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Very Informative Article on How McClellan Outsmarted Lee at Antietam

Discussion in 'Civil War History - General Discussion' started by Mike Griffith, Aug 2, 2018.

  1. Mike Griffith

    Mike Griffith Sergeant

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    Dennis Frye, a former chief historian at the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, has posted an informative, insightful article on how George McClellan outwitted Robert E. Lee at Antietam--actually, not just at Antietam but in the Maryland Campaign as a whole. Frye discusses some interesting little-known facts and addresses a few of the common myths about McClellan's performance at Antietam.

    Face Facts: 'Little Mac' Outwitted Lee at Antietam
    http://www.historynet.com/no-small-deed-face-facts-little-mac-outwitted-lee-antietam.htm

    Here's an excerpt:

    McClellan didn’t know Lee’s thinking, but as a strategist he certainly could surmise Lee’s intentions. McClellan had divined Pennsylvania to be a primary Confederate target since the invasion’s outset. He knew Lee was concentrating at Sharpsburg, and he could interpret this two ways: Either Lee expected to fight there, or the Confederate commander intended to move north from there. If McClellan were to capture the Sharpsburg–Hagerstown Turnpike and block Lee’s avenue northward, he could eliminate the “move” option, and produce an outstanding outcome—defeating the Rebel army’s invasion.​

    The Union commander seized the occasion. By afternoon and evening of September 16, McClellan had moved nearly 23,000 soldiers from his 1st and 12th Corps—about one-third of his total force—around the Confederate left flank. And they took the road! Consider McClellan’s wise preemptive action. About two miles north of Sharpsburg, he had blocked Lee’s line of advance into Pennsylvania, and had done so without a battle, indeed barely firing a shot!​

    McClellan’s prescient move on September 16 constituted the demise of Lee’s invasion strategy. The most famous Southern general of the war had been outsmarted, outflanked, and outmaneuvered by the most harshly criticized Union general of the war.​
     

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  3. CMWinkler

    CMWinkler Colonel Forum Host Retired Moderator

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    Hmmm. I'll have to read the article but I thought after the recovery of Special Order 191, Lee's campaign strategy and dispositions, McClellan didn't need to be prescient nor to outwit Lee.
     
  4. Scott1967

    Scott1967 Private

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    I didn't think any Union General outwitted Bobby Lee including Grant, Shelby Foote's long and arduous study of the war must have been for nothing.
     
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  5. 67th Tigers

    67th Tigers 2nd Lieutenant

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    Indeed, but McClellan did.
     
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  6. Jimklag

    Jimklag Lt. Colonel Forum Host Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner

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    Since McClellan had Special Orders 191, he didn't need to surmise anything. Lee told him exactly what his intentions were.
     
  7. Mike Griffith

    Mike Griffith Sergeant

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    You might want to read the article. The lost order did not state all of Lee's intentions.
     
  8. OldReliable1862

    OldReliable1862 Corporal

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    Sorry, I'm a little confused here. I'm pretty fuzzy on the timeline of the campaign, but I have heard McClellan had pretty much already figured out Lee's intentions, and finding the Order just confirmed it.
     
  9. WJC

    WJC Moderator Moderator Trivia Game Winner

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    That is my understanding- with a caveat. McClellan was unsure whether the order he had was real or whether it was a trick. As a result, he did not take advantage of it as fully as he might have.
     
  10. BlueandGrayl

    BlueandGrayl First Sergeant

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    I think without the Lost Order dropped and conveniently shown to McClellan and Union troops there would have been no South Mountain Gap or Antietam keep in mind the former was a result of the order being lost and the latter was from the effects of that battle all because of one guy accidently not delivering an important piece of information in time so none of what this article says would have happened if there wasn't a Lost Special Order 191. So assuming McClellan never finds out about Lost Order 191 it's not like its going to be a decisive battle as Harry Turtledoveimagined it in the Southern Victory series starting with How Few Remain or James M. McPherson (as much I love how he covers everything before Antietam in Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam) in "If the Lost Order Hadn't Been Lost" instead given that the Confederates already had captured Harpers' Ferry and its supplies, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, James Longstreet, Richard Ewell, and A.P. Hill planned to concentrate the Army of Northern Virginia in either the towns of Boonsboro of Hagerstown as stated in the order itself so where they could strike next well there are two options:
    Maryland:
    Given that the Army of Northern Virginia were in the state itself it would make sense to attack and occupy another town there and since it is home to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad there is the possibility of JEB Stuart's cavalry conducting another raid and decide to tear up and destroy things as well as get new supplies similar to what they did in Chambersburg in October in OTL one month after the Maryland Campaign and for any major battle that could occur perhaps it does but not on the level of Antietam as far as indecisiveness and Emancipation Proclaimation go as well as needed victory.
    Pennsylvania:
    Another potential spot for the Confederates to invade is the state of Pennsylvania given that it borders Maryland on the Mason-Dixon Line (essentially the Berlin Wall/Korean DMZ of the North-South states) it wouldn't too crazy to imagine going there although there are possible concerns of stretching supply lines from the Shenandoah Valley however assuming the Army of Northern Virginia doesn't run into this problem then this would be the next place to strike as mentioned before the town of Chambersburg was where JEB Stuart's cavalry conducted a raid and got a bunch of new supplies as well as destroying and tearing it up there this led to George B. McClellan getting fired and replaced by Ambrose Burnside (who procceded to get the Army of the Potomac pummeled in Fredericksburg in December 1862) so perhaps Lee and Stuart could go right in to that state and engage the Army of the Potomac into a major battle as well as the fact that Pennsylvania militia were mobilizing in case of Confederate invasion like in OTL, Lee also planned on being in the Susquehanna. Between the two possible states this one is the most likely to occur in a no Lost Order Maryland Campaign as Robert E. Lee stated himself about its purpose "That is the objective point of the campaign. You remember, no doubt the long bridge of the Pennsylvania railroad over the Susquehanna, a few miles west of Harrisburg well I wish effectively to destroy that bridge which will disable the Pennsylvania railroad for a long time. After that I can turn my attention to Philadelphia, Baltimore or Washington as may seem best for our interests".

    So logically speaking without McClellan being able to outsmart or know about where Lee and his troops were depending on who you ask in this thread the following is likely to occur: 1. The Army of Northern Virginia is concentrated within either Boonsborough or Hagerstown after being in Frederick, 2. The Army of Northern Virginia sends JEB Stuart to destroy the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad as well as the Pennsylvania Railroad, 3. The Army of Northern Virginia crosses into Pennsylvania arriving at the Susquehanna River and eventually gain supplies from the soil rich Cumberland Valley, 4. Pennsylvania militia mobilize to try to stop the Army of Northern Virginia, 5. George B. McClellan and the Army of the Potomac are soon engaged by Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia within Pennsylvania in somwhere such as Chambersburg, 6. The battle occurs and the Confederates are able to score another major victory over the Union, 7. George B. McClellan soon resigns after his failure to destroy Robert E. Lee and is replacd by Ambrose Burnside, 8. News of the victory causes major panic in the North now with the Army of Northern Virginia now having won a battle in Pennsylvania, 9. The victory at Chambersburg or some other town gets Britain and France to keep on to their mediatation/recognition proposal of the Confederacy and give the greenlight to do it, 10. What happens in Kentucky could presuambly end in Confederate victory, 11. The Army of the Potomac under Ambrose Burnside try to bring Abraham Lincoln a much needed victory to justify his Emancipation Proclaimation but like what he did in Fredericksburg in OTL it ends miserably with the Confederates scoring another victory, and 12. When elections come the Democrats make more gains in Senate and House of Representatives than it was the case in OTL's 1862 midterm elections post-Antietam here they gain a majority and now with widespread disatisfication over how the war effort is going for soliders, civilians, and enthuasistic supporters as with pre-Antietam 1862 of OTL now here continuing and with prospects looking bad Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party realize that they cannot keep up now with support turning against them so eventually they decide to seek peace

    Now of course this doesn't involve the Army of the Potomac being totally destroyed and one smashing decisive victory but it does keep up the momentum built up by the Confederates in the East and West from summer until right now and this scenario of a no Lost Order 191 Maryland-Pennsylvania Campaign is one of those possible paths for how it could play out.
     
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  11. Scott1967

    Scott1967 Private

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    This is totally correct the word Fully being very important , The order was found in the morning and reached McClellan around midday within the first 3 hours he has dispatched Pleasanton and his cavalry to see if the orders held any merit , At finding they did at around 6.30pm he got Franklins corps in motion.

    Common perception is McClellan did nothing for 18 hrs and of course that's false but the real question should have been did he do enough within that timeline.

    The other question of course is if McClellan outfoxed Lee why did he let him escape?, Same I suppose could be said of George Meade at Gettysburg but the difference between the two was Meade fought for 3 days dealing with an army nearly equal to his own , McClellan on the other hand had a 3-1 advantage and Franklins Corp that was in reserve.

    McClellan was a great Army organizer and gave his men pride unfortunately he was a poor battle commander , I've read some of Frye's account and I'm stunned how he can presume McClellan was anything else but and over cautious poor field commander , Oak Grove was a classic example of McClellan at work and the only other example of a significant offensive move by him apart from Antietam.

    Hooker and Burnside ended up Corp commanders , Pope was sent to other commands but poor George got nothing after he was sacked for the second time and I wonder why.
     
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  12. 67th Tigers

    67th Tigers 2nd Lieutenant

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    This is incorrect.

    The regiment that found it went in bivouac at midday. Within half an hour or so of going into bivouac Corporal Mitchell spotted the envelope and handed it to Sergeant Bloss. It slowly started making it's way up the chain-of-command. It was handed to the company commander (Capt Kop), who took it to Colonel Colgrove. After examining it Colgrove and Kop took it to brigade HQ, where General Gordon examined it. General Kimball was also present and advised them to hand it up. They took it to General Williams HQ.

    Williams was absent from his HQ, but Colonel Pittman of his staff recognised the signature, and sent a runner to ask Williams to return. When he did Williams, Pittman, Kimball, Colgrove, Kop and some other staffers discussed the matter and decided it should be sent on to General McClellan. General Kimball carried it, and went looking for McClellan's HQ.

    Now, McClellan's HQ was not established at the Steiner Farm until ca. 1500 hrs. McClellan himself was forward with Cox. They had just gained possession of the Braddock Pass through the Catoctins and McClellan was ordering Cox to march to Middletown beyond in support of the cavalry advancing to seize the South Mountain passes. When McClellan went to his HQ at ca. 1430 the Lost Order had not yet arrived, but it arrived shortly thereafter. McClellan sent a copy forward to Pleasonton timestamped 1500. The written confirmatory orders to Cox for his advanced went out timestamped 1535.

    There can of course be no noon telegram (the original is timestamped midnight) because at noon there is no operational telegraph wire, the rebels have downed it. At 1500 hours it is noted that the line has just been put back up across the Monocacy River, connecting Frederick and Monocacy Stations. The line then had to be relaid from Monocacy Station to Urbanna. The first telegram sent was the 2300 to Halleck.

    What else could he have done? Once the Braddock Pass was seized McClellan immediately sent 9th Corps across the Catoctins to support Pleasonton's seizure of Turner's and Fox's Gaps. The 9th Corps filled the National Road out of Frederick until ca. 0200 or 0300 hours the next morning. Hooker was under orders to follow immediately, and did exactly that.

    There is literally no physical way of moving faster, because there is only one road going through a mountain pass.

    McClellan certainly didn't have a 3:1 advantage when correct counting is done. It's certainly less than 2:1 at the extreme, and somewhere between 1:1 and 3:2. Franklin's Corps was in the front lines, if not heavily engaged.

    As to Lee's escape, after having moved all his heavy equipment etc. over the river (which he'd already done by the morning of the 17th) the infantry crossed during the night. At dawn McClellan aggressively pursued to the banks of the Potomac where they were greeted by ca. 50 artillery pieces across the river engaging his vanguard.

    Offensive is an interesting term. You misuse it to suggest that only a bayonet charge is an offensive. In fact apart from the covering actions of the Seven Days all of McClellan's actions are on the offensive. Even Seven Pines, where the rebels adopt the tactical offensive, is an offensive movement by McClellan - seizing ground that the enemy has to attack and forcing him to come out of his entrenchments to attack yours.

    He was too senior. He was the most senior general in the US Army until Grant was made Lt-Gen. It was basically impossible to make him a subordinate. Now there was talk of him taking command of the Western Theatre in Halleck's old role, but that came to naught. The radicals had seized the balance of power after the November 1862 elections and they wanted McClellan and several others gone. Lincoln's party before then didn't need his Radical faction to govern and ignored them, but Lincoln's reduced position post the November '62 elections meant he now needed their votes to pass legislation. They extracted their price in a massive purge of "disloyal" officers as they saw it - Buell, McClellan, Porter and Butler were the first to go, and they soon continued their program. There was no military reason for it; it was the price Lincoln paid to maintain a functional government.
     
  13. Saphroneth

    Saphroneth 2nd Lieutenant

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    Plus the fact that the same telegram where McClellan reported the finding of the Lost Order was the one where he reported the capture of the Cacotin mountain passes - at noon on the 13th these passes were still in Rebel hands, with Braddock Heights taken about 1 PM and Jefferson Pass not taken until 5:30 PM.


    Since the attack on the Confederate rearguard at Fox's Gap began 9AM on the 14th, the "Sears chronology" where the Union army did not move at all until dawn on the 14th would imply that the Union army was bivouacked only three hours' march from Fox's gap. As Frederick was only taken on the 13th at the end of the mach on that day, this would imply in turn that two entire corps (1st and 9th) could march from Frederick to Fox's Gap in under three hours - but it's about 13 miles by foot. This is not actually possible - it could be done by a small all-infantry unit, but not by an entire corps which would by itself be several miles long*, and it wouldn't leave time to deploy for the attack.





    *Clausewitz said that an infantry division of 6,000-8,000 with artillery took about an hour to go past. If we assume each Union corps only accounts for just one division of this sort it still comes out as pretty much impossible...
     
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  14. Hoseman

    Hoseman Corporal

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    The way I see it is that McClellan had a golden opportunity to severely damage or even destroy the ANV at Sharpsburg. McClellan had every advantage and squandered a situation which had been handed to him on a platter. On the morning of the battle, he had a more than 2:1 manpower superiority, Lee's troops were divided with a large portion of his army still on the march from Harper's Ferry, McClellan knew Lee's troop locations because of the captured orders. I give great credit to Lee at Sharpsburg for simply allowing his army to survive to fight another day considering he was at such a huge disadvantage. Had Lee been given the same opportunity the result would have been much different.
     
  15. damYankee

    damYankee 1st Lieutenant

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    He was certainly out smarted and out maneuvered at Gettysburg.
     
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  16. BillO

    BillO Captain

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    I find the article to be not so much informative and insightful as to be wordy. Perhaps the author got paid by the word.
    The first time I saw this I just grinned and passed on, today I decided to actually read this and made it through the section titled "Thursday September 11, 1862" in which the author's position seems to be that the protection of Baltimore was of primary importance and a brilliant piece of generalship. That was enough for me.
    post script: I often find myself trying to defend Mac from some here who go a little overboard in their diatribes against him but this is just not very good. I went back and read the "lost orders" section and here Mac makes a brilliant and timely move to defend the road to PA.. After stating that Mac knew Lee had divided his smaller army and instead of marching to contact Mac marched to DEFEND a road! Brilliance indeed.
     
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2018
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  17. WJC

    WJC Moderator Moderator Trivia Game Winner

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    That is my assessment as well. I do believe that he does not receive deserved credit for blunting Lee's first northern invasion.
     
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  18. Saphroneth

    Saphroneth 2nd Lieutenant

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    Well, since Baltimore was the only rail link Washington had to the outside world (that didn't go through Harpers Ferry), Baltimore could be said to be the Union version of Petersburg in terms of importance. Certainly there was a vulnerable rail bridge there which could have been destroyed quite easily in a major raid, which would have done bad things for the viability of Washington's logistics.

    It's about the only way to attack Washington without going directly at the forts; thus, it's an important point to defend. That's how manoeuvre warfare is done - you try to cut off the options an enemy has to harm you while expanding your own.

    As for cutting the road to Pennsylvania, Lee's invasion of Maryland was done with an intent to do damage somewhere aside from Harpers Ferry, and the options are he was going to go to Baltimore or go north... certainly Lee did all right in PA in 1863 when he went north there and Lincoln was very upset about it!
     
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  19. Saphroneth

    Saphroneth 2nd Lieutenant

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    Would you be so kind as to break down the manpower superiority? I know it's onerous, but I'd rather know where you're coming from before drilling down a bit.

    It so happens that the commonly given force sizes at Antietam have a number of systemic problems with them, and this is in no small part because the ORs omit most of the period 2-20 September for reports so we do not have September 10 trimonthly returns for either participant. As such the force sizes have to be determined from secondary information, and errors can quickly creep in.

    For example, the reports used by Ezra Carman included the strength of Jackson's division as 1,784 infantry and 310 artillery. This appears to have been the strength on the afternoon of the 16th, when Jackson's division arrived on the field, but the commander of Starkes' brigade (one of the four in Jackson's division) gave his strength when he actually went into action at about 1,400-1,500. This suggests that much of Jackson's division had closed up since his strength was measured for the 1,784 number.

    Conversely, the main source for McClellan's numerical strength by unit is a list which gives 1st Corps' official strength as 14,856. However, Meade stated that only about 9,000 men actually went into battle on the 17th.

    Thus I would like to see where your numbers come from, as it's quite likely errors like this are involved.
     
  20. 67th Tigers

    67th Tigers 2nd Lieutenant

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    This is the 11th September, several days earlier.

    What was known on 11th September was that Lee was moving out of Frederick. Lee has three options:

    1. Advance directly on Washington to the E
    2. Advance on Baltimore to the NE, which would isolate Washington
    3. Turn west and cross the Catoctins and South Mountain, and then either:
    3a. Turn north via Hagerstown to Gettysburg
    3b. Turn SW to bag the Harper's Ferry garrison

    McClellan move Burnside onto the road to Baltimore with 1st and 9th Corps and moved Sumner on the direct road to Washington. Having block both roads he advanced on these two converging roads to Frederick. Franklin was sweeping along the banks of the Potomac to the south.

    His cavalry on the 12th finds information that Lee has taken option 3b. On the morning of the 13th Burnside and Sumner converge on Frederick. There is only one road westwards, the National Pike, and so Sumner has to wait for Burnside to get his wing over the Catoctin's before he can start. After he'd started Burnside's movement SO191 was handed to him, and it changed little.

    What is not commonly understood is that the rebels actually successfully halted 1st and 9th Corps at South Mountain, although at great sacrifice. Only 6th Corps at Crampton's Gap actually broke through into the Pleasant Valley and Franklin balked at finding 6 brigades of infantry (i.e. a superior force to what he had on hand) blocking his movement towards Harper's Ferry. Lee abandoned South Mountain during the night.

    The morning of the 15th, the rebels have gone at McClellan soon pushes his commanders to pursue. Hooker pursues vigorously, but Cox orders the 9th Corps to rest instead, and at midday Porter finds 9th Corps stationary whilst everyone else is moving as rapidly as possible.
     
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  21. USS ALASKA

    USS ALASKA 2nd Lieutenant

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    '...major raid...' being the operative phrase. The viability of Washington could be threatened only if that link could be broken and HELD long enough to make DC untenable. And how long would that take? Destroying a rail bridge doesn't stop shipborne traffic. Any '...raid...' that simply destroys and moves on allows the Union to restore service. US DoD relearned that lesson in Vietnam with the 'taking' of areas, destroying all the 'stuff' they could, then withdrawing. Their adversaries quickly moved right back in and reclaimed their control.

    Cheers,
    USS ALASKA
     

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