Little Mac, grand strategist

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#1
As I've started to read more about the early years of the war, I've come to appreciate that while McClellan may have had mixed results in the field, he did have a firm grasping of grand strategy. His unwillingness to be aggressive, combined with inflated estimates of Confederate troops sealed his fate as commander of the AoTP.

However, what if McClellan took the Winfield Scott role, sent the AoTP to the Peninsula and let someone else execute. As someone who was SOLELY charged with coordinating army movements and plotting grand strategy, he could set "On to Richmond" goals for the AoTP and leave it to Burnside or Hooker or Porter to execute.

His ego may not have allowed for such a "promotion", however do you agree that he might have excelled in this role?
 

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Saphroneth

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#4
His unwillingness to be aggressive, combined with inflated estimates of Confederate troops sealed his fate as commander of the AoTP.
Can you give your best single example of:
1) McClellan being unwilling to be aggressive when he had the resources
2) McClellan giving an inflated estimate of Confederate troops where a correct estimate would have supported the idea of further action
?

On the other hand, he might have imposed his caution and overestimation of Confederate capabilities on the entire Union war effort.
Would you be able to give your best single example of:
1) McClellan's (unjustified) caution
2) McClellan's overestimation of Confederate capabilities
?

I'll note that McClellan's grand strategy was to raise as large an army as possible and to subject the Confederacy to overwhelming attacks from all directions. If he'd been in charge of grand strategy then he would have focused the most resources on the effort directed towards the Confederate capital (his requests for reinforcements during the Peninsular campaign not being disproportionate) and Richmond was critical to the Confederate war effort.
 
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#5
I guess it would all come down to who was leading, and how well Mac got along with them... his pride may have been sufficiently ameliorated if the field commander showed enough deference to his strategic orders. Yet, I can’t help but feel that said commanding officer wouldn't have appreciated the ever-fastidious Mac breathing down his neck— if field officers resented Washington’s reach to the point of turning down command of the AoTP (á la Reynolds), imagine them having to comply with McClellan as well. The point at which he excelled in terms of field command was making his men feel valued, and working with somebody with the same sense of compassion and devotion to the Union could’ve provided a bond through common goals.

Overall, though, I think that given the right coordinating commander, a more removed, strategic position would have suited McClellan’s talents much better... but I may be biased :D
 

Saphroneth

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#6
I actually wonder how it would have gone if McClellan had been permitted to do what Grant basically did - which was to be the general in command of the armies while also on campaign. McClellan's Peninsular Campaign repeatedly ran into trouble because of issues with his inability to get the reinforcements he needed down to his army (even after he'd been promised they'd be en route) while Grant didn't need to ask - he could just order formations to join his army.
Oh, for McDowell's corps posted along the Tolopatamoy on 25 June!
 
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#7
Can you give your best single example of:
1) McClellan being unwilling to be aggressive when he had the resources
2) McClellan giving an inflated estimate of Confederate troops where a correct estimate would have supported the idea of further action
?

1) What about ending the Peninsula Campaign after stopping the Confederates at Malvern Hill. Still had 100k men+ on the Peninsula, naval superiority and supply access and a generally intact army. Instead of pushing on after a bloody repulse of the enemy, he ended the campaign

2) I'm not familiar with the specifics of Mac's intelligence heading into or post Antietam. But I assume he didn't know his numerical superiority before or after the battle. (Was he still using Pinkerton at this time?) Had he had a correct estimate, would have supported further action. If I'm understanding your question correctly.
 

major bill

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#8
The main problem with McClellen would be that he wanted the War to have limited casualties. One big campaign or one big battle so that the United States could heal. Perusing this strategy could have made the War last longer and increased casualties on both sides. McClellen would not have accepted emancipation or the use the black soldiers because it would have made getting a easy peace harder.
 

67th Tigers

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#9
1) What about ending the Peninsula Campaign after stopping the Confederates at Malvern Hill. Still had 100k men+ on the Peninsula, naval superiority and supply access and a generally intact army. Instead of pushing on after a bloody repulse of the enemy, he ended the campaign
No, the campaign continued for another six weeks. The Peninsula Campaign was paused because Halleck ordered most of the Federal force to in front of Washington.

As to the tactical-operational situation after Malvern Hill:

There was never supposed to be a Battle of Malvern Hill. McClellan was simply attempting to move to the other side of the White Oak and move his army back into supply. He then intended to move on Fort Darling (i.e. the Bermuda Hundred), which was his intended move mid-May, before Stanton forbid it. On the evening of the 30th June Smith and Franklin abandoned their positions without orders, and without telling anyone. This unzipped the entire Federal position, and allowed Jackson to cross the White Oak and threaten the Federal rear. McClellan quickly assembled a hasty defensive position at Malvern Hill, which was his left flank anchor.

On the 30th he'd started landing supplies, against strong protests from the Navy, who insisted he had to retreat to Dancing Point because the river channel near City Point ran close to the southern bank of the river and made defending the transports difficult. He was busy arguing his case with Rodgers on the Galena when the Battle of Glendale erupted due to a misinterpreted order and an overeager rebel brigadier. Franklin's unordered retreat (towards Charles City!) meant that this was no longer viable. Malvern Hill was a trap - there was nothing stopping Lee encircling it and starving the Federal army out. Indeed, when a misinterpreted order and an overeager division commander kicked off the rebel attacks on Malvern Hill, Lee was with Longstreet, AP Hill and Stuart starting them moving to encircle the hill. When the unco-ordinated and unordered attacks ceased, McClellan sensibly got off the hill before Lee could complete his encirclement. If McClellan didn't move then surely the entire Federal army would have been captured.

McClellan had about 50,000 men with the Colors that day, none of whom had any rations left. Some of them hadn't eaten in several days. The Army issued three days rations to 1/3rd of the army every three days on a rolling cycle. This stopped on the 27th (no issues on the 28th, 29th, 30th or 1st). After Malvern Hill 1/3rd of the army hadn't eaten for 3 days, 1/3rd for 2 and 1/3rd for 1 days. None of the units had ammunition beyond what was left of their 40 rounds plus the immediate trains. Large swathes of the artillery had no rounds left in their caissons at all.

It was not a situation that any sane man would have suggested attacking in.

2) I'm not familiar with the specifics of Mac's intelligence heading into or post Antietam. But I assume he didn't know his numerical superiority before or after the battle. (Was he still using Pinkerton at this time?) Had he had a correct estimate, would have supported further action. If I'm understanding your question correctly.
McClellan's estimate of Lee's army in Maryland was broadly correct, except for a single line on the estimate (which whilst over, corresponded with GW Smith's forces which we now know were left to defend Richmond, but McClellan didn't). Lee was however much stronger than commonly supposed, it's just his army fell apart from lack of supplies. This was especially bad amongst Jackson's troops, who'd burned off all their fat in the Valley Campaigns and had no reserves. DH Hill's troops, who hadn't been ragged around, held together really well.
 

Saphroneth

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#10
1) What about ending the Peninsula Campaign after stopping the Confederates at Malvern Hill. Still had 100k men+ on the Peninsula, naval superiority and supply access and a generally intact army. Instead of pushing on after a bloody repulse of the enemy, he ended the campaign

2) I'm not familiar with the specifics of Mac's intelligence heading into or post Antietam. But I assume he didn't know his numerical superiority before or after the battle. (Was he still using Pinkerton at this time?) Had he had a correct estimate, would have supported further action. If I'm understanding your question correctly.

67th has already explored the general situation at Malvern, but I'll provide a map:

Malvern.jpg

Malvern Hill ended pretty much at sundown, so any offensive action post-Malvern would have to be on the following day. Note that the Union navy would not bring supplies up past the batteries at City Point.

If McClellan hadn't stepped back after Malvern Hill, he would have been encircled on the hill without supplies. To attack post-Malvern would be to fling a hungry force low on supplies into an enemy force forming a "box" around Malvern Hill, with many enemy brigades undamaged by the battle on July 1 and the rest of them having had time to recover from July 1; it had little chance of destroying Lee's army and a major risk of destroying McClellan's.

As for abandoning the campaign, McClellan had been promised reinforcements by Lincoln before Malvern; since Lee's army was if anything slightly larger than McClellan's, McClellan waiting for reinforcements before going back on the offensive is entirely defensible. Those promised reinforcements continued to be promised and never arrived for the whole month of July (during which Lee was himself reinforced).



As for Antietam, it's true that McClellan's numbers for Lee's force are quite large, but then again Lee's numbers for his own force have major omissions and it's not clear Lee knew how large his own army was. The best modern estimates of Lee's force during the Maryland campaign are derived three ways:

1) Addition of the contemporary estimates of the individual moving forces in Maryland and Virginia.
2) Taking the post-Antietam returns and adding back the known Confederate casualties.
3) Estimating the size of the force after Second Bull Run and adding the reinforcements that came up from Richmond.

In PFD terms, these all add to about 75,000 men for Lee's campaign strength (i.e. PFD strength before straggling) . McClellan's own campaign strength in PFD was a bit larger, but not by much (it's something like an 8:7 to 4:3 advantage depending on which of McClellan's units you include in your count) and both sides suffered heavily from straggling.

Your claim is that if McClellan had a better estimate of how many men Lee had he could have ordered a resumed attack, but I don't think this is the case. Most of McClellan's army had been sent on the attack and repulsed, often with heavy casualties and in many cases with massive disorganization; what he's got left unspent is IIRC five brigades of 6th Corps forming his right and maybe 3-4 brigades of 5th Corps composing his centre. Lee has three brigades that basically haven't taken a casualty still in reserve, plus the rest of his army which has certainly been bloodied but which contains many units that are still able to fight.
If McClellan's attack with these troops fails, meanwhile, his army's all wrecked. The only thing preventing a Confederate counterattack destroying his right wing is that the five-brigade line of 6th corps is protecting it.


Meanwhile, of course, it's hard to see how McClellan could have formed the picture that there were few enough Confederates to attack successfully. Even if he'd somehow been able to count and identify every single Rebel brigade that his men engaged, there'd be at least seven unaccounted for (the three unaccounted for who were actually at the battle and the brigades left at Richmond); as far as we can tell the Rebel returns for September don't actually exist; if he correlated reports from eyewitnesses he'd come up with the result he only had a slight numerical advantage.
 
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Saphroneth

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#11
In my collection of maps I've found a hypothetical second-of-July plot for a post-Malvern attack, assuming that the attack by the Union force on July 2nd pushes the Confederates back a mile or so.

July_2nd.jpg


The force which the Confederates have here defending is composed of 18 brigades, the divisions of Magruder, DH Hill, Huger, DR Jones, McLaws, Ransom and Holmes. The Confederate flank guard along the Western Run is nine fresh brigades (Jackson, Ewell, Hood); the force completing the encirclement is 12 fresh brigades composed of Longstreet and AP Hill.

The attacking Union force is the divisions of Morell, Couch, McCall and Sykes, with Heintzelman conforming to their movements and covering the Western Run but not actually fighting.

Before the Seven Days, the total strength of these forces in PFD were:

(Confederate numbers from Harsh, Union numbers from the ORs directly as PFD since Harsh's numbers are intended to be comparable.)

Confederate defensive force:
42,500
Confederate flanking force:
21,500
Confederate encirclement force:
30,500
(cavalry and artillery formations not counted)

Union attacking force:
35,500

In other words, it's not exactly likely that the Union attacking force can make more headway than a mile or so even if they get lucky; they're actually outnumbered on top of being low on ammunition and hungry. You can strip forces from the rest of the Union troops on Malvern Hill, but not too many - you still need to maintain a front against the Confederate troops who've encircled the hill - and even in the best case you still don't have access to any supplies.

Even with hindsight the best option is to retreat after nightfall on July 1st, before the hill gets encircled. With what McClellan knew at the time (including that Lincoln had promised him all possible reinforcements, and at about this time Lincoln promises about 65,000) retreating and getting reinforced is the only sensible option and to do anything else begins to look like negligence.

In fact, the AotP not retreating post-Malvern would result in one of the biggest possible disasters for the Union which doesn't involve European troops or ships engaging them in open battle.
 
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#12
As I've started to read more about the early years of the war, I've come to appreciate that while McClellan may have had mixed results in the field, he did have a firm grasping of grand strategy. His unwillingness to be aggressive, combined with inflated estimates of Confederate troops sealed his fate as commander of the AoTP.

However, what if McClellan took the Winfield Scott role, sent the AoTP to the Peninsula and let someone else execute. As someone who was SOLELY charged with coordinating army movements and plotting grand strategy, he could set "On to Richmond" goals for the AoTP and leave it to Burnside or Hooker or Porter to execute.

His ego may not have allowed for such a "promotion", however do you agree that he might have excelled in this role?
If McClellan had never taken the field of battle he would enjoy a far greater reputation than he does today. His reputation was further tarnished by his running against Lincoln in 1864, something which might be hard to avoid.

Even had McClellan only taken a 'desk job' as it were, his inclination to keep his plans private, his ability to feud with his civilian superiors and his more cautious attitude means he's probably sacked eventually. He's a Democrat in Washington where the Radicals hold sway, his goose is cooked one way or another.
 

67th Tigers

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#13
If McClellan had never taken the field of battle he would enjoy a far greater reputation than he does today. His reputation was further tarnished by his running against Lincoln in 1864, something which might be hard to avoid.
As Halleck enjoys such a high reputation?

Even had McClellan only taken a 'desk job' as it were, his inclination to keep his plans private, his ability to feud with his civilian superiors and his more cautious attitude means he's probably sacked eventually.
That's what we now call operational security. McClellan immediately angered the press by preventing them publishing all the details of military operations in advance. He restricted talk of operational plans when his offensive against Munson's Hill was leaked to the enemy beforehand, and the rebels withdrew the night before a dawn assault. This leak was traced to Lincoln himself, who kept no secrets in his household, and whose son Tad had been telling anyone who'd listen McClellan's plans. In such a situation imposing strict OPSEC was perhaps necessary.

He's a Democrat in Washington where the Radicals hold sway, his goose is cooked one way or another.
Nope. The Radicals were a small fringe faction of the Republican Party. Due to the balance of Congress, until November '62 Lincoln could ignore them as he had enough non-Radicals to pass legislation. The Radicals had 6 senators (7 after Jan '62), and around a dozen representatives. The real core of Radical power was in the Senatorial committee structure, where the Radicals had seized the chairs of several important committees, including Foreign Affairs, Military Affairs and Naval Affairs. The balance of power was roughly (ca. early '62):

In the Senate:
Democrats: 11
non-Radical Republicans: 23
Radicals: 7
Unionist: 1

In the House:
Constitutional Unionist: 2
Democrat: 45
Unionist: 23
non-Radical Republicans: ca. 95
Radicals: ca. 12

The Radicals until the November '62 elections did not have enough votes to oppose Lincoln. When the new session sat down in March '63 the Democrats had recovered enough, and the Republicans lost enough, that Lincoln then needed their votes, and could no longer ride roughshod over them. When the November '62 results were in there was an immediate massacre of the generals. McClellan wasn't even first to go. The Radicals purged the ranks of the likes of Buell, Franklin, Butler, McClellan etc., as quid pro quo for continuing to support Lincoln.

During McClellan's time the Radicals were a fringe faction. The recovery of the Democrats raised their importance, giving them the power to get rid of their enemies.
 

Saphroneth

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#14
Something it's important to consider with McClellan is why he lost the GiC position in fact - Lincoln decided that he didn't want one at all and kicked McClellan out. Absent this decision I don't see a reason why McClellan wouldn't have remained as GiC in fact (as well as in theory - there was no slot in the org chart for McClellan to take until Halleck became GiC in July, at which point McClellan became senior regular MG by swapping with Halleck).


The tricky thing about deciding which would work out better (McClellan as commanding strategist but pinned to Washington or McClellan as field commander but no GiC authority) is that the Peninsular Campaign went pretty well considering the amount of resources allocated to it - to whit, considerably less than the amount McClellan's planning involved and that he had at any given time been promised - and there's at least one obvious place where either a different decision by the higher-ups in terms of orders given or the same orders given but specific extra troops allocated would give it a much greater chance of success. But if the choice is between "McClellan has the authority to reinforce the Peninsula" and "McClellan can fight the Peninsula himself" then the question is whether another commander could have done the Peninsula fighting as well.


On balance, I think McClellan as commanding strategist probably works out better, because it would mean he could allocate the resources that would make a lot of the tricky decisions during the Peninsula unnecessary. Allocating 1st Corps for the amphibious op against Gloucester Point instead of using them to defend Washington means the Yorktown position can be forced with less drama, continuing to raise troops through the spring (and/or shifting them east) means there's no troop crisis in the summer and more troops can be funnelled to the AotP, and with enough troops in the AotP it's possible to just set up not far from Richmond and blast your way in with the heavy guns. (The main question there is then if there's another commander in the Union army with the temperament to fight by regular approaches - McClellan was considered very good at it.) Failing that McClellan could instruct his AotP commander to move to the James and cross it, and conduct from there basically the historical Petersburg campaign or one relying more on the siege artillery.



n.b. on the point of the summer troop crisis, by which I refer to the period when the Confederacy mustered their largest ever army while the Union hadn't recruited for months. Historically when recruiting was shut down the reserve of unissued small-arms was basically empty, but by 30 June 1862 the returns list about 335,000 weapons being held in arsenals (of which about 100,000 were good rifled weapons and the rest were either not rifled or not good).
It thus seems possible that troop batches recruited in March would have been ready for at least second-line duty in June and could have numbered considerably upwards of 50,000; this would dispense with any idea of a threat to Washington and would allow the sending of McDowell's 1st Corps to the Army of the Potomac entire. The only things preventing this from being done are short-term cost and the will to accept recruiting a larger army.
 

Saphroneth

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#15
The main problem with McClellen would be that he wanted the War to have limited casualties. One big campaign or one big battle so that the United States could heal. Perusing this strategy could have made the War last longer and increased casualties on both sides.
Not really?
McClellan's plan was to fight a single overwhelming campaign with as many troops mustered as possible on the Union's side, leveraging all the Union's advantages - greater access to world markets and population base (for more armed troops), better artillery (to fight a battle of posts), sea control (to allow the use of water supply) and legitimacy; that latter would be emphasized by this campaign being launched to strike directly at Richmond, forcing the Confederacy out of their capital and obtaining control of Virginia.

The fact of the matter is that all the fighting done by the armies in the East between July 1862 and June 1864 basically ended with the Army of the Potomac in the same position as it was at the start of that 24-month period, but this time able to cross the James river and go after Petersburg (McClellan's actual plan post-Seven-Days); for the want of 14,000 troops and the materials to build a pontoon bridge there were all the casualties of the Northern Virginia, Maryland, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Mine Run and Overland campaigns. With this in mind it's hard to see how McClellan being held in place until he could cross the James - or getting his way in June and attacking Richmond through regular approaches - would have "made the War last longer and increased casualties on both sides":

1) If the siege and capture of Petersburg was the or a key factor that led to the end of the war, then having it happen sooner should shorten the war.
2) If the key factor leading to the end of the war was the exhaustion of Confederate manpower, then taking Petersburg only changes things a bit but it does cause a benefit; it removes one of the most populous Confederate states from the board as a site for recruitment.
3) If the events in the Virginia theatre in 1864-5 were unimportant to how the war ultimately ended, then the capture of Petersburg and Richmond is still a benefit if it takes place in 1862 or 1863; it materially reduces the ability of the Confederacy to continue to arm their troops and batteries by dislocating Tregedar. It also means that Washington is no longer under any sort of feasible threat.

So how would a strategy of aiming for a single decisive campaign have made the war longer or costlier? I can't see how it could.
 
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#16
Thanks for all of the posts and education on McClellan. As I read more about him and different perspectives, I've started to gain more appreciation for his capacities. I've read mostly Catton and Sears, are these guys known one way or the other as having McClellan bias?
 

Saphroneth

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#17
Thanks for all of the posts and education on McClellan. As I read more about him and different perspectives, I've started to gain more appreciation for his capacities. I've read mostly Catton and Sears, are these guys known one way or the other as having McClellan bias?
Sears is pretty biased. In my own research I've found him to invent what a source he relies on says (that is, he makes a positive claim that a footnoted source says something, but when one follows it up this turns out to not be true). This is not a good sign to say the least.

He's also a proponent of the idea that there was a "delay" after finding SO 191 in the Antietam campaign, despite having been shown direct first-hand evidence that the telegram he claimed said "Midday" actually said "Midnight".

I would consider Sears an unreliable source for these reasons, among others.


(Sears has claimed in a direct conversation that this telegram's "midnight" is a forgery or later addition in different handwriting, or to be precise he has claimed that "-idnight" is a later addition in different handwriting.)

ltrtolincoln-jpg-jpg.jpg
 
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Saphroneth

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#18
So something to think about is that if McClellan did have control over grand strategy, what would happen?


The first important thing is that things in the West - in terms of the Federal penetration up the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers - would probably go pretty much as per, as McClellan appears to have at least supported the idea if not possibly pushed it himself.

In the East, the first big change is no offensive in Jan/Feb 1862 - it's too early for campaigning. This might cause a big change in how the first actual offensive shakes out, because the abortive offensive in question may have been what caused Johnston to retreat from the Manassas area to the Rappahanock line.

If Johnston remained up near Manassas, this allows the Urbanna plan (McClellan's preferred approach) to go ahead as initially conceived, using all available amphib transport. Basically this results in the Confederate best-case scenario being a mad scramble south without time to destroy the rail lines behind them as about 60,000 PFD land in the Urbanna area over the course of a few days followed by containing the Union on the Mattaponi or the Pamunkey, and the worst-case scenario being that a large chunk of Johnston's main body gets crushed between two wings of the AotP.

OTOH if Johnston did retreat to the Rappahanock then he has more options to respond, and this might lead to McClellan opting for the Mobjack Bay or Fort Monroe options instead - though with more troops being fed in.

Either way the goal is to reduce Richmond by regular approaches, by setting up a supplied and secure base either on the Pamunkey or on the James and using it to attack Richmond or Petersburg with a preponderance of heavy artillery, making use of all Union strategic advantages in the East:

1) The greater Union manpower allowing them to adequately protect their own capital while also threatening the enemy capital. Even historically the Union could have been able to shield Washington with 50,000 men while also threatening Richmond with 125,000, as opposed to 115,000 total Confederate manpower in the Virginia theatre in June; extra troops being recruited could be used to make Washington safer or (more likely) to further bulk out the Union field army approaching Richmond.
2) The Union's sea control letting them maintain a force on the rivers passing close to or actually through the Confederate capital, something that the CSA could not do as they would have to rely on overland supply.
3) The Union's superior heavy artillery, which historically Lee considered able to win any battle of regular approaches against his own fortified positions.
 

Yankeedave

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#19
The figures might be off. Slightly less for the north, slightly more for the south. That and the north is spread on a much broader front.
 

Saphroneth

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#20
The figures might be off. Slightly less for the north, slightly more for the south. That and the north is spread on a much broader front.
You mean for my "even historically"?

That's based on the historical situation mid-June. McClellan had 105,000 PFD, Pope had about 70,000 PFD IIRC and Lee would direct about 112,000 PFD against McClellan (or holding Richmond) during the Seven Days.
 



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