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THE CURIOUS CASE OF GENERAL MCCLELLAN'S MEMOIRS Stephen W. Sears Monday, December6, 1886, publication day for McClelhn's Own Story, promised to be something of a landmark event for anyone interested in seeing the historical record of the Civil War a large step nearer completion . Ofthe three generals mostresponsiblefor shapingthe Union's wartime course, only George B. McClellan's story remained untold. Sherman 's memoirs had been in print since 1875. The Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant was abest-selling title for 1885. As thepersonal record of the war's most controversial figure, McClellan's memoirs were certain to attract wide attention. McClellan's book, like Grant's, was a posthumous publication. The story of General Grant's last battle, against the cancer thatkilled him just days after he completed his manuscript, was well known. McClellan's death on October 29, 1885, hardly three months later, was sudden and unexpected, and at first it was thought he had left no written record. According to newspaper obituaries, four years earlier the original and only copy of his completed military memoirs was destroyed by fire. Even his detractors, the New York Commercial Advertiser observed, "will regret that hedidnot leavebehind him, for personal reference, his own account of the campaigns. . . ." Several months later, however, William C. Prime, McClellan's literary executor, let it be known that in fact the general's memoirs had survived him and would soon be in print. He announced the publisher as Charles L. Webster & Company, the firm Mark Twain established to publish TheAdventuresof Huckleberry Finn and which was well on the way to selling three hundred thousand two-volume sets of Grant's Personal Memoirs.1 1 New York Evening Post, Oct. 29, 1885; New York Commercial Advertiser, undated clipping, McClellanPapers, Library ofCongress; Joseph W. Harper to Prime, Feb. 4, 1886, McClellan Papers; Thomas M. Pitkin, The Captain Departs: Ulysses S. Grant's Last Campaign (Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1973), 115. Although McClellan s Own Story: The Warfor the Union, the Soldiers Who Fought It, the Civilians Who DirectedIt, and His Relations to It and to Them (New York: Charles L. Webster) bears an 1887 publication date, its copyright date is 1886, apparently to protect the early publication of excerpts from it. Civil War History, Vol. XXXIV, No. 2, e 1988 by The Kent State University Press 102CIVIL WAR HISTORY The first newspaper notices of McClelhn's Own Story appeared in the Sunday editions on December 5, with the New York Sun carrying lengthy excerpts focusing on McClellan's dealings with President Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton. A few days later the New York World, which had unreservedly supported McClellan throughout the war, ran a highly laudatory review under a subheading—"Charging Stanton with Direct Treachery to the Union Cause; Held Responsible for Half a Million Lives and a Billion of Money"—that nicely summarized the reviewer's sentiments. General McClellan's charges, he wrote, "will arouse the attention of the world, and . . . will render his book in that respect the most notable contribution to the records of the civil war." The North American Review also ran a favorable notice, declaring that "the history of the Civil War could not be accurately written until McClellan's story had been told."2 These approving reviews were very much the exception, however. More typical was the sharp criticism of the New York Tribune, which in its wartime disparagement of General McClellan had been the antithesis of the World. The Tribune unfavorably compared McClelhn's Own Story with Grant's memoirs and found the cause in McClellan's small nature: "it interfered with his judgment upon many important matters, and was the source of animosities ofwhich this posthumous publication makes a singular display." The reviewer professed shock at "the venomous character of his assaults not upon the judgment but upon the integrity of those who doubted his capacity as a commander." There was little reason to suppose, he concluded, that the general's "final statement " on such matters would put to rest the controversies that had surrounded him.3 Two reading Civil War historians of the period, Jacob D. Cox and John C. Ropes, soon provided penetrating...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 101-114
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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