tv The Civil War Union General George Mc Clellan CSPAN November 24, 2017 1:55pm-3:11pm EST
high ranking union officials. most notably president abraham lincoln. this talk was part of pamplin historical park symposium. it's about an 1:15. good morning, everybody. we're ready to get started. welcome back to the last day of our conference and also welcome to our cspan viewers. we're live. just a couple of announcements before i introduce the speaker. we still have some tickets available on our wonderful plank that you'll be able to take home today if you want. we've also got some other
raffles going on. at your table you've been given a note card that we would like you to write down a question for our panel this afternoon. if you have a question for them. and what i will do, i will take out the most objectionable ones. and then we'll proceed from there. but -- so if you find that and if you've got a question, then write it down and we'll ask our wonderful speakers today. we've also, at the break we're going to bring in my staff and we're going to have a chance to acknowledge them. and then our panel discussion is after lunch at 1:00. so that will be the end of our day. i really like our speaker's presentation title today, mission impossible, rethinking
george b. mcclel an. after this conference i think it's more impossibler to do that. but dr. george rable, professor at the university of alabama where he held the care of southern history. he is the author of of a book that won the 2003 lincoln prize and was the choice outstanding academic title. his most recent book is "damn yankees." let's welcome dr. george rable. [ applause ] >> thank you very much. it's always a pleasure to be here for many different reasons.
i'd hike to thank des and pamplin park. i'm always indebted to my friend will green who's invited me back year after year despite perhaps some protests from the crowd. will and i give each other a lot of grief, but we are dear friends. now, but most of all i think i want to thank you all who year after year come to this conference. it was good to see some people here who hadn't been here before. i consider this group dear friends. it's always one of the highlights of the year for kay and i to come up here. over the years i've had a number of assignments thank to my dear, dear friend will green. [ laughter ] >> sort of a trifecta of
challenges, if you will. some of you may remember a number of years ago when we had a different format. it was a series of debates between historians. and what did will assign me? i was assigned the side of arguing that slavery was not a major cause of the civil war. [ laughter ] my second assignment was even more formidable. i was assigned to debate james mcdonald mcferson on soldier motivation. and now today i have george b. mcclellan. mission impossible indeed. i've had to sit back friday be evening, yesterday, listening to the speakers, and i've got to say i am tired of all this mcclellan bashing.
[ laughter ] >> yesterday john talked about joe hooker who rose by diminishing the accomplishments of others and i think the previous speakersexemplified in their speak are of mcclellan. you mention george b. mcclellan to almost any student of the american civil war and the response is as predictable as the sun rise. they know him as a foil to lincoln who might be able to organize an army, but would not or could not fight an army. as lincoln once said, mcclellan has the slows and has to be removed. to call mcclellan a controversial commander in the
21st century is in several respects i think misleading because students of war have largely made up their mind about george b. mcclellan and not in the general's favor. and they are unlikely to be interested in rethinking their position, hence the title mission impossible. when historian mark grimsley published a piece of the origins of him as a feckless commander, the response was immediate and predictable. in the next issue of the publication, the letters appeared. dismissive, utterly dismissive of his efforts and unwilling to consider any other interpretation and by now a standard interpretation of mcclellan. i know opinions about mcclellan
are almost baked in and unlikely to change. in his own day, of course, mcclellan had many warm friends and no shortage of friends or enemies. he had the misfortune to clash with abraham lincoln who himself was a controversial figure at the time but who quickly became the savior of the union. i think mcclellan had something to do with that as well, the grant great e mans pat or. it has hardly helped mcclellan's reputation. as lincoln's private secretary john hey noted in a letter to his fellow secretary and co-author john g.nicolay as they were preparing the ten volume
study of abraham lincoln, and listen to these words, john hay wroert wrote i think i have left the impression of mcclellan's infidelity and i have done it in a perfect courteous manner. it is of the utmost moment that we should seem fair to him while we are destroying him. so this mcclellan animus is very, very old. mcclellan himself sought i think in vein to vindicate his reputation and his ill-fated auto biography. he did not live to complete his auto biography, mcdonaldclellan story. he also had the misfortune, his literary executor by bringing his partially completed man
script into print and by printing excerpts that he wrote to his wife during the war. as for the historians, consider this lopsided lineup. in the anti-mcclellan camp we have some of the giants of the civil war field. bruce catton. my mentor t. hairy williams who tried to mentor will green. [ laughter ] >> steven sears. james mcferson. on the other side, who do we have? we have warren hasler's biography. we have ethan's fine revisionist study. it's not exactly an even contest there. and then there's ken burns.
his civil war series presented standard thoroughly conventional portraits of generals on both sides. you don't get much military revisionism with ken burns. his treatment of mcclellan simply followed in the steps of catton, williams, sears and mcdonald's fer son. so why is mcclellan so despised by almost all who hold an opinion of the man today? >> at a conference last year, and i told ethan i was going to steal this line because i taught it was so good, ethan remarked that mcclellan was like the guy in high school that we all knew, who was captain of the football team, dated the head
cheerleader, seemed effortlessly successful at everything and we hated his guts. [ laughter ] >> indeed it seems that george b. mcclellan led a very charmed life. he was a man eager to make his mark in the world. in some ways he -- even as a young man, he was weary of what he turned political fools. he viewed his own class, that is the class of 1846 at the united military academy at west point, as the key to national success. not only in the civil war, but eventually, but more broadly. in fact, in an address to his fellow cadets when he was still at west point, mcclellan declared the great difference between the officers and private, between the officer and the private, is that one is supposed to be an educated well-informed man while the
other is a passive instrument in the hands of his superiors. i think that statement speaks volumes about george b. mcclellan. his faith in an elite class, indeed a kind of natural hierarchy, would hardly sit well in democratic america. but his confidence in the power of superior minds was striking and at the same time i think unequivocal. he praised his fellow and presumably like minded cadets for appreciating what he called the best literature. essential to the man who would bear the character of an accomplished and polished gentleman. indeed without educated officers, mcclellan believed armies would become little better than mobs of the most depraf deprd depraved and wicked men. he believed that power based on the virtue of intellectual
superiority is more greater and more lasting than that which is the result of mere physical qualities. he would not ignore the mounting sectional tensions. he was aware of those even as a cadet. he even alluded in this speech in 1846 to the possibility of civil war. but in such a crisis, he believed that the trained officers from west point, as he put it, would hold the balance in our hands. therefore the army would ever incline to the conservative party whose highest goal must be what? to preserve the american union. now, as a young man, unlike his great rival as it were, abraham lincoln, mcclellan suffered from no crippling emotional crises. he had grown up in quite comfortable middle class circumstances. his physician father and mother
served as models and behavior of success. at the strikingly young age of 13 he entered the university of pennsylvania. but before he was able to graduate, his father persuaded a friendly congressman to get him an appointment to west point. and by the end of his first year, mcclellan already stood very high in his class. indeed he impressed some of his classmates as a near genius who excelled in any number of subjects and displayed an easy confidence in his own ability. mcclellan found the cadets from the southern states especially companionable because as he put it, their manners, feelings and opinions. as the time came for him to least west point, he expressed some disappointment. he finished second in his class. he was eager toe join the corp
of engineers. i think already early on the outlines of mcclellan's personality were also becoming clear. he often stood in ceremony, once complained to his mother about an overly familiar visitor to west point who kept calling him george rather than giving him proper respect. mcclellan could be aprickely character who could easily take offense. he was determined to show them, and here the pronoun lacked an antecdent. he still resents being second in his class. the prospect of war and success greatly excited young george
mcclellan and he wrote war at last, ain't it glorious. and the impatient young mcclellan goes off to fight in mexico where he freely criticizes his fellow officers, mexicans, and anybody who did not quite live up to his star standards of military professionalism. some of the volunteers who carry on in the most shameful and disgraceful manner were the worst of the lot. mcclellan himself confessed to being embarrassed and that he had not compiled a better war record. at the time i think it was revealing about his later career. as a junior officer, to be outranked by volunteer officers. he shared winfield scott's
disdain for president poke's interference in military strategy, an opinion filed away for later use. he was impatient with the army after a return from the war. he was impastient military politics after he came back to west point. he said he enjoyed military service in the abstract. he found american democracy incompatible with his professional ideals. he wrote our government may be a very fine one for civilians. it was not intended for military men. he said the more truly one likes his profession, the more soldierly pride he has, the more disgusted he is with our service. could i sink down at once with indifference, i would be perfectly content with the army. as it is, the service in the army is a continual heaping of
coals on one's head. i am almost afraid to read history or anything pertaining to my profession, because the more i know, the more are my eyes opened to our own wretched condition. his performance in mexico, however, despite what he -- his disappointment, i think attracted more notice than he realized. both william t. sherman and oliver howard recalled that by the late 1840s he had acquired a notable reputation as a soldier and a student of the military art. in march, 1855 secretary of war jefferson davis sends mcclellan as part of a three-man commission to investigate european military policy and operations in the crimean war. mcclellan traveled all over the
continent. he was impressed with russian officers and was able to visit crimea once the russians gave up. he filed a long report oncoming back. in fact, this report was commercially published in the fall of 1861 with a preface that claimed that the young captain had been sent to europe on account of the brilliant military qualities he had already displayed. and it won him additional recognition in washington at the time and additional recognition in the army. but mcdonaldclellan saw little prospect for advancement in the army after a return from europe or professional achievement n. november, 1856, he resigned his commission. jump ahead four years later, may 22nd, 1860, george b. mcclellan
gets married. they were wed in new york city and by all accounts it was a loving and successful one. both husband and wife were attractive, devoted to each other, deeply religious. he often referred to his wife as my little press be tierian and she obviously had an influence on his religion views. in any case, they began their life together with the advantages of family and background and education and social standing. and they soon enough, as husbands and wives sometimes do, but not always, come to view the world with all its opportunities and perils in remarkably similar ways. nelly mcclellan is very much like her husband. and if not exactly at war with the world, both were quick to take offense and could be touchy over perceived slights. especially from those considered to be their intellectual, moral,
or social inferiors. jumping back a little bit in time, beginning in 1857, mcclellan had become a railroad executive. yet despite more than doubling his army salary, mcclellan harbors regrets over leaving the army. he has these statements criticizing life in the army but yet at the same time he regrets leaving the army. in any case, whether in the army or as a railroad executive, he had not yet achieved the distinction he so longed for. he eventually becomes a railroad superintendent with what at the time was a salary of 10,000 a year and moved to cincinnati. but the bar of ambition was still set very high. success with the railroad and his marriage to ellen occurred just as the nation was plunging toward the abyss.
politically mcclellan had undoubtedly absorbed a goodly amount of his father's conservativism including his sometimes disdain for the mass of humanity. expose tour politicians in washington had given him an equal equally jaundiceed view of that breed. his own views of that of a strong democrat of the steven a. douglas school. he was one of the needless war kind of guy whose blamed the mounting sectional crisis on both sides essentially. he remained weary of republican politicians in washington who in his view failed to represent what he considered to be the true sentiments of most northerners. mcclellan always tried to steer kind of a middle course at this point. but regardless i think of his political assumptions and expectations, once the war came,
this meant that his long frustrated ambition for martial distinction would be gratified. he accepted an officer from governor william dennison to take command of the ohio troops. mcclellan ref elled in this new sar assignment remarking that he would rather deal with soldiers than railroads. and then he becomes of course a general in the regular army and he assumed sending off plans to winfield scott about how to win the war. he proposed entering western virginia for an advance on richmond, though the plan rather oddly dismissed any difficulty in crossing mountains in a single sentence. by may 17, 1861, he had turned his attention to the plight of unionists in western virginia.
but also prepared, despite the absence of any instructions from scott, to cross the ohio river with as many as 40,000 men rather than see the loyal union men of kentucky crushed. scott, elderly general scott by this time, tries to rein in his young sub oordinate by pointing out that volunteers in a large theater hardly called for expeditions beyond its borders referring to the kentucky scheme. in turn mcclellan does something he is going to do about the next several months. that is complain about winfield scott writing that scott does not take suggestions from military subordinates especially when they conflict with his preconceived notions. mcclellan i think views himself as indispensable to the war effort and this is not only going to lead him to work far
too long and hard, but also prevent him from sharing his plans and problems with s subordinates or even the war department or even president lincoln. there's no question i think mcclellan was an extremely hard worker. in fact, i think too hard a worker. the first test for mcclellan in the field would come in western virginia with confederates concentrating around rich mountain and laurel hill. mcclellan was in the field and with a hopefulness that expressed widely held northern views, he remarked it is wonderful to see how rapidly the minds of many of these people become enlightened when they find we can protect them. fear and ignorance combined have made most of the converse. the reverse process is now going
on. we need to remember that many northerners assumed that cessation was a minority position in the south at this time and soon the southerners would come to their senses and the union would be restored n. any case, after squirmishing on the mount on july 12, they take a goodly number of prisoners, mcclellan gets the credit that perhaps better rested with rosecrantz. never was complete success gained with smaller success of life he wrote nelly and at the same time declaring victory in western virginia. the newspapers agreed. the washington national republican, which becomes sort of the semi-official of the lincoln administration, praised his manner along with his
executive ability rarely equal, seldom or never excelled. here was a leader who might accept the mantel of winfield scott. presumably then mcclellan would become the next great captain of the age. the general was becoming according to a new york herald headline the napoleon of the present war. i resisted the temptation to put up the classic photograph of mcclellan in his pose that i know would only elicit more se ricesi -- derisive comments from the audience. in this article that wron on ra they compared him to the great commanders of history. the editorial concluded the backbone of the rebellion is broken. it made virginia its water loo
and it has been defeated. that strength has proved to be perfect weakness, the road to richmond is open thanks to george b. mcclellan. well, mcclellan, when he had traveled from cincinnati to western virginia for this campaign, was greatly impressed by all the people that greeted him along the way. at clarksburg virginia he talked about the crowds of people that cheered him as their savior and with a bit of con desengz he added it was a proud and glorious thing to see a whole people here, simple and unsophisticated looking up to me as their deliverer from ty tyranny. he closely connected military discipline with humane treatment of civilians. he instructed his men to respect virginia persons and property. because he believed and many
northerners believed that the only real enemies were the armed traitors. again, a minority. so his troops should show mercy. even to them, when they are in your power, as he put it to his men, for many of them are misguided. these reflect mcdonald's clclel, his approach to the war, his approach to the confederates, an approach that would not change. as a conservative democrat, he rejected cessation. but he had also maintained that southern states had some legitimate grievances. and he was determined to fight a conservative con sill tore sort of war. to the unionists of western virginia, mcclellan noted how armed traitors had attempted to bring on a rein of terror but your homes, your families and your property are safe under our protection.
in addition, he said federal forces should refrain from any interference with slaves. now, mcclellan realized that these statements and pro claimations might be controversial and so wrote that they were based on the president's previous course and opinions. he said he felt confident that i have not hurt on this very important matter. neither lincoln nor winfield scott ever replied to mcclellan and so the general i think naturally and simply reiterated his views in a later address to soldiers in the department of the ohio. at a time when the war was not going well, it is hardly surprising that many northerners, regardless of their politics, would not only welcome the news of the victories in western virginia, but consider
him a budding military genius. in fact, on july 21, winfield scott wired mcclellan that within a few hours general madowell would turn the enemy's flank. but a reinforced confederate army whipped the yankees at the first battle of bull run and sent them head long in retreat back toward washington. the following day came a telegroom mcclellan. circumstances made your presence here necessary. come hither without delay. uparriving upon arriving he was flattered with the attention. i find myself in a new and strange position here, he wrote to nelly. the president, the cabinet, general scott all deferring to me. by some strange operation of magic, i seem to have become the
power of the land. he wrote even some small success might now lead to calls for him to become a dictator, a possibility he tried to treat with a light touch. but given his standing and obvious talent, mcclellan felt he could diagnose the main causes of the recent failure. he could then remedy any problems and lead these armies of men to victory once more. indeed he told his wife he would start doing this the very next morning. he seemed proud of the fact that he was suddenly sos about he would have to decline dinner invitations from scott and no less than four cabinet members. certainly mcclellan's appointment appeared to lift the spirits in washington and perhaps elsewhere. pictures of the young general appeared in shop windows and were on dining room tables. matthew brady offered a variety
of mcclellan photographs. newspapers printed biographical sketches. he declared one order, will wipe out the memory of the defeat of bull run. to speak of great expectations for mcclellan's success in some ways understates the case. two of the secretaries, john hay and also william stoddard filed newspaper sfadispatches praisin mcclellan. hay described at the time mcclellan, as hard at work bringing order and efficiency at the army, rounding up absentees, keeping soldiers away from the rum shop in washington. according to the other secretary, it almost seemed as if the nation had a new army. better one week of mcclellan
than a whole year of the red tape officials who preceded him. the new york tribune, another that would become critical of mcclellan emphasized how he cared for the troops in both mind and spirit. junior officers enlisted -- given all this attention, almost any human being's head would be turned by all this praise and attention. on this score i must say i've got to be very sympathetic to mcclellan. i think most of us would probably not be strong enough to at least embrace some of this flattery. to the troops he became not only a highly visible demander bcomm a human one. they didn't know about his
contempt for volunteer soldiers, so they saw him as a great man who had a very dignified bearing and impressive appearance on horseback but also seemed approachable by the troops and stories about this circulated widely. now, mcclellan could draw others, especially officers, into his orbit. a volunteer thought that mcclellan became popular by flattering the enlisted man at every opportunity. at the other extreme, an articulate and conservative massachusetts recruit claimed that virtually the entire army learned to love mcclellan. and certainly they saw him a lot. the general wrote about washington in the camps on horseback. on occasion spending as long as 12 hours in the saddle. again, nobody could doubt mcclellan's devotion to the hard
work. unfortunately, i have no one on my staff to whom i can entrust the safety of affairs. again, the inability to delegate. this wore him out. it literally i think wore mcclellan out at various points and perhaps brought back an old point from his days in mexico. but he assumed that visibility was a key to leadership. i and think he's right. the boss does need to be visible. the boss does need to be seen by the troops. that's a good thing. even though mcdonaldclellan clae was not interested in impressing the public, they alluded to the troop rereviews, they were also important to mcclellan and they attracted a great deal of attention. it's interesting to follow their coverage in the press because in newspaper accounts sometimes very detailed ones of the larger troop reviews really keep the general's name in the public eye, even when not much is
really going on. and it also gives the impression of a commander who appears to be everywhere. and seldom slept. there were almost daily dispatches about mcclellan was here, mcclellan was there. of course, he's going to have to come up with a strategy. along with general scott. though mcclellan figures it's up to him rather than general scott. we'll talk more about that in a minute. on august second, 1861, mccllel lan writes a -- which is in many ways a modern, very 20th century idea. go in with overwhelming strength. very much so. he proposed a force of 273,000 men. critics of course have often
ridiculed the preciseness of 273,000. i think that's kind of a cheap shot myself. he said he would use the atlantic ocean and rivers as points to asail con fred positions. he wanted a campaign that would be short and decisive. he always believed he could overwhelm the other side with numbers in one great campaign. that is his strategy in a nutshell and i think he simply sticks to it. then there is of course the difficulty in the mcclellan lincoln relationship. one that has been written about endlessly and not to the benefit of george b. mcclellan. he drew a kind of distinction between politicians and
statesmen. my father always railed against politicians. i tried to remind my father a statesman is a dead politician. but in any case, he saw himself as principle and his opponents as politicians. he at times doubted lincoln's statesmanship, but i think if you read the lincoln relationship closely, it was kind of a roller coaster. it wasn't all of one kind or cut out of the same cloth. it varied in part according to mcclellan's temperment. at times he saw lincoln as unsuu uncultivated. with his ambition in the war is an open question. i think there's no doubt that both abraham lincoln and george
b. mcclellan were terribly ambitious and i think that may have been one source of difficulty as well. in any case, mcclellan does get involved in politics. i'm not sure he would say he was involved in politics, but he was involved in politics. at a meeting with radical republican senators in the fall of 1861 he tells them very bluntly that he was fighting to preserve the union and not for the republican party or for e mans pagz. and that was an honest expression of his views. but he certainly expressed them to the wrong people. then there's a question of mcclellan and savory. he abhorred slavery. he says this repeatedly. but mcclellan also shares the racial views of his time, sometimes expressed in very strong language. he used the "n" word on occasion.
but then so did lincoln at times. he favored the eventual ending of slavery but he was certainly no anti-slavery zealot by any definition. he was a moderate on the question and accused at the time of being pro slavery. i do wonder at some point if the statue of mcclellan erected in washington should be taken down because of his lukewarm opposition to slavery. in any case, i do think it's clear mcclellan was hurt by his close association with democratic politicians. that did not serve him well. and whether mcclellan sought that attention or not, he received it and he certainly did not repudiate it. then there's also the question of mcclellan's relationship with lincoln and with other generals.
and i think for his part lincoln makes a mistake early in the war. it's a mistake of inexperience. it's a forgivable mistake but it's nevertheless a mistake and that is allowing mcclellan to bypass the chain of command, including winfield scott, to communicate directly with the president and cabinet members. in fact, disrespect for the chain of command was often rampant in the army of the potomac. we've already heard cited joe hooker writing directly to stanton going over poor burnside's head at the beginning of the fredericksburg debacle. this went on too much and the president tolerated it. mcclellan often tried to ignore winfield scott or treat him with contempt. this undermined scoot and
eventually led to scott's angry resignation as general in chief. mcclellan's insubordination is rewarded because scott resigns and mcclellan is appointed general in chief. on november 1, 1861, mcclellan told lincoln in a statement that critics love to quote, because it's important and it's revealing about mcclellan, he said to lincoln, i can do it all. i can do it all. more dangerous words were probably never spoken. on november 13, 1861, a famous event occurs. lincoln and john haey call at mcclellan's home in the evening. they were told at a wedding. everybody in this oaudience knos what's coming up. john hay railed against mcclellan's unparalleled
insolence when the president, hay, lincoln, wait for an hour. mcclellan comes back, goes up the stairs without seeing them, goes to bed. according to hay, lincoln took no apparent offense. just sort of brushed it off. now, notice they call in the evening. okay? and notice the only source for this is john hay's diary. a decidely hostile source, but a good source. you realize that hay, like everyone else, has his prejudices. there is some indirect evidence that there were other occasions in which mcclellan sort of treated people in a similar manner. now, mcclellan, biographers and others have tried to offer explanations. warren say mcclel len may have
been intoxicated. in any event, that's a possibility. ethan says the wedding may have s saddened mcclellan because he missed his wife nelly. she was still back in cincinnati because she would shortly give birth to their first child. however that may be, this incident, this snubbing of lincoln is probably one of the prime bits of evidence that the anti ant anti-mcclellan camp like to haul out. is there any mitigating explanations? we don't know. there's not much evidence. mcclellan himself blows hot and cold in the president. some days he seems to welcome the president's presence. more often he finds the president visiting him kind of an annoyance. and he keeps his plans to
himself. in some ways he's reminiscent of joe johnston not wanting to communicate with jefferson davis. he keeps his plans to himself. he blows hot and cold. the president, december, 1861, mcclellan is weary of talking to anybody. there had been too many leaks in the administration including the premature release of simon cameron's report as secretary of war. excerpts from lincoln's annual message that appeared in the new york herald. "the new york times" on december 4 had published a detailed map of the union's positions. mcclellan had reasons to be concerned about leaks. but in the meantime, the country is increasingly impatient. the fall has gone by. the army has not taken the field. in december, 1861, congress creates the joint committee on
the conduct of the war. whose members knew very little what military matters but thought they did. and they sought out generals with radical political views to promote and they wanted to denigrate generals with more conservative political views. the timing here was very bad for george b. mcclellan. because by december 23, mcclellan is quite ill with typhoid fever which was a great killer at the time. and fortunately mcclellan did obje not have a horribly bad case and he's going to recover, but it's going to take a little while. this allows a number of generals to appear who were critical of mcclellan with no chance for him to reply. in fact, on january 10, and again you see the chain of command violated in an interesting way, lincoln meets at the executive mansion with
mcdowell and general franklin along with several cabinet members, because mcclellan is supposedly too ill to attend and they talk about, you know, plans for the spring. well, mcclellan gets wind of this and sort of gets out of his sick bed finally and meets with lincoln and several generals and cabinet members on january the 13th. now, again we have a problem in terms of sources. the main source we have for all of this is a long memorandum by mcdowell, a very detailed memorandum, but certainly mcdowell is a hostile witness in terms of mcclellan. and so you have to again use that document for what it's worth. and mcclellan remains, to his detriment, reticent about his plans. he claims he fears they'd be leaked to the press, though
mcclellan himself was not above contacting a friendly reporters from the new york herald and on over oh you know, they meet again and mcclellan won't be clear about what he plans to do. at the same time lincoln appoints a new secretary of war edmond stanton who is presumably mcclellan's friends. in fact, he had stayed with stanton for a time in washington. stanton had consulted with mcclellan on various things and plans and that sort of thing. and stanton himself of course had a very checkered background. his relationship with link on before the war, his brief encounter had been very testy. you've heard bill hold forth on stanton. and stanton was basically a political chameleon. he changed colors many times. t. harry williams, who was no friend of mcclellan, would always tell his civil war class stanton would lie when there was
no reason to lie. anyway, mcclellan thinks that stanton is his friend but in fact mcclellan is going to face great hostility from his supposed friend who is quickly becoming an enemy. mcclellan was also facing criticism from senior division commanders. mcl mcclellan had reason to fear his authority was being undermined and that the president perhaps was involved. though i don't see lincoln -- lincoln is not maneuvering against mcdonald's clclellan. i think he's still feeling his way along as commander in chief. on january 27 lincoln issues his famous orders calling for a general advance of the army's on washington's birthday. it was of course meaningless, because there was going to be no advance on february 22nd. by this time, however, mcclellan does have a plan and you have
your hand out there. as you know, i am no military historian and so we are not going to refight mcclellan's campaigns, but i do have a few maps to sort of buttress my credentials perhaps. i give you the -- i give you the first map, let's see, do i have the first map? yes, i do. the peninsula campaign. look up there, you see the name of mcclellan moved to the southeast and you see urbana. he originally plans to land troops there thinking confederates would withdraw and that was his original plan that he presents to lincoln. now, there's going to be a serious difficulty at the beginning because the president objects to the urbana plan.
he thinks mcclellan should go over land and directly confront the confederates. he even talks to mcclellan about rumors in washington that mcclellan was not moving because perhaps he had treasonous motives. that's why he did not want to directly attack the confederate forces. as you can imagine, mcclellan bristled at such charges and i'm not sure lincoln was wise to repeat such rumors. but in any event, lincoln did not like the plan, but eight of 12 division commanders approved it and so lincoln says okay. now, some military historians would point out why did the president go along with a plan he had no faith in? should at this point he -- should he have supported the general and say yes, you know, i support your plan? or should he have relief today? those were kind of his options. instead he has a little of each. he doesn't really approve it,
but he lets it go forward. lincoln also decided to combine the army's divisions into five corp, both lincoln and a number of members of congress had favored a core organization. lincoln appoints division commanders as corp commanders. mcdowell, sumner, banks, all generals who opposed mcclellan's strategy in one way or another. and he appoints commanders who he knows mcclellan will have trouble this and contributes to dysfunction in the army in the potomac. finally on march 9, the army of the potomac advances only to discover that the confederates had already retreated and there's much deri -- it does un
the urbana plan and on march 11, since mcclellan had taken the field, lincoln removes him as general in chief but names no successor. for the time being, lincoln and stanton and a so-called war counsel will manage union strategy. so the urbana plan is out. mcclellan is no longer general in chief. on march 13, lincoln and his core commanders approve the famous peninsula plan. you have that map there. and on march 17, the first transports head out for the virginia peninsula. now, there's going to be much controversy then and later whether mcclellan had fulfilled his pledge to lincoln to leave washington adequately defended. i think most military historians
agree he did leave washington adequately defended even though he had fiddled with some of the numbers. and he had definitely not explained this carefully to lincoln before he there's no -- i think there's no doubt -- there's no doubt on that score. but again, mccclel less than wa suspicious, et cetera. once he arrives at the peninsula, another decision is taken. going to be withheld, and sees his enemies at work here. mcdowell's corps is going to be partly diverted to the campaign against jackson. again, you can debate whether this was a mistake about -- by lincoln or not. peter cousins, his fairly
recently published book presented at this conference several years ago, probably most memorable for his strong criticisms of stone wawall jack also said at the time lincoln's mistakes to with hold mcdowell was a serious one. and certainly seemed serious to mcclellin. lincoln urges mcclellin to break the enemy lines and warned against any further hesitation. well, as you know, yorktown is besieged. there is a slow advance in the peninsula. mcclellin, always thinks he's outnumbered, calls for reenforcement. you can't blame alan pinkerton entirely on that. mcclellin was exaggerating numbers even before pinkerton was reporting intelligence. but because of various uncertainties about when and if mcdowell's troops would join as forces, mcclellin said this
forced him to have troops remain on the chickwhom knee. may 31, june 1. again, at this point, mcclellin is still sure of success. he writes to nellie, he's sure of success the troops are in good shape. but he says, i am tired of the sickening sight of the battlefield. with its mangled corpses and poor suffering wounded. victory has no charms for me. when purchased at such cost. this statement has often been criticized. yet in our time, we are more sensitive, i think, to casualty figures than people perhaps were at the time. you read brian jordan's book about the results of the war, and i think you become more sensitive to casualty figures. and i was talking to craig simons about this yesterday. and we do seem to admire civil war generals who pile up the largest casualty lists and who are the most aggressive. and i'm not sure that's the
standard we necessarily should follow. in any event, lincoln's advance on the peninsula is delayed. robert e. lee takes command, decides in a bold turning movement against mcclellin, you have the seven days. and mcclellin issues his famous blast against the lincoln administration. the government failing, utterly failing to support him. and a great victory for the confederates and mcclellin at harrison's landing ends up issuing the famous landing letter, suggesting again in typical fashion, because this is what mcclellin truly believed. the war is not a revolution. it's a war to preserve the union. you've got to protect property. you've got to go slow on emancipation. and at this point, senator zach wry chandler of michigan, a
radical republican of radical republicans says mcclellin is an awful hum bug who deserves to be shot. all right. now, mcclellin is eventually withdrawn from the peninsula. we won't get into the controversy about whether he supported pope or not or whether he and fits john porter undermined pope. that's a long and tedious process in and itself. he is brought reluctantly back to command the army of the potomac in the an teed ham campaign. stanton and others in the cabinet had drafted documents, wanting mcclellin's removal. instead lincoln brings him back. and then you have the -- all the controversies surrounding the an teatum campaign which, after all, was a union victory. a union victory that does lead to the emancipation
proclamation. but it was an incomplete victory. there's been much criticism, i think justified criticism of mcclellin's conduct of the an teat i am campaign. and eventually mcclellin does not move rapidly enough after an teatum and is removed from command. though it is amazing how many people still want mcclellin back in the army, including rumors that he will be back with the army that continues through the gettysburg campaign and even beyond. now, i want to close with this. a famous statement from ulysses s. grant. most of you, i think, have heard some of this before. but i dare say, most of us have not gotten the full quotation. and here's grant on mcclellin. he described mcclellin as one of the mysteries of the war. we've all heard that one, right?
indeed. what is less often noted was grant's conviction that no commander was likely to succeed early in the conflict. as grant said, it has always seemed to me the critics of mcclellin do not consider this vast and cruel responsibility. the war, a new thing to all of us, the army knew. everything to do from the outset. with a restless people in congress. mcclellin was a young man when this devolved upon him. and if he did not succeed, it was because the conditions of success were so trying. if mcclellin had gone into the war as sherman, thomas or mead, had fought his way along and up, i have no reason to suppose that he would not have won as high a distinction as any of us. thank you very much. [ applause ]
at the battlefield guide, and steven stevens' name came up and the guy virtually exploded, and said, he hates mcclellin so what does he do, he writes a book about him. which of the biographies would you suggest would be most reasonable? >> well, that's a difficult question. is the question reasonable or best? i like sears' biography. it's very hostile to mcclellin. and there's no reason somebody can't write a biography they're hostile too. the biography on lyndon johnson, he hates his guts. and they're good books. they're good books. now, my mentor, williams, said you should never do a biography of somebody you despised. he always said i couldn't write a biography of herbert hoover or jefferson davis. but sometimes when there is an
animus there is a certain amount of, you know, prejudice involved. i mean, read bill marvels wonderful biography of stanton, which he hates the man on every page. but bill does the research. and sears does the research. steven sears' research is excellent. and sears' newest volume is even more hostile to mcclellin in some ways than the biography. he's gotten more hostile over the years, not -- not less. ethan ray fuse -- read sears and ray fuse together. they're the best. and read some of mark grimmsly's articles, too. because mark is not uncritical of mcclellin, but he's more sympathic, as well. >> thank you. >> there's a famous incident after the seven days battle where mcclellin sends a telegraph i guess to the war department and basically says that in this administration, he's responsible for the defeat of his army.
but takes out -- [ inaudible ] if he hadn't taken those sentences out, would he have been sacked? >> would mcclellin have been sacked at the time had the operator not taken the sentences out. perhaps. though eventually those become known. so -- and, again, lincoln has opportunities, you know. i think lincoln gets certain credit for being patient with mcclellin. some would say lincoln was far too patient with mcclellin. but, of course, the other thing -- the other thing that has to be kept in mind, what are lincoln's choices at various points. i remember if you studied bernside's appointment, there's a lot of criticism. what were the alternatives? hooker had been wounded at an teatum. hooker was an -- what direction do you -- what direction do you go? and i think we also need to keep in mind, and mcclellin's defenders certainly point this out in 1864. you know, the mcclellin was as close to richmond in 1864 as
grant. you know, was. and it is very difficult -- it is very difficult for any commander in this war to command effectively such large armys, given the limits of communications and staff. and every campaign -- every campaign of any size has major blunders. you pick your -- you pick your favorite general, and you study all your favorite generals' campaigns, and you will find a number of not only mistakes, but pretty serious mistakes. and that's kind of the nature of the beast. these armys were i think -- i think far too large, given the available technology, staff work, et cetera. so i'm -- i tend to be -- i tend to be, you know, more sympathetic and not be a monday morning quarterback on a lot of these things. and we tend to treat the civil war, i think, too often as -- it's almost a sporting contest,
where we're evaluating the coaches and players. again, read brian's book. you'll tend not to do that. >> grant's quote you gave there, is that from the memoirs? where is that from? >> that's from "travels with general grant," the interviews he gave around the world, yeah. it's a great -- it's an interesting book. grant just kind of, you know, unburdens himself. it surprised me how sympathetic people like grant and sherman, who were quite different than mcclellin, are sympathetic to mcclellin. i read sherman's correspondence recently for another purpose, and i was struck by his favorable comments about mcclellin. and, you know, mcclellin is -- the kind of neat thing about mcclellin is, he has all these people who despise him, and he has all these people who love him. and i figure if there are so many people that love him, there must be something to the man that's worth -- that's worth loving. you know?
[ inaudible question ] he was still an active duty general in the union army. there was no prohibition against active duty soldiers seeking political office at that time? >> no. apparently not. and, you know, mcclellin keeps waiting to be re -- you know, reappointed to another command. and there was even talk in the summer of '64 in the blair family, one of the great political families of the day, both maryland and missouri branches of the blair family, there was some -- there was some effort by the -- i think the elder statesmen of the family, frank blair senior, to have mcclellin brought back to some responsible position in exchange for mcclellin not running for president. because the thinking is, the democrats nominate mcclellin, he might be a formidable political
candidate. now, he proves not to be. in part, because he was nominated on a peace platform. when he was not a peace candidate. and mcclellin is reluctant to endorse the platform. he doesn't issue his letter of acceptance right away. lincoln joked, well, maybe mcclellin was en trenching. [ laughter ] that was another great lincoln story. i wonder if that wasp -- that's almost too good to be true. it's a great story. but, you know, me mcclellin was in a very difficult position there. and the reaction of the soldiers, though there is some new evidence that, you know, maybe some of that soldier vote got suppressed, and there's a lot of controversy with 1864 election. but i have read countless diary entries and letters saying, i always liked mcclellin. but -- i can't accept the platform. and i can't accept a nomination where -- that arch traitor,
landingham plays a big role on the convention. and john hennessey's point about the copper heads, and the role of the copper heads, and sort of forging greater unity in the army is so well-taken. and it's true in the western theater, as well. read the soldiers, what they say about copper heads. i think a lot of them have much more hostility, at least they expressed more hostility, toward the copper heads than they do the confederates. >> do you think mcclellin might have been influenced in his military strategy by his courtship of ellen marries. and how that evolved when he courted her? >> well, it a difficult courtship, because she was at one point engaged to -- seemingly engaged to a.p. hill, although her father vetoed that, and there was, of course, rumors
about -- well, hill's very nearly disease that came back to the family and that didn't go over very well. [ laughter ] you know, but it was -- and her father did not want her to marry a military man. and mcclellin falls in love with her when he's still a military man. >> he moved very quickly. he moved very, very quickly, and she kind of was overwhelmed by that, is what john wall implies in his book. so he backs off and waits, buys his time over the course of several years. keeps in contact. and wow, she falls for him. after he was no longer a military man. >> that's right. and then her father can approve, and so it's great. and they love mcclellin. and, of course, his father-in-law becomes his chief of staff. >> he waited until everything was perfect. >> yeah. something of a perfectionist.
>> follow up about the voter suppression soldiers in 1864 election. i think it's kind of interesting. i've seen documentation where actually the republican soldiers were released to go home to vote, whereas the democratic soldiers were required to stay in line and to man the guns. so i just want -- your observations in terms of that voter suppression. >> i think there was some suppression. the problem, though, is not -- is not a sort of selective treatment of democratic and republican soldiers, though there is some of that. the state laws differ. the state laws differ. some states allowed soldiers to go home and vote or even vote kind of absentee. and other states -- and other states didn't. and i guess it's jonathan white's -- have i got the author's name right? jonathan white's recent book. and that is -- which i have just looked at, and i haven't read thoroughly yet. you know, is making the case.
i still think, even if there is some suppression, i think the majority of the soldiers are undoubtedly for lincoln. but probably not maybe in as great of numbers as we -- as we have thought. but consider this. i think one of the miracles of the american civil war, and one that speaks wonderfully about this country, is that we even had a presidential election during a civil war. what country has a presidential election during a civil war, and even if there were some irregularities, a reasonably -- a reasonably fair election. i think 1864 is one of the miracle presidential elections of american history. and it's not given enough credit. for that. i think it's -- it's remarkable. it's a remarkable achievement. thank you very much. [ applause ]
this weekend, on the c-span networks, saturday at 9:15 p.m. eastern on c-span, former presidential speech writers for presidents nixon to obama. and sunday at 6:30 p.m., dr. anthony iten on how your zip code impacts your health. on book tv on c-span 2, saturday at 9:00 p.m. eastern, daily caller news foundation editor-in-chief christopher bedford on his book, "the art of the donald:lessons from america's officer in chief." and "the may flour," the families, voyage, founding of america. on c-span3, saturday at 8:55 p.m. eastern, penn state university history professor, matthew restalls, on the u.s. capitol's art and architecture. and the groundbreaking ceremony for the dwight d. eisenhower
memorial in washington, d.c. this weekend, on the c-span networks. up next on american history tv, a panel of historians answers audience questions about civil war generals. including which ones have been the most loved and hated through history. they also talk about which generals had the best and worst relations with the press. this discussion was part of a symposium on controversial civil war generals, hosted by pam plon historical work. it's just over an hour. >> well, this is the part of the program that i've been looking forward to the most. the panel discussion. we've got some great questions here. you'll note that i on purpose separated george and will. [ laughter ] i'm not saying we're doing a