I must admit that I’ve always been fascinated by the relationship between Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan. My views have changed over time, to be sure. My initial reading (decades ago) reflected what some would see as “Lincoln good, McClellan bad”; it did not help that when I read something that looked more charitably upon McClellan, the work in question often struck me as special pleading. In short, I was weighing what others told me about the relationship, and I’d argue that the people who presented the tale as “Lincoln good, McClellan bad” told their story better.
I no longer feel that way. Although I doubt that people would label me a McClellan apologist, and some would still take me to task for some of the things I have said about McClellan, I nevertheless have come to a position where I try to understand how McClellan saw things and where I can question how Lincoln treated him. Take Richard Slotkin’s new book, The Long Road to Antietam, which I am currently reading between other responsibilities (clearly this one will go on the plane with me). Unlike some of my blogging colleagues, who have dismissed the book out of hand, I think it’s best to read something before I form anything more than a passing impression about it (and to set aside that passing impression as I read it). I was quite taken by Slotkin’s decision to portray Lincoln as conducting a campaign to undermine McClellan, and that he employed White House aide John Hay to advance the process by having Hay plant stories critical of McClellan in the press.
Is this how a commander in chief is supposed to behave? We know about the jokes and the critical remarks, but what about this, too? How can one in fairness trash McClellan for behaving as he did without holding Lincoln to the same standards of behavior?
Inquiring minds want to know.