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McClellan's War

The Failure of Moderation in the Struggle for the Union

Ethan S. Rafuse

Publication Year: 2011

Bold, brash, and full of ambition, George Brinton McClellan seemed destined for greatness when he assumed command of all the Union armies before he was 35. It was not to be. Ultimately deemed a failure on the battlefield by Abraham Lincoln, he was finally dismissed from command following the bloody battle of Antietam. To better understand this fascinating, however flawed, character, Ethan S. Rafuse considers the broad and complicated political climate of the earlier 19th century. Rather than blaming McClellan for the Union's military losses, Rafuse attempts to understand his political thinking as it affected his wartime strategy. As a result, Rafuse sheds light not only on McClellan's conduct on the battlefields of 1861-62 but also on United States politics and culture in the years leading up to the Civil War.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

List of Maps

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xiv

It is with great pleasure that I thank the people whose encouragement and assistance made it possible for me to bring this project to completion. First among these are the superb scholars and teachers under whose direction I had the honor and privilege...

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pp. 1-7

To most Americans, George Brinton McClellan was the most prominent of the series of generals whose inability to attain success on the battlefield during the first three years of the Civil War nullified the advantages in resources enjoyed by the...

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1. “Traditions and Associations . . . Were All on the Side of the Old Whig Party”

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pp. 8-29

December 1826 was a time of anxiety and excitement in the American republic. Only a few months earlier, the country had celebrated the fifftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. All Americans agreed that their ability to preserve their...

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2. “I Can Do As Well As Anyone in Both My Studies and My Military Duties”

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pp. 30-49

By the time the ink was dry on his first letter home from West Point on June 28, 1842, 15-year-old conditional cadet George Brinton McClellan had already learned that gaining admission to the United States Military Academy was but the first hurdle he had to clear in order...

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3. Political Realignment

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pp. 50-66

During the three years McClellan spent at West Point after the Mexican War, he found great pleasure in the company of a clique of junior officers stationed at the academy that included future Civil War notables William B. Franklin...

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4. “A Strong Democrat of the Stephen A. Douglas School”

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pp. 67-91

The first months of 1857 suggested a bright future lay ahead for the Union. Federal troops had restored a semblance of peace to Kansas and there was hope that the incoming president, James Buchanan, who had run as the candidate of sectional...

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5. To Kill Secession

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pp. 92-117

To restore our country to harmony by taking positions which will check anarchy and rule the elements which will soon be brought into action,” Fitz John Porter informed McClellan on April 15, 1861, “[s]uch men as you and Cump Sherman...

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6. “A New and Strange Position”

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pp. 118-141

Circumstances make your presence here necessary,” the July 22 telegram from Washington read, “come hither without delay.” It was the call of destiny, and McClellan knew it. Immediately upon receiving the telegram, he replied from his...

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7. Supreme Command

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pp. 142-158

Although the defeat at Ball’s Bluff reinforced McClellan’s belief in the virtues of restraint, it did not have the same effect on the Radical Republicans. On October 25, Senator Benjamin F. Wade informed his wife that he planned to work...

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8. “You Have No Idea of the Pressure Brought to Bear Here”

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pp. 159-174

If Lincoln was willing to defer to McClellan’s professional judgment at the end of his first month in office, he was nonetheless curious as to his plans for the Army of the Potomac. Thus, on December 1 he addressed a memorandum to McClellan...

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9. “What Do You Think of the Science of Generalship?”

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pp. 175-197

The morning after his meeting with Ives, a still pale and thin George B. McClellan made his long-awaited appearance before the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. “If I escape alive I will report when I get through,” he advised Lincoln...

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10. The Peninsula Campaign

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pp. 198-231

On March 17, 1862, the ¤rst units of the Army of the Potomac began boarding ships bound for Fort Monroe. If what he had seen and experienced during the previous eight months in Washington had confirmed his distaste for politics, now...

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11. “I Do Not Like the . . . Turn That Affairs Are Taking”

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pp. 232-252

At four in the afternoon of July 8, Abraham Lincoln arrived at Harrison’s Landing to visit the Army of the Potomac. For nearly a week a stream of telegrams had passed between Lincoln and McClellan. Although he expressed confidence and satisfaction...

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12. “He Has Acted Badly”

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pp. 253-272

McClellan reached Williamsburg shortly before 5 p.m. on August 18 and informed Halleck that the movement from Harrison’s Landing had been “a perfect success.” All but the Second and Third Corps, he reported, were “at Fort Monroe and Newport...

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13. “To Meet the Necessities of the Moment”

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pp. 273-299

It was perhaps the saddest episode in the history of the Union war effort. Late in the afternoon on September 2, 1862, General Pope and his staff were riding eastward toward the fortifications of Washington. After licking his wounds at Centreville...

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14. “The Most Terrible Battle”

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pp. 300-333

McClellan spent the night of September 14–15 anticipating that Lee would fall back from South Mountain and make a stand at Boonsboro. When news of success at Crampton’s Gap finally reached headquarters shortly after midnight...

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15. “It Is My Duty to Submit to the Presdt’s Proclamation & Quietly Continue Doing My Duty”

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pp. 334-359

Although he took great satisfaction in the fact that he had thwarted Lee’s grand bid to win the war north of the Potomac, McClellan went to bed on the evening of September 20 in a sour mood. That afternoon a note had arrived from Halleck complaining...

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16. The Last Campaign

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pp. 360-381

On October 22, McClellan finally committed to moving “upon the line indicated by the Presdt in his letter of the 13th.” The General did so in part out of a desire to placate Washington at a time when he was keenly aware of the precariousness...

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pp. 382-396

On the morning of November 11, McClellan and his staff proceeded to Warrenton Junction to board the train that was to take them away from the Army of the Potomac. Upon his arrival at the station, the honor guard of approximately two thousand troops...


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pp. 397-488


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pp. 489-508


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pp. 509-525

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780253006141
E-ISBN-10: 0253006147
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253006110

Page Count: 544
Illustrations: 17 b&w illus., 11 maps
Publication Year: 2011