Lincoln and McClellan: The Troubled Partnership Between a President and His General

Overview

There was no more remarkable pair in the Civil War than Abraham Lincoln and George McClellan. At only 35 years old, McClellan commanded the Ohio troops early in the war, and won skirmishes for the Union in western Virginia. After the disastrous Union defeat at Bull Run in the summer of 1861, Lincoln sent word for McClellan to come to Washington, and soon elevated him to commander-in-chief of the Union army. But in the late summer and fall of 1861, things took a turn for the worst. Meticulous in his planning and ...

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Lincoln and McClellan: The Troubled Partnership between a President and His General

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Overview

There was no more remarkable pair in the Civil War than Abraham Lincoln and George McClellan. At only 35 years old, McClellan commanded the Ohio troops early in the war, and won skirmishes for the Union in western Virginia. After the disastrous Union defeat at Bull Run in the summer of 1861, Lincoln sent word for McClellan to come to Washington, and soon elevated him to commander-in-chief of the Union army. But in the late summer and fall of 1861, things took a turn for the worst. Meticulous in his planning and preparations, McClellan began to delay attacking the enemy and developed a penchant for vastly overestimating the Confederate forces he faced. All of this hampered his ability to lead an aggressive force in a fast-moving battlefield environment. Finally losing his patience, Lincoln was famously quoted as saying, “If General McClellan does not want to use the army, I would like to borrow it for a time.”

Lincoln and McClellan takes an in-depth look at this fascinating relationship, from the early days of the Civil War to the 1864 presidential election when McClellan ran against Lincoln on an anti-war platform and lost. Here, award-winning author John C. Waugh weaves a tale of hubris, paranoia, failure, and triumph, illuminating as never before this unique and complicated alliance.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this enjoyable study of Civil War leadership, Waugh (Reelecting Lincoln) has less to say about the oft-analyzed Lincoln than about Gen. George McClellan, the war's great military failure. Hailed as the Union's savior when he took command of the Army of the Potomac in 1861, McClellan was a brilliant organizer and strategist with just one flaw: he was afraid to fight. Desperate for excuses to avoid battle, he habitually overestimated Confederate numbers by a factor of three, issued incessant demands for reinforcements—his army always heavily outnumbered the rebels—and once refused to march for weeks because the horses were tired. Though the author's accounts of McClellan's battles are sketchy, he convincingly paints McClellan as a paranoid narcissist who considered Lincoln a “baboon.” Waugh's Lincoln is a long-suffering sage (lacking better generals, he could only prod McClellan to action while shielding him from critics) whose barbs are more penetrating: surveying the Union army's vast encampment, Lincoln called it “McClellan's body guard.” The dynamic between Lincoln and the toweringly neurotic McClellan makes for a revealing case study of the importance of personality and character in war. 8 pages of b&w photos. (June)
Library Journal
Waugh (Reelecting Lincoln) analyzes the political and social complexities of these polar opposites. Raised in a prominent Philadelphia family, George B. McClellan received a quality education, ranked second in his class at West Point, and was a staunch Democrat and a successful businessman for the Illinois Central Railroad. Abraham Lincoln, a frontiersman, self-taught, and the son of an illiterate farmer, rose to prominence in the Republican Party. McClellan's talents were in military administration, organization, and training, yet his genteel upbringing would not allow him to reciprocate Lincoln's gestures of goodwill. His distrust, paranoia, and secrecy emerged as the war progressed, making him overly cautious as a field commander. The repeated delays, overestimating of enemy combatants, and inaction frustrated Lincoln, who nevertheless maintained his composure and patience despite his general's repeated insolence toward him. Waugh concludes that McClellan's major fault was his refusal to respect his commander in chief as an equal, always perceiving Lincoln as his political, intellectual, and social inferior. VERDICT Utilizing published sources, this book is an excellent companion piece to more extensive studies by noted scholars, e.g., James M. McPherson's Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief, Stephen W. Sears's George B. McClellan: The Young Napoleon, or Lincoln's Generals, edited by Gabor S. Boritt. VERDICT Highly recommended for history buffs and academic libraries and as a good supplemental text for an undergraduate Civil War course.—Gayla Koerting, Nebraska State Historical Soc., Lincoln
Kirkus Reviews
A Civil War specialist's nutshell assessment of a famously dysfunctional relationship. In the summer of 1862 a frustrated senator urged Abraham Lincoln to relieve Gen. George McClellan from command, begging the president to replace the Little Napoleon "with anybody." Lincoln was well-acquainted with the general's flaws-his proclivity for secrecy, his tendency to micromanage, his constant demands for more troops, his contemptuous treatment of superiors in the government and officers under him and, most of all, his reluctance to aggressively pursue Lee's army-and his saintly patience was dwindling. At the war's outset, McClellan's appointment made sense. The decrepitude of the old Mexican War hero Winfield Scott and the defection of many of the nation's top officers to the Confederacy left a vacuum the remarkably young McClellan easily filled thanks to his exceptional training, distinguished service in Mexico and victories in several early skirmishes in Western Virginia. He quickly set about drilling and refurbishing the army, secured a teetering capital against attack, restored confidence and inspired devotion from his troops. The strutting general saw himself as the Union's savior, floating above and deeply resenting the filthy political scrum. As superintendent of the Illinois Central Railroad before the war, the genteel, broadly educated, socially adept McClellan had employed Lincoln as occasional legal counsel. He neither liked nor respected the unsophisticated prairie lawyer, a feeling he never abandoned. Lincoln finally dismissed McClellan in November 1862, making the general the immediate frontrunner for the bitterly divided Democratic Party's presidential nomination. McClellan'slandslide 1864 electoral defeat ended his tortured connection to Lincoln. Explaining without dwelling on McClellan's deficiencies in the field, Waugh (One Man Great Enough: Abraham Lincoln's Road to Civil War, 2007, etc.) neatly focuses on the general's tragic inability to subordinate himself to a man whose greatness he never understood. A handy volume that efficiently covers all the essentials. Agent: Mitchell J. Hamilburg/Mitchell J. Hamilburg Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780230613492
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Publication date: 5/11/2010
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

John C. Waugh is a historian, and was a correspondent and bureau chief for The Christian Science Monitor. As a journalist, he received the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award and has contributed to The Washington Post Book World, The New York Times, and The Boston Globe, among others. He previous books, all on the Civil War era, include Reelecting Lincoln, and The Class of 1846. He lives in Pantego, TX.

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Table of Contents

Prologue: A Railcar for Douglas

• Parallel Beginnings

• Between Two Wars

• Catching the Brass Ring

• The Real McClellan

• Man on Horseback

• The Numbers Game

• Under Siege

• Presidential Angst

• Planning for Armageddon

• Troubled Minds

• Yorktown Blues

• At the Gates of Richmond

• Shifting Blame

• Dogfight down the James

• Changing Generals

• In Command of Nothing

• The Road to Sharpsburg

• Hellfire on the Antietam

• The Quiet after the Storm

• McClellan’s Bodyguard

• Fatigued Horses

• Sacked

• The Unpolitical Politician

• Four Storks in a Frogpond

• Sound and Fury

• Epilogue: Epitaph for a Soldier

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 26, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    An excellent study of the question

    Doing a book on Lincoln and McClellan is akin to running naked through a minefield. On one side, is a beloved President universally acclaimed and highly respected. On the other side is a general that is less than a complete success with an ego problem that is highly disliked. Unless an author is willing to do "Lincoln is always right", something is going to go BOOM!
    Subtitled "The Troubled Partnership between a President and His General", the author carefully traces that partnership from the dark days after First Bull Run to November 1864. While this is a pro Lincoln book, the author never demonizes McClellan. In common with many authors, he may not like him but respects the good work McClellan did. This produces a more balanced history that is closer to what happened.
    Where McClellan is concerned, the glass is usually half-empty. However, Lincoln's fears for Washington and the impact they have on the Peninsula Campaign are covered. The section on the Maryland Campaign is well done and generally fair to both parties. What emerges is two men under intense pressures unable to understand or appreciate the other's position. While there are many items not considered. Overall, this is an excellent summary of their relationship.
    John C. Waugh is an excellent writer producing an easy to read book that is both informative and enjoyable. The book is fully footnoted with a comprehensive list of sources. Fully prepared to dislike this book, I brought it home after seeing it in the store. This is not a detailed military and political in-depth study. It is a good examination of these areas, touching on all the major questions and many of the minor ones. It is either an introduction or an excellent review.

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