General McClellan

IN the biographical sketch of General McClellan which is contributed by Mr. William C. Prime, we are informed that the general wrote this narrative not for the public, but solely for the information of his children ; that “ he did not labor at it continuously, with intent to produce a book, but wrote as the humor seized him.” Any one carefully reading the story would, we think, be likely to frame some such conjecture as its genesis. It is an easy, flowing narrative, not logically or even chronologically arranged, with few precise statements of the questions in regard to which there has been so much contention, and very little, if any, useful discussion of the points when they happen to be reached in the course of the story. There is not the slightest effort to write from any other than McClellan’s own standpoint. Never was there a controversial work in which the other side was more calmly ignored. There is in McClellan’s mind, evidently, no room for the exercise of such a virtue as impartiality in dealing with such fools and knaves as the members of Mr. Lincoln’s cabinet in 1861 and 1862. He has no doubt whatever that he was the divinely appointed man by whom the country was to be saved. His egotism is simply colossal, — there is no other word for it. And all is said with such an utter unconsciousness of there being anything absurd in his assuming for himself such a unique position that the book must rank as one of the most characteristic autobiographies ever written.

Besides the narrative, we have copious extracts from McClellan’s letters to his wife, and surely nothing that has ever been given to the public has disclosed a man’s real character more fully and frankly than these letters disclose that of General McClellan. They have all the peculiarities of the autobiography, only they possess the flavor of the time, and are much more pointed in diction. They show us a highly emotional man, extremely fond of his family and of domestic life, — a man, too, of quick and warm religious feelings. They show us a man who likes to have everybody around him believe in him, who loves his soldiers for their manifest confidence in him, who has the strongest dislike of all criticism and of all supervision, who has an almost puerile impatience to escape from the neighborhood of Washington to the distant camps on the Peninsula, where the cheers of the troops should replace the cold and somewhat skeptical talk of the drawing-rooms and lobbies of the capital.

In fact, McClellan is seen to live very much in a world of his own making. His imagination creates a great part of the circumstances which appear to surround him. In his mind the Confederates are always seeking to devour him ; they are pressing him in on every side. Were it not for his wise counsel and strong arm, the country would be lost. The problem with him is not so much how can the rebellion be put down, as how can the country be saved. His enemies invariably outnumber him, sometimes two to one. Twice he saves the capital. Once he saves Maryland and Pennsylvania also. No one, in his judgment, but himself could have brought order out of the confusion which reigned after the first Bull Run. Under no other commander than himself, in his own opinion, would the Army of the Potomac have marched to drive the enemy out of Maryland after the second Bull Run. It is needless to expose the futility of such assumptions. Their truth is contradicted by the behavior of the army on many a bloody and disastrous field, long after McClellan had been retired from command. Yet McClellan seems to cherish these and the like opinions as if there could be no controversy as to their correctness.

It is not from the narrative of such a man as this that one can expect to learn the facts, and in truth there is no serious attempt to give them. There are, so far as we have seen, absolutely no corrections of the many errors with which his report, large portions of which, with the accompanying dispatches, are incorporated into his narrative, abounds. We are not told that the enemy did not, in fact, as McClellan thought and said at the time, outnumber our army during the seven days’ battles. We are still allowed to believe that they were “ largely superior to us in number ” at the battle of Antietam. Both these estimates were known in 1881, when McClellan began the writing of this book, to be grossly incorrect; but inasmuch as to change them would involve a restatement of his case against the administration, McClellan has chosen to let the original and erroneous statements stand.

We have said above that McClellan was greatly influenced by his imagination and feelings. Nothing can better illustrate this than his neglect to obtain explicit assurances from the Navy Department and from the naval officers on duty at Fortress Monroe in regard to the cooperation of the navy in the reduction of Yorktown and Gloucester. He had, early in the winter, set his heart upon operating by the way of the lower Chesapeake upon Richmond. All the opposition to this plan manifested by the President and

cabinet only served to make him more determined, more bound to have his own way. It was an essential feature of this plan that there should “be a combined naval and land attack upon Yorktown.” “ The navy should at once concentrate upon the York River all their available and most powerful batteries ;1 its reduction should not, in that case, require many hours.” We pause an instant to remark that it is evident from this statement that McClellan could not have been aware, when he wrote it, that the works at Yorktown were at a height of some seventy or eighty feet above the river. Had he known this, — and he surely ought to have known it, — he could not have supposed for a moment that the place could be taken by the fleet. But not only did he know nothing about the strength of the place against which it was, to use his own language,2 “ absolutely necessary, for the prompt success of the campaign, that the navy should at once throw its whole available force,” but when he wrote this letter the Merrimac had made her appearance, had destroyed the Congress and the Cumberland, and nothing but the Monitor could be relied upon to give her battle. Letters passed between McClellan and the Navy Department upon this subject. All that was promised, so the naval men said, was that the Merrimac should not be allowed to go up York River. It was stated explicitly to General McClellan, so they always maintained, that to watch the Merrimac would require the main portion of the fleet, and that no naval force could be detached to attack the batteries at Yorktown. In his Report,3 McClellan denied these statements, and said that he discovered this to be the case only after his arrival at Yorktown ; “ that it was contrary to what had been previously told ” him, “and materially affected” his “ plans.” This accusation is repeated on pages 254 and 264 of the book before us.

But Mr. Prime has unearthed from McClellan’s papers a letter to him from General Barnard, the chief engineer of the Army of the Potomac, who was sent to the Peninsula, before the army was embarked, on purpose to make arrangements with the navy. This letter, which, so far as we know, has never before been published, is dated " Steamship Minnesota [then in Hampton Roads], March 20, 1862.” From it we make the following extracts (pages 246, 247) : —

“ He [Commodore Goldsborough] says he is responsible to the country for keeping down the Merrimac, and has perfect confidence that he can do it, but cannot spare from here anything except the following : —

“ Victoria — two eight-inch guns and one thirty-two-pound Parrott.

“ Anacostia, Freeborn, Island Belle — Potomac fleet.

“ Octoroon — not yet arrived ; Fox calls her a regular gunboat of four guns.

“ Currituck — merchant steamer, like the Potomac gunboats, I suppose.

“Daylight — merchant steamer, like the Potomac gunboats, I suppose ; and two regular gunboats — the Chocorua, not yet arrived, and the Penobscot, here ; these two carrying each two eleven-inch guns.

He says he can’t furnish vessels to attack Yorktown simultaneously,4 but he thinks what you propose is easily done ; that the vessels he mentions are fully adequate to cover a landing, and that, with a landing and an advance from here, Yorktown will fall.”

Here, then, we have the naval officer in command at Hampton Roads distinctly telling the chief engineer of McClellan’s army that the main business of the navy is to “ keep down ” the Merrimac ; that consequently he can spare but very few vessels even for the purpose of covering the landing of McClellan’s army on the Peninsula; and that he certainly cannot furnish ships with which to attack the forts. Nothing could be more explicit, more definite, more directly calculated to destroy any hope that McClellan might previously have entertained of the active coöperation of the navy in the reduction of Yorktown and Gloucester.

This letter of General Barnard’s must have reached McClellan ten days before he started for the Peninsula. What explanation, then, can he given of his statements before referred to ?

It is not easy, it must be confessed, to frame any explanation or justification of them. The excuse of forgetfulness will hardly answer, for Barnard’s letter treated of a matter of prime and vital importance. What we believe about it is this : there are men so peculiarly constituted that when they have once set their hearts on any project, they cannot bear to consider the facts that militate against their carrying it out; they are impatient and intolerant of them; such facts either completely fall out of their minds, so to speak, as if they had never been heard of, or, if they subsequently make themselves felt, they seem to men of this temper to have assumed an inimical aspect, and, what is worse, inasmuch as it is impossible for any man to get angry with facts, such men instinctively fix upon certain individuals, whom they associate in some way, more or less remote, with these unwelcome facts, and whom they always accuse, in their own thought, at least, of hostility or deception. Such a mind we conceive to have been that of General McClellan. Accordingly, we find him, in spite of the explicit refusal of the navy to aid in the reduction of Yorktown conveyed to him in General Barnard’s letter, quietly ignoring the situation. and proceeding to the Peninsula as if the needed coöperation had been promised, and, finally, in his Report and Autobiography practically accusing Commodore Goldsborough of having deceived him, of having encouraged him to transport his army to the Peninsula by promises which he afterwards refused to perform, — an accusation for which, as we have seen, there is not a shadow of justification.

In connection with this subject, it is interesting to note what McClellan says touching his expectations of using the James River as a line of supply, after the Merrimac had made her appearance. He tells us in his Report5 that “the appearance of the Merrimac off Old Point Comfort and the encounter with the United States squadron on the 8th of March threatened serious derangement of the plan for the Peninsular movement. But the engagement between the Monitor and the Merrimac on the 9th of March demonstrated so satisfactorily the power of the former, and the other naval preparations were so extensive and formidable, that the security of Fortress Monroe as a base of operations was placed beyond a doubt; and although the James River was closed to us,6 the York River, with its tributaries, was still open as a line of water communication with the fortress. The general plan therefore remained undisturbed, although less promising in its details than when the James River teas in our control.” 2

Here is a distinct admission that when he determined on the movement to the Peninsula, McClellan knew that the James River would not be open to him. What, then, can we make of the following statement in the Autobiography (page 264) ? " This, then, was the situation in which I found myself on the evening of April 5 : Flag officer Goldsborough had informed me that it was not in his power to control the navigation of the James River so as to enable me to use it as a line of supply, or to cross it, or even to cover my left flank ; nor could he, as he thought, furnish any vessels to attack the batteries of Yorktown, etc. I was thus deprived of the coöperation of the navy, and left to my own resources.” 7 And to a similar statement made in his Report (page 156) he adds : “ All this was contrary to what had been previously stated to me.” 8

What can he said in explanation or excuse of such contradictory statements ? One thing certainly may be said, and that is this : that McClellan’s Own Story is assuredly not the narrative of a clearheaded, or careful, or candid writer. It is perfectly plain that in regard to the closing of the James River, as in regard to the inability of the navy to attack the forts at Yorktown, McClellan was abundantly informed long before he embarked for the Peninsula. He had definite information on both points. But to this information he gave little or no heed. Notwithstanding it he determined to go. Careful as he usually was of his army, cautious as he certainly was as a rule in his operations, he was so bent on this his favorite project that he persisted in it even when he knew that the coöperation of the navy in the manner and to the extent desired could not be had. And he tells his story in such a way as to imply that the authorities of the navy had deceived him into going to the Peninsula by representing that they could keep the James River open and attack the forts, when in truth they could do neither, as they informed him soon after his arrival. He claims our sympathy for the failure of the navy to coöperate effectually with him. His imagination has so warped his mind that he cannot think of his plan except as being feasible; the facts, of which he was well aware before he attempted to put it in execution, are to his mind not so much facts as objections raised by hostile and jealous opponents or halfhearted supporters. Instead, therefore, of a manly, clear, and unhesitating acceptance of facts, as of things which it is absolutely impossible to evade or to ignore, we have first a period of selfdeception in regard to them, followed by what seems very like a disingenuous attempt to fasten upon others the blame of failures for which his own improvidence and obstinacy were solely responsible.

Enough has been said to show how little trust is to be reposed in this narrative. And were our examination of the book limited to its value as throwing light on General McClellan’s character and capacity, we would gladly drop the further consideration of his wrongs, and his claims for sympathy, and his insinuations against others, and proceed at once to the more welcome task of pointing out his services and his merits. But we cannot quite yet do this. His accusations against the members of Mr. Lincoln’s cabinet are so fierce, so bitter, that they demand some investigation.

Stated in a few words, McClellan’s main indictment against the administration consists in the charge that it deprived him of McDowell’s corps when he moved to the Peninsula. Two out of the four divisions of which the corps was composed were, it is true, afterwards sent him, one following the other, but the remainder, though sometimes promised, never came. The corps was to have gone to the Peninsula with the others; but after McClellan had gone, it was found that, instead of the forty or fifty thousand men whom he had been ordered to leave for the garrison of Washington, he had left considerably less than twenty thousand men.

We did hope, before we took up the Autobiography, to find in it some clear statement of McClellan’s own notion of the way in which he had complied with the President’s order to “leave Washington entirely secure,” but we were disappointed. The whole treatment of the subject is fragmentary and inconclusive.

But that is not all. McClellan writes as if the whole subject of the numbers and disposition of the troops to be left for the defense of Washington had been put in his control, to be decided according to his best judgment, and he says that the force which he left was, “ under the circumstances of the case ” (page 241), sufficient, and that “the quality of the troops [they were mostly raw regiments] was amply good for the purposes in view.” The truth was that the subject was no longer under McClellan’s control; it had been referred, by the President’s orders, to the decision of the commander of the army and of his corps commanders, and had been passed upon. A majority of the corps commanders had insisted on a full garrison for the forts on the right bank of the Potomac, and that those on the other bank should he occupied, and that there should be, besides, a covering force of twenty-five thousand men in front of the Virginia line. To this decision McClellan himself had assented. Now, Banks having been called off into the Valley with a force of thirty-five thousand men by the appearance of Stonewall Jackson, it was no longer possible to furnish the required number for the defense of Washington, and still carry the four corps to the Peninsula. There were not men enough. Nevertheless, the defense of Washington was the principal thing, in all McClellan’s orders. It was only “ the remainder ” of the army which he was authorized by the President to take to the Peninsula. McClellan was in the position of an executor whom the will directs to pay certain definite pecuniary legacies, and whom the will also constitutes the residuary legatee. What he is entitled to is, of course, only what is left after the legacies are paid. If, now, we conceive of such an executor framing in his own mind an idea that he was certain to get such or such a sum of money, as residuary legatee under that will, and undertaking to cut down the pecuniary legacies, because, on settling up the estate, he finds he cannot pay them in full, and yet retain for himself the sum on which his imagination has become fixed, we may obtain a pretty accurate notion of the way in which General McClellan viewed his orders and performed his duties in the early spring of 1862.

Of all this there was probably a latent consciousness in McClellan’s mind. Accordingly, we do not find him carefully arranging with the authorities as to the troops that were to be left in and about Washington, in compliance with the instructions of the President. On the contrary, he does not deign to give them any information on the subject until he is on board the steamer and ready to start for the Peninsula. Then, and then only, does he tell the Secretary of War what dispositions he has made. He unquestionably expected that these dispositions would be accepted, or at any rate would not be very carefully scrutinized until after he should have embarked his army, and that then a speedy and brilliant success in the field would forestall criticism. But he reckoned without his host. From the time the idea of removing the army entered his head he had entirely misconceived the nature of the objections to his plan entertained by the President and his advisers. These objections were fundamental, and they were sound. They were not aimed at McClellan personally, as he chose to imagine. They were founded on a just sense of the extreme importance to the country of preserving Washington ; and on an intelligent and rational aversion to see the army, of which so great hopes were entertained, transported to a region where its only means of communication with its sources of supply must necessarily be by sea, the control of which by the United States navy was, since the appearance of the Merrimac, by no means an assured thing. But of the weight to which these considerations were rightfully entitled McClellan took no account whatever. To his mind objections to any plan of his could only spring from ignorance or malevolence.

Here we pause a moment to direct attention to one of McClellan’s most marked deficiencies. He seems, from the beginning to the end of his military career, to have been well-nigh incapable of dealing with the civil authorities in any reasonable fashion. Their lack of acquaintance with the art of war, their impatience at the delay which the imperfect state of organization and drill of his army and the condition of the roads in a Virginia winter rendered necessary, — for all which he, as a man of the world, ought to have been prepared, and ought to have been ready and cheerfully willing to meet and put up with, if he could not succeed in overcoming them by argument and instruction, — he mistook either for fatuous stupidity or for malicious obstructiveness. Hence, to all suggestions or remonstrances he replied with resentment mingled with contempt. Never did a man so willfully and insanely throw away his chances of success. Had he been a competent man of affairs, he would have known that no conjectural advantages presented by the Peninsular route over the overland route could possibly make up for losing the confidence of the administration. Had it not been for his incredible conceit, he would have found in the President and his cabinet men who, however unfamiliar they might be with the learning pertaining to the profession of arms, were yet clear-headed, sensible, patriotic men, who would gladly have learned from him what they needed to know, and would have steadily stood by him in defeat or victory. But McClellan was so eaten up with egotism that he despised all criticism and hated all semblance of opposition ; he was, moreover, so blind to the real truth of the situation that he thought that he could, by putting off all explanations until the army had gone, escape the mortification of having to renounce his favorite plan.

Here, however, he was mistaken. Instead of changing their views about the indispensableness of maintaining a large force in and about Washington, the administration, on learning from Wadsworth of the paltry array on which the capital must now depend for protection, detained McDowell’s corps. And although one may think that, all things considered, it would have been wiser to have overlooked McClellan’s disregard of his positive instructions, and allowed McDowell to go to him, yet it is really too clear for argument that McClellan himself had no ground of complaint. He had disobeyed his orders, and for the predicament in which he now found himself he had only himself to blame.

It does not require an exceptional insight into human nature to guess the state of McClellan’s mind and feelings at this juncture. Of course, it needs not to be said, he took no part of the responsibility to himself. In his mind, Mr. Lincoln had promised to him the four corps, whatever might happen to Washington ; the navy had agreed to keep open the James River and to attack the batteries of Yorktown and Gloucester, whatever the Merrimac might undertake to do ; and here he was, without any fault of his own, boxed up, so to speak, on a little tongue of exceedingly marshy land, surrounded on three sides by the sea and the rivers, with a very powerful adversary, very strongly entrenched, in front, and he unable, for want of the expected coöperation of McDowell’s corps and the navy, to turn the enemy’s positions and advance towards his goal. He thus writes to his wife (April 6th) : “ While listening this P. M. to the sound of the guns, I received an order detaching McDowell’s corps from my command. It is the most infamous thing that history has recorded.” (April 8th.) “ I have raised an awful row about McDowell’s corps. The President very coolly telegraphed me yesterday that he thought I had better break the enemy’s lines at once. I was much tempted to reply that he had better come and do it himself.” (April 11th.) “ Don’t worry, about the wretches [the administration] ; they have done nearly their worst, and can’t do much more. I am sure that I will win in the end, in spite of all their rascality. History will present a sad record of these traitors, who are willing to sacrifice the country and its army for personal spite and personal aims.” (April 21st.) “ Had a letter yesterday

from Francis B. Cutting, of New York, hoping that I would not allow these treacherous hounds to drive me from my path.” (May 3d.) “ I feel that the fate of a nation depends upon me, and I feel that I have not one single friend at the seat of government.”

In this unhealthy frame of mind McClellan seems to have remained all through the Peninsula campaign. Sometimes his mood is the heroic one, as where he writes to the President on May 21st: “ I believe that there is a great struggle before this army, but I am neither dismayed nor discouraged ; ” 9 or closes his gratuitous letter of advice, on July 7 th, to Mr. Lincoln, on the question of slavery, by the impressive words, " I may be on the brink of eternity, and as I hope for forgiveness from my Maker, I have written this letter with sincerity towards you and from love for my country.” 10 Sometimes his resentment for his supposed injuries goes beyond all bounds, as where he writes, on June 28th, to Stanton (page 425) : " If I save this army now, I tell you plainly that I owe no thanks to you, or to any other persons in Washington. You have done your best to sacrifice this army.” So elsewhere (page 449), he tells his wife that he fears that “ those people ” “ have done all that cowardice and folly can do to ruin our poor country.”

On the other hand, he never loses sight of his own importance. On July 18th (page 450), he writes this to his wife: “ If they supersede me in the command of the Army of the Potomac, I will resign my commission at once. ... I owe no gratitude to any but my own soldiers here; none to the government or to the country. I have done my best for the country ; I expect nothing in return; they are my debtors, not I theirs."1 So again (page 453) : “ I have had enough of earthly honors and place. I believe I can give up all and retire to privacy once more, a better man than when we gave up our dear little home, with wild ideas of serving the country. I feel that I have paid her all that I owe her. I am sick and weary of this business. I am tired of serving fools. God help my country ! He alone can save it.” 11

This from the pen of a man thirtysix years old, who had commanded an army just one year. With such inordinate ideas of his own importance, and such incredible contempt for and animosity towards the men who composed the administration, did McClellan close his first campaign. From first to last, from the day when he set his foot in the mud before Yorktown to the day when he left Harrison’s Landing, we look in vain for any evidence of that calm, resolute, cheerful courage, which if a man possess not, the army is not the career for him. As for his wretched talk about his having overpaid his debt to his country, we cannot trust ourselves to speak of it at all. To take such an attitude as this shows a man’s views of duty to be fundamentally unsound.

Observe, again, the extraordinary tone which he assumed in writing to Mr. Stanton in regard to the proposed coöperation of McDowell’s force. He had gathered, from some expressions in the dispatches sent to him, that McDowell was to hold an independent command even after the junction of his corps with the Army of the Potomac. Such an arrangement was extremely distasteful to McClellan, and he was certainly quite right in thinking that it would work badly. But surely nothing can justify his sending to the secretary such an ultimatum as this (page 389) : " If I cannot fully control all his troops, I want none of them, but would prefer to fight the battle with what I have, and let others be responsible for the results.” This is to make a mere personal matter of the whole business. However unfortunate may be the consequence of not sending McDowell to join the main army, McClellan says he prefers that course rather than that he should not “ fully control ” all McDowell’s troops, if they do come. Nothing could show more clearly the state of moral confusion into which McClellan’s mind had fallen. Any really clear-headed man sees at once that if McClellan thought that McDowell’s joining him, even although retaining the separate command of his troops, was likely to be of benefit to the cause, it was McClellan’s plain duty to urge that McDowell should be sent. He might remonstrate, and he ought to remonstrate, against McDowell’s retaining any such separate command, as an arrangement certain to interfere more or less with the success of the operations; but unless he was of opinion that it would do more harm than good for a distinct corps, under its own independent commander, to reinforce the Army of the Potomac, he had no right to say, as he did, that in such a case he would rather McDowell should not come.

Perhaps the most extraordinary instance of the peculiar working of McClellan’s mind is his letter of advice to Mr. Lincoln, written from Harrison’s Landing on the 7th of July, only a very few days after the close of the seven days’ battles. On the 18th of June, while he was yet on the Chickahominy, McClellan had asked permission to lay before the President his " views as to the present state of military affairs throughout the whole country.” 12 To this request, which no doubt struck the President as a rather remarkable one, Mr. Lincoln replied, more suo, that “ if it would not divert too much of ” his (McClellan’s) “ time and attention from the army under ” his “ immediate command,” he would be glad to have the views laid before him.13 Taking this permission in its widest sense, McClellan wrote his famous letter from Harrison’s Landing (page 487).

No description can do justice to this performance. Here is a man, with no special means of knowledge, with no political experience, undertaking gravely to urge the government “ to determine upon a civil and military policy covering the whole ground of our national trouble.” This policy he proceeds to lay down and define. It is, we need hardly say, a strictly conservative policy. The only important part of the letter is that opposing in the strongest terms the “ forcible abolition of slavery.” Unless the government take the right ground on this subject, “ the effort to obtain the requisite forces will be almost hopeless. A declaration of radical views, especially upon slavery, would rapidly disintegrate our present armies.” The importance which McClellan attached to these opinions, which were in much less than a year to be proved utterly and preposterously unsound, is shown by the highstrung tone of this epistle. He commences with representing “ the rebel army in the front, with the purpose of overwhelming us by attacking our positions, or reducing us by blocking our river communications.” It is evidently a case of the lambs among the wolves, in McClellan’s eyes. Gordon in Khartoum could not be much more exposed to destruction. He closes by saying that he may himself be “ on the brink of eternity,” and that he has written with all sincerity towards the President and love for his country.

Now we are perfectly willing to concede to Mr. Prime that this was not a political document. It may very likely not have been intended for political effect. But it certainly shows a man whose mind is heated and excited to an unnatural degree by dwelling on matters which are none of his business. Who was General McClellan that he should volunteer his advice to the President of the United States ? Would even he, with all his egotism, have ventured on such a step as this on the 7th of July, 1861 ? What had happened during the year to make him a political oracle ? Another thing is shown with painful distinctness, — the very superficial knowledge which McClellan had of the motives and the intentions of the masses of the Northern people, in whose minds the preservation or the destruction of slavery was always, as it was in the mind of Mr. Lincoln himself, a secondary question, which they were quite willing to leave to the decision of the constituted authorities of the country. Whether the President ought to have retained at the head of the army an officer who had thus notified him that, in the event of a certain attitude being taken by the government on the slavery question, his army would probably be “ disintegrated ” is a question on which much might be said. All we need to remark here is that there have been Presidents of the United States to whom it would not have been wise to write such a letter as this.

We have seen that McClellan insisted on going to the Peninsula, although the appearance and exploits of the Merrimac had closed the James River. But on the 12th of May, a few days only after the evacuation of Yorktown, the Merrimac was destroyed by the Confederates themselves, and the James was open as far as Drury’s Bluff. The question has often been asked why McClellan did not then use the James as his line of supply, instead of the York and Pamunkey. He tells us himself that this was what he would have done had McDowell’s corps been sent to him by water, and he has no hesitation in expressing not only his decided preference for the James River route, but his opinion (page 346) that the failure of the campaign was due to his being obliged to take up a position on both sides of the Chickahominy, with his line of supply from the White House, on the Pamunkey, very imperfectly covered. He tells us that his adoption of the York and Pamunkey line instead of the James River line was due to the order of the 18th of May, in which he was informed that McDowell was to move towards Richmond to join him. And it may well be conceded that until McDowell was ordered off to the Shenandoah Valley to intercept Jackson, the order of the 18th did require McClellan’s army to be on the Chickahominy. But on May 24th he is told that McDowell’s movement is suspended, and he admits (page 351) that he could not expect McDowell to join him " in time to participate in immediate operations in front of Richmond.” Why, then, it may pertinently be asked, did he not at once cross the Peninsula and establish his base on the James River ? As yet, he had not entangled his army in the swamps of the Chickahominy. It was then a week before the battle of Fair Oaks. On the James his supplies would be furnished more easily, and his access to the neighborhood of Richmond would be unobstructed by swamps or rivers. Then there was the opportunity of crossing the James and seizing Petersburg, which he says himself (page 343) he was sure he could have done. Finally, the enemy were known to be divided ; Jackson was in the Valley. That the James River was the “ true line of operations ” McClellan says he was always of opinion. Why, then, did he not adopt it in the last week in May ?

The reason he gives us (page 364) is that the order of May 18th for the cooperation of McDowell was only suspended, not revoked, and that therefore he could not abandon the northern approach and his communications with West Point. We cannot accept this reason as the true one. After the dispatch of the 24th of May, in which McClellan was informed that McDowell was ordered away in chase of Jackson, had been received, it seems to us that McClellan was free to adopt the line of the James, if he saw fit so to do. At any rate, it is very certain that had he desired to do so, and been in doubt as to the wishes of the government, he might have asked the question whether the order of the 18th was to be considered as in any sense obligatory, now that McDowell had been sent off. But he never asked the question. Had he really seen at the time the weakness of his position athwart the Chickahominy and the superior advantages of operating from a base on the James, as he would now have us believe that he then did, he would have gone to the James the moment he heard that McDowell’s promised coöperation had been indefinitely suspended. At the least, he would have applied for leave to do so. He did neither. And with his usual unwillingness to accept any blame for his own conduct, he most unfairly lays upon the Secretary of War the entire responsibility of retaining the army on the Chickahominy from the 18th of May till the 28th of June (page 481).

We have said all that we care to say regarding McClellan’s claim, or assumption, rather, that no one but himself could have led the army after the close of the unfortunate campaign of General Pope. We have read with care his account of the battle of Antietam. There is nothing to be learned from it. He does not explain to our comprehension why the battle was not fought the day before. His troops were all up; that is, all, or nearly all, of those who fought on the 17th. He does not discuss the question of the relative numbers of the armies in the battle, but he does say that we were largely outnumbered, which we now know was not the case. He tells us why he did not renew the battle on the 18th in language very characteristic of the man (page 618) : " I am aware of the fact that, under ordinary circumstances, a general is expected to risk a battle if he has a reasonable prospect of success ; but at this critical juncture I should have had a narrow view of the condition of the country, had I been willing to hazard another battle with less than an absolute assurance of success. At that moment, Virginia lost, Washington menaced, Maryland invaded, the national cause could afford no risks of defeat, One battle lost, and almost all would have been lost. Lee’s army might then have marched as it pleased, on Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, or New York. It could have levied its supplies from a fertile and undevastated country; extorted tribute from wealthy and populous cities; and nowhere east of the Alleghanies was there another organized force able to arrest its march.” In this piling Pelion upon Ossa, McClellan has no rival among military writers.

His letters during the campaign are certainly among the curiosities of military literature. The day after the action at South Mountain, he says (page 612) : —

“ September 15th, Monday, 9.30 A. M. Just sent you a telegram informing you that we yesterday gained a glorious and complete victory; every moment adds to its importance. I am pushing everything after them with the greatest rapidity, and expect to gain great results. I thank God most humbly for his great mercy. How glad I am for my country, that it is delivered from immediate peril! ... If I can believe one tenth of what is reported. God has seldom given an army a greater victory than this.” 14

South Mountain was unquestionably a brilliant affair and a complete success, but there have been greater victories even than South Mountain. The next day he has “ no doubt delivered Pennsylvania and Maryland.” The day after Antietam he writes, “ Those in whose judgment I rely tell me that I fought the battle splendidly, and that it was a masterpiece of art.” On the 20th he writes, “ Our victory was complete, and the disorganized rebel army has rapidly returned to Virginia, its dreams of ‘ invading Pennsylvania ’ dissipated forever. I feel some little pride in having, with a beaten and demoralized army, defeated Lee so utterly and saved the North so completely. Well, one of these days history will, I trust, do me justice in deciding that it was not my fault that the campaign of the Peninsula was not successful. . . . Since I left Washington, Stanton has again asserted that I, not Pope, lost the battle of Manassas No. 2! ... I am tired of fighting against such disadvantages, and feel that it is now time for the country to come to my help and remove these difficulties from my path. If my countrymen will not open their eyes and assist themselves, they must pardon me if I decline longer to pursue the thankless avocation of serving them.” And again, “ I feel that I have done all that can be asked in twice saving the country.15 If I continue in its service, I have at least the right to demand a guarantee that I shall not be interfered with.” To the same effect on the 22d : “ I have the satisfaction of knowing that God has, in Ms mercy, a second time made me the instrument for saving the nation, and am content with the honor that has fallen to my lot. I have seen enough of public life. No motive of ambition can now retain me in the service. The only thing that can keep me there will be the conviction that my country needs my services, and that circumstances make it necessary for me to render them. I am confident that the poison still rankles in the veins of my enemies at Washington, and that so long as they live it will remain there. ... I have received no papers containing the news of the last battle, and do not know the effect it has produced on the Northern mind. I trust it has been a good one, and that I am reëstablished in the confidence of the best people of the nation.”

All these letters show McClellan’s mind to have been in anything but a healthy condition. They reveal to us a man exalted with an insufferable egotism, viewing things all out of their due proportion, cherishing the most bitter resentments, never dreaming of imputing to himself any blame whatsoever, in a state of hopeless moral confusion, and practicing all sorts of deceptions on his own mind. For in the bottom of his soul General McClellan knew that Antietam was not “ a masterpiece of art,” that the Army of the Potomac was not a “ demoralized ” army, and that Lee was not “ utterly defeated,” still less disorganized.” But he always, as we before remarked, lived to a great degree in a world of his own, created by his own imagination.

After the battle of Antietam, McClellan deemed it necessary, or at least advisable, to refit and reorganize his army. He was very deficient in cavalry. The troops were short of clothing and of some other supplies. Hence he posted his army in the neighborhood of Harper’s Ferry, and refused to follow the enemy into Virginia. Orders had no effect upon him whatever. He thought the army needed this rest and these supplies, and he now felt himself to be strong enough to have his own way, and to disregard the orders of the President, and the Secretary, and General Halleck. In his appreciation of the needs of the army he may have been right. Very likely he was. But we have never believed, and we do not believe now, that it was an honest difference of opinion about these questions, and the like, that induced the administration to remove General McClellan from the command of the army. It was, in our judgment, the impossibility of establishing with him any intelligible relations. His attitude was so heroic, so flighty, so unpractical, so sentimental, so insubordinate, that the authorities despaired of ever coming to any understanding with him. While Mr. Lincoln and his advisers took a cool and essentially correct view of the campaign of Antietam, regarding it as a moderate success over an enemy who had rashly exposed himself to destruction, and were anxiously expecting that some movement would be made before winter should set in, McClellan was apparently occupying himself, during the fine October weather, with riding over the field, and collecting information for the forthcoming report of his glorious victory. To all their urgent appeals McClellan turned a deaf ear. There is to be found in his dispatches and letters at this period that mixture of resentment and contempt which we noticed before, and to this was now added a new ingredient, that certainly did not make the cup more palatable, — an inordinate pride at having saved the country from the incapables who directed its destinies, and from the sword of a preponderant foe. Had it been a mere question of shoes and horses, of days or of weeks, McClellan would never have been relieved after Antietam. But it was not. It was found impossible to get on with a man like McClellan, to tolerate his pretensions, to accept his versions of facts. As for there ever having been any obstructions thrown in his way, all we can say is that McClellan utterly fails to give rise to a suspicion on this point ; that is, in our judgment. A more preposterous and unfounded theory, in our opinion, was never broached.

Many as were McClellan’s faults, however, it was inexcusable to supplant him by Burnside. Everybody who was in any degree behind the scenes knew of the miserable failure which Burnside had made at Antietam. Why he should have been selected to command the army, except that he happened to be next in rank to McClellan, no one could imagine at the time, and no one has ever learned since. What would have happened if McClellan had been continued in command it is perhaps useless to conjecture.

General McClellan undoubtedly had as comprehensive and correct a notion of what an army should be, to be really a well-organized and efficient military force, as any of our generals, and possibly he may have led them all in this regard. As an organizer, also, he was unquestionably one of our first men, although in this department he was probably equaled by Buell and Thomas. Nor should we forget the immense change for the better in the Army of the Potomac wrought by Hooker, in the winter succeeding the bloody defeat of Fredericksburg. But McClellan surpassed all our officers, except, possibly, Thomas and Sheridan, in the power of creating confidence and enthusiasm among the soldiers. The curious thing about McClellan’s hold on his men was that it was acquired before the army had taken the field, while it was yet in the lines before Washington. And equally remarkable is the fact that it was not shaken by defeat and disaster. This enthusiasm, too, was contagious. In the Antietam campaign it was observed to affect troops who had not before served under him. The truth was that McClellan really loved his men ; he was a man of a good deal of genuine sentiment ; the position he occupied as head of the army, gaining it, as he did, at one bound, — as it were by the decree of destiny, — powerfully affected his imagination, and from the first he accepted the rôle of the friend and protector of the soldiers, as well as that of the commander of the army. To officers who had risen from the command of regiments, or brigades, or even corps, little or nothing of this sort of thing was possible ; they had been too near to the men. With most people, in fact, such a strong feeling could never have found a place in their minds, from sheer lack of sentiment. But no one can read McClellan’s letters and doubt the existence of this affection on his part for his men, and his thorough appreciation and enjoyment of their attachment to and confidence in him. For the soldiers were not slow to recognize the fact that in McClellan they possessed a commander who imported into the ordinary formalities of official and military duty a certain pride in them, in their achievements, and in their virtues, a real solicitude for them, and a warm interest in their welfare and comfort, not to be found in any of the other officers of the army. To this solicitude and this interest they responded with all their hearts, and a personal relation was unquestionably established very early between McClellan and his soldiers that is almost, if not quite, unique in the history of war. It was, of course, an element of strength on our side so long as McClellan commanded the army, although he never used it on the field of battle. With him, war, in all its processes, was a mere matter of calculation, into which it was only mischievous to allow sentiment of any kind to enter. He thoroughly enjoyed this relation to his army, — it was, in fact, the only thing he did enjoy during his military life, — but he never made any such use of it as Stonewall Jackson, for instance, did of the hold which he had on his men.

Of McClellan’s relations to the President and the members of the cabinet we have already spoken. But we may say here that enough and more than enough is disclosed in the volume before us to account for McClellan’s failure on purely personal grounds. It is, in our opinion, impossible for any one reading this book to believe that McClellan’s political views had any perceptible influence on his fortunes. There is no need of lugging in any such hypothesis. There is sufficient in the plain and undisputed facts to explain everything to the comprehension of any one who has seen much of the world. McClellan’s sudden exaltation was more than he could bear ; he considered himself a great man, — the appointed saviour of his country. To the natural and to-be-expected ignorance of military facts and military reasons which he met in Washington, he opposed the pride and self-sufficiency of a specialist, and of a specialist who was, it must be confessed, uncommonly young for his years. There was no one in the administration who could keep him within proper bounds. Lincoln’s practical sense was embodied in the uncouth garb of rusticity, and all his wise considerateness and wholesome advice went for nothing. As for the others, their attitude received at McClellan’s hands absolutely no toleration. He never even endeavored to put himself in their place, nor, probably, could he have done so, had he tried. Hence arose inevitably a state of mutual suspicion and hostility, which continued to the time of his removal. All through this period both sides made mistakes, and serious ones. But the blame for the original falling out must rest with the general who attempted to evade his orders, and then threw upon others the responsibility he ought manfully to have shouldered himself. Lastly, let it be remembered that McClellan, as it was, had his fair share of the favors of fortune. No thanks to him, to be sure, but the James River was opened to him a week after he had taken Yorktown. For all that appears, he might have used that admirable line of operations, and escaped the unwholesome swamps of the Chickahominy and the forced change of base. No orders from the secretary obliged him to suffer the Fifth Corps to be overwhelmed by the main army of Lee at Gaines’s Mill; and nothing in the world but his own slowness prevented his attacking Lee at Antietam the day before Jackson came up from Harper’s Ferry. It is impossible to get up much sympathy for General McClellan. And we do not think that this book of his will raise him in the opinion of his countrymen.

  1. 16 McClellan’s Own Story. The War for the Union: the soldiers who fought it; the civilians who directed it; and his relations to it and to them. By GEORGE B. McCLELLAN, late Major-General commanding the Armies. New York: Charles L. Webster & Co. 1887.
  2. Letter to Stanton, March 19, 1862. Report, N. Y. eel., page 133.
  3. Report, N. Y. ed., page 134.
  4. Report, N. Y. ed., page 156.
  5. The italics are ours.
  6. Report, N. Y. ed., page 118.
  7. The italics are ours.
  8. Report. N, Y. ed., page 198.
  9. Report, N. Y. ed., page, 282.
  10. The italics are ours.
  11. Report, N. Y. od., page 233.
  12. The italics are ours.