The Generals and Admirals: George B. McClellan () - Mr. Lincoln's White House
Nov 13, This symbolized the evolving relationship between Lincoln and McClellan. Federal Major General George B. McClellan | Image Credit. Aug 3, George B. McClellan received orders to begin withdrawing the Army of Lincoln asked McClellan when he planned to resume the offensive. On this day in ,a tortured relationship ends when President Abraham Lincoln removes General George B. McClellan from command of the Army of the Potomac. In , McClellan led the army down Chesapeake Bay to the James Peninsula, southeast of the Confederate capital at Richmond.
A defensive general in an earthen redoubt not an ensign to rally enthusiasm and inspire devotion. He believed beyond any doubt that his Confederate enemies faced him with forces substantially greater than his own. He believed with equal conviction that enemies at the head of his own government conspired to see him and his army defeated so as to carry out their traitorous purposes.
When he lost the courage to fight, as he did in every battle, he believed he was preserving his army to fight the next time on another and better day. At the beginning of the war, no Union officer showed more political skills. Rawley summed up the common wisdom in the fall of Unlike Abraham Lincoln, he personalized everything.
He believed morale was related directly to the confidence officers and men felt in the general commanding; if they believed in him they would believe in the tasks he set for them. He invariably got on better with subordinates than with superiors. It is seldom that a man so simple and so plain in his manners, so free from the ordinary tricks of popularity, and the ordinary appliances of journalistic influence, attains a recognition so sudden and so universal.
The people repose entire confidence in McClellan. He has had nothing of that frenzied impatience to complain of, that forced Scott into error and disaster. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote: Once again, he greatly exaggerated the strength of the enemy and undervalued his own resources.
No matter how unrealistic his appraisal, or how significantly certain factors changed, McClellan formed a snap judgment of the situation and refused to alter it. Excessively cautious, he detected obstacles where none existed and readily convinced himself to abort or delay operations. Then he absolved himself of culpability. They pressed him for military action. Rafuse thinks that McClellan suffered a relapse over the next several days, further aggravating the situation.
The people are impatient: Chase has no money and he tells me he can raise no more; the General of the Army has typhoid fever. The bottom is out of the tub. What shall I do? In the meantime, if the enemy in our front is as strong as he believes, they may attack on any day, and I think you should see some of those upon whom in such case, or in case any forward movement becomes necessary, the control must fall. Send for them to meet you soon and consult with them; perhaps you may select the responsible commander for such an event.
These officers, and Messrs. Seward, Chase, Blair, of the Cabinet, attended.
The President announced that he had called this meeting in consequence of the sickness of General McClellan, but he had that morning heard from him that he was better, and would able to be present the next day; and that, on this promise, he adjourned the discussion for twenty-four hours.
The President opened the proceedings by making a statement of the cause of his calling the council. Blair, if memory is accurate, both spoke. All looked to McClellan, who sat still with his head hanging down, and mute. The situation grew awkward. The President spoke again a few words. One of the generals said something; McClellan said something which evidently did not please the speaker and again was mute. He is superior to all. After a few words that brought out nothing more, Mr. Even when McClellan began to improve, criticism from the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War encouraged President Lincoln to stay actively involved.
McClellan subsequently attempted to exercise what he perceived from previous experience to be his responsibilities as general in chief. During the fall ofEdward M. When Cameron was dismissed in mid-January, Stanton replaced him and quickly dropped his friendship with McClellan. Stanton told President Lincoln in January You must order McClellan to move.
I think he will obey. If not, put someone in his place who will obey. Pennsylvania Congressman William D. After Stanton left, McClellan treated the reporter to a three-hour briefing. The day before, he had refused to discuss war plans with President Lincoln and his chief advisers on the ground that anything he said would end up in the next issue of the Herald. Now he presented that newspaper with what was certainly the largest official leak of military secrets in the entire course of the Civil War.
The Growing Rift Between Lincoln and McClellan
The accumulating hostility and distrust of General McClellan, — totally unjust as it affected his loyalty and honor and his ardent desire to serve his country in the way that he thought best, — though almost entirely unknown to him, was poured upon the President, the heads of Government, and the leading Members of Congress in letters and conversations and newspaper leaders.
He once profoundly trusted him, and to the very last he hoped to employ his genius and his popularity in the deliverance of their common country. His unfailing sagacity saw in him a rising general, who should be at once Democratic and patriotic, — the readiest possible instrument of harmonizing the North, unifying the sentiment of the army, crushing the rebellion, and restoring the Union.
The problem was that the pontoon boats were built too large to pass through canal locks on the way to the Harpers Ferry site. For months he wavered between the self-interested badgering of the politicians and the professional advice of his general in chief.
When on one occasion the statement was received with incredulity, he said, with a good-natured smile: McClellan finally got his Army underway on April 1, moving it by sea down to the Jamestown peninsula. McClellan was slow — criminally slow in the view of Republican radicals and unacceptably slow in the opinion of President Lincoln.
John Hay wrote John Nicolay: Stanton feels devilish about it. He would like to remove him if he thought it would do. Magruder, commanding 10, men confronting an army ten times larger, moved his troops from point to point to simulate a larger army and displayed logs painted black to resemble cannons.
Completely fooled, McClellan looked on fearfully while Confederates assembled forces from elsewhere in Virginia. Nicolay and John Hay. Lincoln began one letter: The story was told that President Lincoln said to some colleagues: General McClellan is a pleasant and scholarly gentleman. He is an admirable engineer, but he seems to have a special talent for a stationary engine. But the fates who gave him these gifts left out the one that a general must have before all others — the hard, instinctive fondness for fighting.
Lee was one of the most pugnacious soldiers in American history, and McClellan himself did not like to fight. He could not impose his will on the man who stood opposite him. He was leading an offensive thrust that had taken him to the suburbs of the southern capital, yet it was just a question of time before the initiative would be taken away from him. The general felt the displeasure back in Washington. McClellan wrote Ellen in a mood of depression: He persisted in overestimating the enemy and underestimating the President.
He compensated for his lack of dispatch on the battlefield with his impudence in dispatches after the battle. McClellan wrote his superiors in Washington: If you do not do so now the game is lost. If I save this Army now I tell you plainly that I owe no thanks to you or any other persons in Washington — you have done your best to sacrifice this Army.
Historian Bruce Tap noted: Samuel Heintzelman, for instance, castigated McClellan for laying siege to Yorktown, making a less than vigorous pursuit of the Confederate army after the battle of Williamsburg, and for failing to counterattack the Confederate right after the battle of Seven Pines on May 31, The change of base to the James River did not and could not. By the beginning of July, McClellan had abandoned his offensive and withdrawn his army into a string of hastily dug entrenchments along the banks of the James River.
Lincoln biographer Richard J. The animosity of his key generals to General Pope contributed to the second Union defeat at Bull Run at the end of August, The senator had access to the confidential testimony before the Join Committee on the Conduct of the War, of which he was a member and which had recently voted to allow public use of its testimony.
Then it could be printed at the Government Printing Office and circulated at federal expense, through the franking privilege, for partisan electioneering purposes. In August, McClellan was ordered to abandon the Peninsula and return his troops to the Washington area. McClellan had squandered his opportunity.
For this Lincoln cannot escape blame. He wanted an aggressive General who would energetically seek out Lee and beat him. McClellan for all his qualities of leadership lacked the final ounces of fighting spirit.
Lincoln with his shrewd judgment of men knew this. But he also knew that McClellan was probably the ablest commander available to him. His instinct had been to stand by his chosen General.
Instead he had yielded to political outcry. He had swapped horses in mid-stream. He found he had got a poorer mount. Nicolay and John Hay wrote: But the President stood manfully by his action.
He admitted the infirmities of McClellan, his lack of energy and initiative, but for this exigency he considered him the best man in the service, and the country must have the benefit of his talents, although he had behaved badly.
Presidential aide William O. Stoddard recalled being accosted at his desk shortly before the Battle of Antietam in September: He was arrayed in a black frock uniform. Down we went and out, and the distance to be traveled was not long. He did not utter one word nor did I, for I was strongly impressed with the fact that there was something on his mind.
All the while a kind of rebellious feeling was growing within me, for I inwardly growled because the President ought to have sent for his subordinate, commanding him to come, instead of going to call upon him. I went over to the right and sat down in a chair, but the President took a seat in the middle of the room.
He was calm, steady, even smiling, but in half a minute there was no room there at all. Only Abraham Lincoln filling the place brimful. Our names had been carried upstairs, I knew, but long minutes went by and I felt the hot blood surging into my cheeks hotter and hotter with every moment of what seemed to me a disrespectful waiting-time.
Not so the great man over there beyond the table, for he was as cool and solid as ice. Then — for the hall door was open — a kind of jingle, and slow, descending footsteps were heard from the stairs. It was the great general himself, in full uniform, followed by his chief of staff, General [Randolph] Marcy, and an army colonel. In dress uniform with their swords they were a brilliant trio.
George B. McClellan - Wikipedia
General McClellan may have thought that he had come downstairs to receive the President formally and impressively, but he was altogether mistaken. He entered that parlor to be received there, very kindly, by President Abraham Lincoln, who somehow had taken possession and was the only man in the room. It was given, in a masterly way, by McClellan. He was a man of nerve strength, and I admired him as he went on into what was made more and more evidently a grand wrestling-match, with the control of the armies for the prize; also the future control of the political situation or field and the next Presidency of the United States.
That important point was really settled before the match was over — for it was a long one. Lincoln listened well and he said little, at first. Then a word at a time, he began to open, expanding visibly as he went on, and the match became intensely interesting.
Grapple after grapple, tug, strain — down you go! Perfect accord, perfect good-will, perfect good manners, not a trace of excitement on either side. There was, in fact, a mutual yielding of many points under discussion, but at the end of it they had all been surrendered by General McClellan, with the courteous assistance of his handsome and capable chief of staff, General March.
Silence was my stronghold, and I held it tenaciously. A close came, and Mr. Lincoln and I were ceremoniously shown to the door. The parlor we left behind us was still, to my mind, full of Mr. Lincoln, although he had walked out. Never before had I so fully appreciated the human will in its greatest power. After reading the lost orders, McClellan vacillated. Issuing those orders at noon that day instead of in the evening would have required George McClellan to step out of character, which he had demonstrated repeatedly he was incapable of doing….
He reacted as he had before Richmond in June: A few days later, Lincoln peremptorily ordered the Army of the Potomac to advance, but McClellan responded with his usual litany of excuses. On 13 October, Lincoln admonished McClellan for his excessive timidity in a private letter designed to spur him on, but this tactic proved no more fruitful than his more direct approach the previous weeks.
Instead, McClellan continued to demand more equipment, supplies, and men. What will he do when he does figure it out?
The last bona fide McClellan advocate, Warren W. Shield of the Union, sixty years ago. Engle invited me to contribute an essay to a volume ultimately published as The War Worth Fighting For: He generously said that I could. I decided that among the most interesting features of Lincoln as war president was his unusually active involvement in military operations—nothing on the scale of Jefferson Davis, his Confederate counterpart, but far more than most American commanders in chief.
He thought Jackson had figuratively placed his neck in the lunette of a guillotine and if available Federal forces could move with equal speed, they could neatly behead Jackson and annihilate his army. Major General John C. I made the opposite case: Here too I differed with most military historians. Historians will probably always criticize McClellan for his failure to defeat Lee during the Seven Days, and of the two generals, Lee was undoubtedly the superior in a battle of maneuver.
Yet Lee understood that this was not the sort of battle McClellan ever intended to fight. Two days of battle were necessary to pry Porter from that position. If the thirty thousand additional troops had participated, it is highly unlikely the Confederate win could have been accomplished. It would have ensured that McClellan could successfully achieve what Lee feared most: This alternative outcome is about as obvious as anything can be.
Yet to a large extent, historians have praised Lincoln for his diversion of McDowell from the decisive theater of operations and overlooked or minimized the impact of his absence from the Army of the Potomac in June. It is well expressed in a recent treatment of the Peninsula Campaign: McClellan always greatly overestimated his opponents, and McDowell would not have made a difference. There is absolutely no reason to think that if [McClellan] had been. What makes this contention even more bizarre, by the way, is that for most of the Peninsula Campaign McClellan confronted not Lee, one of the truly great captains in American military history, but Joseph E.
For starters, there was the simple fact that McClellan had a stormy relationship with the most beloved president in American history.
Few who disliked Lincoln have come off well in the history books. More on the specifics of those archetypes is forthcoming. But from earlier explorations of the way in which mythical archetypes appear, consciously or unconsciously, in effective storytelling, I asserted that because these models were universal and quite powerful they were therefore, to anyone crafting a historical narrative, quite seductive.
I was not sure that avoiding them was possible, any more than it is possible to avoid the narrative emplotments, tropes, and modes famously laid out in Metahistory, by historian and literary critic Hayden White.
The first is the need for boldness in war.
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Burnside, as that hardly makes the desired point. The vitriol leveled at McClellan, however, is so outsized that it goes beyond mere criticism. Yet loathe him most of us do. More than that, we insist on loathing him. Why might this be? Here the lens of mythology comes into play.
That mythologies contain certain recurring archetypes has long been noted by scholars, especially psychologist Carl Jung, whose ideas about mythical archetypes have had enormous influence.
And whether the teller is aware of it or not, effective storytelling always involves mythic archetypes. But when the food comes, it often does not meet his specifications; it is not good enough. Forced to abandon his bid to capture the Confederate capital, McClellan blames not himself but the Lincoln administration. He overestimates their numbers, falls for their deceptions, and exaggerates their prowess.
This image of McClellan corresponds to a second archetype closely related to the first: It is all easy if our troops march as well as the enemy, and it is unmanly to say they cannot do it. But they so thoroughly dominate the popular view of McClellan that I doubt they can ever be dislodged. It is likely they will always characterize his image in the American Iliad. The soliloquy begins as Lincoln awaits word of the outcome of the battle of Antietam.
Balanced between hope and melancholy, Lincoln muses over his own life and the mysteries of life in general. If the tree grows till bark and iron touch And then stops growing, ring and tree are matched And the fulfillment fits. I have not once controlled the circumstances. They have controlled me. But with that control They made me grow or die. And I have grown. The iron ring is burst. Three elements, Earth, water and fire. I have passed through them all, Still to find no Elysium for my hands, Still to find no Elysium but growth, And the slow will to grow to match my task.
In McClellan we see a man of much promise and many gifts but also the fatal belief that he already possessed every faculty to achieve success. If the lesson of Lincoln is that we must grow or die, the lesson of McClellan is the bitter fate that awaits us if we do not continue to mature. Otto Eisenschiml and Ralph Newman, eds. McClellan and Civil War History: Kent State University Press,vii. McClellan to Edwin M. Stanton, June 28,War of the Rebellion: Government Printing Office, —Series 1, vol.
Truman, Memoirs by Harry S. Doubleday,— Interestingly, the version of the scene in the novel pp. Did I say McClellan? New York Times, January 6, New York Times, A Study in Personality New York: Appleton,sympathetic to McClellan but more measured in tone. Eckenrode and Bryan Conrad, George B. University of North Carolina Press,