Give George B. McClellan a Break

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.

Part of the problem with the exchange was that it became predictable.  Someone said McClellan’s men loved him because he was careful with their lives.  The easy answer to that is to remind people of what happened at Antietam, the bloodiest single day of combat during the war, as well as the toll from disease suffered by his men in the spring of 1862.  Someone also cited the Lee comment that Marse Robert always thought McClellan was the best general he ever faced, as if that clinched the argument.  Of course, Grant compared Joe Johnston favorably to Lee, so if that’s how we’re going to go about such a discussion (let alone the question of whether Lee actually said what he said about McClellan, or what he said about Grant), we’re not going to get very far.  These exchanges become tiresome.

Look, George B. McClellan had his shortcomings.  But it would seem to me that rather than simply repeat old refrains, that we look at him a little differently.  If he said negative things about Lincoln, well, Lincoln said negative things about him (and other generals).  If he was aware of politics, well, so were other generals.  If he questioned the authorities in Washington, he was not alone.  He had a case that his plans concerning Richmond were complicated by Lincoln’s handling of McDowell’s corps; if he mishandled justifying why he should have remained on the James in July 1862, one must still wonder whether it was a good idea to abandon that position.

All the above does not mean that I think George B. McClellan was the unsung hero of the war.  Some of McClellan’s defenders go too far, and in a few cases insist that we see things as McClellan saw them and adopt his assumptions as our own.  Some people always decry civilian “interference” with the military, but it’s a fact of life: how generals handle that is a test of their ability as a general (certainly an American general).  But McClellan did understand the link between policy ends and military means, and at times he’s been unjustly maligned.  We might do better than to resort to the simple stick figure stereotypes that I fear we will encounter again over the next two months about the man who thought he could do it all.

149 thoughts on “Give George B. McClellan a Break

  1. Carl Schenker May 21, 2012 / 11:43 am

    FWIW, on Sept 25, 1862, Sherman wrote to his wife that “[Halleck] is the only real Great Man thus far [in the war]. McClellan is next. All others are mediocre.” Simpson & Berlin, 305. I don’t know what Sherman’s ultimate view of McClellan was. But this certainly seems to show that WTS had not gotten on the Grant bandwagon at that date. CRS

  2. Carl Schenker May 21, 2012 / 12:02 pm

    Here is a link to a Wikipedia article itemizing the various CW statues in Washington. I don’t know how sites were selected. Sherman’s is basically right at the White House, despite his disinterest in the Presidency. According to Wikipedia, Sherman’s memorial is at the spot for the stands for the Grand Review. But I certainly wldn’t say that McClellan got a bad site, even though its several miles from the White House it is on a major avenue and rather at a commanding height. CRS,_DC

  3. Buck Buchanan May 21, 2012 / 12:29 pm

    And I know this is also an oversimplification as well but he was one hell of a brilliant administrator. The Army of the P:otomac was truly his creation. He created an effective fighting force in the fall 61-winter 62 which was excellent. If it was wanting it was in the caliber of some of its senior leaders across the board.

    And any Union field army tied to the national capitol would have as its commander someone who had to keep an eye over his shoulder. Washington had to be protected. McClellan actually had a very good plan (though he had some real issues with the topography of the Peninsula) but he needed to make sure Washington was covered. Grant would later face the same issue when he had to send the VIth Corps and XIX Corps to cover Washington and go after Early.

  4. Lyle Smith May 21, 2012 / 12:55 pm

    Good homily. I’ve always admired Grant’s kindness towards McClellan and McClellan’s military record.

    … and didn’t John Mosby opine that it would have been better for the CSA if Grant had been the commander of the Army of the Potomac early in the war, because the of AoP would have been predictable and the CSA could have fought on the defensive and absorbed fewer casualties. Or something to that effect.

  5. Margaret D. Blough May 21, 2012 / 1:44 pm

    How about his behavior during the Second Manassas Campaign regarding coming to the relief of Pope?

    • Bryn Monnery May 22, 2012 / 3:24 am

      We’re discussing the movement of 6th Corps one assumes.

      I would argue that the slow movement is not only understandable, but was in fact correct given the situation. I posted my thoughts as a comment on the old civilwarriors blog and have seen nothing to change my mind (there is no need to post them here, but if interested see ).

      Whatever McClellan’s personal feelings about Pope (and they were not pleasant) he did not let them interfere with his conduct of operations.

  6. Richard McCormick May 21, 2012 / 3:03 pm

    The Lincoln and McClellan relationship has come down in history as an example of the “winner writes history” cliche. Lincoln ended up being the President who was there when the Union won the war, so his comments about McClellan are seen as funny or amusing, because, after all, Lincoln helped win the war while McClellan was no longer in any position of authority. As much as I like Lincoln, and have laughed over some of his comments (“it is not the Army of the Potomac, it is General McClellan’s bodyguard” for instance, even if that’s not the exact quote) I do now wonder if Lincoln’s comments and attitude toward his general were any better than what McClellan said about him. Does Lincoln’s position as the President even make his comments worse? Is it worse for the boss to ridicule the employee?

  7. Ian Duncanson May 21, 2012 / 5:52 pm

    How many chances does a general get to destroy the enemies army? McClellan had two, and badly failed both times. The Pennisula Campaign and the Antietam Campaign. Add in Ms. Blough comment above, and I believe history has been too kind to McCellan.

    • Lyle Smith May 21, 2012 / 8:53 pm

      How many armies were destroyed during the Civil War? Did Grant defeat Lee in a season’s worth of campaigning, which was all the time McClellan and Lee faced one another?

      • Brooks D. Simpson May 21, 2012 / 8:57 pm

        It all depends on what size of a force qualifies as an “army” and what do we mean by “destroy.” Grant is often credited with removing three armies off the board (Fort Donelson, Vicksburg, and Appomattox); the surrender of the Harper’s Ferry garrison was a rather significant blow; if one counts Appomattox, then Sherman took an army off the board at Durham Station; and debate still continues on whether Thomas destroyed Hood at Nashville, a case where much depends on how one defines “destroyed.”

        • jfepperson May 22, 2012 / 4:36 am

          There is also the destruction of the Union force at Richmond, KY, in 1862.

          • John Buchann May 22, 2012 / 10:14 am

            And some could claim Sheridan as well at Cedar Creek where Old Jubilee was removed as a threat.

          • Lyle Smith May 22, 2012 / 11:08 am

            Another fair case.

          • Lyle Smith May 22, 2012 / 11:06 am

            Its arguable, but too small a scale maybe?

        • Carl Schenker May 22, 2012 / 8:32 am

          There are also the complications introduced by questions of parole. My rather vague understanding is that the Confederates who surrendered at Fort Donelson were taken into Union custody but eventually paroled. Those who surrendered at Vicksburg never were taken into Union custody. I wonder what the real impact of those two surrenders was on Confederate manpower.

          • jfepperson May 22, 2012 / 11:04 am

            The Donelson folks were paroled that fall. The Vicksburg garrison was largely paroled in the fall of 1863, but as an organized force it did not amount to much.

          • Noma May 22, 2012 / 6:00 pm

            [The President] told me in our first private interview a most amusing anecdote regarding a delegation of ‘cross-roads wiseacres,’ as he called them, who came to see him one day to criticize my conduct in paroling Pemberton’s army after the surrender at Vicksburg, who insisted that the men would violate their paroles, and in less than a month confront me anew in the field, and have to be whipped all over again.

            Said Mr. Lincoln: ‘I thought the best way to get rid of them was to tell them the story of Sykes’s dog.

            “Have you ever heard about Sykes’s yellow dog?” said I to the spokesman of the delegation.

            He said he hadn’t. “Well, I must tell you about him,” said I.

            “Sykes had a yellow dog he set great store by, but there were a lot of small boys around the village, and that’s always a bad thing for dogs, you know. These boys didn’t share Sykes’s views, and they were not disposed to let the dog have a fair show.

            “Even Sykes had to admit that the dog was getting unpopular; in fact it was soon seen that a prejudice was growing up against that dog that threatened to wreck all his future prospects in life. The boys, after meditating how they could get the best of him, finally fixed up a cartridge with a long fuse, put the cartridge in a piece of meat, dropped the meat in the road in front of Sykes’s door, and then perched themselves on a fence a good distance off, holding the end of the fuse in their hands.

            “Then they whistled for the dog. When he came out he scented the bait, and bolted the meat, cartridge and all. The boys touched off the fuse with a cigar, and in about a second a report came from that dog that sounded like a clap of thunder.

            “Sykes came bouncing out of the house and yelled, ‘What’s up? Anything busted!’

            “There was no reply except a snicker from the small boys roosting on the fence; but as Sykes looked up he saw the whole air filled with pieces of yellow dog. He picked up the biggest piece he could find, a portion of the back with a part of the tail still hanging to it, and after turning it round and looking it all over, he said, ‘Well I guess he’ll never be much account again — as a dog!’

            “And I guess Pemberton’s forces will never be much account again — as an army.”

            The delegation began looking around for their hats before I had quite got to the end of the story, and I was never bothered any more after that about superseding the commander of the Army of the Tennessee.’

            Horace Porter – citing Grant’s account of his meeting with Lincoln in “Campaigning with Grant”

        • Lyle Smith May 22, 2012 / 11:04 am

          I think that is true. Particularly, I think, the definition of “destroy”. Fort Donelson prisoners seemed to largely go back to a CSA army. Vicksburg was more devastating, but many (maybe not most) of those prisoners went back to a Confederate army as well. Appomattox was final, but it ended in surrender and not annihilation.

          I guess I was using destroy as in to physically annihilate an army in battle.

          McClellan ultimately got to face the best the Confederacy could offer. Grant was out West where the Confederacy was less focused and then got to spar with a weakened AoNV by the time he was in command in the East.

          I have no doubt Grant was a way better general than McClellan, but like Grant himself seemed to question in his comments about McClellan’s abilities… how would he have fared at the helm of the AoP in 1862?

  8. jfepperson May 22, 2012 / 4:43 am

    I am not a McClellan fan in the least, but I agree w/ Brooks that a lot of these comparisons are based on “conventional wisdom” type stories.

    I will make one point in partial disagreement w/ Brooks: It is true that both Mac and Abe disparaged the other in private conversation and/or correspondence, but I do see a difference in this. Mac was making snide comments about Abe and treating him dismissively from early on in their relationship. I think Lincoln’s comments only came later, as his frustration at Mac’s inactivity mounted.

  9. wgdavis May 22, 2012 / 10:55 am

    No breaks on this end. Mac’s performance at Antietam was abysmal…locating himself far in the rear to the point that any messages to his commanders would be irrelevant by the time they reached their destination. And there is still the captured Battle Orders of Robert E. Lee, with which he did absolutely nothing. And then there is the lack of follow through, not just immediate pursuit of Lee after the battle, but crossing the Potomac to go after him on the other side as well.

    As for disease, who is responsible for the sanitary conditions of the camps? Mac was.

    Finally, there is the unforgivable hubris of openly talking a coup and subverting his officers, to say nothing of the totally disloyal and insulting treatment of his Commander in Chief at Antietam after the Battle.

    • jfepperson May 22, 2012 / 12:38 pm

      Hubris? Mac?

    • John Foskett May 24, 2012 / 7:09 am

      Amen to your final paragraph. In my humble opinion McClellan bordered on violating the Articles of War in effect at the time on multiple occasions. His pal Porter went further in his correspondence with Marble. Porter was wrongly cashiered for his appropriate actions at SBR. He should have been booted for the junk he spewed to a newspaper pubisher.

  10. martin May 22, 2012 / 12:00 pm

    “Someone also cited the Lee comment that Marse Robert always thought McClellan was the best general he ever faced…”

    Of course he did. It was Lee’s backdoor way of saying that he beat the best they had, which not dismisses the man who _did_ beat him, but speaks more to high opinion Lee had of himself, not McClellan.

    On the other hand, it might mean that Lee could crack a joke with the best of them.

    • wgdavis May 22, 2012 / 7:31 pm

      It also extends out to a perception that deep down Lee didn’t feel he was the better of Grant and himself.

    • Bryn Monnery May 23, 2012 / 1:11 pm

      Lee was completely serious in his praise. Longstreet (probably him, I know no other high ranking members of Lee’s army who joined the Republican party) said of him:

      and what of this?

      “There was no Union general whom we so much dreaded as much as McClellan. We would always tell when he was in command by the way the Union troops were handled, and the number of our dead and wounded. We received the blows, and we knew who dealt the heaviest ones. We were sorry when we heard he had been restored to command, after we had defeated Pope, and were glad when we was retired…. [McClellan] had, as we thought, no equal.”

      – unattributed Republican Confederate General to Hugh McCulloch, 1874

      • Brooks D. Simpson May 23, 2012 / 1:53 pm

        And yet Longstreet also spoke quite highly of Grant … so this sort of thing doesn’t get us very far, does it? Especially as McCulloch’s anti-Grant animus was well known.

        • Bryn Monnery May 23, 2012 / 2:35 pm

          No, these quotes get us nowhere in understanding command in the Civil War. You’re correct there. However I don’t see respecting McClellans and Grants abilities to be mutually exclusive. Longstreet lost many a soldier to both of them.

          • Brooks D. Simpson May 23, 2012 / 2:43 pm

            Exactly … but, if you think about it, in terms of McClellan initiating blows versus troops commanded by Longstreet, we’re talking September 14 and 17, 1862 … and, if we’re talking Grant, we’re talking the fall of Richmond/Petersburg and the Appomattox campaign.

            Otherwise, Longstreet was the one delivering blows.

            I’ve often deplored the build up General A by denigrating General B game. McClellan 1862/Grant 1864 comparisons are more involved than that. The conditions were fundamentally different, and so were the armies and the context of the campaigns. However, in both cases we see interference from Washington with the original plan of campaign, and how the need to secure Washington (or be seen to secure Washington) shifted original intentions. And on and on and on.

            What I’ve noticed about Grant is how a good many assessments of his wartime performance were powerfully shaped by postwar politics.

          • Bryn Monnery May 24, 2012 / 9:21 am

            Plus, of course, Burnside. However his blows at Antietam pale compared to the heavy blows of South Mountain, Antietam, Spotsylvania or Cold Harbor. Longstreet managed to miss Chancellorsville and the “Waltz with General Meade” (I use Ethan Rafuse’s turn of phrase as it is poetic), so never saw Hooker or Meade on the tactical offensive as you say.

            I agree totally about the moral bankruptcy of trying to do one General down at the expense of another (and I hold a special contempt for Bonekemper for being the most extreme example of deriding both Lee and McClellan at the expense of Grant). This is why I hold Rowlands book comparing McClellan, Grant and Sherman in such high regard – it holds all three to one common standard and if anything it is Sherman that looks the worst of the three.

            On the changing assessment of Grant; is there a chance of doing a blog post on this? I think it would make for an interesting story?

          • Brooks D. Simpson May 24, 2012 / 11:25 am

            My only problem with Tom Rowland’s book is that it set up the game in a particular way as to achieve what he set out to do. Note, for example, that he says nothing about my work … so I guess I’m exempt from being a Grant apologist. 🙂

            I believe that Bonekemper’s work largely rehashes/brings up to date the work of JFC Fuller.

            My own take is that Grant learned a great deal from McClellan’s experience in 1862, especially when it came to dealing with politicians in Washington. He was willing to return McClellan to a command position.

            I’ve been thinking of writing something more substantial about how Grant’s reputation as both a general and a president has fluctuated over the years. Joan Waugh’s book did a good job in exploring efforts to remember Grant in the 1880s and 1890s, but it failed to explore what happened afterwards. Of course, the blog may see some of these thoughts expressed as I work on them.

        • Ian Duncanson May 25, 2012 / 6:17 pm

          Didn’t Longstreet also speak quite highly of our favority punching bag – Dan

  11. Jim Rosebrock May 22, 2012 / 1:29 pm

    My own perspective on McClellan comes from 28 years as an Army officer but perhaps more importantly from five years of volunteering and interpreting at Antietam National Battlefield. I am currently the head of Antietam Battlefield Guides, the guide service at the park under the Western Maryland Interpretive Association. I walk the ground every week. I have studied McClellan for many years. I hear the usual McClellan view frequently when I welcome visitors to the park. Usually I am able to present enough of a perspective that folks are willing to give the man another look, an objective look this time.

    I believe McClellan as a strategist was hard to beat. I think the nation would have been better served if Lincoln had disagreed with McClellan’s early assertion that he could “do it all” and left him as commander in chief of the army upon the retirement of Winfield Scott and placed someone else in command of the Army of the Potomac. McClellan’s indirect approach to Richmond was not understood and even feared by the politicians but if he had remained in Washington as CINC (an idea he would have abhorred) while the Army of Potomac advanced on Richmond… While personally a very brave and cool man under fire, McClellan seemed less fearless the further back he was. By that I mean there were others who could have lead the operational battles better than he. At least in the beginning. And I would assert that he learned and improved after every campaign.

    Read Rowena Reed’s Combined Operations in the Civil War and you will see McClellan’s flair for this aspect of the military art. Even the McClellan bashers agree that he was a superb organizer and planner. But operationally, it was under his watch that Burnside successfully invaded the North Carolina coastline and Farragut captured New Orleans, the South’s largest city. Little Mac was in synch with Lincoln regarding the slow moving Buell and the political need of the administration to liberate eastern Tennessee.

    But he could be petty and he was ambitious. His characterizations of Lincoln and his undermining of Scott are outrageous. There is no excuse for his sentiments toward John Pope during the Second Manassas Campaign. There is not a doubt that the attention and accolades of that heady summer of 1861 upon his arrival in Washington did him harm in the long run. There is a touch of George McClellan in Douglas McArthur in the respect. It is unfortunate that much of how we cast McClellan was based on his personal letters to his wife. I dare say that few of us would care to have publicly revealed what we say in the privacy of our own families.

    There is no doubt that McClellan improved operationally as a battlefield commander as the war progressed. I can’t address the Peninsula Campaign but McClellan definitely took his lumps there and learned from the experience.

    In the crisis of the first week of September 1862, he was called upon by Lincoln to weld defeated and demoralized from five different elements (Army of the Potomac, Army of Virginia, Burnside’s North Carolina command, Cox’s Kanawha Division and thousands of green troops) into an effective command. Who of McClellan’s detractors can suggest anyone better for that job? In a week they were on the road moving northwest from Washington covering that city and Baltimore seeking out Lee’s Army. In the second week, they reached Frederick, engaged parts of Lee’s army at South Mountain and defeated it, and set the stage for the final confrontation at Antietam.

    Remember that McClellan is in the role of the attacker at Antietam essentially for the first time. As an operational commander on the battlefield, he was careful and orthodox. He preferred to keep a very large reserve and was unwilling to commit it unless and until he was sure that the risk was worth the investment. McClellan’s plan for assaults on the Confederate right and then left forced the early commitment of all of Lee’s reserves weakening the Sunken Road and Middle and Lower Bridge positions. And despite the mantra of 20,000 troops dozing in the center and never engaged, the facts speak otherwise. Pleasanton’s cavalry division and its horse artillery crossed the Middle Bridge and the artillery engaged Lee’s weakened center. In the so-called “uncommitted” Fifth Corps, Porter pushed a brigade of regulars across the Middle Bridge and sent Warren’s brigade to the Ninth Corps. He dispatched two brigades of Morell’s Fifth Corps division to Sumner. I freely acknowledge that there were several times that day that McClellan’s forces could have broken through. Lee’s aggressive counterattacks after every Union offensive caused McClellan to hesitate to commit his remaining available troops at the end of the day and achieve a decisive operational victory. Lee’s aggressive use of A.P. Hill’s arriving troops validated in McClellan’s mind this approach. This so-called operational “draw” so ravaged Lee’s Army that it took all the offensive starch out of the Army of Northern Virginia for many months.

    Too many people hang their hats on 150 years of homogenized interpretation done by others with various motives, not just about McClellan but about all aspects of the Civil War. For the Maryland Campaign, it is necessary to read OR 19 AND OR 51 to get the full picture. Murfin and Sears in their Antietam monographs did not use Carmen’s manuscript very much. It is arguably the best source of information on that battle. Just jumping on the McClellan Merry Go Round as Joseph Harsh used to say, and re-parlaying the usual assertions about McClellan without exploring for yourself the first person accounts does not do a great service to your own understanding. There is a lot of important new material coming out this year. Tom Clemens completed edition of Volume 2 of the Carmen Papers at last makes that important historical document available to the public in a read-able form. Students of the Antietam also eagerly anticipate Scott Hartwig’s long awaited epic account of the Maryland Campaign. That is a lot of good new material and a lot to read. Dig in but also do yourself a favor this summer and come to Antietam and walk a mile in McClellan’s shoes.

    In conclusion, McClellan learned from Antietam as well. He conducted a careful campaign that began on October 26 1862 that was slowly pushing Lee back. He realized the political realities in Washington. But he refused to move until he was ready. We seem to want to some how make preparation a vice in McClellan’s case when elsewhere it is a virtue. Careful deliberate planning is usually the rule in American military operations. Scott in Mexico, and Pershing in France, Eisenhower in various places in Europe, McArthur in the Pacific, and Schwartzkopf in Saudi Arabia; all prepared, planned, and provisioned before beginning their military operations. See Dmitri Rotov’s recent post “In Praise of Slow Marching” here.

    I fully expect that for every point I make here, there will be an intelligent, well crafted counterpoint excavated from the mass of interpretation over the years. I often hear it on the battlefield. Standing by here at Sharpsburg.

    • Brooks D. Simpson May 22, 2012 / 3:44 pm

      “But operationally, it was under his watch that Burnside successfully invaded the North Carolina coastline and Farragut captured New Orleans, the South’s largest city.”

      I believe New Orleans fell on April 25, over a month after McClellan had been displaced as general-in-chief. Moreover, Farragut was not under McClellan’s command. So there’s a larger story here that one might miss under the original statement.

      That said, my point is that only a few people have advanced beyond a rather predictable see-saw when it comes to McClellan, and I’ve tired of it. I know that when I looked closely at Lincoln’s visit to McClellan’s headquarters after Antietam that I discovered things I had not read about before.

      • Jim Rosebrock May 23, 2012 / 6:13 am

        Your right Brooks. I should have been more precise. The capture of New Orleans occured after McClellan’s relief of command. However McClellan was involved with sending Ben Butler’s troops to the Gulf and McClellan worked hard to engender a spirit of cooperation with the Navy, something we now call joint operations 150 years later. I am enjoying the comments on your post.

    • Lyle Smith May 22, 2012 / 9:40 pm

      I enjoy your Antietam videos Jim.

      • Jim Rosebrock May 23, 2012 / 3:20 pm

        Thanks Lyle. Hope to see you at the park sometime.

    • John Foskett May 24, 2012 / 9:03 am

      A well-reasoned defense of McClellan at Antietam, with which I confess to less familarity than with the Peninsula. Here’s the problem I have with the somewhat revisionist trend regarding McClellan at the “lower operational”/”tactical” level (and for the record I think that the oft-attacked “stereotype” of McClellan exists at this level, and not at levels of higher strategy or administration). Whenever I begin to be swayed by an explanation which posits how well McClellan actually performed at Antietam, I take a step back and the explanation loses its grip. McClellan significantly outnumbered his opponent (even given substantial numbers of rookie troops). His opponent’s forces were still divided, although most had hurriedly been collected at Sharpsburg. His opponent had his back to a river. Lee’s defensive tactics at Antietam smack of a desperate “triage” approach which was facilitated by McClellan’s sequential attacks from north to south. Out of all this McClellan emerged with a tactical draw. I’m probably simple-minded but I fail to see how that adds up to a nice checkmark in the positive column at the level I’m referring to – although it’s certainly a better result than his (dare I say it) retreat on the Peninsula (which IMHO ultimately got blamed on the administrastion for failing to give him McDowell’s 30,000 which would only have reduced his fantasized disdavantage from 2:1 to 2:1.3). I also get the feeling that the accepted stereotype at this level can be nibbled away but in the end the core remains. Dimitri, by the way, makes here and on his blog an excellent point about “slow marches”. But just occasionally a good ole fast march is the right call.

    • tonygunter May 24, 2012 / 9:38 am

      You mention Rowenda Reed. I usually pick up a book like this, turn to the section on Vicksburg, and read outwards in both directions over time. Her material on Vicksburg was so flawed and so full of anti-Grant bile that I wasn’t motivated in any way to read the remainder of the book. You would think if an author is going to write a book on combined operations, she would spend some time trying to understand via the primary sources theses combined operations and the operational planning that preceded them. However, Reed simply regurgitated secondary resources that supported her presumptions. I found myself wondering what her game was, sounds like she’s guilty of playing the “build up McClellan by tearing down Grant” game about which Brooks is complaining.

      • John Foskett May 24, 2012 / 11:45 am

        Tony: I tend to agree. I found Reed’s analysis too much grounded in others’ secondary sources. That said, I do think she makes a convincing case that McClellan had a solid grasp on the utility and implementation of combined operations. His problems, IMHO, began on the actual battlefield.

      • jfepperson May 25, 2012 / 5:03 pm

        I have very little respect for Reed’s work, for many of the same reasons Tony cites.

    • Ian Duncanson May 25, 2012 / 6:20 pm

      “A poor plan executed quickly and violently, is better than a good plan executed slowly.”
      A U.S. Marine

  12. Dimitri Rotov May 22, 2012 / 3:18 pm

    I like the tone of these comments! Except for those from Davis and Martin.

    Guys, go back and read our old Usenet exchanges. We covered this ground. How could you forget?

    Books have been written about what McClellan did with the lost orders – go read them if you can’t access Usenet. The Lee complement does not need to be interpreted. It’s an unequivocal statement. We covered that too.

    Get with the program.

    • Ken Noe May 23, 2012 / 2:37 pm

      Mr. Rotov: While it’s not on-topic, I take the opportunity serendipitously presented here to point out that in the two most recent posts on your own site, you erroneously identify Carol Reardon as a James McPherson student. She studied with Charles Roland at Kentucky, and I think Jay Luvaas before that.

      • Dimitri Rotov May 24, 2012 / 6:33 am

        Good catch – I fixed it and posted a correction. Thank you, Kenneth.

    • wgdavis May 23, 2012 / 6:57 pm

      Get with the program? Really? Usenet? Really?

      As for usenet, the air in here is so much fresher, so much more polite, so much more honest and well defined [there’s a program you can get with].

      Sure books have been written, and books have been written about Gettysburg, too. But since things have changed so much at Gettysburg we have discovered several areas where the books are just dead wrong.

      Mac was a disingenuous, disloyal, hubris-filled Napoleon-wannabe. He was an able administrator, a good leader, and a terrible general. At best he should have stayed behind a desk in Washington, where he might have been successful. His successes are heavily weighted at the early end of field command, seemingly evaporating the longer he was in command.

      His ‘success’ at Antietam was in spite of himself. He took no advantage of Lee’s lost order. He located his HQ so far from the action that given the optics of the era, he could hardly do more than recognize the movement of some flags, and likely was unable to discern which side they were on when they closed. Certainly the early morning fog in which the fight at Miller’s cornfield occurred would have been completely invisible to him. He was so far from the action it would have taken 15-30 minutes to get a message to any of his generals, and another 15-30 minutes to get a report/response. And afterwards, he failed to pursue Lee despite repeated urgings from his C-in-C, something Meade repeated 9 1/2 months later, much to Lincoln’s displeasure.

      His actions subsequently were well across the border into insubordination, and all the books in the world will never counter that letter to his wife where he boasts of the capability to enter Washington and seize power. The mere fact that he had that thought convicts him. That he boastfully put it to paper condemns him.

      other statements

      “I find myself in a new and strange position here-Presdt, Cabinet, Genl Scott and all deferring to me-by some strange operation of magic I seem to become the power of the land.” George B. McClellan July 27, 1861

      “I am induced to believe that the enemy has at least 100,000 men in our front.”
      George B. McClellan Aug 8 1861

      “the enemy have from 3 to 4 times my force-the Presdt is an idiot, the old general in his dotage-they cannot will not see the true state of affairs.”
      George B. McClellan Aug 16 1861

      “As he [Scott] threw down the glove and I took it up, I presume war is declared-so be it. I do not fear him.”
      George B. McClellan Sep 27 1861

      I am reminded of his post-Antietam request for an enormous number of horses. Lincoln responded by asking [politely], “I have just read your dispatch about sore-tongued and fatigued horses. Will you pardon me for asking what the horses of your army have done since the battle of Antietam that fatigues anything?”
      Abraham Lincoln

      “McClellan is to me, one of the mysteries of the war.”
      U.S. Grant

      There is your McClellan. There is your program.

    • John Foskett May 24, 2012 / 6:54 am

      As a faithful follower of The Civil War Bookshelf and a believer that much worthwhile provocation is done there, I say the heck with the good ole Lost Orders debate. What sticks in my brain is The Galena, The Galena, The Galena. Brother Little Mac, Where Art Thou? Mind you, leaving Sumner, Franklin, et al. to figure out who’s in charge at the crossroads (pun intended here) on June 30 might strike somebody as laudable command doctrine but not this cynic. Especially, of course, when you’ve convinced yourself that your army can squeeze through that potential bottleneck against the overwhelming, 200,000-strong legions of the other guy. I can understand an engineer’s natural fascination with scouting out the Malvern Hill area for the next day’s defense but that’s what staff, et al. are for. A masterful “change of base”, however. That may have been one of the first uses of “spin” in American history.

      • Bryn Monnery May 24, 2012 / 11:38 am

        The Galena incident isn’t exactly like that. Read Sumner’s testimony to the JCCW:

        Sumner knew he was 2i/c, and had received a written note that all his orders would be obeyed. However, he doesn’t seem to have risen to the occasion. By Sumners’ testimony Col. Key (McClellans’ senior ADC) seems to have been dedicated to carrying delivering McClellans’ orders to Sumner even after he was on the Galena. Thus the command situation seems to be a variant of the Prussian idea of having a commander and an executive officer who actually deals with how movements were to be performed.

        Incidently, McClellan did not intend to retire to Malvern Hill the next day. This happened when Franklin abandoned his position after nightfall, removing the curtain of maneuver of White Oak Creek. A simple map survey shows Malvern Hill to be a bad position, with a wide open eastern flank (which is why the Federal Army stepped back off it and dodged Lee’s attempted turning movement). He intended to stand where he was, but war is the province of friction, and generals don’t always follow their commanders intent.

        • John Foskett May 25, 2012 / 7:40 am

          So who told Franklin and Heintzelman, or any of their division commanders, about this directive placing Sumner in command? I’ll wager that McClellan’s approach to this problem has never become established doctrine in our military. I’m still puzzled about the apparently more pressing concerns which dictated the ommanding general’s absence from the field on the most critical day of his army’s retreat (there I go again – “change of base”). I respect your argument but this seems to be one of those instances where McClellan’s defenders are just trying too darned hard.

        • John Foskett May 26, 2012 / 12:57 pm

          By the way, I had meant to point out an additional problem. Sumner’s statement regarding a note, etc., appears to relate to July 1 – not to June 30. His account of the action on the latter date says nothing about any directive from McClellan as to who was in charge. Instead, Sumner refers to his ad hoc lending of assistance to one of Heintzelman’s divisions – a decision which he (fortunately) made on his own. That’s how Glendale/FF was fought – unguided Union subordinates acting cooperatively as a committee. Meanwhile the guy who should have been directing things was taking a cruise.

    • tonygunter May 24, 2012 / 9:42 am

      I would really like to hear from a McClellan fan how they view the contrast in the way McClelland handled Charles Hamilton vs. the way Grant handled Charles Hamilton. In my opinion, Charles Hamilton highlights the reasons Grant was destined to lead the federal armies to victory against antagonists both domestic and Confederate. 🙂

  13. GBM May 22, 2012 / 3:55 pm

    Opinions are like posteriors. Everybody has one. Most aren’t pretty.

    Gaging the CW performance of various general officers via objective means is rarely attempted.
    Usually because the data wouldn’t fit the propaganda.

    Try this on for size… simple data.

    1862. Seven Days. 95,000+ rough & ready Rebels under RE Lee attacks the AOP under George McClellan with roughly the same number (91K). McClellan’s troops inflicted 20,000+ casualties, while absorbing 15,000+ in the process. Mac:Lee ratio? 20:15, Mac.

    1862. Maryland Campaign. 75,000+ Federals under McClellan attack 55,000+ Rebels under Lee. The Union troops inflict 16,000+ casualties at South Mtn & Cramptons gap plus Sharpsburg, while absorbing 14,000+. Mac:Lee ratio? 16:14

    Totals for 1862? Mac:Lee = 36:30. In other words, fighting diametrically opposed campaigns, Mac gave better that 16% more black eyes than he took.

    (You can spare me your Bobby Krick fantasy numbers, by the way).

    A beating, by any measure. Against Marse Robert. At his Army’s peak.

    How did Grant do? Against Lee? In 1864, when the ANV was worn down hard? And the AOP had a roughly 2:1 advantage in numbers?

    40 Days. Grant suffered 50,000+ casualties, to only 25,000+ inflicted.

    Data. Chew on it a while. Makes the nonsense anti-Mac hysteria (yes, hysteria) look downright stupid.

    • wgdavis May 22, 2012 / 7:40 pm

      Well, you know what else posteriors are full of, don’t you? ;>)

      War is certainly not exclusively a numbers game. It wasn’t the casualties, it wasn’t his leadership, it was his generalship that was found lacking…the endless delays while asking for more and more troops to counter vastly inflated estimates of opposing forces. It was his mishandling of of things at Antietam, including his utter disrespect of his Commander in Chief. It was the atmosphere of undermining the President among his HQ Staff and some of his subordinate officers.

      His actions, were they not in the context of the Civil War, would have made for a grand comic opera, hysterically so.

    • Brooks D. Simpson May 23, 2012 / 5:06 pm

      “1862. Maryland Campaign. 75,000+ Federals under McClellan attack 55,000+ Rebels under Lee. The Union troops inflict 16,000+ casualties at South Mtn & Cramptons gap plus Sharpsburg, while absorbing 14,000+. Mac:Lee ratio? 16:14”

      Somehow I don’t see the capture of the garrison at Harper’s Ferry included here.

      Data. Chew on that a while.

    • John Foskett May 24, 2012 / 11:52 am

      Ah, the Seven Days and the good old “inflicted 20,000” while absorbing “15,000”. But, by the way, also forced to stage a retreat (I know, “change of base” which, however, left him further from his objective than when he started). ‘Twould have been interesting indeed had Stonewall decided not to use the week to catch up on his sleep. In other words, so what? Lee was the attacker all week, so of course he’d take more casualties. But he won – handily. McClellan lost despite his efforts at alternately spinning the result as a masterful piece of execution and castigating Washington for withholding from him 30,000 troops which he would not IMHO have used to take the offensive. After all, even with McDowell Lee still would have “outmanned” himk by 70,000 imaginary troops.

      • Moe Daoust October 30, 2014 / 6:43 pm

        Regarding McClellan’s “retreat,” I’d like to offer the following:

        “Should we fail [to reach Richmond before it could be strongly reinforced] we could, with the co-operation of the Navy, cross the James and throw ourselves in rear of Richmond, thus forcing the enemy to come out & attack us,” wrote McClellan on February 3, 1862. This, of course, raises the very real possibility that Little Mac’s controversial shift to the James River in late June (deeper into enemy territory) may actually have been the implementation of a pre-conceived contingency plan as opposed to a retreat precipitated by the notion he was facing overwhelming numbers. In fact, if the following is any indication, McClellan’s thinking seems to have been more insightful that some would like to think. Nearly two years later, during his Overland Campaign and from very near the same position as McClellan had occupied just prior to his movement to the James, Ulysses S. Grant came to his own, though apparently not-so-novel, strategic decision. In his memoirs Grant writes, “Lee’s position was now so near Richmond, and the intervening swamps of the Chickahominy so great an obstacle to the movement of troops in the face of an enemy, that I decided to make my next left flank move, carry the army of the Potomac south of the James River.”

        • John Foskett February 23, 2017 / 9:33 am

          Interesting. One guy (having maneuvered Lee from central Va. to the outskirts of his capitol) then steals a march on Lee and crosses the James to get at a critical railroad hub – a potential game-changer which was frustrated by inefficient tactical execution on the south side of the river. The other guy heads away from his objective – unless his clever new plan was aimed at “retaking” Fortress Monroe, etc. I must have missed all of that evidence in the record which shows that McClellan’s real design in “changing base” was the same as Grant’s two years later. Feel free to provide, as well as the steps which he took between July 1 and August 1 to implement it.

          • Moe Daoust February 25, 2017 / 11:24 am

            First of all, Grant’s objective during his Overland Campaign was to get his forces between Lee and Richmond where he hoped to engage Lee in an open battle. Lee repeatedly impeded that plan, first by surprising Grant as his columns were marching through the Wilderness (Grant had a bad habit of being caught in surprise attacks throughout the war) and then interposing his force between Grant and Richmond at Spotsylvania, North Ana and Cold Harbor. It strikes me that if anybody did any “maneuvering” in central Virginia, it was Lee who continuously “outmaneuvered” Grant.

            Like Grant, McClellan expected to fight a major battle on Richmond’s front. On March 19, 1862, just as his troops were boarding the transports that would take them to Fortress Munroe, McClellan wrote Stanton, “We shall fight a decisive battle between West Point and Richmond, to give which battle the rebels will concentrate all their available forces . .” For varying reasons, that “open” or “decisive” battle did not take place and both men opted to move to the James with the intention of getting in Richmond’s rear. In other words, both men “headed away” from their original/mutual objective. As for “the evidence in the record which shows that McClellan’s real design in changing base was the same as Grant’s two years later,” I pointed that out to you in my last post but you seem to have chosen to ignore it. Here it is again, “Should we fail [to reach Richmond before it could be strongly reinforced] we could, with the co-operation of the Navy, cross the James and throw ourselves in rear of Richmond, thus forcing the enemy to come out & attack us,” wrote McClellan on February 3, 1862. If you check the OR you will see that McClellan pressed for this option following his movement to Harrison’s Landing but rather than recognizing this as a “potential game changer,” the administration instead insisted that McClellan withdraw his army off of the peninsula.

            Your comment regarding McClellan’s “clever new plan aimed at “retaking” Fortress Monroe” tells me that you are close minded and lack any sense of objectivity when dealing with such issues. Might I suggest that, for a start, you get yourself a copy of McClellan’s Papers (ed. S.W. Sears) and make a concerted effort to read through the OR for some insights into these events. In other words, instead of insisting that others provide you with proof of this or proof of that, why don’t you do your own research.

          • John Foskett February 26, 2017 / 9:16 am

            Your analysis of the Overland Campaign is flawed. You appear to think that Lee “outmaneuvered” Grant by deliberately moving towards Richmond when in fact he was simply, and repeatedly, responding to Grant’s consistent, and progressive, attempts to turn him. For analysis of who was maneuvering whom and who got “surprised”, consult somebody who has spent years studying the campaign – Rhea. And all of that, of course, has nothing to do with Grant’s decision outside Cold Harbor to cross the James and attack the rail hub – a move by which Lee clearly was surprised and which failed because of defective execution by Smith, et al.

            As for McClellan’s aggressive plans after retreating to his new base, let’s start with his thorough expression of his views on July7:

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

            I may be on the brink of eternity and as I hope forgiveness from my maker I have written this letter with sincerity towards you and from love of my country.”

            On the ever-loving “brink of eternity”? That doesn’t sound like a general who intends to “keep on moving on” or one who has deliberately :changed base” to launch an offensive. It sounds more like the guy who was desperately telegraphing Washington during the preceding week about hoping to save his army, it being “sacrificed”, etc., etc – e.g., ” Had I 20,000 or even 10,000 fresh troops to use to-morrow I could take Richmond, but I have not a man in reserve, and shall be glad to cover my retreat and save the material and personnel of the army.”

            When Mac met with Lincoln on July 8 he said nothing about his vision of attacking Petersburg. That came up a few weeks later with Halleck – and, of course, it got derailed in a discussion/negotiation about Richmond/Petersburg, McClellan “needing” 30,000 more troops and receiving “only” 20,000, etc. So, in vintage McClellan fashion, he advised Washington that he would “try” to attack Richmond, with the usual implied blame on the administration should it in all probability fail.

            Bottom line: Grant forced Lee to the outskirts of Richmond and when stymied there promptly stole a march on Lee against Petersburg. He didn’t sit at Cold Harbor for three weeks and then come up with a hypothetical plan which was conditioned on getting the equivalent of an additional two corps. McClellan retreated in desperation (or at least so he spun the circumstances at the time to his bosses) and three weeks later formulated another one of those McClellan abstractions which predictably never materialized because as usual whatever additional forces he was granted would not meet his own “needs”. What I haven’t looked at is McClellan’s “estimate” of Lee’s strength in July – was it down from the hysterical 180,000 where it had been during retreat week? According to Halleck’s report of the July 25 meeting Mac’s number was back up to 200,000 – an interesting methodology given Lee’s significant losses at the end of June. And before we go after Halleck on credibility issues, keep in mind that’s a two-edged sword when McClellan’s in play.

          • Moe Daoust February 26, 2017 / 5:56 pm

            I think we’ve reached the “agree to disagree” point here John. You are not going to change my views and am not going to change yours.

          • John Foskett February 27, 2017 / 7:00 am

            Moe: I think that’s a reasonable assessment. Bright side – no mention of the Galena. 🙂

          • Moe Daoust February 28, 2017 / 6:00 am

            Oh yes, the Galena affair. Years ago, I wrote a letter to the editors of North & South regarding an article Stephen W. Sears wrote on those events. Unfortunately, we are in the midst of moving at the end of the week and I don’t have access to the letter but will post it for you after we unpack. It goes far in putting things in perspective. Just curious, where do you propose McClellan should have been during the movement to the Malvern Hill? As it was, he had left specific instructions with his various Corps commanders (army commanders in their own right) as to what measures were to be in place to ensure the movement was successfully accomplished (this is all in the OR if you want to look it up.) He even ordered the felling of trees that would ultimately succeed in impeding Lee’s ability to get at McClellan’s columns. Try as he might, Lee failed (emphasis on “failed”) to cut through. But then, I guess McClellan had nothing to do with that, right?. Where Lee failed, McClellan had succeeded in pulling off one of the most difficult movements a commander can make (across the enemy’s front.) Again, all of the measures he put in place to accomplish this are well documented. Please tell me what else McClellan could/should have done? Seriously, do enlighten us John.

          • Moe Daoust February 28, 2017 / 1:52 pm

            P.S. to my last note re the Galena. Again, I don’t have access to my research material but from what I recall, McClellan was on the Galena as part of his recon of a new base at Harrison’s Landing. During that period and while overseeing the preparation of the Malvern Hill position, he was in constant communication with those overseeing the protection of the long wagon train that was then making it’s way through the Glendale crossroads.

          • hankc9174 February 27, 2017 / 2:08 pm


            ‘a move … which failed because of defective execution’:

            It’s interesting that when push came to shove, potential union successes (on paper) often came to grief as Lee had just the right men in just the right place at just the right time to cause ‘defective execution’.

          • John Foskett February 28, 2017 / 7:57 am

            Well, that’s not what happened south of the James in June, 1864. Lee got outfoxed and had Baldy Smith, et al. competently followed through Grant could easily have gotten possession of Petersburg. Game over. Something similar happened on May 8 on the way to Spottsy. Lee “caused” defective execution in neither case and in both he was outsmarted.

          • John Foskett February 28, 2017 / 10:28 am

            Moe: I’ve done that in a lengthy exchange on this site a few years back with another poster who trotted out a vigorous effort at defending McClellan’s actions on June 30. I’m not sure we need to go down that road here again . Instead I’d ask three questions: (1) what were the specific orders which were given to Sumner, Franklin, and Hentzelman regarding how to handle the fighting on that date, including which would exercise overall control of the battle as it developed and especially addressing the stew of units from different corps which were involved (a sub-issue being identity of the genius who assigned McCall’s battered division to its key placement, with predictable results); (2) what were the compelling reasons for McClellan departing the field and going aboard the Galena on the day when his retreating army was in its most perilous position during the Seven Days; and (3) since you make the point that Lee “failed” because of McClellan’s apparent genius, I’d ask for your assessment of the role of our friend Stonewall in the day’s developments, including but not limited to how it was that critical reinforcements were fed into the Union defense from the White Oak sector. I’ll close by stating that I’ve seen nothing defending McClellan’s conduct on June 30 from the several credentialed historians who have urged us otherwise to revisit certain aspects of the traditional view of McClellan and his actions. Buen suerte.

          • Moe Daoust March 1, 2017 / 5:51 am

            John, First off, I am not a McClellan defender. I simply choose to deal with this very controversial figure in an objective manner. In other words, I don’t blindly accept what the historians tell us. You have not answered my questions. Specifically, where do you propose McClellan should have been on June 30th. Should he have been directing traffic along the Quaker Road? Should he have been in the front lines where no army commander should be? Should he have been holding Franklin’s, McCall’s or some other Corps commander’s hand? Please, tell me where he should have been during that movement to the James. Secondly, please do tell us what else McClellan could/should have done to ensure the movement’s success. Regarding an army commander’s responsibilities, Robert E. Lee wrote, “Be content to do what you can for the well-being of what properly belongs to you; commit the rest to those who are responsible.” I will answer your questions once you have satisfactorily and properly answered mine. If I’ve learned anything about McClellan detractors such as yourself, it is that you will typically side step issues by bringing up unrelated matters or avoid questions entirely.

          • Moe Daoust March 2, 2017 / 7:51 pm

            John, The following is from McClellan’s Own Story (taken from his 1864 Report on the Army of the Potomac while under his command:

            “-On the afternoon of the 29th I gave to the corps comman-
            ders their instructions for the operations of the following day.
            Porter’s corps was to move forward to James river, and, with
            the corps of Gen. Keyes, to occupy a position at or near Tur-
            key Bend, on a line perpendicular to the river, thus covering
            the Charles City road to Richmond, opening communication
            with the gunboats, and covering the passage of the supply-
            trains, which were pushed forward as rapidly as possible upon
            Haxall’s plantation. The remaining corps were pressed onward,
            and posted so as to guard the approaches from Richmond, as
            well as the crossings of the White Oak Swamp over which the
            army had passed. Gen. Franklin was ordered to hold the pas-
            sage of White Oak Swamp bridge, and cover the withdrawal
            of the trains from that point. His command consisted of his
            own corps, with Gen. Richardson’s division and Gen. Naglee’s
            brigade, placed under his orders for the occasion. Gen. Slo-
            cum’s division was on the right of the Charles City road.
            -On the morning of the 30th I again gave to the corps
            commanders within reach instructions for posting their troops.”

            SUMMARY: By “instructions, McClellan was implying that he had
            issued “orders” to the corps commanders. It is assumed that these
            were verbal orders. Unfortunately, we can’t possibly know what
            the full nature of those orders was but it is certain that they
            would have been quite explicit given the circumstances.

            – The engineer officers whom I had sent forward on the 28th
            to reconnoitre the roads had neither returned nor sent me any
            reports or guides. Gens. Keyes and Porter had been delayed—
            one by losing the road, and the other by repairing an old road —
            and had not been able to send any information. We then knew
            of but one road for the movement of the troops and our im-
            mense trains. It was therefore necessary to post the troops in advance of
            this road as well as our limited knowledge of the ground per-
            mitted, so as to cover the movement of the trains in the rear.
            I then examined the whole line from the swamp to the left,
            giving final instructions for the posting of the troops and the
            obstruction of the roads towards Richmond, and all corps com-
            manders were directed to hold their positions until the trains
            had passed, after which a more concentrated position was to
            be taken up near James river.

            SUMMARY: Once again, McClellan issues final “instructions” or orders.
            Again, it is assumed that these were verbal and as such we can not know
            their full details. From this paragraph, it also becomes clear that all
            commanders were fully aware of the route by which they were to travel
            on their way to Malvern Hill (in one of your posts you implied that
            McClellan had not provided that information to his commanders.) Hell,
            all they had to do was follow the wagon tracks! From all of this it all also
            becomes clear that McClellan went to a considerable effort to ensure
            everything was in place before leaving for Malvern Hill and the James in
            order to oversee the preparation of these two critical positions.

            It trust this will keep you for now. As I mentioned earlier, we are in the
            midst of moving to Ottawa on Monday. I’m sure you’ll understand
            when I say that I can’t dedicate as much time as I would like to this discussion but
            will do so after we’ve finished unpacking and I have access to
            all of my source material. Earlier today I replied to one of “Monodisperse’s”
            posts with the following, “there is still a part of me that is still struggling with precisely why McClellan was not present at Glendale. I’m sure that, in his mind at least, he felt he had good reason and have not, even for one second, ever thought it was motivated by cowardice. Clearly, he believed in his commanders and in the fact he had left them with a clear understanding of what their task was to be that day. They proved him 100% correct.” What I’m saying here John is that unlike the average student of the Civil War, I don’t simply accept what the historians try to feed me when it comes to McClellan. Long ago, I learned to question, question, question! As a consequence, I’ve managed to debunk two McClellan myths. one dealing with the finding of the lost order and the other with the time at which McClellan issued his orders to Burnside on the morning of Sep. 17th. I’ve also written a third article in which I debunk the notion McClellan did anything wrong at Rich Mountain. The latter has yet to be published but is currently in the hands of one magazine who have expressed an interest. What it boils down to is that the jury is still out for me when it comes to Glendale and there are a number of aspects that I still need to explore before I come to my own conclusion. So for, I will admit to leaning in McClellan’s favor.

            If you are interested in the Burnside article, you can read it online at:

          • John Foskett March 1, 2017 / 11:37 am


            You state “McClellan was on the Galena as part of his recon of a new base at Harrison’s Landing. During that period and while overseeing the preparation of the Malvern Hill position, he was in constant communication with those overseeing the protection of the long wagon train that was then making it’s way through the Glendale crossroads.”

            What aspect of his ‘recon” of a new base at HL could not have been handled by a corps commander who had already moved to MH – say, oh, a Fitz John Porter for example (who had demonstrated that he well knew how to establish a defensive position and before the war had capably determined and implemented a reassessment of the defensive system at Charleston). Actually, some of that could easily have been handled by two capable Engineer officers available to McClellan – Barton Alexander and James Duane. I’m equally intrigued by the reference to “constant communication” with [presumably] one or more off Sumner/Franklin/Heintzelman/Siocum/Hooker/etc. This allegedly was done by McClellan climbing the rigging of the Galena and then having signals wig-wagged back and forth as if he were hovering over the battlefield in radio communication with his subordinates. Only a McClellan zealot swallows that one. Give me the text of an order McClellan had wigwagged to and implemented by any of the above officers or others who were on the field at Glendale. And he never assigned anyone to overall command in his absence, a particularly egregious failure given the mix of various units from various commands at the crossroads. As I’ve kept saying, I am unaware that any of the credentialed historians who advocate revisiting some of the long-established McClellan “story” have defended his actions on June 30 – Rafuse, Rowland, Harsh, Clemens……..

          • Moe Daoust March 2, 2017 / 1:50 am

            John, once again you have dodged my original questions which leads me to believe that you don’t have an answer. I’m sorry but a “discussion” should be a two way street. Frankly, you sound like a lawyer who is attempting to badger a witness. Please answer my questions properly. Until then, I will refuse to comment on anything else you have to say in this matter.

          • John Foskett March 2, 2017 / 8:11 am

            Frankly,Moe,you’re the one who comes across as an advocate and who’s avoiding giving answers (because there are no good answers).

            McClellan should have been in a location during Glendale from which he could issue orders based on current information – such as, where he was during Antietam, and not several miles away on a boat performing tasks that could have been performed by a subaltern.Moreover, if he were going to be absent, at a minimum he was obligated to out somebody in charge on the battlefield, especially given the mix of units which were present. He did not. What principles of effective command refute these points?

            Frankly, you’ve made what appear to be valid points regarding Sears’ contentions about the Lost Orders, the Lincoln telegram, etc. Those points are based on facts which, if not dispositive, are at least highly plausible. Where are your facts on the Glendale matter?

        • John Foskett March 3, 2017 / 8:57 am

          Moe: Response to yours of 3/2 at 7:51 PM.

          I’ve never disputed that McClellan left instructions on June 30 during the morning and before the battle commenced. But those instructions did not include the assignment of a subordinate to overall command in the field in his absence – he never said that this occurred and neither did anyone else. It’s clear from Sumner’s testimony that no such assignment was given to him. (The instructions also apparently included the bizarre assignment of McCall’s division to a crucial sector of the defense).

          The other issue is whether McClellan himself exercised control of his army’s fighting as the battle evolved, having decided not to designate a field commander. I have yet to see any facts showing that he did (or could have done so effectively given all of the circumstances). In his “Own Story” I’ve pointed out the admission that he only learned what had happened when his aides reported to him in person that night. To repeat, in none of his accounts – August 4, 1863 official report, “Own Story”, B&L article – does McClellan state any specific orders which he issued and which were received during the fighting. I’ve sen nothing from any of the plausible recipients – Sumner, Franklin, Heintzelman, the division commanders – recounting such. We can speculate all we want that he used a convoluted signalling system to accomplish that but we have zero evidence that a specific order was delivered – by wig wagging or by courier sent in response to a wigwagged report. Your analysis of the Lost Orders question turns on facts. Challenging the conventional wisdom regarding McClellan’s actions regarding Glendale should involve the same. Frankly, I don’t know why any historian or researcher who revises some aspects of the McClellan “accepted story” based on facts feels the need to revise every aspect of that story. I can confidently assert that Grant was a superior field commander without feeling any need to dispute whether he was at fault in being surprised at Pittsburg Landing on April 6, in ordering the June 3 attack at Cold Harbor, or in allowing the flawed attack arrangements at the Crater to proceed.

  14. jfepperson May 22, 2012 / 7:50 pm

    “McClellan was a real general, but he never grasped reality.”—T. Harry Williams, aptly summarizing McClellan’s fundamental flaw.

  15. jfepperson May 22, 2012 / 7:58 pm

    “While personally a very brave and cool man under fire, McClellan seemed less fearless the further back he was.” Is this why he was on the Galena during Glendale?

    I think Mac had issues facing up to the responsibilities in front of him. He was constantly complaining that such-and-so’s action was undermining his (Mac’s) brilliant campaign, instead of shutting the up and soldiering on. And who can forget his “brilliant” assessment of RE Lee upon that officer’s elevation to command?

    Mac was an empty uniform, full of sound and fury, capable of nothing but complaining.

    • Bryn Monnery May 23, 2012 / 2:26 pm

      He was on the Galena because he could not shirk his responsibilities as commander of an army.

      He posted his army and left for a command conference whilst his army was not engaged. He had telegraphic communications to all his commanders and sent Brig Gen Marcy in person with a note for Sumner which Sumner reported to the JCCW said that “any orders I [Sumner] gave would be obeyed”. Which arrived with Sumner well before McClellan went aboard the Galena for a command conference.

      McClellan himself was still in telegraphic contact, and the message that brought him ashore again was “McCall is breaking; Sumner is having a hard time.”. On coming ashore McClellan checked his line, “conversed with [Sumner] for some time” (Sumner to JCCW) then apparently went back to his conference.

      The Battle of Glendale’s command story is more convoluted than McClellan “abandoning the army to have dinner on a yacht”.

      • John Foskett May 25, 2012 / 7:18 am

        “[L]eft for a command conference while his army was not engaged”????? His army was in the midst of a retreat (apologies – “change of base”) with an opponent (presumably numbering in the fantasized range of 200,000) converging on it, with obvious potential for bottlenecks and (as nearly happened) substantial portions being enveloped. And given that most of his corps commanders were on the scene, I’m baffled as to the pressing character of the command conference McClellan so urgently needed to attend. His most trusted subordinate, Porter, was perfectly capable of determining the army’s proper landing while, as it turned out, the portions still on the road were embroiled in a desperate fight. In an era which antedated radio and field telephones McClellan seems to have been 50 years ahead of the times, at least, because he had a predilection for the “remote command post” philosophy which others, such as Grant, Meade, etc. apparently lacked. This wasn’t the first time that little Mac kept himself at a respectable distance from the action nor would it he the last. But this one could have had the most dire consequences. By the way, the Galena implication fostered by many of his critics has nothing to do with “dinner”. It has more to do with certain other factors.

  16. Steve Witmer May 22, 2012 / 8:41 pm

    I’ve often wondered if Mac would not personally have been better served by spending more time lower on the chain of command. His sudden elevation and adulation heaped on him early on in the war did him no favors, I think.

    As to GBM’s comment about numbers and casualty ratios — I’m unimpressed. There is more to a war than the raw ratio of casualties inflicted, and so many variables at play in any battle or campaign that such numbers don’t offer much insight, IMO.

  17. GBM May 23, 2012 / 2:59 am

    Easy to be unimpressed if you’re prone to biased smear campaign adherence,

    War is a numbers game. To deny this speaks volumes.

    As to the other petty comments smearing Mac, how many Divisions did you lead?

    • Steven Witmer May 23, 2012 / 11:10 am

      If one is only allowed to criticize a general if one has led a given number of divisions, one might well turn the question back at you regarding your criticisms of Grant.

      And no, war is not just a numbers game. To claim that it is is to say that human psychology, politics and chance have no influence on events, and you’ve reduced incredibly complex human situations and interactions into a mere game of checkers between two computers.

  18. GBM May 23, 2012 / 3:20 am


    From West Point through Mexico, Europe too

    You showed your brilliance, your service was true

    When Civil War broke the peace in Sixty-One

    You pledged to serve ‘til victory’s won

    West Virginia!

    Granny Lee and others in Virginia’s North-west

    Couldn’t push you back, your maneuvers were best

    Carved out a State up there “for the Union”

    West Virginia they called it, you “Young Napoleon’

    Commander of the Army!

    Great Potomac! That Army was truly yours

    You built, taught, formed it, you shaped its Corps

    They loved their boss, their cheers shook the sky

    When on that great horse You rode by


    You landed with them on Fort Monroe

    And marched steadily in search of foe

    Yorktown the first to fall though not

    By using siege guns, shell or shot


    From your command, your soldiers he took,

    Well Lincoln’s square beard must have shook,

    From fear he might be termed a crook,

    For stealing bishop, knight, and rook,

    From Mac!

    Did Johnston know? Uncle Joe E?

    What had young Mac, in old Virgin-ny?

    Not a hundred, not ninety, eighty? Maybe…

    Thousands less than needed for planned victory


    Crash and Thunder! Fire and Flames!

    Immortals created, now making their names

    Two Hills, a Stonewall, a Long-street if you dare

    Stand between Mac’s men and Richmond so Fair…


    That didn’t keep Mac from the Chickahominy

    And putting some grape in Old Joe’s fan-ny

    Thus causing the ‘Cause’ to switch to Lee

    Setting up a ‘Seven Days’ jam-bo-ree

    With McClellan!

    Would Lee ever have, again such a chance?

    To work ‘round the flanks, to do a Cannae dance?

    In enemy ground, Mac faced such great threat,

    His base, lines of supply, retreat and … yet…


    Trusted his officers and his Army so dear

    He exhibited calmness; he showed them no fear,

    To Fitz-John Porter on the right wing he gave

    The position and opportunity… Potomac! to save

    The Army!

    Thunder and Crash! Flame and Fire!

    Gaines Mill, Turkey Creek, the outlook was dire!

    In the forests and swamps men swore, fought and died

    If years later you asked? A Miracle they survived!

    Seven Days!

    Mac brought his men back to a Hill called Malvern

    And placed his guns high where the fields they could burn,

    Would Lee be so brash as to attack in the open?

    Over ground the gunners to see targets were a hope-in’?

    Malvern Hill!

    Just as Mac knew from that long ago Crimean day

    If infantry attacked on such ground they would pay

    In blood… and a newfound respect for brass ‘n iron

    Manned by brave gunners who stood at attention while fire-in’

    Rebel Repulse!

    Damage done, but the Potomac Army still exists!

    No way to see it but a fight with two fists!

    The Rebels they fail to cut Mac from his base

    Must find a fool General whose troops they can chase


    No sooner did Mac plan a new line of attack

    But Lincoln took more of his troops North-wards back

    To Pope! Was the thinking of Halleck, Abe agreed

    Too bad for poor Pope, hindquarters on the steed


    Lee sent old Jack on a forced flank march ‘round

    To plant his-self on that Manassas battle-ground

    Needless to say, poor old Pope was lucky not to die

    And the scared fools in Washington sent out the cry

    Bring back McClellan!

    Into Maryland he rode on that big black charger

    Through Frederick! The citizens cheered all the louder

    Towards Boonesboro up in South Mountain they went

    Fighting Longstreet and Hill, some soon heaven-sent


    Now Lee they say, wouldn’t do what seemed brash

    To back up his Army against a river? Balderdash!

    But baiting Mac to attack, on the low Sharpsburg hills

    He trusted in Jackson, Longstreet, and the Hills

    AP Hill!

    The Bloodiest Day, they called it, the wounded and the slain

    In Cornfield, by Burnside’s Bridge, Dunker Church, Bloody Lane

    The final assaults, near to broke the Rebel right wing

    But Hill came up! Harper’s march gave AP fame lasting

    Rebels retreat!

    Mr. Lincoln needed your Victory, Mac, and the Union you save

    To issue his Proclamation, Emancipating the slave

    Of course your “bodyguard” in his eyes seems too slow

    To ever catch Lee’s troops, and strike them a blow


    Repair to Trenton! Await further orders! Never a chance

    Republicans now fear you, as they feared your advance

    Never fast enough, or hard enough, easy to say

    Ensconced in a cozy room far, far away


    The hope of the Union and men of Peace first

    To knit back the country, to lay aside the worst

    To find common ground and once more be brothers

    To show mercy and fairness and end tears of mothers

    Lincoln narrowly Re-elected…

    Soldiers who wanted to vote couldn’t leave

    If officers feared Democrat votes up their sleeve

    So now Mac’s history was mostly written by the “winners”

    To smear Mac was all the rage of those spinners

    To create the myth of Lincoln Republicans being great

    They douse the truth with lies… and healthy doses of hate

    So let’s hear from those in position to know

    Their opinion of McClellan… is it high or low…?


    Now there’s a Real Man, maybe he should say!

    What Bravery meant! What mattered in the fray?

    Of his beloved Commander from that long gone day

    Of McClellan! “…There is nothing too good that I can say… ”

    “There is nothing too good that I can say of General McClellan. He was a man and a thorough soldier.” (MG Winfield S. Hancock, 1885)

    George Gordon Meade!

    War-council at night… “To fight?” he demands!

    Then refusing to budge from those turtle like stands

    With ulcers a-biting and perhaps shaking hands

    While watching Pickett’s veterans advance

    Goggle-eyed Snapping Turtle!

    You surely were a hero too, July Fourth, for a day…

    But then General Lee made his July Fifth get-away

    Soon you heard all those Washington ingrates to bray

    Such critique! From those undeserving even private’s pay!

    You unbundled your thoughts, harsh and bitter, no rhymin’

    For the officers you trust are so few, one was Lyman

    Theodore Lyman!

    Meade’s ADC, his own right hand man,

    At Cold Harbor witnessed Grant’s lack of a plan

    Slaughter! Negligence! Sam? Whittling in the van?

    And the Army Mac built is now gone, to a man…

    Cold Harbor!

    Tears well in the eyes, deep emotions unloosed

    While reporters tell lies to keep officials un-noosed

    But with memory and clarity wise Lyman deduced

    McClellan! “…the Greatest General this War has produced”

    I believe he was, both as a military man and as a manager of a country under military occupation, the greatest general this war has produced.” Theodore Lyman, Meade’s ADC, writing at Cold Harbor, 1864)

    Joe Hooker!

    Lincoln fired you while marching in Vain!

    Knew Command of that Army, the heavy strain…

    When Stanton connived for political gain…

    Better West! And Corps Command again!

    Whiskey Joe!

    Reminiscing, the old I Corps’ Fighter…

    Looking back from Lookout, with pressures lighter…

    Remembers how Mac knit the Army tighter…

    “…Too good a Man…!” McClellan!

    “McClellan was too good a man to command an army in this country.” Joe Hooker December 1863


    Robert E Lee? That old Genius in Gray,

    Whose opponents he studied, those men he deemed prey

    What of Pope? Lee suppressed (with contempt) some would say

    And Burnside? Learnt assaults bore-a heavy price to pay

    Maybe Hooker! But Stonewall took the flanking path-way!

    US Grant? Boxed by the Fox! For Forty oh-so-long-day!


    Old Marse Robert? Did he declare?

    Who faced him toughest, caused most gray hair?

    Who was the best? Now state it fair!

    “Best by All Odds! McClellan!”

    An admirer of the General

    • Brooks D. Simpson May 23, 2012 / 1:58 pm

      In the words of Roscoe Conkling:

      “Do you ask what State he hails from?
      Our sole reply shall be:
      He hails from Appomattox
      And its famous apple tree.”

      Or Stephen Vincent Benet, in John Brown’s Body:

      And, after that, the chunky man from the West,
      Stranger to you, not one of the men you loved
      As you loved McClellan, a rider with a hard bit,
      Takes you and uses you as you could be used,
      Wasting you grimly but breaking the hurdle down.
      You are never to worship him as you did McClellan,
      But at the last you can trust him. He slaughters you
      But he sees that you are fed. After sullen Cold Harbor
      They call him a butcher and want him out of the saddle,
      But you have had other butchers who did not win
      And this man wins in the end.

      You see him standing,
      Reading a map, unperturbed, under heavy fire.
      You do not cheer him as the recruits might cheer
      But you say “Ulysses doesn’t scare worth a darn.
      Ulysses is all right. He can finish the job.”
      And at last your long lines go past in the Grand Review
      And your legend and his begins and are mixed forever.

      • GBM May 23, 2012 / 3:10 pm

        Funny how you reflexively reply to an original work on McClellan, with some cribbed lines from a fellow Grant worshipper.

        Telling, Professor.

        • Brooks D. Simpson May 23, 2012 / 3:43 pm

          Oh, I’m sure the anonymous poem was original. That doesn’t mean that it was any good. It was funny, however … just not in the way it was intended, no doubt. Clearly someone had been working on that for some time, and yet it was still pretty bad. The author’s the Justin Bieber of poetry, at least in terms of skill … or the Connie Chastain of e-fiction (what’s in the water in Florida, anyway?). No wonder the author refused to share his/her real name. The humiliation might be too much to take.

          I prefer Melville’s take on McClellan. Maybe you couldn’t find it on Wikipedia.

          I see nothing wrong in pointing readers to Stephen Vincent Benet. As for original work, it seems you missed the haiku competition here recently.

          • John Foskett May 26, 2012 / 8:12 am

            I do think that Herman may have overstated the case, although he certainly stated it artfully. In other words, this ain’t the Antietam I know (although I doubt that’s why the book sold so poorly):

            And forth you rode upon a blasted way,
            Arrayed Pope’s rout, and routed Lee’s array,
            Your tent was choked with captured flags that day,
            Antietam was a telling fray

  19. Carl Schenker May 23, 2012 / 6:03 am

    Harkening back to the surrender data above, I happened to be reminded this morning of Arkansas Post/Fort Hindman. McClernand (with Sherman) took almost 5,000 prisoners there, according to Wikipedia. CRS

    • Lyle Smith May 23, 2012 / 8:42 am

      There is also the Second Battle of Winchester where Ewell’s 2nd Corps obliterates Milroy’s force. That force had to entirely disperse and wander around in groups before getting back to any kind of unit cohesion. Although apparently some of these people were involved in harassing Lee’s retreat from Gettysburg not long after. This was a small force, however, and was enveloped by an entire corps… or at least three divisions of it at Winchester.

      Clearly units, even an army, could be cornered into surrender. But in none of the larger battles of the war was an army annihilated/destroyed in the field.

      • Lyle Smith May 23, 2012 / 8:45 am

        Two divisions not three… there were only three divisions in the corps.

      • Carl Schenker May 23, 2012 / 10:08 am

        Lyle —
        What criteria would one use to evaluate “annihiltaed/destroyed”? As you doubtless know (and Brooks alluded to above), Thomas is often credited with destroying Hood’s force at Nashville.

        • Lyle Smith May 23, 2012 / 10:35 am

          The definition I’m us is the one I mentioned above, i.e. the physical annihilation/destruction of a force in battle. They are literally scattered to the six winds or wiped out. Cannae.

          So yeah, by that definition Thomas destroyed Hood at Nashville I guess. I haven’t really read up on Nashville and don’t if any Confederate units got away from there with any kind of unit cohesion. Regardless, Hood didn’t really have an army sized force at Nashville. He had something less that, which was goes back to my original point about armies not destroying one another in battle during the war.

          • Lyle Smith May 23, 2012 / 10:47 am

            Looking quickly online Nashville seems more like a major routing rather than being destroyed or annihilated.

  20. GBM May 23, 2012 / 10:06 am

    Exactly the point… in the large battles between significant contending forces, destruction of the enemy was only accomplished by attrition.

    Longstreet understood this. McClellan did too. You needed to wear the enemy down (hard), then take advantage of extraordinarily good tactical dispositions, to even have a tiny chance of a knockout blow.

    Forcing the enemy to attack in your preferred (entrenched) position was the true art of generalship.They laud Lee for North Anna & Marye’s Heights, for good reason.

    McClellan’s strategy for the Peninsular campaign exactly was this, and Lee saw it. His own comment upon taking control, that Mac would fight an offensive campaign with engineering & artillery, and that would be the way the South would be defeated, was spot on.

    War? By the numbers! Longstreet “got the math”, Mac did too. The old days of a Waterloo type single days rout were not nearly so likely with rifled minie balls knocking down attackers at 300 yard ranges.

    Grant never got it. He just squandered Blue soldiers until Lee was crushed, by disease, desertion, and exhaustion. Lucky for him he wasn’t going to be fired after Cold Harbor. If Mac had one day like Spottsylvania, Cold Harbor, or the Wilderness, the Radical Republicans would have built the gallows with their own Washington lounge furniture… on which they sat to criticize Mac endlessly.

    • Brooks D. Simpson May 23, 2012 / 10:27 am

      I’m not sure McClellan defenders do their arguments credit by repeating the usual negative stereotypes of other commanders. They are based on about as much truth as those offered by some of McClellan’s critics about McClellan … and in neither case do these exchanges point the way to a better understanding of Civil War generalship.

      I will take Grant at Vicksburg over McClellan at Antietam any day. The criticism of Grant as unimaginative is unimaginative (and rather ill-informed).

      McClellan lost more men at Antietam than Grant did on June 3 at Cold Harbor. So if you live by numbers, prepare to die by them. And Grant got it … he got Lee’s surrender.

      • GBM May 23, 2012 / 12:34 pm

        You compare Grant’s performance at Cold Harbor to McClellan at Antietam?

        Not surprised you like the term… “McClellan’s Bodyguard”.

        • Brooks D. Simpson May 23, 2012 / 2:12 pm

          Where have I said that I like the term? Do you just make this stuff up?

          You say that numbers don’t lie. McClellan lost more at Antietam than Grant did at Cold Harbor. Who was in charge the day the Army of the Potomac suffered its most losses for a single day of battle? George McClellan. And yet, if it was such a great victory, why did Lee stare him down the next day?

          McClellan defenders are going to have to consider new tactics, just as repeating the old comments about McClellan made by the T. Harry Williams/Kenneth Williams/Bruce Catton approach won’t get us far, either.

          How many divisions did you lead?

          • GBM May 23, 2012 / 2:49 pm

            Are you obtuse, or just disingenuous?

            You compared Grant at Cold Harbor to Mac at Antietam.

            Grant lost 4 times as many men as Lee at Cold Harbor. Mac didn’t at Antietam. If you’re not quite sharp(sburg) enough to get the math, you again prove my point.

            What you can’t take, sir, is a true and spirited defense of a man you enjoy belittling. Go ahead, erase it from the record now.

          • jfepperson May 23, 2012 / 3:22 pm

            If I may offer a slight correction? Brooks (correctly) compared Grant’s losses at Cold Harbor (June 3rd, only) to Mac’s losses at Antietam. Lee had nothing to do w/ Brooks’s point.

            And it is obvious you have not read Brooks’s Antietam essay. (Or, you did not understand it.)

          • Brooks D. Simpson May 23, 2012 / 3:30 pm

            I think you are obtuse and disingenuous.

            Who lost more men: Grant at Cold Harbor on June 3 or McClellan at Antietam on September 17?

            You offer “simple data” (from Wikipedia, of course). But data by itself is far from simple, as intelligent people know. Anyone knows it’s how one uses the data that shapes the discussion.

            Moreover, you have some basic facts wrong. For example, Lee’s ANV was not at its peak during the Seven Days, and it was rather worn by the time of Antietam. I’d also argue that McClellan commanded something other than the “Army of the Potomac” at Antietam, given informed discussion of the composition of the forces under his command on September 17. He’d taken men from various organizations and tried his best to make a unified force from the result (something often overlooked).

            At Cold Harbor, Meade was in charge of the actual operation, as most folks now know. The botching of the assault was due to the neglect of Meade and his corps commanders, including McClellan favorite Winfield Scott Hancock.

            You don’t even have Lee’s losses from the Overland Campaign correct, and it’s clear that you don’t understand the campaign as it evolved. Grant was able to place Lee in a position where Lee could not escape without losing Richmond. McClellan was unable to do so. Why that is makes for a good discussion, since both generals faced many of the same obstacles. But you appear ill-equipped to have that discussion.

          • jfepperson May 23, 2012 / 5:20 pm

            I’m pretty sure it is GBM you are calling “obtuse and disingenuous,” but I’d like to make sure 😉

          • GBM May 23, 2012 / 3:08 pm

            You used it in your own title.

            Brooks Simpson’s “General McClellan’s Bodyguard”

          • Brooks D. Simpson May 23, 2012 / 3:13 pm

            Now we are left with three choices:

            1. You didn’t actually read the essay.
            2. You read it, but you didn’t understand it.
            3. You read it, then decided to distort its message.

            Regardless of which is true, you are apparently unable to keep up with informed discussion.

      • John Foskett May 24, 2012 / 7:00 am

        I cannot imagine anyone in his/her right mind contesting your second paragraph. Some things just “are”. As for Antietam do we think that Grant on September 18, with a substantial numbers advantage (including a corps which essentially had been on the bench the day before) and with his enemy’s back to a river, would have sat twiddling his thumbs?

    • wgdavis May 24, 2012 / 2:57 pm

      “War? By the numbers! Longstreet “got the math”, Mac did too. The old days of a Waterloo type single days rout were not nearly so likely with rifled minie balls knocking down attackers at 300 yard ranges.”

      Sorry, I find this statement laughable. Indeed, the rifled minie ball made it more likely to have a Waterloo type single day battle [Waterloo wasn’t what one would judge as a rout. You buddies over at Wikipedia offer this quote from Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington: “the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life.”].

      Given the numbers engaged, Antietam certainly qualifies as a Waterloo type single day battle, but again, no rout.

      Mac never got his numbers right. Grant did.

  21. GBM May 23, 2012 / 12:52 pm

    “repeating negative stereotypes…”


    The McClellan bashers never stop with frivolous smears endlessly belittling him for not rolling up the Confederacy (at it’s strongest) with a gaggle of volunteer 90 day enlistees, all while dealing with the backstabbers in DC.

    But if I mention that Grant couldn’t inflict but a fraction of the casualties on Lee’s worn out army, that Mac was able to on Lee at his strongest, relative to the casualties suffered, then I’m guilty of “repeating negative stereoptypes”.

    Double wow.

    Interesting take, there, professor.

    • jfepperson May 23, 2012 / 1:50 pm

      I believe it is the case that the army Mac took to the Peninsula was composed entirely of two and (mostly) three-year volunteers. So your comment about 90 day enlistees seems, well, bogus.

      Mac’s idea to “out-engineer” the enemy sounds fine in the abstract, but he seems to have overlooked the necessity of fighting and winning some battles in order to get his army in position to do the decisive engineering.

      • Lyle Smith May 24, 2012 / 8:32 am

        He was getting to that point, and then Lee fortuitously attacked him. 🙂

    • Brooks D. Simpson May 23, 2012 / 2:07 pm

      I see you’ve turned your attention from marketing baseball statistical simulations to defending George B. McClellan. In both cases you like to remain nameless, so it looks as if you won’t put your name behind your product.

      The 90-day men were leaving when McClellan arrived in Washington in July 1861. For someone who talks about numbers, do the math. And learn how to use “it’s” and its” correctly … and if you are going to quote me, don’t inject your own misspellings.

      You can’t claim to correct misinformation if you give so much out yourself.

      I’ll leave it to others to point out the rest of your misstatements. McClellan deserves better than this … all you’ve done is to discredit the case for him by making it so badly, in the spirit of the Thomas fan boy approach.

  22. GBM May 23, 2012 / 2:10 pm

    The comments (and mythological source of further nonsense about Mac being unable to attack quickly enough) about Mac not “conquering the Rebels” began in DC, in the fall of 1861, with practically nothing BUT 90 day enlistees.

    He was the finest strategist of the ACW, hands down. He was the finest operational commander on the Union side. He was as god a tactician as any other AOP commander.

    • GBM May 23, 2012 / 2:11 pm


    • Brooks D. Simpson May 23, 2012 / 2:17 pm

      I think you had better quit while you’re behind. Name the units composed of 90-day enlistees in the Army of the Potomac on September 21, 1861. Thank you.

    • John Foskett May 24, 2012 / 7:03 am

      As to your last sentence, really? Care to ‘splain the brilliant tactics on June 30, 1862? I’m not raising the equally brilliant tactics used on September 17, 1862. That was all Hooker’s/Mansfield’s/Sumner’s/Burnside’s fault.

  23. GBM May 23, 2012 / 2:17 pm

    Obviously your hatred of Mac transfers to any who defend him. So, as I’m in good company, throw your mud.

    Most of the soldiers in fall of 1861 hadn’t even been in uniform for three months. That means they were green as Kentucky bluegrass, hardly ready for soldiering tasks that were proven impossible with veterans two years later.

    As to comparing a keystroke error with “misinformation”, if that’s the best you got, I’d say your quicksand should be shifting any minute now.

    As to my profession, I’d stack my accomplishments for mankind against a glorified government employee any day. But you haven’t earned the right to know what those are, so I’ll let the arguments for Mac be my talking here.

    • Brooks D. Simpson May 23, 2012 / 2:27 pm

      Hatred of McClellan?

      I encourage informed commentary here. You seem to have offered something less. Thanks for your participation. Enjoy Florida as you continue to hide behind a screen name.

      It’s the least I could do to advance a better and fairer understanding of George McClellan.

      • Jim Rosebrock May 23, 2012 / 2:37 pm

        I think you are too Brooks. I have enjoyed that part of the thread that is constructive from both perspectives. As someone who encourages informed constructive discussion on McClellan’s legacy, I don’t do it at the expense of the ultimately the greatest general produced during the war Ulysses S. Grant. Grant moved through the state of Mississippi in the run up to the Vicksburg like Stonewall moved through the Shenandoah Valley. Grant was a highly adaptive commander who adjusted his strategy to his opponent…and was successful.This isn’t about comparison Grant to McClellan. It is about looking at each one on their own merits.

        • Brooks D. Simpson May 23, 2012 / 2:47 pm

          Exactly. I’m a bit amused to be seen in one corner as a McClellan hater. Someone clearly hasn’t read my work … or even this post.

  24. Jerry Desko May 23, 2012 / 6:10 pm

    I think we pay too much attention to the Commanders of the the armies. The way I see it is the Commanders get the armies close but the subalterns and fighting men slug away at each other and the generals are left on the field to take credit or distribute blame.

    The fighting men of the Army of the Potomac have been derided in recent historiography. They fought the battles whether well planned or not.

    Kudos to the ground-pounders, they make or break a battle. ALL generals above a brigadier are POLITICAL animals regardless of training. McDowell, McClellan, Burnside, Hooker, Meade, Longstreet, Lee, Jackson; all had less to do with winning battles than historians have opined upon.

    Grant who had more in common with the common soldiers than men of rank and training was the greatest tactician of the war, followed closely by Lincoln.

    This is the humble opinion of someone with no military experience or training but I have vast experience with people and the human condition.

    Goodbye and goodnight.

  25. thesonob June 7, 2012 / 4:36 pm

    Very interesting site. I am delving into details re McClellan’s bad reputation and find ti interesting the lack of comment upon Lincoln’s initial military incompetence tied into with his interference with McC. There is also the Committee on the Conduct of the War agenda, the Radical Republican interjection and influence in formulating and implementing the war policy.

  26. Tom Rowland September 19, 2013 / 5:00 pm

    I just came across this stream of conversation…it astounds me to see the degree of debate over McClellan. Perhaps Grant was right after all. McClellan is a mystery. Have at it boys.

    • John Foskett September 20, 2013 / 2:53 pm

      I just want somebody to ‘splain to me how Mac came up with that number of “75,000” stated in his B&L article on the Seven Days. Even his defenders have never deflated it to that level. Using McClellan Math you can add McDowell’s 30,000, toss in whatever Halleck had dominion over in Tennessee, and still come up short against those Rebel legions of 200,000 available to Lee. As we know, Leon Tenney’s best efforts jack the Lee crowd up to c. 110,000. Well, that’s not all I want to know but it’s a start….:)

  27. monodisperse March 1, 2017 / 5:58 am

    Re; The Galena

    To a certain extent the well is poisoned, and most commenters have never read the primary sources, only interpretations. Anyone suggesting, for example, that McClellan ate dinner on the Galena will not be able to trace a reference further back than Sears’ book, because it was invented in that book by a mistranslation.

    I will offer up the facts and timings as best I am able.

    McClellan actually boarded the Galena three times on the 30th June 1862 and twice on the 1st July. His first trip to the Galena is likely quite brief, as he’s not recorded as being aboard until 1645 hrs in the ships log, and all accounts agree he left shortly after the Galena went into action at 1700. Hence we have a 1900 hrs message from him written on Malvern Hill in the OR. In that time we know he issued orders to division commanders to move to counter the developing attack, and the OR contains an exchange between one of the ADC’s who failed to deliver the order to Peck’s division promptly and Marcy.

    His second and third boardings are around 2100. McClellan returns to the Galena with his despatches for Washington and hands them to the French princes for delivery. The USS Jacob Bell comes alongside and McClellan crosses to the Jacob Bell with the princes, bids them fair well and reboards the Galena before getting in a boat and heading to Malvern House (5th Corps HQ). There he will find Franklin has retreated without orders and has to extract Sumner and Heintzelman.

    On the 1st he boarded in the late morning (0915 hrs) and the Galena commenced to run down to Harrisons at 1000, with McClellan getting off at 1130 hrs with Franklin to examine the site. McClellan didn’t return on the Galena, but on a tug, and was back on the field around 1400 hrs. He made his command post at Malvern House and commanded the action from there. Then, late at night (2300 hrs) he reboarded the Galena and went down to Harrisons the next morning aboard.

    Also, let me note that whilst there is a charge he should have sent staff officers to the Galena he’d in fact tried that. He’d previously sent Col Barton S. Alexander of the engineers to Rodgers for exactly this duty, and when Alexander made no progress sent Keyes to back him up. To no available Rodgers kept up his argument that the army should withdraw to, or past, the mouth of the Chickahominy. On the afternoon of the 30th June Rodgers came ashore with a letter refuting the arguments for a nearer base, and it was this letter, delivered to McClellan at his command post (BF Dew’s House, now called the Crew House) by Paul von Radowitz that caused McClellan to ride down to Rodgers and then board the Galena.

    • Moe Daoust March 3, 2017 / 6:49 am

      Impressive presentation! You really should write that article.

    • John Foskett March 4, 2017 / 1:25 pm

      How do you square this with the account by the Comte de Paris which you translated? The Comte has himself traveling to the James with McClellan where he remained ashore while Mac boarded the vessel; boarding himself sometime later to deliver a message; and finding the General “at a table” with the Galena’s officers; and joining them for “the meal”, complimenting the USN for its “good dinner” and “good wine”. The message which he delivered reported that McCall’s division had broken but that Kearney had “restored the fight” and that the enemy “had been repulsed”. So we even get a temporal context – add to the time when those events occurred the time it took for the Comte to receive this dispatch from Heintzelman.

  28. monodisperse March 1, 2017 / 6:18 am

    Moe, your letter to N&S was Vol. 5 No. 3 (responding to Sears article in 5(1)). Sears responded rather dismissively, standing by his “psychodrama” interpretation. Neither of you noted that even in the 1864 election propaganda it was fully admitted McClellan had signals with his commanders and retained full control of the army, for example ordering the movement of Couch’s division north from Malvern to the threatened point.

    • Moe Daoust March 2, 2017 / 1:59 am

      Thanks for that insight “Monodisperse.” I don’t recall ever reading this. Could I impose by asking you to provide me with the actual source. If you could cite it verbatim, all the better. I’m now thinking of writing an article on these events and it would be very useful.

      • monodisperse March 2, 2017 / 9:10 am

        I’ve been considering writing an article as well, but I have been for several years. Never could find a good angle to approach it. Are you thinking of doing just the Glendale-Malvern events or the whole Seven Days? I can pull my scattered notes together for you in a few weeks.

        • Moe Daoust March 2, 2017 / 12:09 pm

          That’s great that you are thinking of writing an article on these events as well. The “angle” should be to simply lay the facts out. The key there will be to dot your I’s and cross your T’s. In such a controversial issue, you can’t leave one stone unturned. When I’m doing my own research, I am constantly looking for evidence that refutes my theory. Frankly, there is still a part of me that is still struggling with precisely why McClellan was not present at Glendale. I’m sure that, in his mind at least, he had good reason. I have never for one second ever thought he was a coward. Clearly, he believed in his commanders and in the fact he had left them with a clear understanding of what their task was to be that day. They proved him 100% correct. Still, this will be a very tough article to write and you can be sure that whoever does write it, will get a lot of flak. Again, if you don’t mind sharing that source re the 1864 election propaganda.

          • monodisperse March 3, 2017 / 4:31 am

            I don’t have everything to hand, for example a link to the story in the New York Herald (?) that McClellan actually went down to Fort Monroe during the fighting, but I’d suggest following the links on this old blog post:

            I’d also highly recommend getting a copy of la Comte de Paris’s journal (in French only), which will set you back 44 dollars Canadian –

            Sadly Paris left the army on the evening of the 30th June, which is why tracking McClellan’s movements during 1st July is slightly more tricky. However, it appears McClellan’s version of events is essentially correct from the observations of his position I’ve found:

            To the issue in hand – why did McClellan go down to the Galena? The trigger is Rodger’s note which he mentions writing in the OR and essentially told McClellan the Navy wouldn’t support a base above City Point and that BS Alexander had been sent down river on USS Port Royal to find a base at the mouth of the Chickahominy. Evidently Rodgers expected a reply or a meeting, because he sat in a chair at Haxall’s and waited for some time for the reply to come from McClellan, who was on Malvern Hill. Reading Charles Edge’s account it seems Rodgers did not expect McClellan to come see him personally, but he did and they indeed boarded the Captain’s Boat and rowed to the Galena, coming aboard about 1645 hrs.

            The content of said note can be easily reconstructed – Rodgers, Keyes and Alexander had decided to withdraw the base to the mouth of the Chickahominy, 30 miles ESE of the army’s position. One supposes McClellan regarded this as unacceptable and went to argue for a closer position as far upriver as possible, as this was the eventual outcome of the meetings – a movement 9 miles SE occupying a position 20-25 miles further west than Rodgers et al. decided upon. Indeed, McClellan’s QMG

            As I’ve said, they left la Comte de Paris on the deck with instructions to fetch them if anything happened, and Lt Clum was in the crows nest in signals comms with Malvern and Haxall’s stations. Almost immediately the news came in that there was an attack on McCall which brought McClellan onto deck, and shortly thereafter he got back on the boat and returned to his CP, after relaying orders to Clum for the division commanders. Here it’s worth noting that the signals stations were attached to divisional HQs, not Corps. This left the issue of the future base unresolved, and indeed when McClellan writes to Lorenzo Thomas as 0245 (1st) he is vague, indicating he was expecting to adopt a line downriver anchored on the James and Chickahominy (implying very far downriver).

            McClellan made a brief trip to the Galena ca. 2100-2200 hrs that night, handing over his despatches, and then before dawn on the 1st signaled Galena to send a boat as McClellan wished to talk to Rodgers. Rodgers himself came ashore and the upshot of that meeting seems to be putting Harrison’s on the table as an alternative to the mouth of the Chickahominy. Then at 0915 hrs that morning McClellan boards the Galena, and at 1000 hrs they steam downriver to reconnoiter Harrison’s, which is ultimately accepted as the new base by Rodgers.

            The practical upshot of McClellan’s invention with Rodgers is that 20-25 miles of movement was shaved off the change of base. As to the question of did me have to do this personally or could have have entrusted a staff officer – well he did entrust this to a staff officer, and the result was apparently unacceptable. The question of whether he should have gone to see Rodgers between 1600 and 1700 hrs on the 30th is a fairer one. Certainly there was no attack in progress when McClellan went to see Rodgers, and as soon as the news of the attack reached McClellan (very rapidly, probably within 15-20 minutes of Jenkins launching) he turned his attention back to the forces in the field, moving divisions to counter the new threat. Since Longstreet’s attack was completely unintended if McClellan assessed that the chances of an attack were low and so he could attend to other matters then he was correct, but low probability events sometimes happen. Who knew Micah Jenkins would launch an attack without orders?

    • John Foskett March 2, 2017 / 7:51 am

      Odd that Sumner apparently missed McClellan’s active control of the battlefield by wigwagging from several miles away – which must have been an especially effective means of communication during the fighting which took place as sunset approached and darkness and black powder smoke caused visibility problems even for those actually on the field. Hence Bull only learning at 8 PM via an in-person visit by Truman Seymour that Franklin had retreated and Heintzelman was preparing to do so. As Sumner put it, “I had received no orders to retreat and should not have retreated if i had not received this information. But finding myself left with my corps entirely unsupported, I felt compelled to fall back …”

      Another oddity – at no point in his “Own Story”, his B&L article on the campaign, or his August 4, 1863 report does McClellan assert one order that he gave or one report which he received from the Glendale battlefield via this signalling system. In “Own Story” he does state that “It was very late at night before my aides returned to give me the results of the day’s fighting along the whole line and the true position of affairs”. Now that’s a curious admission from a guy who supposedly had arranged for effective, “instant” communication by signals. The notion that Mac retained control of the battle from the Galena is a paradigm of “alternative facts”.

      • monodisperse March 2, 2017 / 1:50 pm

        You are looking at this like a lawyer, and assuming McClellan was writing a defence brief. He wasn’t. Indeed, McClellan’s Own Story was only partially written by McClellan, and was incomplete when he died. He had not written that part and Prime simply dropped McClellan’s final report in. It reads exactly as a military report, and details the movements of divisions, not the GOC.

        In his B&L article McClellan devotes all of two paragraphs to Glendale, and they are barebones facts about the fighting. The interesting point is that he protects Franklin by saying the movement back to Malvern was planned, whereas his report, his communications of the time, the testimony of Heintzelman and Sumner to the JCCW and la Comte de Paris’s journal (plus others) all say Franklin quit his position without orders, and that McClellan had intended to hold the Glendale position.

        The contemporary accounts say that McClellan was informed of Franklin’s movement around 2200 hrs, after he returned from his second trip to the Galena. He sent Col Colborne to verify it, but he soon came back having met Franklin’s staffers riding to HQ on Malvern to tell McClellan. He then sent orders to Sumner and Heintzelman to pull back to Malvern. Shortly after the order went out Heintzelman himself rode upto HQ with the same information, having heard probably the same time as Sumner. Certainly Sumner can’t have heard Franklin was withdrawing at 2000, as Franklin hadn’t withdrew, but that’s the tricky thing with impressionistic timings. You have to verify with surrounding events. Checking the latest book on Glendale it references Ent’s “Pennsylvania Reserve” as having Seymour return from his trip to the right at 2200 hrs, and so this meeting can’t have occurred before then.

        All this is besides the point, as McClellan was back at his command post on Malvern Hill sometime before 1900 hrs. He was only on the Galena for at most 30 minutes, and indeed spent most of that issuing orders before heading back to his CP. Hence your argument is rather hollow, the events are about five hours apart, and McClellan is on Malvern at the CP ca. 22-2300 hrs, not on the Galena.

        Or to really sum it up, you’ve argued something couldn’t been seen during the day because it was dark that night.

        • John Foskett March 3, 2017 / 11:21 am

          Not really. I’m taking accounts we know McClellan had at least a hand in – “Own Story”, the B&L article, his 8/4/63 report – and asking where the facts are which show that he designated a field commander and/or that he issued orders which were received by anybody orchestrating command of the actual battle. You’re acting like a defense counsel in continually ignoring these questions and the absence of any evidence regarding such orders. Those are questions which would/should be asked by a historian. I’ll even include the letters to Ellen. McClellan knew by 1864 that his inaction at Glendale had even risen to the level of a political campaign issue. Yet we have nothing but radio silence by him on these questions.The same is true from the plausible recipients. If you want to argue that he need not have assigned field command and need not have been issuing orders between 2 PM and 8 PM that’s fine. We may disagree about the wisdom of that and whether it’s even remotely an accepted principle of military command but we’d at least be working with facts. If you’re going to assert that he did both/either (as one defending him logically would want to do), then let’s get the type of evidence we’re able to access in similar situations – such as McClellan’s actions during the GM fighting on June 28.

        • John Foskett March 3, 2017 / 11:33 am

          By the way, and just for sampling purposes, let’s assume we can futz around with the issue of whether Seymour met with Sumner “about 8’oclock in the evening” or whether that matches in any way another recollection of “2200” hours or something in between. Where is the evidence that Sumner received an order to retreat. I’d never accuse a non-lawyer of being a lawyer. 🙂 But you’re skillfully employing tactics in this discussion which might help Aaron Hernandez in his ongoing double murder trial. And yes, if one is issuing orders long distance by wigwagging, darkness and the results of several hours of black powder firing by a large number of weapons renders that a questionable choice. Okay, one final point – all of McClellan’s accounts regarding GM contain some level of detail. His accounts about Glendale are barren of any details connecting him to the battlefield during the actual fighting. One is entitled to use one’s common sense and make a rational deduction.

          • TFSmith March 3, 2017 / 10:43 pm

            McClellan was a useful divisional-level commander; anything above that and he was in over his head.

            Fifteen decades of apologia notwithstanding, the reality is he failed repeatedly as a commander at the army/theater/department level, in terms of combat command on the offensive, organizing a useful intelligence service, training a successor, and keeping his superiors informed.

            Set aside those four failings, and he was a first rate clerk. 😉


          • John Foskett March 4, 2017 / 11:59 am


            Regarding Mac keeping his superiors informed: As you know, the late Prof. Joseph Harsh was a leading, credentialed advocate of revisiting the McClellan “stereotype” During an interview with William Miller in Civil War several years ago, he raised the following (and in my eyes astonishing and highly disturbing) possibility:

            “M: So McClellan’s plan for the national strategy falls by the wayside, but goes to the Peninsula hoping to enact at least a small portion of his plan for overwhelming the Confederate defenders. Why did he think an army of 150,000 was necessary to take Richmond. Did he really believe the Confederate army defending Richmond was as large as he reported it to be – 150,000 to 200,000?

            H: I don’t know what he believed, and I don’t know that I will until after I’m into my research for this next book, after I have lived at McClellan’s headquarters the way I’ve just finished living at Lee’s headquarters. I don’t know whether I am comfortable with how much he believed those reports himself and how much he was willing to use these figures in order to impress upon the Administration that he needed more men. He passed on raw intelligence reports that the Administration wouldn’t be able to analyze properly in Washington.

            M: There is some question in your mind whether McClellan believed these reports that told him of 180,000 or 200,000 Confederates opposing him?

            H: I believe we can doubt that he believed the more outrageous ones, the 200,000. I think he probably did believe that Lee had an army at least equal in size to his own, perhaps a little larger. I think he probably did believe that Lee numbered perhaps 120,000. And you must remember that beginning in June 1 or somewhat earlier the Confederate government began concentrating forces in the Richmond area.

            M: Sure. That continued that month. Let me focus for a minute on the spector of disingenuousness of taking a raw intelligence figure that perhaps he didn’t believe and sending it to Washington as something genuine…

            H: If he did that.

            M: He certainly mentioned figures like that to Lincoln.

            H: But we can’t say he did not believe them. If we could determine that he did not believe these figures, which I’m not sure we can, and yet he sent them on to Lincoln and Stanton anyway, then we could probably make a case for McClellan being the prototype of a Washington bureaucrat. You know how those fellows defend themselves: “Hey, I didn’t say it, I’m just passing on the intelligence reports.”

            M: (laughter) You’re saying he was a 19th-century spin doctor?

            H: I’ve got to emphasize that I am not sure he did pass along these accounts without believing them.”

            Imagine if, say, MacArthur had lied to FDR and Marshall about Japanese strength in the SW Pacific so that he could get priority over Nimitz and the Central Pacific? That’s not a Washington “bureaucrat” – it’s a violation of the Articles of War and should result in a prompt court martial and cashiering..

  29. Shoshana Bee March 1, 2017 / 11:55 pm

    McClellan seems to be making the rounds again, in lectures and discussions. I had the pleasure of watching Dan Virmilya’s presentation on Antietam/McClellan last Saturday (via Facebook). It was interesting that Dan began his lecture with how much reticence he once had regarding his subject matter, as he had been schooled early on in the usual negativity towards McClellan. As the lecture unfolded, we were presented with different aspects of the battle that are usually overlooked in these discussions, such as how fragmented McClellan’s forces were, so that sum totals often did not reflect the fact that not all parts of the army were available at the same time. Ethan S. Rafuse’s book was referenced and held in high regard, so that at some time in the future, I would like to explore this work. I will note that when I brought up this lecture in a discussion, I was immediately pounced upon for saying even the remotest of neutral statements about McClellan (anything non-rabid is apparently considered high regard)

    • Moe Daoust March 2, 2017 / 2:11 am

      Shoshana, I like to say that most people, particularly Stephen W. Sears, “love to hate George B. McClellan.” That hatred only manages to cloud their judgement and completely destroys their sense of objectivity. Thankfully, a handful of our modern historians are re examining McClellan and presenting him in a more objective light. It’s going to be a long and tough slog though. The saying goes, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” If you enjoyed Dan Virmilya’s presentation, you may enjoy an article that I wrote for Civil War Times in 2007 on Burnside’s actions at Antietam. You can read it online at

  30. monodisperse March 2, 2017 / 8:19 am


    There are some problems with the narrative you are attempting to construct.

    1. Send an engineer or a corps commander

    McClellan *did* send Col Barton S. Alexander to Rodgers to sort this out, and then sent BG Keyes to back Alexander up. Rodgers insisted that the mouth of the Chickahominy was as far upriver as he could go. Hence in his 0245 hrs telegram of 1st July McClellan states that he was preparing to march to the mouth of the Chickahominy. Harrison’s or nearer had not yet been settled upon. BS Alexander had been lent a tug on the 30th June and was detached to recce the mouth of the Chickahominy for a suitable position. Rodgers then wrote McClellan a letter with respect to what was decided and came ashore with it, handing it to Radowitz who took it to McClellan.

    Hence the argument that he should have sent an engineer or corps commander has very little weight because this actually happened.

    2. Command at Glendale

    McClellan set up his command post that day at B.F. Dew’s house (now called the Crew House). This gave him a good view of the Glendale crossroads and the west of Malvern Hill. He had a signals station nearby at the West House to communicate with Franklin, whose command he could not see. For much of the day McClellan waited there watching the field, with the wagons going over the hill a hundred yards east of his position (the tail of the column passing over the hill at 1600 hrs).

    McClellan was watching the events at the crossroads when Radowitz handed him said letter. At the time there was no major attack in progress. It is worth examining the timings of the rebel attack.

    3. Timing of Longstreet’s attack

    Longstreet decided to silence the 24 Federal guns at the crossroads, and at 1600 hrs Longstreet’s artillery opened upon them. McClellan was still at the Dew House, as la Comte de Paris describes watching said barrage for some time. Longstreet also ordered Jenkins’ brigade to silence the guns, expecting him to advance the Palmento Sharpshooters to snipe the gunners. Jenkins then launched his brigade in an unordered attack around 1630. Although the batteries slaughtered this lone unsupported brigade who managed to occupy the position of Cooper’s battery for 5 minutes and the momentum of the charge carried them into it. The 9th Pennsylvania Reserves promptly bayonet charged Jenkins’ men and routed them before them could turn Cooper’s guns. Wilcox on his own initiative had advanced the 9th and 10th Alabama to support Jenkins and they counterattacked the 9th Pa Res, and were in turn charged by the 1st Pa Res. For the loss of 802 men (against 268 Federals) the rebels “silenced” Cooper’s battery.

    When Longstreet realised Jenkins was launching an attack instead of advancing skirmishers he went with it, and ordered his right wing to attack. Kemper received the order around 1700 hrs and went in immediately. Branch, on Kemper’s right, received the order around the same time, but no-one was expecting to make an attack and so the brigade had their cooking fires lit and were eating dinner. Kemper’s attack went in ca. 1715-1730, but the brigade was completely broken by the time Branch approached the line at 1800. Branch (support by Strange) but in an attack around 1800-1830 but was broken. Finally around 1830 Longstreet orders AP Hill in, and his lead brigades are broken before the sun goes down (1917 hrs that day).

    4. McClellan and the Galena

    Sometime around 1600 or shortly thereafter Radowitz reaches the Dew House and hands McClellan Rodger’s letter. With a cannonade going on McClellan saddles his horse and la Comte de Paris reports getting excited that he thought they’d go down to the crossroads, and then is disappointed when McClellan rides down to Haxalls.

    You’ll note that when McClellan left his CP the wagon train was past the hill and safe, and the action down at the crossroads was a cannonade. There was no attack underway. Indeed, Longstreet did not intend to attack, because it was obvious folly.

    McClellan boards the Galena around 1645 and leaves la Comte de Paris on the deck with orders to fetch him if anything happens. Paris’s journal indicates the message that an attack at the crossroads came in almost immediately and he went down to Rodger’s cabin to tell McClellan the news. McClellan immediately came up on deck, climbed the rigging with his field glasses to see and started issuing orders to Marcy. Being slightly deaf others had to repeat what McClellan was saying for Marcy to write. Lt Clum then transmitted these orders. Whilst this was happening the rebel river column was spotted and the Galena went into action against them at 1700 hrs. McClellan left the Galena soon thereafter, in the first break in the firing.

    As to the content of the orders, we know that Couch was ordered to advance 2 brigades off Malvern Hill towards the centre to counterattack any penetration. Another order to Peck we know about because Hammerstein, the messenger from the 5th Corps signals station, could not find Peck and Peck wrote to Marcy the next day to excuse his not coming into action (OR 11(3) 284). We know there were other orders, but not the content.

    McClellan after going ashore goes straight back up Malvern Hill to his CP. The exact timings are a mystery, with the hostile commentators suggesting this wasn’t until 1800. Certainly by 1900 he’s writing his despatch to Washington having received the reports of his staff on the fighting.

    Now, even taking the hostile 1800 hrs as a timepoint, McClellan essentially missed two brigade attacks (Jenkins and Kemper) and is back to see Branch’s attack, and AP Hills.

    5. Afterwards…

    McClellan intended to stay in the position he occupied at Malvern. He went to the Galena around 2100 hrs again to hand over his despatches to the French princes who took them down to Fort Monroe. On returning it is found out Franklin was quit his position without orders, and in consequence McClellan orders Heintzelman and Sumner to withdraw to Malvern (McCall’s division receiving the order 2300 hrs for example). He spends much of the night at Malvern House with Barnard and Porter sketching out a new defensive position and at dawn they go out to implement it.

    At 0915, after spending about five hours riding over the position and setting up his army McClellan has a written order issued placing Sumner in command during his absence, and takes Franklin and Marcy with him down to the Galena. They head off for Harrisons, and Franklin is there for a bollocking. In the process they convince Rodgers that Harrisons is viable. McClellan is back on the field before the attack develops at Malvern, and has to settle a dispute between Sumner and Porter – Sumner attempted to order the Army off the hill to make an attack, and Porter refused the order. On arriving at Malvern House McClellan relieved Sumner from command of the army and sent him back to his corps.

    6. Conclusions

    You can argue that McClellan should not have left the Dew House ca. 1615-1630, and I won’t disagree. I do not think any military harm was done by the trip, and McClellan certainly retained control of his forces and reacted well to the attack. Indeed, by convincing Rodgers that Harrison’s Landing was reasonable he saved 20 miles of movement. However it has been used to mercilessly attack him, often without regard to the facts as they actually occurred.

  31. John Foskett March 2, 2017 / 11:56 am

    I wish y’all would go back to just using your name as we resume our interrupted dialogue 🙂

    Many points here that merit a response but work demands are in my way at the moment. I’d like to briefly suggest, however, that we move on from the notion that Mac attended a vital command conference on the Galena which required his presence. This is his own detailed explanation:

    “I returned from Malvern to Haxall’s, and, having made arrangements for instant communication from Malvern by signals, went on board of Com. Rodgers’s gunboat, lying near, to confer with him in reference to the condition of our supply-vessels and the state of things on the river. It was his opinion that it would be necessary for the army to fall back to a position below City [430] Point, as the channel there was so near the southern shore that it would not be possible to bring up the transports, should the enemy occupy it. Harrison’s Landing was, in his opinion, the nearest suitable point. Upon the termination of this interview I returned to Malvern Hill, and remained there until shortly before daylight.”

    So (and, again, we’re using McClellan’s own words) he chose to board the Galena to get Rodgers’ assessment of the state of things and his opinion. It is little wonder that the established and respected historians who have urged us to revisit elements of the accepted McClellan image have NOT defended or justified what he did on June 30. I’m having real difficulty in trying to comprehend why this task could not have been handled by subordinates – even if it was one at the rank of MG, such as Fitz John Porter who would have been especially suited because of his experience and because he was directly involved with getting to and arranging things at MH. That simply illustrates the difference between a neat argument and a rational judgment based on the evidence.

    Before I end this post, there is that thorny matter of who McClellan put in charge on the field. We know what Sumner said before the JCCW. I’m aware of nothing from Franklin or Heintzelman filling the void.

  32. monodisperse March 4, 2017 / 8:44 am

    Re: The Placement of McCall’s Division

    In the morning McClellan, with the Prince de Joinville and other staff, made a tour of the position from the Britton House (his HQ at dawn, and Baldy Smith’s HQ during the day) southwards. When they reached the crossroads it was observed that this was a likely point of attack. At this point the crossroads position was occupied only by Heintzelman’s corps, with Kearny on the right on the Charles City Road and Hooker on the left on the Quaker Road with the lines between them thin. McClellan ordered his two “spare” divisions, Sedgwick and McCall to come to this position, placing McCall between Kearny and Hooker, and Sedgwick having orders to going to Nelson’s House. Heintzelman’s report shows Kearny had occupied the wrong position, and he had to pull he back and reposition him. McClellan left with all this set up for Porter and Keyes.

    On notes of timings, Sumner (in his JCCW testimony) says that McClellan left this position at noon, and the attack commenced soon thereafter, the perils of memory…

    On Malvern he established a new CP (BF Dew House), checked Porter’s position they rode down to Haxall’s to check on Keyes before returning to the Dew House. At the Dew House McClellan is told of developing artillery attack on Smith at the White Oak. The movement of Sedgwick’s two brigades to there is ca. 1400-1430, well after this. There are some questions still unresolved about who sent Sedgwick’s 2 brigades to Franklin and who recalled them.

    Either way, the position at the crossroads was heavily manned, with two full lines of battle set up at this point.

  33. John Foskett March 4, 2017 / 11:41 am

    So, to summarize, we have a 5th Corps division posted between two 3rd Corps divisions and a 2nd Corps division being placed more or less in support. McCall’s was by far the most weakened from earlier fighting yet it was positioned at the “likely” (and obvious) point of attack – or as Mac described it in “Own Story”, where “evidently the principal attack” was actually made. This leads to thorny questions: (1) why was that spot chosen for a division which already had been reduced by significant fighting? with all due respect to McCall’s post-battle efforts, we know that it in fact “broke” under the heavy assault by Longstreet and A.P. Hill; (2) why was this division one of the two “spare” divisions? I read a letter to North & South back in the day which asserted that Jackson’s failure at White Oak was actually due to McClellan’s brilliant preparations, which would seem to have freed up troops which in fact ultimately did have to migrate over to Glendale during the fighting; (3) who was charged with ordering this stew of corps units around as the fighting developed? Regarding the “unresolved” questions about who sent Sedgwick’s brigades off to the White Oak sector and then back, we can be pretty danged certain it wasn’t Mac.

  34. Mark Snell March 6, 2017 / 9:15 am

    Where’s Ethan Rafuse when you need him . . . .

    • John Foskett March 6, 2017 / 4:48 pm

      Godd point. Rafuse covered the issue of Glendale and McClellan’s actions on June 30 pretty succinctly, stating that his conduct “almost defies belief” and was “unforgivable”. That’s why he’s a well-regarded historian/author and i’m just a “men’s league” player. He said in a few sentences what takes me voluminous post after voluminous post. (:

  35. Michael William Stone March 7, 2017 / 12:24 am

    And after all, who was better than McClellan?

    Grant, yes, but he wasn’t available for the eastern theatre until 1864. Of the others, Meade at Gettysburg did little if any better than Mac at Antietam, while, Pope, Burnside and Hooker all did worse.

    • John Foskett March 7, 2017 / 7:48 am

      Well, there is this small matter of Meade being placed in command of an army only three days before the battle and in the midst of an active campaign. And one necessarily wonders whether Mac would have ordered a “change of base” after the way things went on July 1.

  36. monodisperse March 8, 2017 / 7:33 am

    If one takes the time to check Rafuse’s references he constructs his sequence of events almost entirely from the data provided by Sears. He also references Burton, but his sequence of events etc. is from Sears.

    However, as I’ve indicated, Sears’ narrative is simply factually wrong on many counts. If you accept it without question of course you’re drawn into Sears conclusions.

    The shame is Rafuse’s PhD thesis is actually a lot more insightful, despite dedicating only six pages (579-584) to the seven days. It has no tactical elements at all, but merely solid analysis of the operational concepts.

    However, I must thank you, as due to this post I found an abstract of the log of the USS Jacob Bell, several letters from Captain McClellan (McClellan’s brother and ADC) and several other first hand accounts one of which seems to confirm McClellan was off the Galena before 1730 hrs, as a staffer (a major, probably Wm. Russell USMC) came aboard looking for him but he was already gone.

    The current timeline, subject to further alteration if new evidence comes to light is:

    ca. 1600: Radowitz hands McClellan the note from Rodgers
    ca. 1630: McClellan arrives down at Haxall’s, after a brief conversation Rodgers tells Charles Edge that they cant have lunch as McClellan is going to the Galena with him.
    (ca. 1630: Jenkins launches an attack without orders)
    1645: McClellan aboard Galena
    ca. 1650: Paris relays a telegraphic message to McClellan from Heintzelman that there is an attack on McCall. McClellan goes on deck, climbs the rigging and starts issuing orders
    1700: Huger’s column is sighted, Galena runs half a mile upriver and goes into action ca. 1710.
    (1700 Kemper’s brigade attacks)
    1715: Jacob Bell receives order to come upriver and engage enemy
    ca. 1720: The messages come in “McCall’s division is breaking” and “Sumner is having a hard time”. McClellan borrows a boat from Rodgers to get ashore. Given Galena’s location it would take a strong oars team about 20 minutes to row back to Haxall’s.
    1730: A staff major (Russell?) rides to the shore near the Galena. The ships gig fetches him but McClellan is not aboard so he returns alone.
    ca. 1800: McClellan is seen galloping up Malvern Hill
    1900: McClellan writes a timestamped despatch to Stanton at Turkey Bridge (i.e. near Malvern House)
    ca. 2030: McClellan returns to Galena with his despatches
    2120: Jacob Bell gets underway for Fort Monroe with the French princes aboard. She has already run down to City Point and back to communicate with Ingalls.
    ca. 2200: McClellan is at Malvern House and is told of Franklin’s withdrawal

    • John Foskett March 8, 2017 / 1:28 pm

      Much to look at here which is beyond my time constraints today.

      Stepping back from the fray, however, and assuming this timeline is accurate (as opposed to errors/unreliability in some of the components and choices where there is plausible disagreement) at least one thing strikes me as odd, to say the least. Supposedly in response to a message regarding dire events at Glendale received at 5:20, where does McClellan head? Malvern Hill according to this – not Glendale. Given that we still have nothing supporting the notion that McClellan had designated an overall commander at the crossroads this simply deepens the mystery

      I note also that your timeline is inconsistent with the Comte’s account – the precise content of the message which he delivered being the key (“there is an attack on McCall” vs. “McCall had broken, but Kearney had restored the fight and … the enemy had been repulsed”). Likewise there is the issue of the Comte finding Mac “at a table” when he delivered the message and joining in the meal – nothing about McClellan dashing out to the deck and climbing the rigging to issue orders. We still have nothing on what those orders were or to whom they were issued.

      An addendum to mine the other day – I intended to respond to your implied assertion that McClellan had sent Keyes to deal with Rodgers regarding the eventual landing spot. The sole reference I’ve ever found to Keyes and the Galena is that he and Alexander “breakfasted” with Rodgers on the morning of June 30, But there is nothing I am aware of which substantiates that Keyes was in any way tasked with that mission by McClellan, as we know Alexander was. I’ve seen nothing ftom McClellan, Keyes, or anyone else suggesting that. I have proffered a highly reasonable option which would have allowed McClellan to actually exercise command at Glendale – Porter. Not only was his mission to establish the Army’s next position (Keyes was limited to moving the trains) but McClellan trusted Porter – Keyes did not occupy the same status and in fact did not have a great deal of respect for McClellan’s handling of the campaign,

    • John Foskett March 11, 2017 / 10:36 am

      After a few days of quiet it appear that this is where we are;

      1. Was McClellan at or in the immediate vicinity of the Charles City Crossroads/Glendale or White Oak at any time after 2 PM on June 30?

      No – nobody has ever tried to even argue that he was.

      2. Did McClellan designate anyone – Sumner, Franklin, Heintzelman, even Porter – to exercise overall field command at those locations in his stead?

      No – nobody (not even McClellan) ever asserted that and the undisputed facts are to the contrary.

      3. Did McClellan issue orders directly to anyone involved in the fighting – Sumner, Franklin, Heintzelman, Kearney, Hooker, McCall, Sedgwick, Slocum – during the fighting?


      We have much about setting up signalling systems via the Galena, Haxall’s, Malvern Hill etc. but curiously we have not found the specifics of a single such order – to whom issued, when, substance, receipt – thus far. We do know that Keyes – at Haxall’s – received a “verbal” order in the “:evening” to move two of Couch’s brigades but that’s it. Myer’s two reports give us no such specifics as to any order meeting this criterion. In fact Myer has only one signaller arguably in a position to be involved – stated vaguely as “on the left and near the advance”. But that’s it. Although he refers to signals directing fire of the gunboats we know that, at least as it involved the Galena, this was directed at Holmes’ division in the Turkey Bridge area (I’m sure you meant “Holmes” and not “Huger”). McClellan clearly was not essential to interpreting these signals from either Haxall’s or Malvern Hill. We know that Holmes ‘ division was not involved in the fighting at the crossroads/White Oak front (even if what it did during the afternoon/evening could charitably be called “fighting”). In McClellan’s official August 4, 1863 report he concedes that even late in the evening he was out of effective/timely communication with the commanders at Glendale because he only learned “the true state of affairs” from his aides “very late at night”, including learning that Franklin and Heintzelman were retreating. Belatedly an order was sent to Sumner to retreat – but that courier ran into an already-retreating Sumner, who had stumbled upon the fact that the other two corps had departed and had found himself isolated.

      I am skeptical that any staff ride at Glendale would posit this as effective command and control of an army fighting to avoid a potentially devastating defeat. The discussion of McClellan’s orders on the morning of the 30th is irrelevant. Aside from issues regarding even those (e.g., the suspect placement of McCall), the elder Von Moltke’s wisdom about plans and contact with the enemy sets that discussion to the side.

      Adopting the position that “if Sears says it it must be wrong” is the same fault which McClellan devotees attribute to historians who have accepted that McClellan utterly failed the test at Glendale. Whatever revisions might be in order regarding some of McClellan’s conduct as commander of the A of the P (e.g., handling the “Lost Orders” on September 13, 1862)i Glendale is not one of those circumstances.

      (A small aside – in your timeline you rely on Edge’s account. If you read it closely (and it was apparently written at 10 PM on July 1), you will deduce that the specific reference is almost certainly to events on July 1, not June 30.)

  37. Robert P. Dean November 26, 2017 / 4:23 pm

    Ulysses Grant and William Sherman looked at what McClellan and Buell had attempted to do in1862 and decided they would do much the same thing, but do it better. At least their two operations were going to proceed without General Halleck’s interference. The logistics were going to be better, the intelligence information was going to improve, and at least the army in the western theater was going to minimize tactical errors.
    Grant and Sherman were going to fight the hard war, to an absolute victory. The cost of doing that was going to be paid in the reconstruction era, as anticipated by General McClellan, but that was a political decision that Abraham Lincoln had to take responsibility for. The sovereign power was the people, who made the decision that Lincoln was right and McClellan was wrong.
    General McClellan at least stood up for what he asserted was the correct policy.
    It was a dispute strictly following the basic questions posed by Carl von Clausewitz, and I suspect General McClellan was well aware of Clausewitz, and Lincoln was partially aware, through Halleck and Lieber.

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