Why didn't McClellan get another assignment?

MikeyB

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Other army commanders of the East were given second chances and allowed to continue to serve the Union (Burnside, Hooker, McDowell, even Pope). Why not McClellan? Was Lincoln viewing him as a political threat even in 1862? Or he just had enough of this guy and didn't think he could use him in another theater or in an administrative capacity? Or did he ask and McClellan refused anything else as being below him?
 

wausaubob

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There was no way that Lincoln could or would have granted McClellan another command. The radical Republican faction and several of Lincoln's cabinet secretaries had long schemed to get rid of McClellan for his political views on the nature of the war. By late 1862, McClellan's views on a "soft" war and his resistance to emancipation were already being overtaken by the understanding that the future of the Union and slavery were intertwined and that McClellan's time had passed.
General McClellan advocated a rational alternative way to fight the war, with limited action against slavery and virtually no use of USCT. It wasn't Lincoln's way of proceeding and there is no probability that McClellan and Buell could have functioned in the policy and strategy environment that Lincoln had created.
In addition, the Army of the Potomac established very heavy logistical requirements. It moved slowly and sparingly, based on what experts had seen as Napoleon's mistakes in Russia. Until the logistical burden was modified, and the forage requirements reduced, so that clean forage in abundant amounts could be delivered, the Army of the Potomac tended to be a camp and siege army. It was going to take a lot of work to build some movement back into that army and I don't think Lincoln was ever going to be able to convince General McClellan that was necessary.
 
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Dead Parrott

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General McClellan advocated a rational alternative way to fight the war, with limited action against slavery and virtually no use of USCT. It wasn't Lincoln's way of proceeding and there is no probability that McClellan and Buell could have functioned in the policy and strategy environment that Lincoln had created.
In addition, the Army of the Potomac established very heavy logistical requirements. It move slowly and sparingly, based on what experts had seen as Napoleon's mistakes in Russia. Until the logistical burden was modified, and the forage requirements reduced, so that clean forage in abundant amounts could be delivered, the Army of the Potomac tended to be a camp and siege army. It was going to take a lot of work to build some movement back into that army and I don't think Lincoln was ever going to be able to convince General McClellan that was necessary.
Interesting take. It does seem Mac built an army to besiege Richmond ala Sevastopol. Do you have any refernces regarding how the logistics of the army were changed?
 

wausaubob

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Interesting take. It does seem Mac built an army to besiege Richmond ala Sevastopol. Do you have any refernces regarding how the logistics of the army were changed?
The things that I recall was the enormous baggage requirements of the initial regiments including all kinds of kitchen equipment and office tents for the officers. I think that by the summer of 1862, the US could not keep up with forage and fodder requirements and sure enough by September the forage that was delivered was spoiled and a disease was spreading among the horses, making movement even more difficult.
It was nearly always true that the Civil War armies were healthier when they were moving and less healthy when they were besieged. Grant succeeded in part because he had outstanding quartermaster support from St. Louis, then Louisville and then from the east coast cites to the City Point wharves.
 

Zack

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Interesting take. It does seem Mac built an army to besiege Richmond ala Sevastopol. Do you have any refernces regarding how the logistics of the army were changed?

McClellan himself was an observer of the Crimean War and seems to have been deeply impacted by the Siege of Sevastopol. Stephen Sears mentions in his history of the Peninsula Campaign how McClellan conducted the Siege of Yorktown in accordance with the doctrines he learned at Sevastopol, with an emphasis on bringing up big guns to pound the defenders into submission. He even sent letters to Ellen requesting books on the Siege of Sevastopol as he sat before Yorktown.
 

Zack

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I think it’s easy to write off the Western Virginia Campaign of July 1861 conducted by McClellan, but he planned and executed a campaign in which his army fought and won three battles and achieved its objectives. In July 1861 that was a really, really big deal. I was scrolling through digitized copies of Frank Leslie’s from 1861 and it seems they almost devoted more time to McClellan’s campaign than First Bull Run.

Obviously in retrospect it did not “properly prepare” McClellan for the job of commanding the Army of the Potomac but it certainly wasn’t nothing. It was successful field experience.

Prior to Forts Henry and Donelson Grant had seized the undefended Paducah, Kentucky and conducted a mixed bag skirmish at Belmont.

Grant however seems to have learned lessons in his battles McClellan didn’t learn in his. Perhaps the key was that Grant learned the enemy was just as afraid of him as he was of them.

Or maybe it wasn’t a matter of battlefield lessons for McClellan but just a different way of viewing how the war should be fought, as others have mentioned before.
 

Andy Cardinal

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I think it’s easy to write off the Western Virginia Campaign of July 1861 conducted by McClellan, but he planned and executed a campaign in which his army fought and won three battles and achieved its objectives. In July 1861 that was a really, really big deal. I was scrolling through digitized copies of Frank Leslie’s from 1861 and it seems they almost devoted more time to McClellan’s campaign than First Bull Run.

Obviously in retrospect it did not “properly prepare” McClellan for the job of commanding the Army of the Potomac but it certainly wasn’t nothing. It was successful field experience.

Prior to Forts Henry and Donelson Grant had seized the undefended Paducah, Kentucky and conducted a mixed bag skirmish at Belmont.

Grant however seems to have learned lessons in his battles McClellan didn’t learn in his. Perhaps the key was that Grant learned the enemy was just as afraid of him as he was of them.

Or maybe it wasn’t a matter of battlefield lessons for McClellan but just a different way of viewing how the war should be fought, as others have mentioned before.
I actually think McClellan's West Virginia campaign is a good microcosm of how he wanted to fight the war and influenced his thinking as commander of the Army of the Potomac and as general-in-chief. His goal was never submission but conciliation -- which, to be honest, was Lincoln's stated objective until June 1862.
 

jackt62

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the Army of the Potomac established very heavy logistical requirements. It move slowly and sparingly, based on what experts had seen as Napoleon's mistakes in Russia. Until the logistical burden was modified, and the forage requirements reduced, so that clean forage in abundant amounts could be delivered, the Army of the Potomac tended to be a camp and siege army. It was going to take a lot of work to build some movement back into that army and I don't think Lincoln was ever going to be able to convince General McClellan that was necessary
This is consistent with the way that McClellan understood warfare in 1861, which raises a question: Was McClellan's mindset a product of his West Point training, career as a civil/railroad engineer, and the lessons he learned while an observer in Crimea, or was it a product of his fear of failure and hesitancy to take bold steps? Or perhaps a combination of both.
 

jackt62

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I think it’s easy to write off the Western Virginia Campaign of July 1861 conducted by McClellan, but he planned and executed a campaign in which his army fought and won three battles and achieved its objectives
To what extent was the successful western Virginia campaign a product of McClellan's expertise and command, or that of Rosecrans, the nominal on-site commander? Or for that matter, blunders by forces under Confederate command?
 

James N.

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My short answer is once you have the keys to the car and are basically the #1 person and you don’t do well, where else is your boss supposed to put you? Give you a demotion and have you command a Corps? Don’t this that would work for anyone.
But as mentioned previously, that's essentially what happened to both Burnside and Hooker who performed more or less competently at that level.
 

Zack

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To what extent was the successful western Virginia campaign a product of McClellan's expertise and command, or that of Rosecrans, the nominal on-site commander? Or for that matter, blunders by forces under Confederate command?

Probably Rosecrans to a pretty high extent? I'm not an expert on the campaign. But if part of the role of a commander is putting skilled officers where they need to be in order to do the most good, then that's a positive check in McClellan's column. Although I know Rosecrans complained about McClellan not providing him the support he needed.

Same with the blunders - you have to be in the right position to take advantage of blunders on the part of the enemy. While not making too many blunders yourself.

For the record, I'm not a McClellan stan by any stretch of the imagination.

I just like trying to see it from the perspective of the people alive at the time. If you're Lincoln, Cameron, et al and you're staring at a shattered army milling about Washington DC after a humiliating defeat, McClellan does make sense as the person to turn to. He'd provided victories when no one else could. He had real field experience. West Virginia was a major laurel for the entire Union war effort at that point and it was - seemingly - thanks to McClellan.

I suppose I'm going down a slightly different conversational path though. If the question is "did West Virginia provide McClellan with the field experience he needed to command the AoP and all Union armies or would he have benefited from more time at a lower level?" the answer is "he probably would have benefited from more field experience." I'm just saying they had no way of knowing that at the time, and when he was elevated to command he must have seemed extremely qualified. Enough for Lincoln to hold his nose about the whole slavery proclamation debacle McClellan had caused in West Virginia.
 

Zack

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But as mentioned previously, that's essentially what happened to both Burnside and Hooker who performed more or less competently at that level.

IMO, the difference between McClellan and Burnside/Hooker is that Burnside and Hooker had a lower level home to go "back" to and McClellan really didn't. Furthermore, Burnside and Hooker would have been more willing to accept the demotion because their campaigns were pretty much impossible to spin as anything other than a catastrophic disaster. McClellan, though he hadn't won any spectacular victories, really hadn't suffered any catastrophic defeats either. Even on the Peninsula in McClellan's mind he was withdrawing to save his army rather than being violently beaten back. So when word came of demotion for McClellan he was thinking, "but I just saved the Union at Antietam!" rather than, "yah no fair I did royally screw everything up."

For Burnside and Hooker, returning to successful corps command was the saving face move. For McClellan, walking away as the brilliant general undone by conniving politicians was the saving face move.
 

Zack

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And in some ways they all made the right call.
Hooker was able to partially repair his reputation out west.
Burnside had Knoxville and a decent run as corps commander in the east (subject to debate lol)
And McClellan ran for President.
 

ErnieMac

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My short answer is once you have the keys to the car and are basically the #1 person and you don’t do well, where else is your boss supposed to put you? Give you a demotion and have you command a Corps? Don’t this that would work for anyone.
But that is what happened to Irvin McDowell after 1st Bull Run. In the long run it did not work out well for McDowell either as he received no combat command after 2nd Bull Run. This was probably because he had passed the level of his command capability rather than any unwillingness by the Lincoln administration. Whether you think it was the right call or not the Administration and the Radical Republicans in Congress wanted to be rid of McClellan.
 

wausaubob

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I actually think McClellan's West Virginia campaign is a good microcosm of how he wanted to fight the war and influenced his thinking as commander of the Army of the Potomac and as general-in-chief. His goal was never submission but conciliation -- which, to be honest, was Lincoln's stated objective until June 1862.
McClellan foresaw the unlimited violence that was about to be unleashed. And he foresaw that though the US would likely win that type of war, reunification was going to be difficult. 159 years later he seemed to have had a rational insight. The administration did not agree with his balancing of the costs and benefits.
 

David Moore

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Probably Rosecrans to a pretty high extent? I'm not an expert on the campaign. But if part of the role of a commander is putting skilled officers where they need to be in order to do the most good, then that's a positive check in McClellan's column. Although I know Rosecrans complained about McClellan not providing him the support he needed.

Same with the blunders - you have to be in the right position to take advantage of blunders on the part of the enemy. While not making too many blunders yourself.

For the record, I'm not a McClellan stan by any stretch of the imagination.

I just like trying to see it from the perspective of the people alive at the time. If you're Lincoln, Cameron, et al and you're staring at a shattered army milling about Washington DC after a humiliating defeat, McClellan does make sense as the person to turn to. He'd provided victories when no one else could. He had real field experience. West Virginia was a major laurel for the entire Union war effort at that point and it was - seemingly - thanks to McClellan.

I suppose I'm going down a slightly different conversational path though. If the question is "did West Virginia provide McClellan with the field experience he needed to command the AoP and all Union armies or would he have benefited from more time at a lower level?" the answer is "he probably would have benefited from more field experience." I'm just saying they had no way of knowing that at the time, and when he was elevated to command he must have seemed extremely qualified. Enough for Lincoln to hold his nose about the whole slavery proclamation debacle McClellan had caused in West Virginia.
McClellan was gone from West Virginia in mid July the campaign including the battle of Carnifex Ferry and Lee withdrawing from Sewell Mt lasted until late October. Rosecrans in turn was replaced by Fremont the first Republican candidate and an early emancipationist.
 
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