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

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 10, 2006
I'm not so sure. Grant was a two-term president, after all.

Grant was being touted as a possible Democratic nominee. He had to disclaim the Democratic nomination to be promoted. Of course, in '64 he was the only Republican candidate to defeat Lincoln in any state.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
As far as I can reasonably determine, the context for the comment about "a stationary engine" is November 1862 - it's from Isaac Arnold's biography of McClellan, and Isaac knew Lincoln so this is likely the primary source. However it is not clear whether the comment is actually from November 1862 as it's merely mentioned in context of McClellan's relief.

The full comment is "McClellan is a great engineer, but has a special talent for a stationary engine".

Of course, if this is the right context then it's made while McClellan's armies are marching south at speed. Some corps made twenty miles in one day right before McClellan's relief.


The other possible context is late Autumn/Winter 1862, when the Army of the Potomac was still drilling and winter was approaching. In this case as in the previous one the probable relation is that Lincoln always seems to have been suspicious of McClellan unless a battle was just being fought or had recently been fought, whereupon Lincoln's opinion rose for a period and he was willing to make promises and give praise.

I wonder whether Lincoln's impression of the amount of training, prep and manoeuvring which goes into making a military campaign a success was somewhat skewed. In the West it wasn't as much of a problem, or at any rate the commanders in the West don't seem to be criticized as badly for it by Lincoln, but in the East it's right under his eye and so long periods of drill/prep/delay seem magnified in his eyes.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
The backgrounds of Lincoln and McClellan were incompatible. Lincoln was a product of the west and of a family scrambling for survival. McClellan was a child of privilege. Lincoln was a lot more comfortable with the westerners, Grant and Sherman.
Lincoln had a distrust of intellectuals, because he knew he was did not measure up in terms of breadth of knowledge and international connections.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
The backgrounds of Lincoln and McClellan were incompatible. Lincoln was a product of the west and of a family scrambling for survival. McClellan was a child of privilege. Lincoln was a lot more comfortable with the westerners, Grant and Sherman.
The odd thing is that a lot of contemporary sources (Isaac Arnold, for example) claim that Lincoln personally liked McClellan. There's a mention to that effect even in the bit about McClellan's removal from command.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
The odd thing is that a lot of contemporary sources (Isaac Arnold, for example) claim that Lincoln personally liked McClellan. There's a mention to that effect even in the bit about McClellan's removal from command.
Which raises the issue about whether Halleck, Seward, Stanton and supporters of Winfield Scott were the source of McClellan's problems?
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Which raises the issue about whether Halleck, Seward, Stanton and supporters of Winfield Scott were the source of McClellan's problems?
I suspect Stanton was a big source of the problems, there are clear indications the man was manoeuvering against McClellan as early as March 1862 and as late as September of the same year.
Halleck... I want to think Halleck was a professional who just disagreed with McClellan on the optimal strategy, but having someone who was willing to support the Overland can't have helped Lincoln's apparent trust issues with McClellan. There are issues around the August 25-October 25 period which dispute Halleck's professionalism though.

I think the biographers of Lincoln probably overstated the extent to which "Lincoln liked McClellan and clung on to him longer than he should" - because it's the best portrayal of Lincoln as it exonerates him for any problems! But I also suspect a significant source of the problems was the Radical wing of the Republican party, especially after the elections meant the Republicans were technically a minority in Congress and needed every vote they could get. (In that situation any group who wants it can go for an outsized share of political power rooted in how they're needed for legislation - the modern equivalent would be e.g. the House Freedom Caucus, or the ERG or DUP in Britain.)
 

rbasin

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Jan 31, 2013
Location
Tampa, Fl
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.

Remember that Grants Lt. general promotion was not Lincoln's idea.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Halleck, as G in C, simply followed Lincoln and Stanton's orders.
In theory, yes, but I'm not sure one can say that in practice. Halleck was heavily involved in the development and concealment of the Supply Crisis, and in passing on Lincoln's orders to McClellan after Antietam (particularly in October) he created a situation in which McClellan could not legally advance. (Effectively Halleck said that McClellan needed his plans approved before advancing, then dragged his feet on providing that approval to McClellan's promptly reported plans.)

By that point Halleck is no longer a passive agent of communication but is an active player in his own right, and is acting as an influence to distort what Lincoln wanted McClellan to do.
 

rbasin

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Jan 31, 2013
Location
Tampa, Fl
In theory, yes, but I'm not sure one can say that in practice. Halleck was heavily involved in the development and concealment of the Supply Crisis, and in passing on Lincoln's orders to McClellan after Antietam (particularly in October) he created a situation in which McClellan could not legally advance. (Effectively Halleck said that McClellan needed his plans approved before advancing, then dragged his feet on providing that approval to McClellan's promptly reported plans.)

By that point Halleck is no longer a passive agent of communication but is an active player in his own right, and is acting as an influence to distort what Lincoln wanted McClellan to do.

Not trying to be argumentative, but from what I see in the official records about supply for this timeframe, but I don't really see Halleck, or anyone else, involved in a concealment of a crisis. Ingalls himself in a note, says that the want of clothing is exaggerated (10\25/1862). The shoes thing is odd, as ingalls complains of being sent shoes over size 8. Meigs writes that the volunteers must have smaller feet than the regular army.

The subsistence commander says in a note that no order hadn't been filled.

Not saying there wasn't an issue, but sorry i just do not see it.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Not trying to be argumentative, but from what I see in the official records about supply for this timeframe, but I don't really see Halleck, or anyone else, involved in a concealment of a crisis.
Drawing on Stotelmyer, Too Useful to Sacrifice:

On October 2nd and 3rd the supply situation is bad enough that there's a food riot in the 9th NY (the Hawkins Zouaves) and reports indicate that the situation is certainly not good:

Another I Corps officer, General Patrick, also remarked on the troops’ condition: “The Officers and men are without clothing . . . are ragged and filthy. Many of them have vermin upon them & cannot get rid of them.” Next day he noted, “Our men are poorly prepared for storms. Their Shelter Tents are worth very little for protection, & they (the men) are getting very weak & unable to endure much exposure . . . I am sending everywhere for tents, but do not get them.”

Stotelmyer, Steven R.. Too Useful to Sacrifice (p. 238). Savas Beatie. Kindle Edition.


In later sections:

Throughout much of October McClellan constantly complained that his requisitions for supplies had not been met, consequently it was impractical, if not impossible for him to advance into the enemy’s country. Traditional accounts of Civil War history contend that this supply crisis did not exist, and that everything McClellan asked for was supplied. This same literature insists that McClellan’s hesitancy to advance after the battle of Antietam was “in consequence of a constitutional indecision and want of vigor.”65 A close examination of the primary sources reveals quite a different picture. On October 7, one of Meigs’ quartermasters, Lt. Col. C. G. Sawtelle informed
Ingalls, “I have ordered the clothing called for by your dispatch of to-day to Hagerstown.” Hagerstown was at least 10 miles north of Sharpsburg, which was almost a full day’s travel by horse and wagon. The logistical problem by October was that most of the army had moved at least 10 miles south of Sharpsburg to the Harpers Ferry area. The journey to Hagerstown and back was thus a time-consuming endeavor. “The Quartermaster-General thinks he can furnish all the clothing and camp equipage that may be required for the Army of the Potomac,” Sawtelle wrote. “There may be some delay in the matter of blankets and shoes and stockings.” A frustrated Ingalls shot back, “It is a matter of grievous complaint that the clothing and other supplies ordered do not arrive at Harper’s Ferry . . . See where the obstacles are.” Harpers Ferry was on the direct line of the B&O. Why were supplies being sent to Hagerstown?

Stotelmyer, Steven R.. Too Useful to Sacrifice (p. 244). Savas Beatie. Kindle Edition.


By October 11 McClellan directly called Halleck’s attention to the situation. “We have been making every effort to get supplies of clothing for this army and Colonel Ingalls has received advices that they have been forwarded by railroad, but . . . they come in very slowly.” Later the same day he wrote, “I am compelled again to call your attention to the great deficiency of shoes and other indispensible articles of clothing that still exists in some of the corps of this army.” McClellan told Halleck the War Department had assured him clothing would be forwarded. “Corps commanders sent their wagons to Hagerstown and Harper’s Ferry for it,” he continued. “It did not arrive as promised, and has not arrived yet . . . The men cannot march without shoes.”

Stotelmyer, Steven R.. Too Useful to Sacrifice (p. 245). Savas Beatie. Kindle Edition.



On October 19, Sgt. Benjamin Hirst, of the 14th CT wrote to his family:
About the middle of October . . . Sent in requisitions for Shoes and Clothing, and sent to Washington for our knapsacks, but we were destined to never see them again. There has been so much said about McClellan, having everything sent to him, that the army required, that it has since disgusted me with the Lying statements made in the Party Newspapers we had never yet got what belonged to us, our requisitions for clothing were unheeded because the Quartermaster had them not . . . it was sheer Humbug at this time, to say the army had everything they wanted . . . I had 2 shirts on my back, a Stolen Overcoat, and was a share holder in a Rebel blanket, a fine assortment for a Winter Campaign . . . there were other ones worse of[f] than me.
Hirst’s account to his family was not exaggeration. On the same day a correspondent for the New York Herald observed, “They [the army] have not received their fall clothing, are destitute of blankets, tents and raincoats, in fact of all kinds of Quartermaster’s stores.

Stotelmyer, Steven R.. Too Useful to Sacrifice (p. 247). Savas Beatie. Kindle Edition.


During much of October Meigs and Halleck are being informed of the deficiencies. Meigs says that the requisitions have all been promptly filled and dispatched, but:

Overwhelming evidence argues otherwise. On October 23, the interim commander of the I Corps, Brig. Gen. George G. Meade, wrote his son John. “We are in hourly expectation of marching orders . . . We have been detained here by the failure of the Government to push forward reinforcements and supplies,” he explained
“You will hardly believe me when I tell you,” he continued, that as early as the 7th of this month a telegram was sent to Washington informing the Clothing Department that my division wanted three thousand pairs of shoes, and that up to this date not a single pair has yet been received (a large number of my men are barefooted) and it is the same thing with blankets, overcoats, etc., also with ammunition and forage. What the cause of this unpardonable delay is I can not say, but certain it is, that some one is to blame, and that it is hard the army should be censured for inaction, when the most necessary supplies for their movement are withheld, or at least not promptly forwarded when called for.”

Stotelmyer, Steven R.. Too Useful to Sacrifice (p. 249). Savas Beatie. Kindle Edition.


Alpheus S. Williams, October 26:

We want shoes and blankets and overcoats—indeed almost everything. I have sent requisition upon requisition; officers to Washington; made reports and complaints, and yet we are not half supplied.

Stotelmyer, Steven R.. Too Useful to Sacrifice (p. 249). Savas Beatie. Kindle Edition.



The clamor over supplies caught Lincoln’s attention, and he sent Col. Thomas A. Scott, former assistant secretary of war, on a fact-finding mission to evaluate McClellan’s complaints firsthand at his headquarters near Harpers Ferry. “About the middle of October 1862,” he recalled, “I had a conversation with Mr. Stanton, Secretary of War, and President Lincoln, in regard to the delay in the movement of General McClellan’s army, and its reported condition of inefficiency to effect a movement without proper and greatly needed supplies.” McClellan told Scott the matter did not require discussion—he would have one of his staff “show me the requisitions . . . for supplies, and also a statement of the amount received, and that I could draw my own inferences.” Scott verified a shortage of “shoes, clothing, and other necessaries for the men.” Satisfied, Scott returned to Washington and reported his findings to Lincoln, Halleck, and Stanton:

Both Mr. Stanton and General Halleck then repeated their assurances that all General McClellan’s requisitions had been met; and it was suggested that, as the troops in the forts around Washington constituted a part of the Army of the Potomac, the supplies that were intended for General McClellan’s army in the field, instead of having been sent to him at Harper’s Ferry, had by some means or other [emphasis added] been diverted for use of the troops in the fortifications, and thus had failed to reach him. This proved to be the explanation of the trouble.

Stotelmyer, Steven R.. Too Useful to Sacrifice (pp. 250-251). Savas Beatie. Kindle Edition.



In short, the supplies were needed, the requisitions were sent for, and for weeks nothing arrived. Halleck kept saying there was no problem, and when finally confronted repeated his claim that there was no problem, but suggested that maybe the supplies for about a hundred thousand men had been sent to the Washington fortifications.


Halleck said for the record that in his opinion supplies were not lacking in McClellan's army. When asked by Stanton:


“Requisitions for supplies to the army under General McClellan are made by his staff on the chiefs of bureaus here,” Halleck’s responded the next day. “No such requisitions have been, to my knowledge, made upon the Secretary of War, and none upon the General-in-Chief.” Having covered both himself and Stanton, in typical fashion the general waffled, admitting that on “several occasions General McClellan has telegraphed to me that his army was deficient in certain supplies . . . there has not been, so far as I could ascertain, any neglect or delay in issuing all supplies asked for by General McClellan or by the officers of his staff.” Halleck failed to mention that he did this from his desk, not the field. From the information he had, Halleck opined, that “requisitions from that army have been filled more promptly, and that the men, as a general rule, have been better supplied than our armies operating in the West.”

Stotelmyer, Steven R.. Too Useful to Sacrifice (pp. 256-257). Savas Beatie. Kindle Edition.



He also said:


"There has been no such want of supplies in the army under General McClellan as to prevent his compliance with the orders to advance against the enemy.”

Stotelmyer, Steven R.. Too Useful to Sacrifice (p. 257). Savas Beatie. Kindle Edition.





In short:

1) There was a supply shortage, as well attested to by overwhelming evidence.

2) Halleck claimed that he had investigated and found there was no supply shortage.

Therefore, in the best possible interpretation Halleck is saying things he cannot verify are true (and thus helping to conceal the supply crisis).


What seems to have been going on in the ORs is either a case of bureaucratic stonewalling (i.e. acting like nothing was wrong), CYA to avoid blame for a massive SNAFU where supplies didn't reach McClellan until about the 22nd of October (a special wagon-train full of shoes were sent that day) or active denial of resources. By themselves, they of course seem to indicate everything is going well, but they have to be contrasted with the essentially incontrovertible fact that there was a massive shortage of clothes, shoes, horses etc. in the Army of the Potomac - and that means that claims that "everything is going well" in the ORs are misinformed or lying.


Any other explaination is to claim that three corps commanders (AS Williams, FJ Porter, George Meade), various soldiers from private to colonel and Joseph CG Kennedy (a member of Lincoln's retinue) were all fabricating information on the supply-poor and particularly clothing-poor state of the Army of the Potomac.
 
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