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

Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
@Saphroneth mentioned that Halleck had ordered the Cumberland Landing base for supply. (It would be convenient to find the S. O. for that establishment). The White House Landing was some miles up the Pamunkey River from West Point. West Point is the confluence of where the Pamunkey and the Mattaponi Rivers empty into the York River. I believe a rail line ran through both centers, but I may be mistaken on this fact.
Yes, the rail line goes West Point - White House Landing - Richmond.

And no, it wasn't Halleck. Halleck's only involvement with the Peninsular plan at this point was insisting that his operations against Corinth required every man he had and he couldn't spare any to send East.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Actually, the case of the move on Corinth probably bears some examination.

After a battle on April 6-7 at Shiloh, Halleck waited for reinforcement (from Pope's army, for example), then moved on Corinth starting in late April and was in position to lay siege by the 25th of May.
The distance between Shiloh and Corinth is about 19 miles, or 23 if you measure from Pittsburgh Landing to Corinth; Halleck's army by the time he began to move south was about 120,000 PFD and the Confederate force in Corinth was about 60,000 PFD all told.

What this means is that Halleck delayed perhaps three weeks to amass a 2:1 superiority and then advanced at somewhat less than one mile per day once he got moving.

This isn't to criticize him, as such - you use all the force you have available - but to point out that for Lincoln to say "that McClellan is way too slow and overcautious - what I need is Henry Halleck!" is... a little bit hypocritical.


This example is useful to demonstrate that either it wasn't McClellan being slow/overcautious/using too large an army that made Lincoln decide against him - Halleck's army in May was actually larger than McClellan's - or that Lincoln was placing the commander in the East under sustained critical examination that the commander in the West escaped.

It could also be that Halleck being successful in taking Corinth made him seem good, but then again if Richmond had only been defended by 52,000 PFD then McClellan would have taken it easily.
 

DanSBHawk

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Actually, the case of the move on Corinth probably bears some examination.

After a battle on April 6-7 at Shiloh, Halleck waited for reinforcement (from Pope's army, for example), then moved on Corinth starting in late April and was in position to lay siege by the 25th of May.
The distance between Shiloh and Corinth is about 19 miles, or 23 if you measure from Pittsburgh Landing to Corinth; Halleck's army by the time he began to move south was about 120,000 PFD and the Confederate force in Corinth was about 60,000 PFD all told.

What this means is that Halleck delayed perhaps three weeks to amass a 2:1 superiority and then advanced at somewhat less than one mile per day once he got moving.

This isn't to criticize him, as such - you use all the force you have available - but to point out that for Lincoln to say "that McClellan is way too slow and overcautious - what I need is Henry Halleck!" is... a little bit hypocritical.


This example is useful to demonstrate that either it wasn't McClellan being slow/overcautious/using too large an army that made Lincoln decide against him - Halleck's army in May was actually larger than McClellan's - or that Lincoln was placing the commander in the East under sustained critical examination that the commander in the West escaped.

It could also be that Halleck being successful in taking Corinth made him seem good, but then again if Richmond had only been defended by 52,000 PFD then McClellan would have taken it easily.
Considering how long it took McClellan to get past Yorktown, it's questionable if he would have taken Richmond "easily" if it had fewer defenders.

Regarding Halleck's slow approach to Corinth and his unwillingness to send his troops east to McClellan, it helps to look at the bigger picture. Here is a graphic showing the progress of the Union army. Looking at 1862, the western armies had made far more progress than the eastern armies.

conquest of the south.jpg
 
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67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 10, 2006
Actually, the case of the move on Corinth probably bears some examination.

I summarise the movement here.

Essentially Halleck has an overwhelming force, but there are four water features to cross. Halleck moves extremely rapidly to Chamber's Creek, 4 miles from Corinth. It is then a matter of building bridges, and protecting them. The rebels did not make a serious contest for the water lines, but simply kept large forces back from them ready to smash bridgeheads.
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
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Feb 23, 2010
Halleck was too cauutious and too timid, buut, as noted, omplish his mission, slow and clumsy as it was.

Halleck's army was a combined force of several armies, who, fortunately had been availble i the West, a happenstance that did not exist in Va. It did show that all available forces were needed in the West and not reinforcing little mac's siege operations.

The War in the West was seen to be progressin, even if too slowly. The War in Va. was hard aground annd remained so, until the coming of Grant.
 

Hoseman

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Virginia
Then the problem is pretty simple - McClellan's finalized plan was for an attack on Richmond with 150,000 PFD, and he never had that many troops. McClellan's plan as constituted was never executed, not because it was impossible but because he was continually stripped of resources - the troops he needed are right there and they were the troops he and most of Lincoln's advisors were saying that McClellan needed.

You state that "it soon turned out that Lee had other plans" but McClellan's plans during June (after Lee took command) took into account every contingency Lee could launch and actually neutralized all of them except for the arrival of Jackson - for which McClellan required troops to cover his open flank along the line of the Tolopatamoy.

Had McClellan had two divisions to secure his flank, there would be nothing Lee could do and Richmond would have been under bombardment by the end of June. Any attempts by Lee to attack McClellan's army would have run into strong fortifications and basically resulted in carnage and failure of the type seen at Beaver Dam Creek/Mechanicsville.


We should note here that McClellan's original strategic conception was to make the attack on Richmond the main effort of the Union army for 1862, with plans to use as many as 270,000 men counting his land and amphibous columns (that is, to keep recruiting men until people outright stopped volunteering and try and build up a crushing superiority); by March when the plan was approved he'd already agreed to make do with a shade over half. His original conception contained an ample buffer for things to not go as planned; the pared-down version he launched with was a plan cut back to the essentials.
McClellan had an endless supply of excuses for his failures. The simply truth is that Lee took the initiative away from McClellan. The moment that happened McClellan was in a world of hurt as the more competent commander drove him from Richmond. Little Mac always wanted more troops and believed the enemy had far more than he really had. He should have moved up the Peninsula much faster and attacked before Jackson left the Valley. But as Lincoln said "he had a case of the slows". Couple his slowness with being overly cautious, timid and not aggressive and he got beat and retreated under the cover of his gunboats on the James.
 

Hoseman

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Easy for us to say in 2019.
For goodness sake, it took him a month to leave Yorktown. He should have known, as any commander worth his salt would, that it was a good possibility that Jackson would march his army to join the ANV in the defense of the capital. When being the aggressor in enemy territory it helps to be aggressive and to keep the initiative. He did neither.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Considering how long it took McClellan to get past Yorktown, it's questionable if he would have taken Richmond "easily" if it had fewer defenders.

Well, Yorktown was a position protected by a river to the front and both flanks protected by water, and the period during which McClellan had anything approaching 2:1 superiority was no more than a day or two long, if that (during which his troops were all still arriving). McClellan also lacked both of the ways he'd planned to turn Yorktown (naval support and 1st Corps) but nevertheless he compelled a strong enemy field army in a strong position to retreat from him after about a month of prep.

The attack which forced McClellan away from Richmond historically, at Gaines Mill, was made by about 60,000 Confederate PFD. With only 52,000 Confederate PFD total defending Richmond the attack would be literally impossible even if Lee completely abandoned Richmond to do it, and historically he left 40,000 PFD in Richmond to defend it; thus McClellan wouldn't be forced away from Richmond as the attack on his flank could not conceivably involve more than about 30,000 PFD, if that.

If McClellan isn't forced away from Richmond by the end of June he has heavy artillery set up in position to bombard Richmond's defences; game over.

Little Mac always wanted more troops and believed the enemy had far more than he really had. He should have moved up the Peninsula much faster and attacked before Jackson left the Valley.

How?
McClellan attacked Richmond the moment the ground was dry enough to move artillery, and Jackson had been summoned a few days previously - both commanders had the same weather. If McClellan had reached the vicinity of Richmond in an earlier period of good weather Jackson would just have been summoned earlier.

Incidentally, if you mean McClellan always believed the enemy had far more than they really had, that's false; McClellan's estimates at Yorktown are fundamentally accurate.

But as Lincoln said "he had a case of the slows". Couple his slowness with being overly cautious, timid and not aggressive and he got beat and retreated under the cover of his gunboats on the James.

When exactly did Lincoln say McClellan had a case of the slows? I want to know what specific incident is being referenced.

As for being overly cautious, timid and not aggressive - quite apart from his being the offensive commander on the single bloodiest day of combat in American history (which one would think would be enough!) his dispositions at Richmond in June 1862 are offensive, not defensive. If he was defensive he would have had Heintzelman's divisions along Tolopatamoy Creek; instead he had them taking the heights over Richmond.

For goodness sake, it took him a month to leave Yorktown. He should have known, as any commander worth his salt would, that it was a good possibility that Jackson would march his army to join the ANV in the defense of the capital. When being the aggressor in enemy territory it helps to be aggressive and to keep the initiative. He did neither.
He took a month to get past Yorktown, which was a strongly defended enemy position in terrain which was not on his maps.

And McClellan did know.
 

67th Tigers

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For goodness sake, it took him a month to leave Yorktown. He should have known, as any commander worth his salt would, that it was a good possibility that Jackson would march his army to join the ANV in the defense of the capital. When being the aggressor in enemy territory it helps to be aggressive and to keep the initiative. He did neither.

How would that help? You do understand that the main enemy force was behind an uncrossable river, and the only points that could be attack was a permanent fortification with as many guns as all of the forts south of Washington or fortified gap swept by that fort?

McClellan fully understood the situation, and as he wrote on 8th April:

McClellan%2Bto%2BWool%2B8th%2BApril%2B1862.jpg
McClellan%2Bto%2BWool%2B8th%2BApril%2B1862%2B2.jpg

He is not wrong.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Since Yorktown has been brought up at least twice in recent posts, I would like to invite those who think that McClellan's actions at Yorktown were a failure to indicate what they think McClellan should have done instead.

I feel that it would be helpful for the discussion for people to indicate when exactly they feel McClellan should have got past Yorktown, and how he should have done it.

I attach a map of the Warwick Line as of the 6th of April to aid with understanding. The strengths are the listed effective strengths of the individual regiments present there on that date, as reported in late April to early May. Green markings are the only crossing points of the Warwick; note that the green mark around Garrow was not discovered until some days later.

Warwick Line_6th.jpg





It is unhelpful to simply say that McClellan should have done "something". We have the benefit of over a hundred years of hindsight and we know the strengths of every single Confederate regiment along with their arrival dates; we have information that McClellan himself did not and conceivably that the Confederate commander at the time did not.
If it should have been easy for a bold commander to overcome the Warwick line, then it should not be impossible to indicate a strategy that has at least a chance of working.
 

DanSBHawk

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Location
Wisconsin
How would that help? You do understand that the main enemy force was behind an uncrossable river, and the only points that could be attack was a permanent fortification with as many guns as all of the forts south of Washington or fortified gap swept by that fort?

McClellan fully understood the situation, and as he wrote on 8th April:

View attachment 310718
View attachment 310719

He is not wrong.
It's hard to feel much sympathy for McClellan complaining about bad roads when one of his selling points for the peninsula was that the roads were wonderful year-round.
 

DanSBHawk

Captain
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Location
Wisconsin
Since Yorktown has been brought up at least twice in recent posts, I would like to invite those who think that McClellan's actions at Yorktown were a failure to indicate what they think McClellan should have done instead.

I feel that it would be helpful for the discussion for people to indicate when exactly they feel McClellan should have got past Yorktown, and how he should have done it.

I attach a map of the Warwick Line as of the 6th of April to aid with understanding. The strengths are the listed effective strengths of the individual regiments present there on that date, as reported in late April to early May. Green markings are the only crossing points of the Warwick; note that the green mark around Garrow was not discovered until some days later.

View attachment 310720





It is unhelpful to simply say that McClellan should have done "something". We have the benefit of over a hundred years of hindsight and we know the strengths of every single Confederate regiment along with their arrival dates; we have information that McClellan himself did not and conceivably that the Confederate commander at the time did not.
If it should have been easy for a bold commander to overcome the Warwick line, then it should not be impossible to indicate a strategy that has at least a chance of working.
Perhaps he should have done a better job in the preparation? Better maps, better plans to overcome the Yorktown line immediately, better planning and coordination with the Navy, better knowledge of the climate and roads, better communication of the Washington security arrangements...

If he felt 100% confidence in contradicting the preference of his commander in chief by going the way of the Chesapeake, perhaps he should have had it all worked out beforehand. He was supposed to be a professional for goodness sake, as opposed to Lincoln being an amateur.
 
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CanadianCanuck

Sergeant
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Nov 21, 2014
It's hard to feel much sympathy for McClellan complaining about bad roads when one of his selling points for the peninsula was that the roads were wonderful year-round.

Perhaps he should have done a better job in the preparation? Better maps, better plans to overcome the Yorktown line immediately, better planning and coordination with the Navy, better knowledge of the climate and roads, better communication of the Washington security arrangements...

If he felt 100% confidence in contradicting the preference of his commander in chief by going the way of the Chesapeake, perhaps he should have had it all worked out beforehand. He was supposed to be a professional for goodness sake, as opposed to Lincoln being an amateur.

In complete fairness, the maxim that 'no plan survives contact with the enemy' holds true for everyone. McClellan would have only knowledge from his somewhat flawed intelligence network and pre-war reports from locals probably and roads 'wonderful year round' for civilian and economic traffic are rarely the same for an army.

Points that he seemed more prepared to offer excuses and complaints vs solutions are well taken though. He did hand the initiative over to the Confederacy at the gates of Richmond, and was simply never able to regain it.
 

Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
With regards to the issue of who had the initiative at the gates of Richmond, McClellan had two choices towards the end of June - he could either keep his forces in a position which was a stable equilibrium (as in, neither side can attack with forces currently on hand or immediately available) but which would involve completely surrendering the initiative since he did not have the troops to make a positive movement of his own) or he could switch to an unstable equilibrium (which is what he actually did).
In this "unstable equilibrium" move, he made it possible to attack Richmond but also made it possible for Jackson to attack him if Jackson came down from the north. This was a calculated risk, and it turned out to be the wrong move to make - but only because the right move would be to not make an attack towards Richmond.

What this means is that the best move to not be driven away from Richmond would be a stalemate where Lee could gain more troops and McClellan would apparently not be, but that doesn't mean taking the initiative.

The solution to the whole problem is more troops, like everybody was saying at the time. Nobody including Lincoln claimed McClellan didn't need those troops, Lincoln just asserted that McClellan could do without them 'for now' because Lincoln needed them for something else.

This may make it sound like Richmond was a problem without a solution that could be achieved by the army McClellan had.
Perhaps there is a solution to it, a way that McClellan could have held off Jackson and kept Lee penned up south of the Chickahominy and successfully attacked Richmond all at once. But it does not seem implausible that McClellan was stuck without good options - he was required by the geography of the area and by his orders to spread himself over a river in the face of an enemy in superior force, and he did not have a significant countervailing advantage other than his artillery.


After the Battle of Gaines' Mill, on the other hand, McClellan moved south to the James. This move was an attempt to retake the initiative by moving to a position he could potentially resume the offensive, and he did this by stretching his army from White Oak Swamp to Malvern Hill along the Glendale position - which is to say, a position where his left flank was covered by Union gunboats on the James and his right flank could not be turned because of the Chickahominy river acting as flank guard (so the crossings could be covered by a small number of troops).
This appears to be the position McClellan had planned as his only actual retreat. He reacted to Lee's move by making a countermove that shifted his weight south to connect to the James river; there was a delay while he was required to organize the supplies (as the Navy wanted to land supplies much further downriver) but the move further back to Harrisons Landing was caused not by McClellan's choice or by the actions of Lee but by Franklin quitting his position without orders; one of the vices of the Glendale position is that it is a long one, and there weren't the troops to just replace a missing force of that size. With the line unzipped the whole army fell back to Malvern Hill, and then McClellan stymied Lee's plan to envelop Malvern Hill by falling back further to the James.



In looking at the sequence of events it's a little hard to see an alternative McClellan could have taken apart from "don't try and attack Richmond until McDowell arrives". Perhaps repulsing a Confederate attack by Jackson over Tolopatamoy Creek would have convinced Washington to actually release the troops... certainly once the Battle of Oak Grove has taken place (i.e. McClellan has begun his offensive moves against Richmond) the positioning is such that Jackson is able to get over the Tolopatamoy and the supply route to White House Landing is probably indefensible.
 
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Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Perhaps he should have done a better job in the preparation? Better maps, better plans to overcome the Yorktown line immediately, better planning and coordination with the Navy, better knowledge of the climate and roads, better communication of the Washington security arrangements...

McClellan had three plans to overcome Yorktown immediately and had sourced maps of the area; those maps were actively incorrect about the Warwick, but that's hardly his fault.

McClellan's plans:
1) To make use of naval bombardment.
McClellan appears to have been of the impression that he had procured naval support. Whether he had done enough to secure this is a separate matter, but as far as he was concerned he had.
2) To make a direct assault on the positions stretching across the Peninsula to envelop Yorktown.
As the maps showed no river line blocking the Peninsula, McClellan ordered his troops to attack "if only with the bayonet" on May 5; he issued the orders but the commanders on the spot decided they could not be followed through with.
3) To use 1st Corps to outflank Yorktown by going after Gloucester Point.
Naturally, the loss of 1st Corps made this untenable.

Thus McClellan in fact had three plans, any of which would have worked with the information he had available.

In addition to this, by the 6th of April he had a fourth plan in motion (which was to scout out a weak point on the line and make a direct assault) and the material was being gathered for his fifth fallback plan (using the heavy artillery).

One thing McClellan did not have was a lack of plans for overcoming Yorktown.

The point about better planning and coordination with the navy may be germane; it's a little hard to tell for sure, because we do have positive evidence from Dahlgren that Fox and Welles were in the planning meeting on the 21st March where the alternatives discussed included attacking Yorktown in ships but what we do not have positive evidence of is what Keyes discussed. Keyes wanted to get assurances from the Navy before giving his approval to the Peninsular plan (that is to say, on the 17th), but we don't have records of what was involved in that meeting.
We also know that as of the 24th March Fox was telling Goldsborough that he was likely to have a "considerable" force in the York before the army was ready and that the army had requested a bombardment of Yorktown.

Thus the question at that point is whether the Navy had been informed that a bombardment might be required on the 17th March (when the plan was put in place) or on the 21st March (when the meeting from Dahlgren's diary took place); certainly they knew about it by the 24th March, which is to say within a week of the plan being adopted. One thing that is absolutely clear however is that Fox's 23rd April letter that "in fact we were never informed of the movement" is absolutely false; Fox was informed of the movement on the 17th March, which is when he first sends a letter to Goldsborough informing him of the Army movement from Hampton Roads.

Gustavus Fox lied about when the Navy was informed of the movement.
This means that other claims about "we didn't know guv" are slightly suspect.

It's possible that further discussion with the Navy could have made things more clear and secured the cooperation more securely, but it's hard to be sure; apparently saying "we may need to attack Yorktown in ships" wasn't clear enough, while "we will need to attack Yorktown in ships" was simply not true at the time of the meetings.



The quality of the roads being poorer than expected is probably partly attributable to the unexpectedly terrible weather that took place in early 1862*. It's worth contemplating I think that the Overland campaign (when launched successfully) was done starting in May 1864, while McClellan's Peninsular move was started in April 1862 (a month earlier, and in a year with particularly bad weather all round).

I also suspect that the roads leading up the Peninsula were not improved by the passage of Johnston's entire force (of >60,000 Effectives) up the same roads in early May. Nevertheless, while McClellan's maps of the area were positively false (that is, they showed incorrect details) it could be argued that he should have known it would take several weeks to march up the Peninsula.**



The point about communication of the Washington security arrangements is rendered problematic by the evidence of the Blenker case. McClellan personally persuaded Lincoln that Blenker should not be detached, but then Lincoln changed his mind; this shows that it was possible to persuade Lincoln of something to his own satisfaction and then for Lincoln to be persuaded of something else by someone else.


In both of the cases involving persuasion, however (the Navy and Lincoln) the key factor involved is time. The coordination of the movement of a huge field army by water - the largest single amphibious movement to that date except perhaps for Marathon - is a massive undertaking, and a quick movement was considered essential to try and retain the element of surprise (McClellan had a maskirovka planned to land 1st Corps in the "sandpit" between Yorktown and the advanced Big Bethel line; this came to grief but it was a worthwhile attempt).
How long would it take to persuade Lincoln to his satisfaction? Would it be considered offensive to try and get the President to promise to something that the President had already, in fact, promised in writing?
What can McClellan do if Lincoln is simply convinced by whoever spoke to him last? Should McClellan stay in Washington until the entire army is sent, thus meaning the field army has no high level commander?
How much lead-time would the Navy need to bombard Yorktown? After the fact when they got a chance to look at the fortifications they said that they could have easily run past it in the night, so it's not a matter of not having the ships available...


However, there is one important point here.

In spite of the planning errors, in spite of the loss of the amphibious corps and the delayed availability of the amphibious division, in spite of the inability to get naval support, in spite of the unepected, heavily defended water feature and in spite of the spoiled maskirovka, plus a balls-up with the planned Garrow assault, McClellan arrived at the Yorktown line on April 5 and it was abandoned within a calendar month.
This is incredibly fast for a fortified position with secure or no flanks to be rendered impotent in the Civil War.



*I don't think anyone could conceivably blame McClellan for the eruption of an East African volcano.


** To be exact, McClellan began moving past Yorktown on May 5 and Federal pickets reach Bottom Bridge on 17th May. That's about fifty miles by the shortest modern route, more by the route McClellan actually took (to stay in touch with his logistics), though that time interval does include one significant battle at Williamsburg.
~4 miles a day isn't terrible for an advance in bad weather in the face of the enemy, though it's certainly not great; the rest of the time is taken up in bridging operations and repairing the rail line.
 
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67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
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It's hard to feel much sympathy for McClellan complaining about bad roads when one of his selling points for the peninsula was that the roads were wonderful year-round.

Again, the Peninsula was not his plan. It was the plan of the Corps Commanders, foisted upon him.

Also, 1862 was not normal, because of the Dubbi eruption. On the 8th May 1861 Dubbi blew in the largest volcanic eruption ever to occur in Africa. It continued to blast ash into the upper atmosphere for months. It caused global cooling and 1862 shows a -0.3 oC deviation, making it the 10th largest global cooling event in the last 600 years. The altered weather patterns created the California Megastorm, massively disrupted shipping, caused low yields of crops, and dumped huge quantities of water on Virginia in 1862.

For example, the Georgetown weather station recorded 5.6 inches of rainfall 7th-9th April 1862. The station only recorded numbers when more than about 0.1" of rain per day was found (hence in April 1865 it being "nil"). The number in respective Aprils were:

1861: 4.78"
1862: 6.99"
1863: 3.77"
1864: 1.62"
1865: nil

As you can see, 1862 was far wetter than, say, 1864.

You'll forgive me for not damning McClellan for not knowing about a massive volcanic eruption in Africa that altered the global weather patterns.
 

Hoseman

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Well, Yorktown was a position protected by a river to the front and both flanks protected by water, and the period during which McClellan had anything approaching 2:1 superiority was no more than a day or two long, if that (during which his troops were all still arriving). McClellan also lacked both of the ways he'd planned to turn Yorktown (naval support and 1st Corps) but nevertheless he compelled a strong enemy field army in a strong position to retreat from him after about a month of prep.

The attack which forced McClellan away from Richmond historically, at Gaines Mill, was made by about 60,000 Confederate PFD. With only 52,000 Confederate PFD total defending Richmond the attack would be literally impossible even if Lee completely abandoned Richmond to do it, and historically he left 40,000 PFD in Richmond to defend it; thus McClellan wouldn't be forced away from Richmond as the attack on his flank could not conceivably involve more than about 30,000 PFD, if that.

If McClellan isn't forced away from Richmond by the end of June he has heavy artillery set up in position to bombard Richmond's defences; game over.



How?
McClellan attacked Richmond the moment the ground was dry enough to move artillery, and Jackson had been summoned a few days previously - both commanders had the same weather. If McClellan had reached the vicinity of Richmond in an earlier period of good weather Jackson would just have been summoned earlier.

Incidentally, if you mean McClellan always believed the enemy had far more than they really had, that's false; McClellan's estimates at Yorktown are fundamentally accurate.



When exactly did Lincoln say McClellan had a case of the slows? I want to know what specific incident is being referenced.

As for being overly cautious, timid and not aggressive - quite apart from his being the offensive commander on the single bloodiest day of combat in American history (which one would think would be enough!) his dispositions at Richmond in June 1862 are offensive, not defensive. If he was defensive he would have had Heintzelman's divisions along Tolopatamoy Creek; instead he had them taking the heights over Richmond.


He took a month to get past Yorktown, which was a strongly defended enemy position in terrain which was not on his maps.

And McClellan did know.
You have as many excuses as Little Mac. As for Yorktown, it obviously was a horrible choice as to where to launch the offensive with such obstacles in the way. It was a huge error on McClellan's part to choose a place with such natural defenses in the first place.
He may have intended to be offensive but once Lee seized the initiative he had no choice but to be defensive and it didn't work out too well for him. The only reason he became so aggressive at Sharpsburg is because he knew the ANV was divided and he had a huge advantage. He was given the golden opportunity to annihilate the ANV and failed to do so.
 

Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
You have as many excuses as Little Mac.
I'm not exactly an expert on academic debate, per se, but I would have thought that it was worthwhile to consider whether excuses are valid rather than to simply dismiss them as excuses. Hard problems do exist.

As for Yorktown, it obviously was a horrible choice as to where to launch the offensive with such obstacles in the way. It was a huge error on McClellan's part to choose a place with such natural defenses in the first place.
But the maps he had literally did not show the course of the Warwick river. This wasn't a lack of planning but planning based on actively false information; he did not and could not know about the Warwick river line until he actually bumped into it on April 5, because the maps he was using did not show it as a defensible line (they showed it as parallel to his line of advance).

Now, McClellan did say in his analysis that Yorktown could result in a delay of up to a month in the offensive, which was the reason why he rated it low down on the possible amphibious movements. However, when the corps commanders voted on the approach to take, they nixed his preferred landing site (the Urbanna landing) and substituted the Peninsular approach with the landing at Fort Monroe (to which he committed full-bodied once it was selected).


He may have intended to be offensive but once Lee seized the initiative he had no choice but to be defensive and it didn't work out too well for him.
So in what way could McClellan have avoided Lee seizing the initiative?

The only reason he became so aggressive at Sharpsburg is because he knew the ANV was divided and he had a huge advantage. He was given the golden opportunity to annihilate the ANV and failed to do so.
Hold on.
What you're saying is that the only reason McClellan was so aggressive at the Battle of Antietam was that he knew the Army of Northern Virginia was divided, but you're also saying he missed a "golden opportunity" to destroy the AoNV. How exactly should he have siezed this golden opportunity apart from being aggressive?


In fact, what Antietam suggests is that McClellan was willing to launch attacks with up to 75% of his brigades on the same day if he thought that the attacks would have an effective result. What April 5th at Yorktown suggests is that he was willing to order his entire army to attack at full force if he thought that the attacks would have an effective result.

What this means is that to condemn McClellan as lacking aggression we must find a place where he had the opportunity to make an attack somewhere it could have effective results and failed to do so.
 
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