since 1994.

        • James F. Epperson June 19, 2015 / 10:23 am

          It’s also wrong. Grant’s casualties up through Cold Harbor are about 55K. The casualties during McClellan’s time with the army (8/61–11/62) are about 43K (some of that being due to Pope). Throwing in Fredericksburg through Gettysburg puts you much beyond 55K. Even if we add the losses for the first several actions of the siege (the initial assaults, Jerusalem Plank Road, First Deep Bottom, the Crater), Grant’s losses are going to be less.

    • John Foskett June 20, 2015 / 8:05 am

      Try this on which Lincoln Grant was dealing with (and yes, it’s speculation on my part). Lincoln saw a general who had taken Henry and Donelson; who had suffered a devastating setback on April 6, 1862 that likely would have resulted in Mac folding his cards in a defensive position, yet rebounded the next AM to drive the enemy from the field; who figured out a way to take Vicksburg and pulled it off; who salvaged Chattanooga and again drove from the field a rebel army that two months earlier had inflicted a massive defeat on its foe. Against that we have what we (didn’t) have from McClellan. His biggest (only) accomplishment was Antietam, where, despite facing an enemy hanging on by the barest threads on Yankee turf with his back to the river, Mac sat staring at him for 24 hours before that enemy finally picked up and went home – followed up by nothing. Fleas and barnyards. Lincoln was a bright man and would have had no trouble piecing together those two resumes.

    • Brooks D. Simpson June 19, 2015 / 10:58 am

      I tend to think that if you can read a 1994 article you can pursue the additional readings on your own. I see no reason to waste the time repeating what I’ve already written.

      BTW, Simon’s interpretation of what happened on July 31 is not a data point: it’s his interpretation. Lincoln did not suggest McClellan, and he rejected the Meade option for comanding around DC. You’ve bobbled interpreting Lincoln’s notes. Nor is there any “data” that Lincoln chewed Grant out on July 31. So perhaps you want to define what constitutes data: evidence or simply interpretations that comport with one’s opinions? One might recall the plan that Grant proposed and Halleck rejected at the beginning of the year.

      For more, you’re welcome to read what I’ve written. We can discuss things once you have.

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