Putting all the McClellan stuff in one place...

Saphroneth

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I thought it might be useful to get the various evidence and analysis I've used in the past about McClellan into one place... and of course open them up for discussion, to check how solidly presented they all are.

I'll go through largely in chronological order, though I intend to skip some of the earliest stuff because I've got less information about it (and because in cases I'd mostly just be copying out some analysis 67th has done). I'll also go back and fill some areas out in more detail later.



Pre war

Basically the main things to note here are that McClellan's experiences shaped his toolkit when he went to war. He had military officer's training, and he saw combat in the Mexican-American War (where the relative capabilities of new volunteers and long-service regulars made an impression against the volunteers) and observed the aftermath of the Sevastopol siege. He also spent time working for a railroad, so had an understanding of rail logistics.


Western Virginia

McClellan's Western Virginia campaign is analyzed here:
http://67thtigers.blogspot.com/2018/02/mcclellans-western-virginia-campaign.html

On taking command of the Army of the Potomac


McClellan's initial concern was the defence of Washington. For these purposes, he had to work out what he was likely to be facing, and his assessment was that the thing that would produce the greatest risk to Washington was a general Rebel concentration - to reinforce their Bull Run army and cross the Potomac in an offensive against Washington.

I plan to address this one later, because there's a lot to look at, but it will suffice for now to note that by the end of September the Pinkerton picture of how many troops there were in Virginia (and their locations) was pretty much accurate. From this point onwards McClellan's intel picture is fairly accurate.



The lack of offensive movements in 1861 and the Strategy of Overwhelming

Partly this is due to the need to train troops and organize divisions, but there's also a question of what the best strategy is. In a memo in August, McClellan constructs the Strategy of Overwhelming, which is his plan to raise a very large army and focus the main part of that army on Richmond.

Richmond is the best target on the board, for a number of reasons:
- It is relatively vulnerable, being close to the Virginia rivers which allow for easy supply, and not very far from the front line as of August 1861.
- It is a rail junction which effectively controls most of Virginia, and whoever holds it has largely free movement throughout Virginia while whoever does not hold it is restricted (especially if they do not have the alternative of seaborne logistics).
- It is industrially critical, producing more in the way of industrial output than several Confederate states, and produces the lion's share of Confederate domestic rifles, artillery and other industrial goods. It is also the home (in 1861 and early 1862) of the only steam hammer in the Confederacy.
- It is politically critical, being the Confederate capital.
- Since it controls Virginia, it is essential to Confederate control of the resources of Virginia both in terms of the agricultural output of the Shenandoah Valley and the manpower that can be raised and sustained from the state as a whole.
- It is essential to the only realistic Confederate prospects of victory - whether intending to last until the Union is exhausted, or gain foreign intervention, or capture Washington themselves, Richmond must remain in Confederate control for any of them.


The Strategy of Overwhelming memo does not however suggest that Richmond should be the only target. Scott's "Anaconda" plan of a few months previously had held that an expedition down the Mississippi by about 60,000 to 80,000 men was the only offensive movement required to defeat the Confederacy aside from blockade, and was already obsolete - 1st Bull Run resulted from a Union rejection of the Anaconda plan.

McClellan’s memo started by arguing that the results of the Battle of First Bull Run meant that it would be necessary not merely to defeat the Confederate army in the field but to defeat the whole Confederacy, and also to demonstrate to the whole Confederacy – particularly those in the upper, governing class – that defeat was the inevitable outcome. (The exact language used was “the utter impossibility of resistance”).

McClellan also argued that this overwhelming force should be combined with a conciliatory attitude, but he was mostly focused on the need to defeat the enemy.

Virginia was described as being the site of the “first great struggle”, as the result of how the Rebels had chosen it, but McClellan also advocated using forces elsewhere to “diminish the resistance there offered us, by movements on other points both by land and water”.

McClellan argued that (1) a strong movement should be made on the Mississippi (though he did not go into details, this seems to be the Mississippi movement of Scott’s plan) and (2) the Rebels should be driven out of Missouri.

He went on to mention that as soon as the situation in Kentucky was resolved (the language of the letter makes it clear that he was hoping for Kentucky to reaffirm its position in the Union) (3) a movement from Kentucky into Unionist Eastern Tennessee would be a good idea – particularly targeting the rail lines.

Moving on to West Virginia, McClellan argued that (4) Western Virginia should be held mostly in a defensive way and that local West Virginia troops should be organized so that the troops there could become available for other areas.

McClellan then continues on the theme of garrisons, pointing to (5) the Baltimore and Ohio railway, (6) Baltimore itself, (7) Fort Monroe and (8) Washington, and then says that everything else should be put into (9) the “main army of operations” - i.e. the army to fight in Virginia.

After laying out this set of priorities (three offensive movements – one in Kentucky and Eastern Tennessee, one down the Mississippi, and one to fight in Virginia) McClellan began trying to put numbers onto them.

(1) The strength of the Mississippi expedition is not addressed, but McClellan presumed that the commander of that expedition – and the President – would decide how many troops would be needed. The largest number that Scott gave when he contemplated it is 80,000, though which category this was in (Aggregate Present, Grand Aggregate etc.) is not clear, and it would be possible for some of the troops used in this operation to be the same ones used to secure Missouri once Missouri was secure.

(2) McClellan’s numbers for Missouri are not specific, but he said “it is probable that no very large additions to the troops now in Missouri will be necessary to secure that State”. On September 15 about a month later John C. Frémont, then in command of the area, broke down his strength (including the Missouri Home Guard) as totalling to 54,923 in named positions and 55,693 as the “total of present and absent on detailed duty”.

Given that this includes the Home Guard, it seems reasonable to assume that 60,000 Volunteers (Aggregate Present) would be the planning figure at this point.

(3) McClellan’s numbers for the movement in Kentucky and East Tennessee were “not more than 20,000” plus troops raised in Kentucky and East Tennessee itself, assuming as he did that things went as hoped-for in Kentucky.

(4) For West Virginia the numbers are calculated similarly - “not more than five to ten thousand from Ohio and Indiana” plus the troops raised in West Virginia.

(5) The figure given for the force to protect the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, plus the Potomac, was 10,000.

(6) The number for Baltimore was 5,000.

(7) The number for Fort Monroe was 3,000.

(8) The number for Washington was “not more than 20,000”. This probably reflects the construction of the capital forts, which was taking place at the time; McClellan’s memo makes it clear that the garrisons from (5) onwards are “when we have re-organized our main army here”.

(9) Finally there is the Army of Operations, which is broken down into categories:

250 regiments of infantry, at 225,000 men. (900 men per regiment.)

100 batteries of artillery, at 15,000 men and 6 guns each. (150 per battery.)

28 regiments of cavalry, at 25,500 men. (910 men per regiment – I suspect that the planning number McClellan used was 900 men per regiment and he rounded up instead of down.)

5 regiments of engineer troops, at 7,500 men (1,500 men per regiment)

For a total of 273,000 men.




While it is easy to focus on the very large number for the army of operations and decry it as impossible, we should first add up the total number of troops assigned here.

Using the largest estimates, except in so far as to assume that some of the Missouri troops can be “reused” on the Mississippi expedition:

(1) 60,000.

(2) 60,000.

(3) 20,000.

(4) 10,000.

(5) 10,000.

(6) 5,000.

(7) 3,000.

(8) 20,000.

(9) 273,000.

Total: 461,000

As of the end of December 1861 the Union army had 477,000 men Aggregate Present, and while this total does include some departments (Dept. of the Pacific, for one) which McClellan does not consider – and possibly a somewhat inconsistent definition of Aggregate Present – it nevertheless seems to be the case that the total apportionment of resources is not impossible. Indeed, when compared to Scott’s plan the thing which stands out about McClellan’s plan is that it involves a Union army of the “right size” to fight the Civil War. (In fact, if the total is at 900 men per regiment then it comes to a little over 500 regiments, and New York and Pennsylvania raised over 500 regiments of infantry between them over the course of the Civil War.)



This plan was largely not adopted, for a number of reasons (mostly relating to wanting a greater focus on the West) and by early 1862 McClellan had shaped a different plan. This is the Urbanna plan, which I'll go into next.


If there's any questions about the period covered here, do feel free to raise them; I'd rather not range over the whole war just yet, though, so it'd be best to keep to 1861.
 

wausaubob

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Both Scott and McClellan were hiding the fact that there was going to a major combined arms effort to capture New Orleans from the Gulf side. I'm sure the letter between Scott and McClellan acknowledging that part of the plan has been posted here. So there was a major difference the public version of the Anaconda plan and the real US strategy.
 

wausaubob

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The same factors that made Richmond valuable to the Confederacy also make a hard point to capture, like Sevastpol.
 

Saphroneth

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Both Scott and McClellan were hiding the fact that there was going to a major combined arms effort to capture New Orleans from the Gulf side. I'm sure the letter between Scott and McClellan acknowledging that part of the plan has been posted here. So there was a major difference the public version of the Anaconda plan and the real US strategy.

But Scott's plan was never even tried. His plan envisaged no offensive in the east and the only offensive being down the Mississippi.

The same factors that made Richmond valuable to the Confederacy also make a hard point to capture, like Sevastpol.
Well, not really. Richmond is hard to capture because it's been fortified and because it's a focus of Confederate defensive effort, but if you're willing to use the rivers of Southeastern Virginia it's one of the better places to face a strong Confederate defensive effort simply because you can have a supply line that doesn't rely on going overland any significant distance.
 

Saphroneth

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Scott's plan


Scott’s plan was first constructed in the period before the First Battle of Bull Run. In March Scott (in a memo to the Secretary of State, William H. Seward) argued that the strategy of invading and conquering the South would require an army of 300,000 men, years of fighting and a large national debt, alongside causing economic devastation to the South and provoking generations of bitterness.

Rejecting this idea entirely, Scott instead argued that a program of blockade would close off all external trade and thus “strangle” the Confederacy (the “Anaconda” nickname came somewhat later and was not Scott’s invention). The naval portion of the blockade was largely the responsibility of the US Navy, not the army (inter-service cooperation was not well developed at the time) but in order to complete the blockade Scott considered it necessary to use Federal troops to hold the line of the Ohio river (as well as defending Washington) and control the Mississippi.

By the first of May, Scott’s plan for the Mississippi River expedition was that 60,000 regular troops and “three year” volunteers (as opposed to the “three month” volunteers which were the predominant form of soldier then enlisted – the first official call for “three year” volunteers came on the third of May) would be trained up over the course of most of 1861, and in November these troops would begin a movement by water down the Mississippi river, occupying positions along the way with waterborne landings and aiming to finally reach the mouth at New Orleans (and link up with the US Navy there).

This plan evolved somewhat by 21st​ May, which is when instructions were sent by Scott to McClellan (then a general in charge of Ohio volunteers). At this point it was projected to involve 80,000 men, largely in a column of 50,000 moving by land (i.e. marching, as no rail line existed along the shore of the Mississippi – it would have been redundant) and with a smaller component of 30,000 moving by water.



It's with this as a background that McClellan's Strategy of Overwhelming was constructed. Essentially McClellan envisaged going on a major offensive with significantly superior numbers; Scott envisaged a "cheap" war which would not involve raising many troops, and one which was non-viable (especially politically).
 

wausaubob

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But Scott's plan was never even tried. His plan envisaged no offensive in the east and the only offensive being down the Mississippi.


Well, not really. Richmond is hard to capture because it's been fortified and because it's a focus of Confederate defensive effort, but if you're willing to use the rivers of Southeastern Virginia it's one of the better places to face a strong Confederate defensive effort simply because you can have a supply line that doesn't rely on going overland any significant distance.
I disagree. The wealth of Richmond, especially its flour mills, make it the easiest place for the Confederates to maintain an army there. The Virginia railroads and improved roads made it once of the best places for the Confederates to fight and handle the inevitable casualties.
 

wausaubob

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But Scott's plan was never even tried. His plan envisaged no offensive in the east and the only offensive being down the Mississippi.


Well, not really. Richmond is hard to capture because it's been fortified and because it's a focus of Confederate defensive effort, but if you're willing to use the rivers of Southeastern Virginia it's one of the better places to face a strong Confederate defensive effort simply because you can have a supply line that doesn't rely on going overland any significant distance.
McClellan and Scott both knew there was going to an attempt to take New Orleans. That part of US strategy was kept from the public.
 

Saphroneth

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I disagree. The wealth of Richmond, especially its flour mills, make it the easiest place for the Confederates to maintain an army there. The Virginia railroads and improved roads made it once of the best places for the Confederates to fight and handle the inevitable casualties.
Well, the Confederates are going to have good supply anywhere important, because you are invading them and the places which are most important are rail junctions anyway. Conversely, you are going to need to take Richmond at some point because it is the Confederate capitol; if you are okay accepting a long war you can weaken the rest of the Confederacy first, but McClellan was aiming for a short war by making a major draft on the country's strength right from the start (i.e. assemble the largest army possible) and producing a war which cost less in total by reducing the length of the expenditure.

The best way to cripple the Confederacy for a long war is to take Richmond. The best way to make the war a short one is to take Richmond with overwhelming force, demonstrating the futility of resistance.
Don't mistake how the war actually developed with the best Union strategic approach.


McClellan and Scott both knew there was going to an attempt to take New Orleans. That part of US strategy was kept from the public.
Can you cite to the effect of there being a deliberately secret element of the plan involving going after New Orleans? I agree that the plan was to link up with the navy at New Orleans, but you seem to be claiming more...
 

wausaubob

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McClellan and Scott knew the was going to an attempt to capture at least Forts Phillip and Jackson:
1614528707824.png

https://www.americanhistorycentral.com/entries/anaconda-plan/The public skipped over that part of the plan.
 

Saphroneth

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The public skipped over that part of the plan.
Sorry, you seem to be asserting that the public assumed no capture of the New Orleans forts? Explicitly?

I've been assuming throughout the capture of New Orleans would take place, but in the context of the note it seems that Scott's plan was to capture the forts with the troops coming down the river.
 

Saphroneth

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Confederate plans against Washington


On or around 1st October 1861 there is a meeting between Davis and the commanders of the Confederate Army of the Potomac (Johnston, Beauregard, Smith).

Davis' recollection is that, when the prospect of an offensive was raised, the smallest number of men proposed to be viable for an offensive was nearly twice the number then present.

GW Smith noted that the numbers suggested to be required for an offensive were 50,000 (in his opinion) to 60,000 (Johnston and Beauregard) to be drawn from "the Peninsula, about Yorktown, Norfolk, from Western Virginia, Pensacola, or wherever might be most expedient".

Now, there are two possible interpretations of this. The first is that what GW Smith means is that the TOTAL number required for an offensive is 50,000 to 60,000 and that (per Davis) the Confederate army was half of that (i.e. about 30,000 strong)

The second is that what GW Smith means is that the ADDITIONAL number required for an offensive is 50,000 to 60,000, and that this would amount to a doubling of the strength of the army (i.e. that there were about 50,000-60,000 men already there).


As against this, we can test the closest returns data, and other details.

Firstly, by October 15th 1861 the total Union strength around Washington, on the Potomac line and up to Baltimore, was 133,201 PFD and 143,647 Aggregate Present. This implies that a force of 50,000 or 60,000 would not be reasonable, as even leaving 25,000 in Washington and assuming 10,000 were defending Baltimore the remaining force able to take the field would still be much larger. However, against this a force of 110,000 or so would be quite reasonable for an offensive campaign.

Secondly, JE Johnston's return for October 1861 gives his force (Beauregard's corps, Smith's corps, Stuart's cavalry brigade and the artillery under Pendleton) as 44,131 "effective total present" and 52,435 "aggregate present". This implies that the second interpretation is true.
The Valley District and Reserve Division are not on JEJ's October 1861 return.

In addition the Aquia District contained 5,731 PFD and 8,824 AP, and Loring's Army of the Northwest contained about 9,500 PFD and 11,700 AP; there's also about 44 regiments at Richmond, Yorktown and Norfolk, and troops further south such as Bragg at Pensacola.



What this means is that there was definitely discussion in the Confederate camp in Autumn 1861 about mustering a large force and invading the North, and with hindsight they probably could have pulled together this many men if they employed the same sort of triage which happened in 1862 to defend Richmond.
 
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wausaubob

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There were three disadvantages to McClellan's plan.
1. Eastern Virginia was one the dirtiest, most disease ridden place in the US. McClellan may have missed the early part of the Veracruz campaign and by the time he got to the Crimea, the medical situation for the British and French had improved. He might not have been aware of everything that had been done to try to limit the losses due to disease. This was one of the main reasons that Halleck abandoned the Virginia campaign.
2. The Confederates refloated the Merrimac and rechristened it as the Virginia. Based on the Crimean War this was something that was possible. No one thought the Confederates could accomplish the task, but once they did, it had to be resolved.
3. The peninsula campaign reproduced the conditions during the US Revolutionary War in which the French fleet had cut off the British Army and forced the British to surrender. The peninsula campaign gave the British enormous leverage on their threats to intervene and force mediation. If McClellan had undertaken this same campaign after the battle of Gettysburg and the Vicksburg campaign, this political problem would have been greatly reduced.
 

wausaubob

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Sorry, you seem to be asserting that the public assumed no capture of the New Orleans forts? Explicitly?

I've been assuming throughout the capture of New Orleans would take place, but in the context of the note it seems that Scott's plan was to capture the forts with the troops coming down the river.
That's an unwarranted assumption.
 

wausaubob

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There was an enormous advantage to McClellan's plan. It kept the Confederates from concentrating on New Orleans.
New Orleans was the heart of the slave trade in the US. It was the vital distribution and banking center for Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. It was a choke point for trade on the Missouri and Ohio rivers in terms of communication with the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. It was the largest city in the Confederacy and many European nations maintained a consulate office there. Once the US re-occupied New Orleans, the rest of the blockade was going to be much easier. The rest of the Confederate ports did not have the labor force to handle cotton the way that New Orleans could. And for the US, New Orleans made a good base for blockade operations throughout the Gulf.
 

Saphroneth

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That's an unwarranted assumption.
How so? It's not like the Union was going to march down the Mississippi and then stand there staring at the New Orleans forts; occupying the line of the Mississippi seems like it'd include control of New Orleans by default.

Can you please source your statement that the public assumed New Orleans wouldn't be taken?

There was an enormous advantage to McClellan's plan. It kept the Confederates from concentrating on New Orleans.
It's not really connected, though - the reason New Orleans was taken was basically because the troops who should have been defending it moved north to concentrate for the Shiloh battle.
 

wausaubob

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If the US captures New Orleans from the north, Forts Phillip and Jackson will fall by themselves. They wouldn't be worth mentioning. And why were the troops at Shiloh Church and not at New Orleans? Because the Richmond government failed to heed the warnings that there was a massive build up occurring in the western Gulf beginning as early as December 1861.
 

wausaubob

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The fact that as a US Army Captain, George McClellan had been to Europe and worked on the Delafield report was immensely valuable to President Lincoln.
https://archive.org/details/reportonartofwar00unit/page/n15/mode/2up?view=theaterMcClellan's language skills and his familiarity with many of the technical issues relating to fortifications and army camps, was an important asset as Lincoln tried to grasp the enormity of the task which the US had to accomplish, to just not lose the war in the first 10 months.
 

Saphroneth

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If the US captures New Orleans from the north, Forts Phillip and Jackson will fall by themselves. They wouldn't be worth mentioning. And why were the troops at Shiloh Church and not at New Orleans? Because the Richmond government failed to heed the warnings that there was a massive build up occurring in the western Gulf beginning as early as December 1861.
A "massive build up" which was entirely a navy operation, I'll note - the Navy moved without waiting for the Army to turn up.
And perhaps that's so, or perhaps not (my assumption had originally been that the army would march down to New Orleans and then a combined operation would take the forts so as to prevent a small force with plenty of food keeping the Mississippi closed to both sides for another few months), but I'm still not seeing how it is that you claim the public assumed New Orleans wouldn't be taken.
 

Saphroneth

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The early offensives


Late in 1861, once sufficient troops had mustered, McClellan gave consideration to mounting some offensive operations. There's two worth noting, one of them being the Munson's and Upton's Hill movement and the other being Ball's Bluff.


Munson's and Upton's Hill results from an August 31 advance to the outskirts of Washington by Johnston's forces, with his force centered at Fairfax Court House and with his advanced positions just outside Alexandria County. McClellan intended to launch a dawn attack at the end of September to push the Confederates off these hills, but the information was leaked and they pulled back the night before (and generally pulled back to Centreville).

Balls Bluff comes a few weeks later (October 21) and is a bit of a SNAFU. Beforehand McCall had occupied Drainesville, and McClellan ordered Stone to recce (and possibly make a demonstration) to test if there were still Confederate troops at Leesburg or if they'd been withdrawn as a result.
On the 20th, Stone pushes a regiment over the Potomac at Leesburg, and finds that they have indeed pulled back.

McCall is then moved back towards Washington, but (not knowing this) Stone decides on his own authority to make a raid against a supposed camp at Balls Bluff on the 21st. The raid is to be made by a detachment of one regiment, with a brigade (Baker's) in support.
The regimental detachment finds no camp, and (on his own authority) Baker pushes his whole brigade over the river, but doesn't have the boats to do it in just one movement.

At this point this is an initiative of a brigadier exceeing the initiative of a division commander, and as McClellan realizes what's going on he sends Banks and McCall to support Stone and eventually authorizes taking Leesburg; however by the time there are troops ready to move on Leesburg actually over the river Confederate troops have returned.


So Balls Bluff is... weird and hard to characterize as a McClellan initiative at all, it just sort of happened on its own. The main lesson is probably that the army still needed more training in what was an appropriate level of initiative to employ...
 
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