At present we are observing the 150th anniversary of George B. McClellan’s attempt to take Richmond in 1862. I haven’t seen much written about it. I expect we’ll see something soon, starting with the anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s taking charge of the Army of Northern Virginia. At that point McClellan will become the target of criticism and the subject of a good number of jokes.
It’s easy to make jokes about McClellan. I should know. Earlier this month, in delivering a paper about how Grant won his third star, I observed that several speakers cast aspersions on McClellan, and even I raised some questions about him. Someone in the audience had the audacity to ask about why, if McClellan was such a poor general, did he have such an impressive equestrian statue on Connecticut Avenue (a statue recently restored to its original toy soldier green … not sure I like it). I pointed out that while many of McClellan’s soldiers may have admired him, the soldier vote went overwhelmingly for Lincoln in 1864 (I would venture that the officer vote, at least in the Army of the Potomac, was much more even) and mentioned the old saw about the two roads going northward from the rear of the statue to allow McClellan to commence a change of base. Someone else added that the monument’s placement was much further away from the downtown area than were the monuments to other Civil War heroes, although I wonder whether that could be explained in part by time of death (John A. Rawlins has a statue quite near the White House, if you know where to look, but I don’t think that location indicates his importance to anyone but Grant). Later on, feeling that I’d been unfair to Little Mac, I recounted Grant’s rather even-handed, even generous assessment of him. However, I fear, the damage had been done.