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Mr. Mercanto    502
On 9/18/2017 at 11:53 AM, thedauphin said:

Hi there, just found this forum and this thread, which both seem to more civilized and informed than the usual steam posts. And this thread seems to be really fun in scope and execution.

Anyways, being European my knowledge to the ACW is limited to some TV shows, Mr. Burns documentary and McPhersons 'Battlecry of Freedom'.

I noticed having a soft spot for General McClellan. Unlike so many generals throughout history, he seemed to value the integrity of army and the health of his men above acquiring laurels. I do not doubt he is duely critcised for not being active enough, and also has these strange streaks of megalomia in his letters, but... well, the question being: Is newest historiography kinder on him than it used to be the case?

Hiya! Welcome to the thread and thanks for your kind words! This is a really cool question

New historiography has not been much kinder to McClellan, though some scholars have moved away from the answer provided by @Andre Bolkonsky, that being that Little Mac loved his army to much to risk its harm. Military historian John Keegan (A Military History of the American Civil War) and military historian/McClellan biographer Stephen W. Sears (Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam, and To the Gates of Richmond), suggest that McClellan was so afraid to lose, that he did not risk victory. They charge that McClellan, ahving never failed anything in his life, was petrified of failure. This, by extension, plays into recent historiography concerning Ulysses S. Grant, which has at time argued that Grant's success was in part duie to his boldness, which in turn may have been caused by his many failures in life. Having failed in so many ventures, Grant understood that failure was an option, and could be recovered from. 

However, I think new and fascinating light has been shone on McClellan in Richard Slotkin's newest book Long Road to Antietam: How the Civil War Became a Revolution. The book dissects the political crisis facing the US government in the wake of the 2nd Mannassas,  the challenges posed by the threat of a McClellan coup, and Lincoln's efforts to radically change the direction of the political and military strategy of the war. In the process, Slotkin does much to advance McClellan historiography. 

In essense, Slotkin argues that McClellan viewed the Radical Left Republicans to be as a great a threat, or even a greater threat, to the Union then the Reactionary Secession Right. McClellan was politically a Conservative Northern War Democratic, and believed that the Union must be preserved through a compromise that would maintain the pre-war institutions and power-structures (ie Slavery). He considered Abolitionism politically suicidal, detrimental to the country, and destructive to a restoration of the Union. McClellan could observe that the administration was taking on a more radical policy, and viewed himself as the saviour of the Republic. He felt he must influence the President towards what he considered a wiser conciliation, and bring both parties together with as little conquest as possible. In his Harrison Landing Letter, he reffered to this as fighting the war "on the highest Christian virtues" urging the President to protect property in slavery. 

Slotkin argues that McClellan's belief in himself manifested into a conviction that he was the only man that could save the Union; coupled with a the highly theological school of history that he and his wife subscribed to, McClellan began to view himself as the Divine Instrument of the Union. Were he to lose a battle, then he would be removed from his command, and thus the Union itself would perish. It became imperative that he be retained. No risk could be balanced against his dismissal, which would open the floodgates of Red Republican Radicalism. At Antietam, McClellan sought a limited victory, committing his troops piecemeal in order to guard against total defeat. When the Rebels withdrew, McClellan saw no need to pursue; by winning victory and ensuring his tenure as commander, he had already saved the Republic from the true enemy, Lincoln. 

Slotkin also briefly addresses the Young Napoleon's love of his army. He argues that while Little Mac certainly loved his army, it was ultimately because that army worshiped and adored him, serving as a constant source of validation. It was the belief that he was invaluable to re-uniting the Union and preventing Abolitionist Radicalism, rather then simple love of his men, that prevented him from taking risks on the battlefield. 

Personally, I find Slotkin's argument extremely convincing, and I think it does much to advance the strange historiography of that unusual General, George B. McClellan. 

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thedauphin    0
On 19.9.2017 at 7:08 AM, Andre Bolkonsky said:

Welcome! 

McClellan loved his army so much he never wanted to see it hurt. RE Lee had nothing but respect for him.  I would like to share a clip from a movie, "In Harm's Way" in which the greatest compare & contrast of McClellan and Grant is made. 

 

Thanks for sharing the clip, Mr Bolkonsky! I wonder why Mr Wayne never fought in the Civil War, or did he?

I cannot help but think that there was something more to Grant than "just" pointing his batallions into the right direction...

At least, didn't General Burnside do the same in Fredericksburg with disputed success?

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thedauphin    0
18 hours ago, Mr. Mercanto said:

Hiya! Welcome to the thread and thanks for your kind words! This is a really cool question

New historiography has not been much kinder to McClellan, though some scholars have moved away from the answer provided by @Andre Bolkonsky, that being that Little Mac loved his army to much to risk its harm. Military historian John Keegan (A Military History of the American Civil War) and military historian/McClellan biographer Stephen W. Sears (Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam, and To the Gates of Richmond), suggest that McClellan was so afraid to lose, that he did not risk victory. They charge that McClellan, ahving never failed anything in his life, was petrified of failure. This, by extension, plays into recent historiography concerning Ulysses S. Grant, which has at time argued that Grant's success was in part duie to his boldness, which in turn may have been caused by his many failures in life. Having failed in so many ventures, Grant understood that failure was an option, and could be recovered from. 

However, I think new and fascinating light has been shone on McClellan in Richard Slotkin's newest book Long Road to Antietam: How the Civil War Became a Revolution. The book dissects the political crisis facing the US government in the wake of the 2nd Mannassas,  the challenges posed by the threat of a McClellan coup, and Lincoln's efforts to radically change the direction of the political and military strategy of the war. In the process, Slotkin does much to advance McClellan historiography. 

In essense, Slotkin argues that McClellan viewed the Radical Left Republicans to be as a great a threat, or even a greater threat, to the Union then the Reactionary Secession Right. McClellan was politically a Conservative Northern War Democratic, and believed that the Union must be preserved through a compromise that would maintain the pre-war institutions and power-structures (ie Slavery). He considered Abolitionism politically suicidal, detrimental to the country, and destructive to a restoration of the Union. McClellan could observe that the administration was taking on a more radical policy, and viewed himself as the saviour of the Republic. He felt he must influence the President towards what he considered a wiser conciliation, and bring both parties together with as little conquest as possible. In his Harrison Landing Letter, he reffered to this as fighting the war "on the highest Christian virtues" urging the President to protect property in slavery. 

Slotkin argues that McClellan's belief in himself manifested into a conviction that he was the only man that could save the Union; coupled with a the highly theological school of history that he and his wife subscribed to, McClellan began to view himself as the Divine Instrument of the Union. Were he to lose a battle, then he would be removed from his command, and thus the Union itself would perish. It became imperative that he be retained. No risk could be balanced against his dismissal, which would open the floodgates of Red Republican Radicalism. At Antietam, McClellan sought a limited victory, committing his troops piecemeal in order to guard against total defeat. When the Rebels withdrew, McClellan saw no need to pursue; by winning victory and ensuring his tenure as commander, he had already saved the Republic from the true enemy, Lincoln. 

Slotkin also briefly addresses the Young Napoleon's love of his army. He argues that while Little Mac certainly loved his army, it was ultimately because that army worshiped and adored him, serving as a constant source of validation. It was the belief that he was invaluable to re-uniting the Union and preventing Abolitionist Radicalism, rather then simple love of his men, that prevented him from taking risks on the battlefield. 

Personally, I find Slotkin's argument extremely convincing, and I think it does much to advance the strange historiography of that unusual General, George B. McClellan. 

Thanks Mr Mercanto for your abstract... :)

Mr Slotkin's angle gives an even more tragic edge to General McClellan - his indeciscion fueled by too much weight felt on his shoulders. And while being indecided (and indecisive) in his actions, not lacking in conviction or vision how the Union may be saved. We well know that President Lincoln's vision prevailed - which seems obvious to us in 2017, but probably seemed unlikely to the people of 1861. Even though the exact manifestation of that vision was as much shaped by the escalation of the war as by Lincoln's agenda.

I think it has been already been speculated about in this thread, what would have become of the Union if McClellan had won the 1864's election? Yet I still wonder - what if McClellan had been a tad more succesful... what if he had been a bit more diplomatic and thus had more support in both civil and military administration? Could he have stayed in command throughout '63 and '64 and then challenge Lincoln? In a war less escalted through causalities and Emancipation Act? Could a President McClellan achieve victory not by crushing the CSA but giving the seceding states an option to return to the Union 'in honor'?

Would there have been a third way, besides a triumphant North or an independent South?

 

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6 hours ago, thedauphin said:

Thanks for sharing the clip, Mr Bolkonsky! I wonder why Mr Wayne never fought in the Civil War, or did he?

I cannot help but think that there was something more to Grant than "just" pointing his batallions into the right direction...

At least, didn't General Burnside do the same in Fredericksburg with disputed success?

If you liked the clip, watch the movie; one of the best examples of how the Navy actually works mixed in with a fair to middling story of personal lives in a war zone. 

BTW, John Wayne is in tons of movies dressed in Civil War uniforms. Always Union. Usually cavalry. His usual names are frequently Kirby, Yorke, and Donovan. Or, his masterpiece, Doniphon in 'The man who shot Liberty Valance' - the greatest Western, and the best example of US self-opinion after WWII, ever made.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance - Just watch it, you'll thank me later. Just remember: "Link Appleyard done run ya out of town'.

 

 

Of course, John Wayne also played Longinus, the Centurion at Crucifiction in 'The Greatest Story Ever Told'; truly, this was the worst casting ever. 

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