- Nov 10, 2006
McClellan was the author of the plan and commander of it's execution. The plan and execution of the plan failed = McClellan failed. The commander always takes responsibility. Please stop assuming what I considered or didn't consider in making my determination.
No, he actually planned a completely different operation. Washington nixed said operation after three months of planning and substituted the Peninsula operation at a very late stage. McClellan himself said it did not promise any brilliant results unless the navy fully cooperated, which they didn't. However, it was the only remaining realistic option for an offensive operation. Unlike 1864, the Rappahanock, York and James rivers are not open for supply and an overland approach (supplying from the sea) such as that Grant did is impossible. After the Washington ordered a retreat from the James, the Federals spent over 18 months trying to get a force across the Rapidan and in supply, and shortly after that Grant's army attached to a depot at White House Landing on the Pamunkey and continued McClellan's operations, adopting exactly McClellan's modified plan. Grant attached to WHL almost two years to the day after McClellan did. It took him another 10.5 months to crack the Petersburg defences.
Anyway, responsibility stops at the top, yes. However, you'll note that "the top" isn't McClellan. It is the triumvirate of Lincoln, Stanton and Halleck. They ordered a general retreat, and that is why the Peninsula campaign was put on hold for ca. two years.
There is a tendency to try and cast the triumvirate's mistake onto McClellan. This is an attempt to absolve Lincoln of blame for his part in the fact that Richmond did not fall in '62.
The question is, in the circumstances could McClellan have done better with what he had? The answer is a simple no; he made no major mistakes, and the example of Grant, who performed far worse with more advantages, absolves McClellan of any blame for the campaign's ultimate failure. That sits with the triumvirate, who hated the idea from the beginning, did not fully support it, and finally decided to recall the army to "defend Washington" when there was no threat.