McClellan George Brinton 182685

George McClellan (see Plate CI) was born in Philadelphia on 3 December 1826. Attending the University of Pennsylvania, he left in order to enter West Point, where he was graduated second in his class of

The extraordinary Philip Kearny -an engraving in Harper's Weekly of 20 September 1862, after a Brady photograph. According to the paper, "General McClellan is said to have wept when he heard of his death, and to have said: 'Who can replace Phil Kearney?' ". The inheritor of enormous wealth, this hero of the battle of Churubusco (1847) still pursued the profession of arms so hungrily that when US Army service palled he traveled to serve with the French army in North Africa and Italy. Note that the engraving process has reversed the portrait left for right - it was Kearny's left arm that he lost in Mexico, and his coat is shown here buttoning the female way.

1846. Appointed to the Corps of Engineers, he was noted for getting roads and bridges built during Scott's Mexico City campaign of 1847, earning two brevets. Thereafter he returned to West Point as an instructor; translated a French bayonet manual; explored the sources of the Red River; was one of a group of US Army observers during the Crimean War; designed a saddle for army use that was based on the Hungarian model; and surveyed possible transcontinental railroad routes. He resigned his commission as captain, 1st Cavalry, in 1857 to become chief engineer of the Illinois Central Railroad.

At the outbreak of the Civil War he was president of the Ohio Mississippi Railroad; he volunteered his services to Ohio's governor, who on 23 April 1861 appointed McClellan a major-general to organize the state forces. So well did he perform this task that President Lincoln appointed him a major-general in the regular army - as its second ranking officer - in June 1861.

McClellan was successful in West Virginia in June and July - a time of few successes - and Lincoln brought him East to command the Army of the Potomac in August, naming him General-in-Chief of the Armies of the United States on 1 November 1861 in succession to Winfield Scott. He set about rebuilding the army's morale, getting clothes and food for the troops, while holding parade after parade to instil pride and confidence. McClellan himself did not lack for confidence, writing on 21 May 1862, "When I see the hand of God guarding one so weak as myself, I can almost think myself a chosen instrument to carry out his schemes."

In March 1862, President Lincoln, frustrated by McClellan's inactivity, relieved him of his generalship-in-chief to concentrate on his army command and gave him a direct order to take the field. McClellan finally shipped his Army of the Potomac to the Peninsula that juts into Chesapeake Bay, planning a rapid march to take Richmond. Faulty intelligence, which he believed despite evidence to the contrary, indicated that Confederate forces greatly outnumbered him. After making laborious preparations to conduct a siege at Yorktown that never happened, the Union army almost reached Richmond, only to be attacked by the Confederates under Joseph Johnston (Fair Oaks, 31 May-1 June), and then again under Robert E.Lee (Gaine's Mill, 27June). McClellan, thoroughly unnerved by these attacks, rejected the advice of Kearny and Hooker that Richmond was still vulnerable, and withdrew to a dependable base on the James River.

He was then ordered to bring the army back to northern Virginia to support John Pope's abortive campaign, which failed at

Blessed with a versatile mind and sweeping interests, George McClellan made a technically perfect commander for the Army of the Potomac, in which appointment his handsome looks and gentlemanly manners also earned him many admirers. However, his unshakable self-confidence was allied to excessive caution, and a total lack of political instinct; and when his lack of nerve in combat situations led to repeated failure in 1862, Lincoln dismissed him. That this came as a complete surprise to him says much about McClellan's limitations.

McClellan was unusual among general officers in nearly always being photographed wearing his buff sash; he was also known for being accompanied by a large staff when in the field. This photograph was taken in the fall of 1861.

Second Bull Run (Manassas - 30 August). As Lee headed into Maryland, McClellan followed, and even had the luck to obtain a copy of Lee's battle plan. Moving rapidly - for McClellan - he struck Lee's divided army at Antietam (17 September). The Union attacks were piecemeal, however, and Lee's greatly outnumbered forces held, inflicting great losses; two days later they withdrew across the Potomac, unmolested.

McClellan followed Lee with characteristic caution. Lincoln visited his headquarters; but unable to persuade him to act aggressively, the President dismissed McClellan from command of the Army of the Potomac and replaced him with Ambrose Burnside 011 7 November 1862. Most of the army were as shocked as was McClellan. "The greatest indignation is expressed by everyone here, even those who have blamed McClellan [for the army's failure to succeed]," Charles Wainwright wrote in his dairy the next day. On the 9th he noted that some officers, on McClellan's farewell, used "expressions with regret to his removal which they had no right to use, and a few even going so far as to beg him to resist the order, and saying that the army would support him." Even a private in the 9th New York, Edward Wightman, wrote home that "there seems to be a general impression that this is no time to change field officers... ."

McClellan went home to Trenton, New Jersey, fully expecting orders to resume his command; but diey never came. The Democratic Party nominated this conservative to run against Lincoln in the 1864 presidential election on a peace platform. He duly resigned his commission 011 election day; but his bid failed, in part due to Lincoln's overwhelming support from soldiers who voted in the field. McClellan later became governor of New Jersey; he died on 19 October 1885 at Orange, New Jersey, and was buried in Riverview Cemetery, Trenton.

In 1866 William Swinton, who had been a reporter for the New York Times during the war, wrote a history of the army, which he had accompanied. Of McClellan he wrote: "He was assuredly not a great general; for he had the pedantry ofwar rather than the inspiration of war. His talent was eminently that of the cabinet; and his proper place was in Washington, where he should have remained as general-in-chief. Here his ability to plan campaigns and form large strategic combinations, which was remarkable, would have had full scope; and he would have been considerate and helpful to those in the field. But his power as a tactician was much inferior to his talent as a strategist, and he executed less boldly than he conceived: not appearing to know well those counters with which a commander must work - time, place, and circumstance."

McClellan was unusual among general officers in nearly always being photographed wearing his buff sash; he was also known for being accompanied by a large staff when in the field. This photograph was taken in the fall of 1861.

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