Restricted Debate What was the cause for President Lincoln's loss of confidence in General McClellan?

Lubliner

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#1
Much has been made of the Peninsula Campaign, Second Manassas, and Antietam, with an emphasis on battlefield tactics, overall strategy, and leadership command. A failure occurred in the attempt to take Richmond, and the counter-stroke by the rebels put the Federal forces back into Maryland. Instead of blaming any fault with General McClellan for these failures, I would prefer to hear a reasoned opinion on Lincoln's ploy of political strength in overruling Army Doctrine and Discipline. Why was the military strategy subverted and what caused it? Thank you.
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Saphroneth

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#2
I think that an argument can be made that the President did not understand warfare (which is fine, it's not his job to) and that he didn't trust military men enough to trust their judgement on the matter; that is, he considered his 'amateur's view' to be more correct than theirs.

I have a long piece written up about the strategic merits of the Peninsular Campaign, but it's not to hand; I'll be happy to post it when I get home. In the meantime, however, I'll give an example or two of what I mean.


1) Lincoln was annoyed at the lack of activity over the winter of 1861-2.

Leaving aside the question of whether the armies were really ready for action yet - and that's a valid issue as the supply of small arms at the time couldn't keep pace with recruitment, so some men hadn't had any chance to train with their weapons - winter is a period of time which has always meant lessened activity for armies and continued to mean it for several decades into the future.

2) Lincoln disliked the idea of needing to use "strategy".

“General McClellan thinks he is going to whip the rebels by strategy; and the army has got the same notion. They have no idea that the war is to be carried on and put through by hard, tough fighting, that will hurt somebody; and no headway is going to be made while this delusion lasts. . . . General McClellan is responsible for the delusion that is intoning the whole army— that the South is to be conquered by strategy.”

Of course when the enemy is reasonably strong and competently led then strategy is necessary; even when they're not a lack of strategic thinking can lead to embarrassing failures.


This is also worth reading; it looks at how the Lincoln-McClellan relationship has been remembered.


The difficult thing is to trace when it was that Lincoln lost confidence in McClellan. Lincoln's actions in March illustrate that he had apparently already lost confidence by that point.
This may be because of the strategic disconnect. Lincoln's views as espoused in various places in 1862 are to the effect that simply smacking the enemy in the face hard enough is all that it'll take to win the war; there was no single strategic concept that Lincoln espoused, or at any rate none that was made official. Conversely McClellan was certainly cautious, but we forget just how much work needed to be done to make the Army of the Potomac capable of campaigning; quite apart from the fact that the army's first outing had seen it routed from the field, the army didn't even get organized into divisions until September (well, one de facto division was around in August, another was formed 30th August and by October there were eight.)

It's possible to argue that the breakdown happened in the November-December period, after McClellan's planned Munson's Hill offensive went bad (the enemy retreated the same night the troops moved into position to attack) and this was considered to be the fault of an intelligence leak in the Lincoln household (Lincoln to his son, to the household staff, some of whom were spies - though McClellan appears to have believed that Tad Lincoln was leaking to the newspapers instead); McClellan then began acting under operational security.

It may also be as late as February, when Lincoln mandated an offensive by all Union armies on 22nd February and this didn't really work out.


I think the most parlous explanation is that Lincoln was somewhat suspicious of the military in general, didn't understand military operations (but thought he did), and thought that military commanders were trying to find excuses to avoid actually fighting.
 
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#3
You ask a very interesting question which I myself have pondered a few times. Since Congress controlled the purse strings and was financing the war, they felt an obligation to reign full control over the entire war making process. Senators, such as Benjamin Wade and other Radical Republicans who constituted the membership of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, exercised full control and hegemony over the entire war making process. Lincoln, being the consummate politician, had no choice but to relinquish to the demands of this powerful Committee. Therefore, a commanding general. such as McClellan, had to tread lightly and allow the political process to play apart in his overall military strategy. In other words, for a general to have full autonomy over the entire military process was not going to be tolerated by the politicians in Washington, D.C. under any circumstances. This is the main reason why John Reynolds turned down the position of Commander of the Army of the Potomac during the Gettysburg Campaign. He wanted full and undisturbed authority over the entire military process without political interference from Washington, D.C. This is just my initial response to your question off the top of my head. David.
 

Saphroneth

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#4
I would prefer to hear a reasoned opinion on Lincoln's ploy of political strength in overruling Army Doctrine and Discipline. Why was the military strategy subverted and what caused it? Thank you.
To go from my point above to a more specific assessment, there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the Peninsular operations as of June 1862, and McDowell's troops arriving would have largely averted the Seven Days.
Lincoln thought that he could see an opportunity to trap Jackson's Valley force using McDowell's troops and those of Fremont, and overrode his earlier orders to McDowell (to join McClellan) to instead order him to march into the Valley.
This was based on a lack of understanding of military operations, as what Lincoln did (not for the last time) was to measure the straight-line distance between the Union army and where he wanted it to be, and between the Confederate army and where they would have to pass to thwart his designs, and decided that since the Union army had fewer miles to cover either his designs would work or it would be the fault of the Union army in question.

The problem here is the matter of terrain, in this case the mountains of the Blue Ridge. The Confederate army in this case had a macademized road to march down; the Union army had to cross a mountain range and was naturally slower.
This meant that Jackson's Valley force did exactly what it was meant to. It distracted a large amount of Union troops and kept them from the critical battles of the Seven Days; McDowell was never actually sent to join McClellan, excepting one division only (which was not enough) and in making this decision Lincoln overruled the advice of McClellan, McDowell and even most of his own cabinet; he did not overrule the general in chief because there was no general in chief in the first place.




As for July, after the Seven Days has ended, Lincoln's attitude changes in a way which is hard to understand. Initially he is full of praise for McClellan having survived and promises him vast reinforcements if only McClellan can wait, but after the visit to Harrisons Landing his tune changes a little. Troops sent to reinforce McClellan are gathered at Fort Monroe instead and forbidden to join him; Lincoln tries to calculate whether McClellan is lying to him about the number of troops McClellan has to hand, even though questioning the corps commanders separately during the Harrisons Landing visit led to an agreement with McClellan's numbers.
 
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#5
I think that an argument can be made that the President did not understand warfare (which is fine, it's not his job to) and that he didn't trust military men enough to trust their judgement on the matter; that is, he considered his 'amateur's view' to be more correct than theirs.

I have a long piece written up about the strategic merits of the Peninsular Campaign, but it's not to hand; I'll be happy to post it when I get home. In the meantime, however, I'll give an example or two of what I mean.


1) Lincoln was annoyed at the lack of activity over the winter of 1861-2.

Leaving aside the question of whether the armies were really ready for action yet - and that's a valid issue as the supply of small arms at the time couldn't keep pace with recruitment, so some men hadn't had any chance to train with their weapons - winter is a period of time which has always meant lessened activity for armies and continued to mean it for several decades into the future.

2) Lincoln disliked the idea of needing to use "strategy".

“General McClellan thinks he is going to whip the rebels by strategy; and the army has got the same notion. They have no idea that the war is to be carried on and put through by hard, tough fighting, that will hurt somebody; and no headway is going to be made while this delusion lasts. . . . General McClellan is responsible for the delusion that is intoning the whole army— that the South is to be conquered by strategy.”

Of course when the enemy is reasonably strong and competently led then strategy is necessary; even when they're not a lack of strategic thinking can lead to embarrassing failures.


This is also worth reading; it looks at how the Lincoln-McClellan relationship has been remembered.


The difficult thing is to trace when it was that Lincoln lost confidence in McClellan. Lincoln's actions in March illustrate that he had apparently already lost confidence by that point.
This may be because of the strategic disconnect. Lincoln's views as espoused in various places in 1862 are to the effect that simply smacking the enemy in the face hard enough is all that it'll take to win the war; there was no single strategic concept that Lincoln espoused, or at any rate none that was made official. Conversely McClellan was certainly cautious, but we forget just how much work needed to be done to make the Army of the Potomac capable of campaigning; quite apart from the fact that the army's first outing had seen it routed from the field, the army didn't even get organized into divisions until September (well, one de facto division was around in August, another was formed 30th August and by October there were eight.)

It's possible to argue that the breakdown happened in the November-December period, after McClellan's planned Munson's Hill offensive went bad (the enemy retreated the same night the troops moved into position to attack) and this was considered to be the fault of an intelligence leak in the Lincoln household (Lincoln to his son, to the household staff, some of whom were spies - though McClellan appears to have believed that Tad Lincoln was leaking to the newspapers instead); McClellan then began acting under operational security.

It may also be as late as February, when Lincoln mandated an offensive by all Union armies on 22nd February and this didn't really work out.


I think the most parlous explanation is that Lincoln was somewhat suspicious of the military in general, didn't understand military operations (but thought he did), and thought that military commanders were trying to find excuses to avoid actually fighting.
I vehemently disagree with the very first sentence of your response to the stated question that it is not the job of the President to understand warfare or military strategy. He is the Commander in Chief and more importantly he stands at the top of the military chain of command and under the Constitution has the last say on all military matters. The President issues orders, salutes other military officers and is the last arbiter of any ultimate military decisions. He formulates his own military plans or approves previous plans and must approve all the top generals and admirals of the military. Military historians Herman Hattaway and Archer Jones wrote a fantastic article entitled: "Lincoln as Military Strategist" in the Civil War History journal, Volume 26, No. 4 of December 1980. Hattaway also wrote a separate article in the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Volume 7, Issue 1, 1985, entitled: "Lincoln's Presidential Example in Dealing with the Military" in which he argues that "when Lincoln became President, he was but a rank amateur in military affairs; however, the crisis of the Civil War made it crucial that he learn about such things. And to his great credit, this he did, efficiently and well." I strongly suggest you read these two excellent articles. Lincoln by the end of the war became one of the best presidential military strategists. David.
 

OpnCoronet

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#6
Much has been made of the Peninsula Campaign, Second Manassas, and Antietam, with an emphasis on battlefield tactics, overall strategy, and leadership command. A failure occurred in the attempt to take Richmond, and the counter-stroke by the rebels put the Federal forces back into Maryland. Instead of blaming any fault with General McClellan for these failures, I would prefer to hear a reasoned opinion on Lincoln's ploy of political strength in overruling Army Doctrine and Discipline. Why was the military strategy subverted and what caused it? Thank you.
Lubliner.

In the American system of gov't(and, military) the military doctrine must connform to the political goals of thhe gov't.

I accept the adage of War being the contination politics in a different form. This being so, then McClellan's strategy must conform to that dictated by the Lincoln Administration, not the i.e., military doctrine must conform to the dictates of political realities of its political masters..

Lincoln's main problemwith McClellan, was that 'he had the slows'. Not only must the Union be winning the War for Reunion, It Must be Seen To Be Winning That War.

Lincoln would have been willing to hold little mac's horse for him, if he would giive the Lincoln Administration Victories.
 

Saphroneth

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#7
I vehemently disagree with the very first sentence of your response to the stated question that it is not the job of the President to understand warfare or military strategy.
But he didn't - not really. I can cite examples of this, almost to distraction.
This isn't a problem if the President listens to his advisors, but he didn't - indeed, on more than one occasion just in 1862 he solicited advice and then actively went against it.

If the President is required to understand military strategy, then Lincoln failed at it. He was unable to understand a fundamental concept of tactics, which is that if the enemy does not want a battle they can retreat; if they do not retreat, this can be because they want a battle, and if they want a battle this is generally because they think they can either win outright or do more damage to your army than the fight will do to theirs.
Lincoln did not understand this, and the evidence is his approval of Fredericksburg and his disdain for "strategy".


In the American system of gov't(and, military) the military doctrine must connform to the political goals of thhe gov't.

I accept the adage of War being the contination politics in a different form. This being so, then McClellan's strategy must conform to that dictated by the Lincoln Administration, not the i.e., military doctrine must conform to the dictates of political realities of its political masters..
Yes, this is entirely sensible. Now, find the place where Lincoln or the Lincoln Administration actually outlined a strategy to McClellan.


The closest thing to that that happened was the March strategy meeting, where Lincoln asked for the consensus of the corps commanders on a plan; that plan was the Peninsular plan, as conducted by thirteen divisions' worth of troops launched from Fort Monroe with Washington defended by a minumum of 25,000 troops as a covering force and a minimum of 15,000 troops actually in the defences, and Lincoln approved it.

Lincoln would have been willing to hold little mac's horse for him, if he would giive the Lincoln Administration Victories.
Would he? Over the course of the period from March to July McClellan opened the York and James rivers, compelled the evacuation of Norfolk, won the battle of Williamsburg, won the battle of Seven Pines, pushed his lines to within a few miles of Richmond, and inflicted considerable casualties on the Confederate army; this despite being perpetually short of the number of men that the experts (from McDowell to McClellan to Lincoln's own cabinet ministers and even Lincoln himself) considered he needed or should have.
These are victories, and had he had 1st Corps McClellan would have been able to put shell into Richmond itself before the end of June 1862.

My precis of how McClellan's strategy developed to follow promptly.
 
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Saphroneth

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#8
So I thought it would be useful to look at how McClellan thought and what shaped his decisions strategically, starting with the grandest of grand strategy.


Once the Confederate states started rebelling there were (roughly speaking) four ways the Union could handle it.
One of them was to basically pretend it wasn't happening at all and continue to govern the states as if nothing had happened. This was not a realistic option.
The second one was to let them go. This is at least a realistic option, though not a good one, and it was generally rejected.
The third one was the conception of the Anaconda plan, which roughly consisted of a blockade by land and by sea and otherwise not fighting the Confederacy; that is, limiting military action as much as possible and pursuing an economic course.
This was rejected, which meant the last option was the only one on the table – reduce the Confederacy and return it to the fold.


With this in mind, McClellan starts with a question: why has the South rebelled?
The answer to him was composed of two parts:
1) They feared for their peculiar institution (i.e. slavery) and to a lesser extent other ways in which they felt the North was imposing itself on them – but slavery was the big one.
2) They felt that they had a real chance of victory.

This means that the goal of returning the Confederacy to the Union would be best addressed by a military policy that addresses both of these at once – respecting the rights of the civilian population* (who are after all US citizens) while also doing something to the Confederacy which demonstrated that they did not, in fact, have a chance.
*including their property rights in slavery, so long as they did not actively support the rebellion; this is in keeping with governmental policy at the time.

Also, of course, there's the fact that the Union is substantially greater in numbers than the Confederacy and thus can mobilize a larger army, as well as being able to trade overseas and equip such a larger army, and manufacture better heavy artillery.

This was the basis for McClellan's grand strategy, the “Strategy of Overwhelming”. It was based on the idea of raising a very large army and using the greater part of it in the east, focusing attention on Virginia and specifically Richmond (the capital of the Confederacy and the key to control of the whole of Virginia, as well as one of the only Confederate industrial centres) while also delivering lesser attacks all along the continent simultaneously so as to either win major victories in the West or simply ensure the Confederates could not concentrate force to save Richmond.

In making this attack, McClellan considered it important to use the significant Union advantage of overseas mobility if possible.


At this point we should consider the strategic geography of Virginia. The most important features here are the rivers (the Rappahanock, the York and the James).
The Rappahanock is mostly very good for the Confederacy, as it is a significant natural barrier to invasion from the north; the York and the James have the potential to be very bad, as they provide avenues leading up towards Richmond for supplies to flow (and are impossible to damage, because they're, you know, rivers). They are, naturally, defended, but this defence is the only thing preventing the Union from simply sailing upriver into Richmond; once secured, a river well patrolled by gunboats can't really be blocked again unless the gunboats can be forced out, and in this period that means naval capabilities of one's own.



So McClellan's grand strategy has an objective (take Richmond) and it makes use of Union advantages in numbers and amphibious capability.
The next problem to solve is in how to reach Richmond. The big obstacle is the Rappahanock, because it lies athwart the overland route – this is why McClellan considered an amphibious operation to turn the Rappahanock so important. Fundamentally there are three options here, which can be summed up by how they solve the Rappahanock problem:

Urbanna opens up the Rappahanock directly, by placing a large force below it where it can march to cut any Confederate forces north of the river or defending Fredericksburg off – or threaten Richmond directly and compel a withdrawal. The worst case for this one is likely that it becomes the second one:

Gloucester is to attack Gloucester Point, thus rendering Yorktown untenable and opening up the York.

And the Peninsular plan is to advance up the Peninsula itself, using the York and James rivers for supply. Fundamentally this is what all the above approaches lead to anyway as the York and the James are excellent routes for supply, as noted.

The only successful attack on Richmond ultimately used the James for a supply base, though it also used the York to allow it to get to the James.



The next point is the specifics. The virtue of the Peninsular approach is that, in general, the space for manoeuvre is narrow; this makes it harder for the Confederate commander to avoid a clash of main force, as the Union army can in general be bunched up. This means that when the two armies meet and the Confederate army is dug in, the Union army can dig in opposite it and conduct regular approaches; any outflanking moves that can be done are generally by ascending the York (or the James once that's open) and are the purview of the Union.

There are a number of lines that the Confederate army could defend against the moving Union army. Moving north from Fort Monroe (using the Peninsular plan) they are:

The first line around Big Bethel. Narrow and swampy, but easily flanked at e.g. Wormley Creek.

The Warwick line, anchored by Yorktown. This one's actually unflankable without active Navy help or the Gloucester option (despite what the maps available during planning said).

The Williamsburg line. Can be flanked by a landing up at the place where the Pamunkey and the Mattaponi join to become the York.

The Chickahominy, which can be bridged up past Bottom's Bridge and which would require a crossing battle if defended. In extremis this could be done with artillery to cover the crossing, as the bottomlands aren't too wide for artillery fire.

And then there's the outskirts of Richmond.




Some of these are harder to deal with than others. Broadly speaking, however, none of them is insuperable – bad weather, whatever flaws one ascribes McClellan's generalship and a force commitment significantly smaller than what McClellan considered appropriate still meant that the time elapsed between the strategy meeting where the Peninsular operation was given approval (18 March) and the battle of Oak Grove (25 June) was almost exactly a hundred days; Oak Grove is the battle which begins the process of taking the heights around Richmond, a process largely complete by 27 June and which would have given McClellan's heaviest siege guns the position to bombard Richmond itself (and naturally all the defences in the way).

Thus, as executed, the Peninsular Campaign overcame four of the five lines of defence between Fort Monroe and Richmond; the remaining defensive line was one that any plan of attack would have to deal with, and operations actually conducted set up this line to be overcome as well.



This hopefully makes it clear how McClellan's Peninsular operation and what happened there was based on solid strategic thinking from the top-down. It's also a strategic approach which was broadly realistic, and even shorn of all the grand-strategy limbs came close to success.


There are several possible ways to criticize the plan which McClellan executed.

1) That the plan did not direct effort primarily at the destruction of the Confederate army, and focused instead on capturing Richmond.

This is correct, and is a feature and not a bug. It was intended to do so; Richmond was seen as vital to the Confederate war effort, and McClellan was planning to use the capture of Richmond to achieve both political and military aims. Richmond was one of the most important places in the whole of the continental United States during the ACW, for reasons relating to economics, political importance and rail network layout.


2) That the plan took too many resources, or would take too many resources to execute properly.

The amount of resources actually committed to the Peninsular plan was nearly enough to allow it to succeed, albeit not as fast as some would have liked. With an extra two divisions of troops north of the Chickahominy to protect the supply line Lee's attack in the Seven Days sequence would have failed, and these troops were available. (King's and Shields' divisions, for example.)


3) That the plan rendered Washington vulnerable to attack or if executed as planned would have rendered Washington vulnerable to attack.

It is certainly possible to view this as the case, but this is to raise the question – how much force is required to protect Washington?
McClellan did consider this, and that is why Washington was fortified in the way it was – the forts were such that, so long as sufficient garrison was provided (considered by various estimates to be ca. 15,000) then no feasible Confederate force could take Washington “on the bounce” as it were, and a covering force could then relieve Washington (if it hadn't managed to block the attack in the first place; the covering force was considered by various estimates to need to be about 25,000 strong).
McClellan wrote up a document detailing how he'd protected Washington, and that document does have flaws – it miscounts in some cases and is overly optimistic in others. But even looking at the actual information about troops available indicates that the troops provided exceed the estimates mentioned above in both particulars.
If one considers McClellan's plan to have left Washington vulnerable, then one should be able to declare clearly how many troops it would take to not leave Washington vulnerable.


4) That the plan was executed too slowly and this gave the time for the Confederates to concentrate forces.

This is also a view it's quite possible to hold; certainly large numbers of troops flowed towards the Peninsula and towards Richmond continuously over the three months of the campaign after first-contact (around the 27th of March). But the strategy as conceived included simultaneous offensives across the continent intended to either ensure the Confederates could not concentrate force in this way or capitalize on it; the strategy also envisaged mustering an army as large as possible to allow for any such delays, and the closure of recruitment that took place in March-April 1862 significantly hampered this.


5) That the plan requiring the Union army to be spread over the Chickahominy rendered it vulnerable to defeat in detail.

This is true. Being spread over the Chickahominy meant that whichever of McClellan's flanks was made strong could be avoided and whichever was made weak could be attacked with the majority of the strength of the Army of Northern Virginia. It is for this reason that McClellan wanted a force large enough that he could avoid this, and historically he had nearly enough troops north of the Chickahominy to defend successfully against Lee's attacking column once in works; the problem was the open flank to the north, which could quite easily have been sealed off with extra troops.
We do not know what McClellan would have done if he had not been required (by order of Lincoln and Stanton) to spread himself across the Chickahominy, though we can conjecture.


6) That the plan failed because of McClellan's fears about overlarge Confederate forces.

While it is true that McClellan's estimates of enemy forces around Richmond were greater than the reality (albeit mostly for reasons which make sense given the information he had), this is why he set up his army the way he did with entrenched fallback positions, and they proved to be necessary; a prolonged Confederate attack on the 27th of June finally broke his position roughly at sundown.


7) That the plan failed.

This is a correct statement, but that a plan failed does not mean the strategy was unsound; the strategy of using the tidewater rivers to supply a large force near Richmond so as to attack it was fundamentally sound, and the entire process of approach to Richmond succeeded; the problem was in that northern flank during mid-late June, as the force McClellan had was not quite sufficient to simultaneously hold the northern flank secure and manage an assault concentration on Richmond.



Any alternative approach to Richmond may have other problems to deal with, some of which may be difficult (overcoming the Rappahanock) and may avoid the problems historically faced by McClellan. But any alternative approach to Richmond will eventually end up with the final problem, which is the one McClellan faced in June – getting through the Richmond fortifications, or alternatively those of Petersburg.

Whichever way one gets into Richmond or Petersburg, it will require an army large enough to protect itself from a sally. It will require a valid supply line that the Confederacy cannot successfully attack. It will require either heavy artillery to conduct regular approaches or a siege which cuts the city off from supply.
Because of the configuration of the Chickahominy River and the James River, it will also require placing the army somewhere it is in supply and where it cannot by itself block a move by a small force up towards Washington in a Valley Campaign, unless the Union army is so large as to be able to completely surround Richmond.

What this means is that the problems that the Peninsular Campaign did not completely overcome are problems that would be common to any plan which aimed to reduce Richmond. There are only two ways to prevent a Valley Campaign taking place:

1) Threaten Richmond with such a large force that the detachment of forces to the Valley Campaign is not possible, as doing so would weaken the Confederate defenders sufficiently to make it possible to take the city.
2) Kill or wound so many Confederate troops in battle that the same applies.

Option one would require more Union troops; option two would require lots more Union troops, as the Confederates can refuse battle (they can march at least as fast as the Union troops can and it's their territory). The only way to get those battles where the Confederates would be willing to fight would be to create situations where they wanted to fight, which means that the Confederates would be standing on defensible ground and the Union would be attacking.


Thus:

The Peninsular plan was a plan with many elements that got removed before and during execution, with most of these removals weakening McClellan's strategic design. In spite of this, the campaign made steady progress and presented a realistic threat to Richmond; there's nothing wrong with it that wouldn't be fixed by another ca. 20,000 troops, and to take Richmond in July of 1862 with the use of about 150,000 troops all told is realistic, even if the reinforcements arrive as piecemeal as they did historically and even with all the historical delays.


It was a sound plan based on strategic considerations and imperatives that were realistic, was within the means of the Union, and nearly worked.
 

War Horse

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#9
In the American system of gov't(and, military) the military doctrine must connform to the political goals of thhe gov't.

I accept the adage of War being the contination politics in a different form. This being so, then McClellan's strategy must conform to that dictated by the Lincoln Administration, not the i.e., military doctrine must conform to the dictates of political realities of its political masters..

Lincoln's main problemwith McClellan, was that 'he had the slows'. Not only must the Union be winning the War for Reunion, It Must be Seen To Be Winning That War.

Lincoln would have been willing to hold little mac's horse for him, if he would giive the Lincoln Administration Victories.
Not only was McClellan slow, he had a trait that does not complement a commanding general. He was paranoid with a bad habit of constantly over estimating the numeric strength of his opponent. Lincoln understood an army that refused to be in motion was ineffective at its initiative, Winning the war.
 

Saphroneth

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#11
Not only was McClellan slow, he had a trait that does not complement a commanding general. He was paranoid with a bad habit of constantly over estimating the numeric strength of his opponent. Lincoln understood an army that refused to be in motion was ineffective at its initiative, Winning the war.
While I appreciate that this is the common trope about McClellan, this is not actually the case. McClellan's estimates were often poorly stated, but they're not actually all that high in general - at least not given the usual uncertainty in estimating army sizes - and where there were errors they're not from a generalized "McClellan paranoia" but are from specific and understandable causes.


Some examples of this.

1) During the Yorktown operations.

McClellan's estimates are essentially correct at the times they're made - we have strength records for the individual regiments and can thus get quite a good picture of what was actually in the Warwick line at the time McClellan made each estimate. They are pretty much correct.

2) Around Richmomnd.

McClellan's estimates are high. His estimate was of 200,000 troops that could be concentrated against him, broken up as:
A) Troops in Richmond (150,000)
B) Troops with Jackson (30,000)
C) Beauregard's force from the West (20,000)

(A) was high, but not all that high in Present and the overcount resulted fundamentally from poor intelligence over regiment counts (Pinkerton appears to have retained some no-longer-extant regiments on his count). We know the exact overestimate in regiment count, and it amounts to an overestimation of the force in Richmond by about 20%.
(B) was high, but McClellan was not responsible for this estimate at all - Jackson was in the Valley - and he's using someone else's information here.
And (C) was because nobody had any idea where Beauregard's force had gone at the time and because Beauregard had been (correctly) reported as being in Richmond.

All of these are understandable errors, and none of them individually is major.

More fundamentally, however, the truth is that McClellan was outnumbered around Richmond* and he did need more troops. McClellan's troops were well dug in and could resist attack, the problem was that he didn't have enough to defend the frontage he needed.
* the exact extent of this is hard to tell, but one 19th century writer noted that Lee's force had noticeably more officers than McClellan's force did and that Lee was calling for more officers, calling his force under-officered; this would imply Lee's force was larger.

3) The Maryland Campaign.

McClellan was not furnished with a list of his enemy's force by brigade, and he had to assume the worst - that they had all their forces with them. In fact they left Smith's disivion back in Richmond.
The actual moving force that Lee had before straggling during the Maryland campaign was around 70,000-75,000 PFD, as derived from three independent counts (eyewitness acounts during the campaign all concur on this combined figure; taking the PFD after the Northern Virginia campaign as done by Harsh and his student; adding back casualties to the post-Antietam state as done by Gene Thorp); McClellan's estimate of enemy strength is pre-straggling, and so is his estimate of his own strength.

In none of these cases was the overestimate sufficient to affect operations; McClellan did not miss a major opportunity because of fears over enemy strength.
 

DanSBHawk

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#12
I think it's important to note that it wasn't only Lincoln who lost confidence in McClellan. His cabinet and congress were getting fed up with McClellans inaction as well, and were pressuring Lincoln to get rid of him.

Bruce Catton wrote of McClellan, "McClellan had nearly all of the gifts: youth, energy, charm, intelligence, sound professional training. But the fates who gave him these gifts left out the one that a general must have before all others – the hard, instinctive fondness for fighting."

I don't believe Lincoln wanted to become involved and interfere with military operations in Virginia, but that he felt he had to as McClellan was showing little initiative to go on the offensive and fight.
 

OpnCoronet

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#13
McClellan's mode of war was not accomlishing the goals lincoln set out for the AoP, defeating confederate forces and reestablishing Constitutional authority in rebel areas and Lincoln did not believe that his administration could afford to wait for little mac to make up his mind to whether he wanted to fight or not. He might have been wrong in that estimate, but it was his to make, and generals better payu attention. Some times the Boss is Right and sometimes he is wrong, but, the Boss is always the Boss.
 

War Horse

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#14
While I appreciate that this is the common trope about McClellan, this is not actually the case. McClellan's estimates were often poorly stated, but they're not actually all that high in general - at least not given the usual uncertainty in estimating army sizes - and where there were errors they're not from a generalized "McClellan paranoia" but are from specific and understandable causes.


Some examples of this.

1) During the Yorktown operations.

McClellan's estimates are essentially correct at the times they're made - we have strength records for the individual regiments and can thus get quite a good picture of what was actually in the Warwick line at the time McClellan made each estimate. They are pretty much correct.

2) Around Richmomnd.

McClellan's estimates are high. His estimate was of 200,000 troops that could be concentrated against him, broken up as:
A) Troops in Richmond (150,000)
B) Troops with Jackson (30,000)
C) Beauregard's force from the West (20,000)

(A) was high, but not all that high in Present and the overcount resulted fundamentally from poor intelligence over regiment counts (Pinkerton appears to have retained some no-longer-extant regiments on his count). We know the exact overestimate in regiment count, and it amounts to an overestimation of the force in Richmond by about 20%.
(B) was high, but McClellan was not responsible for this estimate at all - Jackson was in the Valley - and he's using someone else's information here.
And (C) was because nobody had any idea where Beauregard's force had gone at the time and because Beauregard had been (correctly) reported as being in Richmond.

All of these are understandable errors, and none of them individually is major.

More fundamentally, however, the truth is that McClellan was outnumbered around Richmond* and he did need more troops. McClellan's troops were well dug in and could resist attack, the problem was that he didn't have enough to defend the frontage he needed.
* the exact extent of this is hard to tell, but one 19th century writer noted that Lee's force had noticeably more officers than McClellan's force did and that Lee was calling for more officers, calling his force under-officered; this would imply Lee's force was larger.

3) The Maryland Campaign.

McClellan was not furnished with a list of his enemy's force by brigade, and he had to assume the worst - that they had all their forces with them. In fact they left Smith's disivion back in Richmond.
The actual moving force that Lee had before straggling during the Maryland campaign was around 70,000-75,000 PFD, as derived from three independent counts (eyewitness acounts during the campaign all concur on this combined figure; taking the PFD after the Northern Virginia campaign as done by Harsh and his student; adding back casualties to the post-Antietam state as done by Gene Thorp); McClellan's estimate of enemy strength is pre-straggling, and so is his estimate of his own strength.

In none of these cases was the overestimate sufficient to affect operations; McClellan did not miss a major opportunity because of fears over enemy strength.
Ok, why hire Pinkerton to provide intel? Wouldn’t it have been more prudent to perform your own reconnaissance to determine the strength of your enemy? McClellan’s reluctance to engage the enemy was Lincoln’s reason for his lack of faith in him and eventually resulted in his dismissal. Don’t get me wrong. Little Mac sure prepared and fitted and army as well as anyone. His downfall was his lack of aggressive leadership. JMO
 
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#16
Lincoln knew a thing or two about leadership, and didn't see much of it in McClellan. Winners find a way to win, in spite of all kinds of difficulties and unfavorable odds. You don't earn and keep the highest level jobs in America by being known primarily for having good excuses for lack of results. Almost anybody can do that.

Lincoln didn't find the right man for the job until he found Grant, and Grant wasn't ready for it until he got a couple years of high level command experience under his belt.
 

jackt62

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#17
With greater understanding (and knowledge gained from this forum), my opinion of General McClellan's generalship has increased to the point where, it must be acknowledged that his overall conception of mounting amphibious attacks along the coast and interior, and fielding a large force to land below confederate forces in Virginia (first at Urbana, then at Ft. Monroe), was an excellent strategy for the Union to pursue. At the same time, Lincoln's lack of military competence in the early stage of the war, and heightened fear for the safety of Washington, led to distrust of McClellan's strategy and a failure to devote sufficient resources to the AOTP in the Penninsula. Of course, there were personality and political differences that came between Lincoln and McClellan. McClellan's conception of fighting a war to restore the Union only and keeping southern civilians and infrastructure out of harms way, and his often disparaging comments about Lincoln, which came close to blurring the line between civilian control over the military, further weakened relations between the two men. McClellan's other problem was the divergent expectations of the Lincoln administration as to what could realistically be accomplished in ending the rebellion. The first year of the war was still a time of hope that the war could somehow be brought to a swift conclusion with minimal casualties, an expectation that was finally dashed after Shiloh in April 1862. So McClellan was hobbled by the government's demands to act quickly, despite lack of sufficient training and armaments. McClellan was also thrust into a major leadership position too soon, without benefit of the learning curve that enabled other commanders who started in lesser positions such as Grant and Sherman to blunder without too many adverse consequences.
 

Saphroneth

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#18
McClellan's conception of fighting a war to restore the Union only and keeping southern civilians and infrastructure out of harms way, and his often disparaging comments about Lincoln, which came close to blurring the line between civilian control over the military, further weakened relations between the two men.
I do want to point out here that Lincoln stated at the time that the war was a war to restore the Union only; it did not become a "revolutionary" struggle until later on.

As for disparaging comments about Lincoln, they were all private as far as we know (though his public attitude probably wasn't very good, it appears to have been mostly at least professional.)

Lincoln knew a thing or two about leadership, and didn't see much of it in McClellan. Winners find a way to win, in spite of all kinds of difficulties and unfavorable odds. You don't earn and keep the highest level jobs in America by being known primarily for having good excuses for lack of results. Almost anybody can do that.
This is either tautological or not particularly helpful. Of course the people who we look at who are winners are people who found a way to win; however, the people who we look at who are winners were also people who had a way to win.
(The reductio ad absurdam is that nobody would expect Grant to take Richmond with forty thousand men and ten guns.)

McClellan clearly outlined how many troops it would take for his strategic conception to be conducted; Lincoln approved this strategic conception and then deprived it of the troops it specified as required. If Lincoln did not feel that he could approve the strategic conception complete with the number of troops it specified, he should have not approved the plan.
 

DanSBHawk

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#19
Ok, why hire Pinkerton to provide intel? Wouldn’t it have been more prudent to perform your own reconnaissance to determine the strength of your enemy? McClellan’s reluctance to engage the enemy was Lincoln’s reason for his lack of faith in him and eventually resulted in his dismissal. Don’t get me wrong. Little Mac sure prepared and fitted and army as well as anyone. His downfall was his lack of aggressive leadership. JMO
Even before Pinkerton began supplying McClellan intel, McClellan was overestimating confederate strength. In August '61, he wrote that the "enemy have three to four times my force" in front of him near Washington.
 

Saphroneth

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#20
Ok, why hire Pinkerton to provide intel? Wouldn’t it have been more prudent to perform your own reconnaissance to determine the strength of your enemy?
Because determining the strength available to the enemy can't be done only with cavalry patrols. Take estimating enemy strength in Richmond.


Magruder's force holds the defensive works facing McClellan - going by the Landers map of June 25, there's the brigades of Huger, Wright, Armistead, Kershaw, Semmes, Cobb, Toombs and Griffith in the front line. These could be reasonably seen by a cavalry patrol or by other recon.


The force facing the Chickahominy is the brigades of AP Hill's division, plus the brigade of GT Anderson. These can also be seen by a cavalry patrol or by other recon.

DH Hill and Longstreet, as well as Ransom's brigade of Huger's force, are behind the lines - in some cases actually the other side of Richmond. There is no way to actually see them by patrolling - they're inside the enemy positions.

Thus, to determine the strength of the enemy inside Richmond, you can't rely on recon - if you did you'd see 14 brigades and miss 12, so you'd only see about half the enemy army. (This ignores Branch's brigade, up at Half Sink.)
 



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