Lincoln's Quips and Comments about McClellan - examining the context

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Saphroneth

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I've run into them before, but I thought I'd make a unified thread for it. The goal here is to collect not just the quips and comments Lincoln made about McClellan (e.g. "Stationary Engine", "Shovelling Fleas" and "bodyguard") but to examine the context in which they were made. This means specifically looking at the timing of each comment, because sometimes they're put all over the timeline.


For example:


A curious thing happened early on the morning of October 3 as Lincoln was walking through army camps accompanied by one of his traveling companions, Ozias Hatch. The two men reached a commanding hill overlooking the panorama of “a great tented city,” as Hatch described it. Lincoln waved his hand and asked, “Hatch, Hatch, what is all of this?” Dumbfounded, Hatch replied, “Why, Mr. Lincoln, this is the Army of the Potomac.” Lincoln thought for a moment and replied, “No Hatch, no. This is McClellan’s bodyguard.”

Stotelmyer, Steven R.. Too Useful to Sacrifice (p. 236). Savas Beatie. Kindle Edition.


Took place at a time when McClellan was not recieving necessary supplies either of food or clothing. In fact, the previous day - October 2 - Lincoln had borne witness to an outright food riot among the 9th New York (the Hawkins Zouaves), and it would later transpire that much of the supplies intended for McClellan's army were in fact going to the outskirts of Washington and no further (rather than to McClellan's actual army) - a situation which continued for weeks after Lincoln's visit.



Another one is "a stationary engine" - which I can't currently source to a specific time (it's shown up for 'the Quaker Gun affair' and also in context of November 1862). Anyone able to do so?
 
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Saphroneth

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Other ones I've not been able to quite source time wise:

My Dear McClellan, if you don't want to use the army I should like to borrow it for a while. Yours respectfully.


If I gave McClellan all the men he asked for, they could not find room to lie down; they'd have to sleep standing up.


Sending men to that army is like shovelling fleas across a barnyard - not half of them get there.
 

Jamieva

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Other ones I've not been able to quite source time wise:

My Dear McClellan, if you don't want to use the army I should like to borrow it for a while. Yours respectfully.


If I gave McClellan all the men he asked for, they could not find room to lie down; they'd have to sleep standing up.


Sending men to that army is like shovelling fleas across a barnyard - not half of them get there.
The first one was in October or early November 1862, right before he was relieved of command for the last time.
 
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Saphroneth

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The first one was in October or early November 1862, right before he was relieved of command for the last time.
Any source? I can't find one, and the online searches give e.g. "angry that McClellan wasn't pushing his army into Richmond" (which would imply the Peninsula); it's not in the ORs.

Of course, if Lincoln did write the message in late October or early November 1862, then it was while the Army of the Potomac was moving rapidly south.
 

Jamieva

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Nothing first hand, still finding a lot of second hand stuff. I believe it was written to Mac when he was still at Antietam and had not started his pursuit of Lee.
 
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Saphroneth

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Nothing first hand, still finding a lot of second hand stuff. I believe it was written to Mac when he was still at Antietam and had not started his pursuit of Lee.
In which case it's the same supply problem as before. An army literally suffering from food riots is not in a fit state to advance rapidly, and the interval between the arrival of supplies and the movement to cross the Potomac is a few days.

I will however note that McClellan's pursuit of Lee actually began on the 19th of September (following Lee to Boteler's ford), continued (Shepherdstown) and then a bridge was thrown across Harpers Ferry; when it was destroyed by a storm, McClellan was refused funds to set up a permanent bridge and the pursuit fizzled out.
The Loudoun Valley campaign is functionally a new campaign and not a pursuit, since (per Lincoln's suggestion) it passed east of the Blue Ridge instead of west.
 

Saphroneth

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I've been trying to find the original citation for "fleas across a barnyard". One site sources it as after the Harrisons Landing visit, while another is John Morse:



McClellan at once continued his advance, with more or less fighting, the
rebels steadily drawing back without offering battle on a large scale,
though there was a sharp engagement at Williamsburg. He had not even the
smaller number of men which he had originally named as his requirement,
and he continued pertinaciously to demand liberal reinforcements. The
President, grievously harassed by these importunate appeals, declared to
McClellan that he was forwarding every man that he could, while to
friends nearer at hand he complained that sending troops to McClellan
was like shoveling fleas across a barnyard; most of them didn't get
there!



Which would place it during May.

Three Years in the Army gives:


Saturday, October 25. The discrepancy that occurred between the number of troops sent to reinforce the Army of the Potomac, and the number reported to have arrived, so annoyed the President, that he one day remarked, according to his biographers, that “sending men to that army was like shoveling fleas across a barnyard : not more that half of them got there.”


So there's three possible dates for it.

Tracing it back to a 1917 book, however, the attribution gets less definite. It's just "...which Lincoln once used of him or some other general".


Nicolay and Hay present it as just post-Antietam, which means I think I may have identified the exact cause of the "shovelling fleas" comment.


It's what happened with Porter's 5th Corps around the events of Antietam.

The timeline of events is roughly:

Porter started off in command of the Defences South of the Potomac, where he had ca. 23,000 troops.
He was then ordered to reinforce McClellan with "5th Corps", which was presented as being 21,000-23,000 strong, but in fact the reinforcements that actually marched with Porter consisted solely of Morell's division - Sykes' division was already with McClellan and Humphreys' division was not assigned to Porter until some days later, and didn't catch up until later on.

This I think is what caused the comment. Lincoln had looked on September 11 at Porter's September 10 report (which was all troops south of the Potomac, at ~23,000 men), assumed that meant the strength Porter was about to march out of Washington with (actually just Morell's division, ~6,000 men) and also assumed (and put in writing on the 11th) that Porter's strength was ~21,000 and that this "could only be by the addition of new troops". Then Humphreys' division was also attached to Porter's command a day or two later.

Thus as far as Lincoln was concerned he'd sent 21,000 men plus one division to join McClellan (Humphreys' was a new eight-regiment division, so let's say 8,000, for 29,000 in all) and McClellan only got about 14,000 of them.


So it's about a tragic misunderstanding.
 

wausaubob

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I've run into them before, but I thought I'd make a unified thread for it. The goal here is to collect not just the quips and comments Lincoln made about McClellan (e.g. "Stationary Engine", "Shovelling Fleas" and "bodyguard") but to examine the context in which they were made. This means specifically looking at the timing of each comment, because sometimes they're put all over the timeline.


For example:


A curious thing happened early on the morning of October 3 as Lincoln was walking through army camps accompanied by one of his traveling companions, Ozias Hatch. The two men reached a commanding hill overlooking the panorama of “a great tented city,” as Hatch described it. Lincoln waved his hand and asked, “Hatch, Hatch, what is all of this?” Dumbfounded, Hatch replied, “Why, Mr. Lincoln, this is the Army of the Potomac.” Lincoln thought for a moment and replied, “No Hatch, no. This is McClellan’s bodyguard.”

Stotelmyer, Steven R.. Too Useful to Sacrifice (p. 236). Savas Beatie. Kindle Edition.


Took place at a time when McClellan was not recieving necessary supplies either of food or clothing. In fact, the previous day - October 2 - Lincoln had borne witness to an outright food riot among the 9th New York (the Hawkins Zouaves), and it would later transpire that much of the supplies intended for McClellan's army were in fact going to the outskirts of Washington and no further (rather than to McClellan's actual army) - a situation which continued for weeks after Lincoln's visit.



Another one is "a stationary engine" - which I can't currently source to a specific time (it's shown up for 'the Quaker Gun affair' and also in context of November 1862). Anyone able to do so?
I think this is the one that revealed a deep concern that the army was more loyal to McClellan than it was to the government. That was a very dangerous state of affairs for a democracy.
 
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Saphroneth

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I think this is the one that revealed a deep concern that the army was more loyal to McClellan than it was to the government. That was a very dangerous state of affairs for a democracy.
That is a possible alternate interpretation, but the army did cheer Lincoln as well when he visited.
 

Saphroneth

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All the references I can find for "they'd have to sleep standing up" place it during the Harrisons Landing situation.

Interestingly during this period the following are true:

Lee had more forces in and around Richmond at the end of June than McClellan had north of the mouth of the Chickahominy.
Lee was reinforced by more than McClellan was over the month of July.
Lincoln promised McClellan upwards of 40,000 troops during the Seven Days.
Almost none of those troops were ever actually sent.

I have to wonder if Lincoln was aware of this fact. What McClellan was asking for was nothing more than what Lincoln had promised him, but what I wonder is whether Lincoln had mistakenly come to believe that in fact he had sent a large number of troops and McClellan's resource demands had not shrunk. (Troops were accumulating at Fort Monroe to be sent upriver to McClellan, but were not permitted to actually join him).
 

wausaubob

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That is a possible alternate interpretation, but the army did cheer Lincoln as well when he visited.
The potential was that a civil war could produce a Caesar, who would simply end the reality of democracy, while keeping the outward forms.
Lincoln made a similar quip directly to Hooker, and Lincoln was obsessed with concerns about Grant's immediate political ambitions.
 
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wausaubob

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At some point in the summer of 1864 Grant must have explained to Lincoln that Grant had the permanent rank of Lt. General and that the Presidency would be a step down, as well as requiring to live in Washington, D.C.
 

Saphroneth

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The potential was that a civil war could produce a Caesar, who would simply end the reality of democracy, while keeping the outward forms.
While true, this is also a concern which functionally means you can't trust anyone who's doing well as a general!

At some point in the summer of 1864 Grant must have explained to Lincoln that Grant had the permanent rank of Lt. General and that the Presidency would be a step down, as well as requiring to live in Washington, D.C.
I'm not so sure. Grant was a two-term president, after all.


Lincoln was a quip maker, and most of his quips were just venting. The body guard quip never went away.
But the way they're often presented is as if they reveal some great truth about the situation, when in this case what they usually present is a bit of a lack of situational awareness. (Though I suspect some of them were made up after the fact.)
 
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OT: I have always wondered why Grant visited with the elderly John Russell when Grant was in England? I speculate that Lincoln had told Grant before Lincoln's death, that without Earl Russell's forebearance, the US would not have won the Civil War.
 
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I think this is the one that revealed a deep concern that the army was more loyal to McClellan than it was to the government. That was a very dangerous state of affairs for a democracy.
I think it represents a fear, but not necessarily an accurate one. There were those who advocated McClellan resist Lincoln's authority.... To McClellan's credit he did not do what some suggestion he should. He at least understood the civil-military relationship, even if he chafed at Lincoln's decisions.
 

Saphroneth

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I think it represents a fear, but not necessarily an accurate one.
If you look at "the Snub" - the only incident where McClellan is meant to have publicly insulted Lincoln - what it amounts to is that McClellan got home from a wedding party around midnight and either didn't notice Lincoln was in his parlour (in which case, no snub) or did but ignored him and went to bed.

Hay's diary (the only record of the snub) has him write that this is "...the first indication I have yet seen of the threatened supremacy of the military authorities." Which is a bit of an overreaction, but perhaps speaks to the febrile atmosphere in which everyone was expecting a Caesar or a Napoleon to overthrow the Republic (which after all was what had happened to most republics).
 
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