Thursday, June 23, 2022

The Ups and Downs of General George McClellan

General George McClellan
(Harpers New Monthly Magazine. May 1865)

Ulysses S. Grant captured the essence of General George McClellan when he said, “McClellan to me is one of the mysteries of the war.”[1] If only he’d been more decisive, more eager to fight, and less worried about the size of the forces opposing him. If only he had enjoyed a better relationship with Abraham Lincoln.

There were so many what-ifs, so many could have beens, and should have beens.

We’ll never know what McClellan could have accomplished. Instead, we know where he went wrong.

Lincoln appointed George McClellan general-in-chief of the Union Army in November 1861. However, after five months of inaction, he removed McClellan as general-in-chief on March 11, but left him in command of the Army of the Potomac. 

Six days later, McClellan began his Peninsular campaign, setting the largest-ever American expeditionary force in motion. After a series of battles, McClellan came within four miles of reaching Richmond. Then things began to unravel. 

Joseph Johnston attacked McClellan’s army at Seven Pines and Fair Oaks when the Union army was fractured by flooding on the Chickahominy River. Shortly after, Johnston got injured in the fighting, and Robert E. Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia.

That was a game-changer. 

[1] McHugh, Michael. George McClellan: The Disposable Patriot. 1996. P. 180.

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