Crossroads Greatest Hits: George B. McClellan

George B. McClellan remains controversial, as this post from 2011 shows. Interesting comments.

25 thoughts on “Crossroads Greatest Hits: George B. McClellan

    • James F. Epperson June 18, 2015 / 3:07 pm

      John, I found your extended discussions with Bryn Monnery fascinating to re-read.

      • monodisperse June 19, 2015 / 1:31 am

        John’s discussion was relatively useful in the early days of researching the topic, but outlived its usefulness when he started conducting a defense of his beliefs.

        As best I can tell, with a lot more data than Sears etc., this is roughly what happened:

        “You’re thinking of Glendale, where around 1600-30 he received a note carried by Radowitz that caused him to leave his command post at one of the houses on Malvern Hill (it’s confusing as to which one it was as accounts differ, but the description best fits the West House or Malvern House colocated with 5th Corps HQ) and rode down to Haxall’s Landing where 4th Corps HQ was. There he met Commodore Rodgers, who had come ashore with a note (assumidly the one Radowitz brought to McClellan) stating the navy couldn’t support McClellan past the mouth of the Chickahominy and suggesting McClellan retreat his army back to Williamsburg.

        McClellan boarded the Galena ca. 1645 with Marcy and the three French princes. Marcy, McClellan, the Prince de Joinville and the Duc de Chatres went down to Rodgers cabin for a meeting. The Comte de Paris remained on deck with orders to relay any signals to McClellan. Paris records they immediately received a signal from Heintzelman that McCall’s division had broken, he’d stabilised the position with Kearny’s division and was preparing to counterattack to gain the lost ground. Paris takes this down the Rodgers cabin (and remarks what a good life the navy officers have compared to the army, with clean linen, good food and good wine – previous diary entries talked a lot about the poor food, with the day before him noting the thin stew McClellan and his staff ate had very little meat, and remarking on the strangeness of having ice water to drink). He reports this to McClellan, who immediately goes on deck, climbs the rigging with his telescope and looks over the field and starts to dictate a series of orders down to Marcy (who was quite deaf and had trouble hearing, believing McClellan was telling him Sumner and Heintzelman had been surrounded). The contents of these orders, transmitted ashore and then actioned by staff officers are unknown, but concerned (from the sample we have) moving reserves to reinforce Heintzelman.

        Around 1700 a signal from Porter alerted McClellan to the movement of Holmes’ division (which the Federals believed was Wise’s) up the river towards Porter. The Galena and Aroostook went into action against them. McClellan is described as leaving the Galena shortly after opening fire, in the first break in the firing and returning to shore, but locating an exact timing is thus far impossible. He appears to have been ashore well before 1800 though. He went up Malvern Hill back to his CP overlooking most of the field. The next known timing is at 1900 where he’s at Turkey bridge (the most forward position on his armies left flank) where he writes to Stanton about the results of the day.

        Around 2100 McClellan took a boat back out to the Galena, which had just dropped anchor off Haxall’s and met with the French princes. He wished them goodbye, handed them his despatches and verbally briefed them on his intentions to convey to the Washington government. They crossdecked to the Jacob Bell, he bid them goodbye and returned ashore. The Jacob Bell ran down to Ft Monroe during the night and dropped off the prince. The despatches were then telegraphed up to Washington and the prince continued on.

        McClellan went back to his CP on Malvern Hill and learnt the news that Franklin had quit his position without orders and got involved in the mad rush to recall all his divisions into new positions on Malvern Hill. At 0245 (am) he is writing detailed despatches and at 0345 goes down to the river and sends for a boat to go back to the Galena, but Rodgers comes out to him and they finally have the discussion that the rebs so rudely interrupted by attacking…”

        • John Foskett June 20, 2015 / 7:51 am

          You are an authority when it comes to a discussion “outliv[ing] its usefulness when [you] started conducting a defense of [your] beliefs.” Thus far we’ve had telegraphy, Sumner’s testimony, and vital command conferences, among other items, creep in and out of the never-ending revision of “what really happened on June 30”. Far be it from me to dissuade one from further probing, but here’s a guarantee: (1) you will find nothing placing McClellan on the field where his army faced its gravest crisis of the Seven Days; (2) you will find nothing evidencing an order by McClellan placing any subordinate in command and control on that field in his stead; (3) you will find nothing advocating effective command and control in the form of a field commander several miles from the action climbing the nearest Spruce, hauling out a pair of binoculars, and wig wagging a flag. There’s a reason that well-regarded military historians – Ethan Rafuse is an unimpeachable example – have concluded that McClellan screwed up on June 30. He did. His army was able to survive and resume its retr….. – uh, change of base – because Lee’s subordinates botched his game plan, not because McClellan exercised effective command. It’s been fun but i’ve got too much going on at work right now to continue this thread. Have a good one.

          • T F Smith June 23, 2015 / 6:23 pm

            The English Chemist has spoken, in case you didn’t know … And he may or may not understand what a JD stands for.

            Best,

      • John Foskett June 19, 2015 / 8:28 am

        Jim: I find it interesting that the account by the Comte de Paris which Mr. Monnery translated could have been used by the “prosecution” in “U.S. v. McClellan” regarding Glendale. With all of the “fun with numbers” fodder involving Mac and the Peninsula, the most damning statement I’ve found is McClellan’s assertion in his B&L article that for the Seven Days he started with only 75,000 – and that was after you add in to his post-Fair Oaks strength the approximately 20,000 of McCall’s Division and reinforcements from Fort Monroe. Must be what happens when fat fingers hit the “minus” key instead of the “plus” key..

        • monodisperse June 21, 2015 / 6:00 am

          Accord to the late Joseph Harsh McClellan’s army had about 70,000 “combat effectives” which was what McClellan was estimating in B&L. I can derive similar numbers easily from the official returns. The problems of people who don’t understand what these numbers mean (or are willing to deliberately distort them) is a fundamental problem, and was a major plank of the Lost Cause.

          PS: Dr. Monnery, if you must use honourifics.

          • John Foskett June 21, 2015 / 7:35 am

            PS: Dr. Foskett, if we’re going to insist on form, old boy.

            As I said, I have too much going on at work to keep this alive. Suffice it to say that there are abundant responses regarding how Mac decided who to count/not to count at a given time. Given that McCall’s division and the FM reinforcements saw no combat, before the Seven Days, they must have had a surfeit of postal clerks, public relations operatives, and cooks. So much for the ebullience of June 7:

            “I shall be in perfect readiness to move forward to take Richmond the moment that McCall’s division reaches here and the ground will permit of the passage of artillery.”

            Over and out.

          • John Foskett July 12, 2015 / 11:41 am

            All right. I see you’ve posted about McClellan’s access to the troops under Dix at Fort Monroe as of June 20 and the suggestion that only a “fool” would add those to Mac’s strength at the outset of the Seven Days. Right you are. The problem is that apparently you can’t read for comprehension. Nobody has added those troops. Somebody has, however, added the 9 regiments which you concede Mac drew from Fort Monroe after Fair Oaks (and for the record, they were transferred from the Department of Virginia, over which Dix assumed command on June 2). So yes, McClellan added these troops and McCall after Fair Oaks. I see that you’ve also conceded that Mac’s 75,000 figure which he came up with for Century is simply the application to his own force of Early’s mathematical card tricks. That was new math for Mac. When he wrote his official report on August 4, 1863 he use a different (and far more legitimate) methodology in computing his strength during the Seven Days. See for yourself and tell us if Mac’s methodology works out to 75,000 for the Seven Days in light of the June 20 return. Here’s a tip: even your grossly inflated 20/25% reduction variables don’t get Mac to 75,000 based on what he said in that report. It requires a bit of thinking but that’s what we’re here for, right? And there’s an obvious explanation – in 1863 McClellan was focused on injecting helium into his opponent’s numbers rather than on deflating his own. I’ll leave to another time how McClellan’s fictitious 75,000 fits what Tenney concludes is a legitimate methodology in his 2012 book or Steven Newton’s thoughtful analysis.

      • TF Smith June 20, 2015 / 10:11 am

        Indeed. This is comedy gold:

        “I know – that was all the fault of Lincoln/Stanton/McDowell/the rainy spring/Kearny/the swollen Chickahominy/the Radicals in Congress.’

        Best regards, Mr. Foskett

        • John Foskett June 21, 2015 / 7:41 am

          “Backatcha”, Mr. Smith. I’m sure that if we probed the “Ellen Letters” further, we could add to the list. 🙂

          • TF Smith June 21, 2015 / 7:46 pm

            Indeed.

            One way to think about it – if McClellan had worked for Polk or FDR (hell, probably even Wilson, Truman, or Eisenhower) he would have been busted down to colonel and sent to the Dakota Territory in the spring of 1862.

            Cripes, if he had worked for Lloyd George or Churchill or Mackenzie King (to put it in context for our chemist friend) he would have ended up as second-in-command of the Isle of Man Home Guard … or the Saskatoon Veteran’s Guard detachment.

  1. Stefan Jovanovich June 18, 2015 / 8:16 am

    This comment is tangential to the subject, at best. I offer it only because today is the anniversary of the execution of the first Medal of Honor recipients, and the speech by one of them offers an eloquent statement of what was most likely in McClellan’s own mind at the time. According to William Pettinger’s memoir, when George Davenport Wilson, a 32-year old private, was hanged in Atlanta in 1862, he was allowed to make a speech to the crowd of onlookers before being executed. This is what Pettinger remembers that Wilson said: the Southerners “were all in the wrong; that he had no hard feelings toward the Southern people for what they were about to do, because they had been duped by their leaders, and induced by them to engage in the work of rebellion. He also said, that though he was condemned as a spy, yet he was none, and they well knew it. He was only a soldier in the performance of the duty he had been detailed to do; that he did not regret to die for his country, but only regretted the manner of his death. He concluded by saying that they would yet live to regret the part they had taken in this rebellion, and would see the time when the old Union would be restored, and the flag of our country wave over the very ground occupied by his scaffold.”

  2. Rcocean June 19, 2015 / 3:17 pm

    Any Grant Vs. Mac comparison has to begin with the understanding that Grant had it much, much easier in April ’64 than McClellan in April ’62. Others have listed the advantages. Of course Grant was also much more willing to go along with Lincolns military “suggestions” then McClellan. (And if Grant got ticked off at Lincoln, he certainly never made the mistake of venting his anger in letters to his wife). Of course, they were too different kinds of men and were in different circumstances. The Civil War was Grants big chance to make it big and he doesn’t seem have been very political before the war. McClellan OTOH was a RR President and going back into the Army was a financial sacrifice for him. He was also opposed to the Radical Republican agenda. So when Stanton and Halleck started bad mouthing and treating with contempt after Seven Days he wasn’t the least bit inclined to pander to them; instead it was more of “I’ll tell you what I think and if you don’t like it – fire me”. Something Grant never would do.

  3. T F Smith June 21, 2015 / 10:11 am

    The difference is that Grant was entitled to “have it much, much easier” than GBM in terms of his relationship with the commander in chief. Grant, after all, had WON on the offensive and the defensive, as an army, army group, and theater commander.

    McClellan had never won an offensive campaign; indeed, even when the Army of the Potomac’s officers and men, including the corps commanders who actually commanded in battle, fought AND WON on the Peninsula, McClellan threw away any possibility of counter offensive, repeatedly.

    McClellan stalled out as a potentially solid corps commander; army, army group, theater, and the role of the general-in-chief were all beyond his abilities, obviously.

    Best,

    • rcocean June 21, 2015 / 4:31 pm

      “McClellan had never won an offensive campaign; indeed, even when the Army of the Potomac’s officers and men, including the corps commanders who actually commanded in battle, fought AND WON on the Peninsula, McClellan threw away any possibility of counter offensive, repeatedly.”

      You miss the fact that Grant never beat Bobby Lee anymore that McClellan did. In the final Appomattox campaign he merely surrounded a warn out, hungry, outnumbered army of NV that was short on Artillery and Calvary.

        • Rcocean June 22, 2015 / 10:40 am

          I didn’t write it was an ‘accident’. I merely stated the truth. You *could* say Appomattox was the end game of Grant’s long term strategy. Fine. But that strategy resulted in a siege of Petersburg that lasted over nine months and required to succeed needed (i) a lot of help from the Confederates -like Hood self-destructing in the Nashville campaign – and (ii) for Grants subordinates to do things they could easily failed at. Namely: Sherman taking Atlanta and marching to the sea and up from Savannah and Sheridan defeating Early. Grant’s strategy nearly ended with Lincoln being defeated in November ’64.

          It can’t be disputed that Lee’s loss at Appomattox had less to do with Grant’s generalship then Lee army denigrating due to logistical collapse of his army and his running out of men.

          • Brooks D. Simpson June 22, 2015 / 10:44 am

            You continue to confuse your own opinion with the truth. Pray continue.

        • monodisperse June 22, 2015 / 1:00 pm

          Surely Appomattox was the culmination of a very long process that started almost four years earlier?

          • Brooks D. Simpson June 22, 2015 / 1:15 pm

            Isn’t that true of most endings to wars … as well as other events? What is the value of such an observation?

          • TF Smith June 23, 2015 / 9:00 am

            By that definition, Ironside, Dill, etc et al deserve all the credit for VE Day…

      • TF Smith June 23, 2015 / 8:58 am

        Lee surrendered to who, again?

  4. Rcocean June 22, 2015 / 2:13 pm

    I’d love to continue but I’m at work. So that’s all I can say about Grant vs. McClellan. At this time.

    I may continue later since Grant, IMO, while overall the best Union General has been wildly overpraised by some, just as McClellan has been absurdly over-criticized.

  5. TF Smith June 23, 2015 / 9:04 am

    Like his commander-in-chief? Or his subordinate officers and his troops? Or the enemies who surrendered three different armies to Grant’s forces?

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