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.


104 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.”

  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….:)

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