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McClellan's impetuous letters

Discussion in 'Civil War History - General Discussion' started by pfcjking, Feb 9, 2016.

  1. Jamieva

    Jamieva 2nd Lieutenant Forum Host

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    Because his men had no idea of the correspondence he was having with his superiors.
     
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  3. Andrew

    Andrew Private

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    I agree. Universal bashing, especially when it's shallow, makes me skeptical. Surely McClellan wasn't the incompetent coward that he is so glibly characterized as.

    I agree about Hartwig's book. It's one of my favorites and I strongly support that recommendation. However, it only covers the Maryland campaign up until the eve of the battle at Antietam. The battle itself will be covered in his next book which is still a work in progress. You must have gotten your "learnings" about McClellan's performance at Antietam somewhere else. Maybe Landscape Turned Red? I think that one took a pretty harsh view of McClellan at Antietam.

    Though I've only read a couple of chapters, I'd suggest taking a look at Ethan Rafuse's McLellan's War. It has received very good reviews and supposedly presents a more balanced, and as a result positive, evaluation of McClellan.
     
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  4. Rebforever

    Rebforever Captain

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    No, I have been there to Antietam 5 times. I like going there for some reason. He jumped around in using his men and assumed to much. His army was messed up when they started across the cornfield.

    My G-Grand fought in Jackson's Army under Early with the 52nd in the West Woods.
     
  5. Rebforever

    Rebforever Captain

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    "Repeated Union attacks, and equally vicious Confederate counterattacks, swept back and forth across Miller’s cornfield and the West Woods. Despite the great Union numerical advantage, Stonewall Jackson’s forces near the Dunker Church would hold their ground this bloody morning. Meanwhile, towards the center of the battlefield, Union assaults against the Sunken Road would pierce the Confederate center after a terrible struggle for this key defensive position. Unfortunately for the Union army this temporal advantage in the center was not followed up with further advances.

    Late in the day, Maj. General Ambrose Burnside’s corps pushed across a bullet-strewn stone bridge over Antietam Creek and with some difficulty managed to imperil the Confederate right. At a crucial moment, A.P. Hill’s division arrived from Harpers Ferry, and counterattacked, driving back Burnside and saving the day for the Army of Northern Virginia. Despite being outnumbered two-to-one, Lee committed his entire force at the Battle of Antietam, while McClellan sent in less than three-quarters of his Federal force. McClellan’s piecemeal approach to the battle failed to fully leverage his superior numbers and allowed Lee to shift forces from threat to threat."

    http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/antietam/maps/antietam-map-sunken-road.html
     
  6. Andrew

    Andrew Private

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    There's a book coming out later this year that is about re-evaluating McClellan in the Maryland Campaign.

    Too Useful to Sacrifice: Reconsidering George B. McClellan's Generalship in the Maryland Campaign from South Mountain to Antietam by Steven Stotelmyer (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1611213045)

    The chapters are:
    1. Fallacies Regarding the Lost Orders
    2. All the Injury Possible: The Day between South Mountain and Antietam
    3. Antietam: The Sequel to South Mountain
    4. General John Pope at Antietam and the Politics behind the Myth of the Unused Reserves
    5. Supplies and Demands: The Demise of General George B. McClellan
    Looks like it's coming out in June.
     
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  7. mrdix

    mrdix Private

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    I would like to see your logic for this , I do not believe the evidence supports that he was a coward ...
     
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  8. dlofting

    dlofting First Sergeant

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    Antietam was fought in "stages".......north, middle and south. This may not have been McClellan's intention, but it allowed Lee to shift his forces to the point of attack and negated the Union superiority in manpower. Some of the fault has been attributed, quite correctly, to the Union corps commanders. However, McClellan was the army commander, so in my opinion, he deserves the lion's share of the blame.
     
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  9. LoriAnn

    LoriAnn Captain

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    I recall hearing an interview with Rafuse on Civil War Talk Radio. It's been a while, so I'd have to relisten, but I do remember enjoying the discussion. (Come to think of it, why haven't I looked up videos with him yet? Thank you for the reminder!)

    I think your use of the word "balance" is perfect here.
     
  10. Dave G

    Dave G Corporal

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    I agree that he was not a coward, but he was well above his level of competence. He knew that a good commander does not get near the line of fire to check the progress of a battle but he always stayed so far back behind the lines that he had no idea what was going on, so could not make any useful contribution.
    I think that once a battle started, and called for him to make any decisions, he was just plain befuddled, to the extent that he would sometimes deliberately absent himself from the battle entirely. At Glendale he had to check out the situation at Harrison's Landing and the James River, not returning until the battle was over. At Savage Station he was well away from that field, scouting the route for his change of base not concerning himself too much about the rear guard. At Malvern Hill he finally returned to the field after his generals had already set up their defensive line. He kept busy by checking artillery on the east side of the field while the rebels attacked from the north and west. After the battle he was in an advantageous position to order a counterattack, but at this point he had a one-track mind. He reminds me of the leader of the knights in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and his usual orders to his men during any minor crisis, "Run away! Run away!"
    However he was always ready to claim any victory (Williamsburg) after the battle had been won by others.
     
  11. 67th Tigers

    67th Tigers Sergeant Major

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    There are two things I nitpick with Rafuse:

    1. Like everyone he was confused by Sears's mistranslation of La Comte de Paris's journal, and hence wrongly accepting Sears's case that McClellan was aboard the USS Galena eating dinner in the evening.

    In fact McClellan boards the Galena three times on the 30th June; the first time ca. 1645 hrs for a short conference with Rodgers about the fall back location for the army from whence McClellan departs shortly after 1700 hrs after Galena goes into action (and one should note McClellan moved Couch's division from the Galena by signals), then around 2000 when he returns to Galena with despatches for La Comte de Paris to hand carry to Washington and then crossdecks with the French princes to USS Jacob Bell and sends them off, he then returns to Galena from the Jacob Bell and take a boat ashore where he meets Heintzelman who tells him Franklin has abandoned his position without orders.

    2. He completely misses McClellan trip to Hallecks House on the night of 26th/27th August '62, without which you can't fully understand the following events.

    This is understandable, as Rafuse was an interpreter of existing works. He did not hunt down a copy of La Comte de Paris's journal, which then was rare (but now is published in French and available on amazon) or read the contemporary newspaper accounts of McClellan's movements at Glendale. Similarly he heavily relied on Hennessey's Return to Bull Run, and Hennessey does not mention McClellan's trip to Halleck's to demand a decision about the movements of 6th Corps (although it's in the OR, McClellan's Own Story and Cozzens's 2005 Pope biography).
     
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  12. hanna260

    hanna260 Sergeant Major

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    I think that McClellan had a lot of positive attributes as a person, too, if we're talking about defending him. He was a very loyal husband and good father. He was a good friend. He hated the thought of his men suffering- too much, one could say, since it caused him to lose battles. He served a very good term as a governor- and was definitely someone who opposed the thought of dragging civilians into war- one reason why he disobeyed Lincoln so much I think. In some ways, I think his most admirable qualities were the ones who made him entirely unsuitable for this war.
     
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  13. Michael W.

    Michael W. Sergeant

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    The age old debate of McClellan continues....
    Yes, he does seem to be every armchair general's favorite punching bag. Do we really consider ourselves experts on the events that transpired 150 years ago? Did any of us actually participate in that bloody mess? NO. That being said, the reason we are all on here is to discuss and debate that war that is so addictive to our passion for history.

    If we are going to judge Little Mac, then let's judge him by his own writings, official correspondence and his personal letters and memoirs. Judge him by what came out of his own mouth. If he was insubordinate, refusing to take blame or blaming everyone else for his failures, then so be it. We should judge everyone that way as well.

    I have never been a fan of McClellan by any means. I freely admit I'm part of the "punching bag" crowd. But as much as I disdain him, even I have to admit that he trained the AOP into the effective fighting force that it eventually became. He infused pride into those men, he loved his men dearly, which probably accounts why he seemed timid in sending them into harm's way (ordering the "death" of the thing you love), and his men knew that he loved them, and didn't want to sacrifice their lives needlessly, which made them love him even the more.
    He was a great general in so many ways, and not the right man for the job in so many ways. Yes, Grant defeated Lee at the end, but only because he had no qualms about "ordering the death" of the thing you love ("the great trap"). But at what cost? The AOP was ground down in the summer of 1864 to a shadow of its former self. The great sacrifice, and the great cost of victory....
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2016
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  14. Rebforever

    Rebforever Captain

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    Sitting on a boat in the James River not giving orders to the soldiers dying for him in the Panituua Champgn?
     
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  15. 67th Tigers

    67th Tigers Sergeant Major

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    McClellan boarded USS Galena ca. 1645 hrs on the 30th (responding to a letter from Rodgers stating the Navy wanted McClellan to withdraw essentially to Williamsburg) with BG Marcy and the French Princes, and he left shortly after 1700 hrs. If we say he was onboard her for 30 mins we're probably not far off. Of course when he moved down from his CP to see Rodgers there was only cannonading - and perhaps his judgement that there would not be an attack was incorrect, but understandable given how late it already was in the day (sunset was at 1917 that day, and it was already well after 1600).

    Onboard was a signals detachment under Lt Clum, and McClellan received the message that an attack had been launched, but that Heintzelman was going to put in a counterattack, which he approved, then climbed up the mast with his binos, and issued a series of orders to be signaled*, including for Couch's division to move north to reinforce Heintzelman and then got on a boat to head to shore. He was seen heading back upto his Command Post on Malvern Hill some time around 1800 (remember error bars), and returned to Turkey Bridge around 1900, where he writes his despatches to Washington.

    * these signals were directed at his staff officers who actioned them, or in one case didn't because they failed to find the formation they had orders for.
     
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  16. jackt62

    jackt62 First Sergeant

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    Yes, I think there was a famous incident when MacArthur snubbed President Truman during their summit on Wake Island. MacArthur did not descend from his aircraft and kept Truman waiting on the tarmac.
     
  17. Story

    Story Sergeant

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    Tripped over this pre-war tidbit -


    Further elaborates on McClellan's fumble -

    http://mynorthwest.com/573659/civil-war-general-failed-in-the-cascades/
     
  18. Jamieva

    Jamieva 2nd Lieutenant Forum Host

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    It probably wasn't but we don't really know for sure. Once the battle was commenced he didn't take enough personal control over the movements of the corps. They all acted on their own, and that reflects on the army commander.
     
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  19. Andy Cardinal

    Andy Cardinal Corporal

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    I find McClellan to be an interesting figure. I think Grant's assessment is revealing:

    It has always seemed to me that the critics of McClellan do not consider this vast and cruel responsibility—the war, a new thing to all of us, the army new, everything to do from the outset, with a restless people and Congress. McClellan was a young man when this devolved upon him, and if he did not succeed, it was because the conditions of success were so trying. If McClellan had gone into the war as Sherman, Thomas, or Meade, had fought his way along and up, I have no reason to suppose that he would not have won as high a distinction as any of us.

    I think McClellan's real flaw was less as a military commander as his involvement in Democratic politics while serving a Republican administration. The two views obviously grew more and more incompatible as time went by.

    I just read an enlightening book by William Styple called McClellan's Other Story which, I think, reveals a lot about the general and sheds some light on the reasons for his failure.

     
  20. jackt62

    jackt62 First Sergeant

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    I am of the opinion that McClellan conceived a bold strategy in 1862 of turning Confederate forces in northern Virginia by placing the AOTP on the Virginia peninsula. Although the large scale seaborne invasion was carried out successfully, McClellan's execution of the plan was, as is well known, poorly handled. So although McClellan can be credited for the plan and his administrative ability, he was flawed as a field commander and his inability to separate his duty from his outspoken political beliefs.
     
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  21. KansasFreestater

    KansasFreestater 1st Lieutenant

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    I believe this might have been the same trip where McClellan formed a negative impression of Ulysses Grant, who was stationed on the West Coast at the time. Grant was responsible for outfitting the group for one of their explorations, and did a good job of it, but when the group returned to the base, Grant had been imbibing....
     
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