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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Were character flaws "peculiar to McClellan"?
Thomas J. Rowland set out to prove that, although George McClellan was not a great general, neither was he as bad as so many Civil War historians and writers have depicted him. I believe that he has succeeded. Having read Stephen Sears' classic biography on "Mac", I was certain that the definitive McClellan verdict was a fait accompli. How wrong I was...
Published on April 16, 1999

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36 of 46 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing in the Extreme
As an Amazon.com reviewer, I can see that I am going to be in the decided minority in my opinion on this book. Hopefully I can adequately point out my perceived problems with Mr. Rowland's work, and yet maintain the positives other reviewers have posted.
I have long been fascinated with George B. McClellan as not only a Civil War general, but as a Civil War...
Published on July 5, 2001 by David M. Smith


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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Were character flaws "peculiar to McClellan"?, April 16, 1999
By A Customer
Thomas J. Rowland set out to prove that, although George McClellan was not a great general, neither was he as bad as so many Civil War historians and writers have depicted him. I believe that he has succeeded. Having read Stephen Sears' classic biography on "Mac", I was certain that the definitive McClellan verdict was a fait accompli. How wrong I was! Historians T. Harry Williams, Kenneth P. Williams, and Bruce Catton were also cited for a less than even-handed assessment of McClellan. Still, one must add that Rowland did not maliciously criticize the intent of these historians. He merely pointed out that they needlessly made Lincoln, Grant, and Sherman--men who remain giants without anyone's help--larger than they should be, at McClellan's expense. After examining their records during the first two years of the war, each of these men showed less than a superlative level of performance, contrary to popular assumption. I think that Rowland's book is one of best buys I have ever made. A more superbly-written, well-argued, and illuminating book on George McClellan and his impact on the Civil War and its interpretation would be hard to find. It's great. Buy it!
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars George McClellan Revisited, June 21, 2001
By 
E. E Pofahl (HUNTINGTON, WV USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
The author, Thomas J. Rowland, develops his thesis that General George McClellan has been unfairly characterized by both contemporaries and historians. The first half of the book discusses the common criticisms of McClellan. In Chapter 2 the so called psychological profile on McClellan is reviewed stating that "Of all the reasons why McClellan may have been a gravely flawed commander, the exploitation of the psychological model is the most flawed itself...." He notes that both Grant and Sherman "....trailed a significant baggage of personality deficiencies into the Civil War" observing that "If anyone came close to experiencing a psychic episode during the Civil War it was Sherman in Kentucky."
In the chapter discussing McClellan's lesser faults, the author notes that both Grant and Sherman had similar faults, but they weren't judged by these faults nor should McClellan's strategic abilities be evaluated by his peccadilloes. Acknowledging that McClellan played a major role in his poor working relations with Lincoln, the author notes that "....the president was not frank about how military goals were to be shaped by the political dimensions of the rebellion." In addition, Stanton's dislike of McClellan did not help in the commander's poor relationship with the president. However, the author does not imply that McClellan was faultless noting "....his failure to delegate authority and his obstinate secrecy" Another fault was his unwillingness to take risks. The greatest question is whether he made the best use of the Army of the Potomac. Rowland concludes that "In any comparison with other Civil War commanders, particularly those to whom he is unfavorably compared, McClellan's personal shortcomings were not that remarkable."
Chapter 4's discussion of the early months of war provides valuable insight into the ultimate conduct of the war. The widely held Northern belief that most Southerners were not committed secessionists initially led to a limited war strategy. After the First Manassas McClellan recommended that to restore the Union in the shortest time, the North had to "crust the rebellion at one blow...." Rowland notes "McClellan's was....a well reasoned strategic proposal. His conservative views.... reflected....widespread appeal throughout the North at that time...." In support of this strategy, he launched the Peninsula Campaign which was undermined by Washington politics and lack of support. The book states
"....the half defeat on the Peninsula.... spelled the end of the conciliatory" strategy. For this campaign to succeed, joint operations were mandatory; and the author observes that in the early stages of the war, the inability of Federal armies to cooperate in joint operations contrasted sharply with the military situation Grant inherited in 1864.
The review of civilian leaders alarm regarding Washington's safety is noteworthy. Extraordinary concerns for the capital's safety contrasted with months of endless nagging McClellan to assume the offensive. However the troops needed for an offensive had to come from those providing the capital's defense. Both McClellan and Grant faced the problem of Washington's safety with McClellan trying to comply and Grant often giving only limited support. The book concludes "McClellan's Peninsula campaign, the first major Federal offensive in East, experienced problems uniquely its own, not the least....was the administration's failure to sustain plans they had.... agreed to support." During the first two war years, many Northerners believed the Confederates would be quickly defeated perhaps in one major campaign. When McClellan assumed command in 1861, he inherited an untrained and disorganized army. The author notes that McClellan implemented schools of instruction and all volunteers were given basic training directed by an experienced officer. In addition, he recognized the deficit in trained officers (several were political hacks) and arranged effective training. The book frequently notes, that the training and organizing of the army was a major contribution. Considering, the sheer folly of his predecessor's taking an unprepared army to defeat at the First Bull Run, McClellan's unwillingness to assume the offensive in 1861 with an untrained army was prudent and not excessive caution. Unfortunately, in 1862, politics and lack of support doomed his Peninsula campaign.
Rowland writes "....little attention is paid to the context in which McClellan dealt with the difficulties that faced the Federal army in the first fifteen months of the war. ....his early tenure deprived him of the advantage of leading mature and seasoned civilian soldiers, adapted to the demands of a new age of warfare...." As one historian noted, McClellan "suffered the frictions and frustrations of being first." The text notes that Sherman observed that Napoleon took three years to build an army and "....here it is expected in ninety days..." The author notes the irony that McClellan was relieved of command when "He had effectively divided Lee's army into widely separated halves, intending to drive between them. The celerity of those moves alarmed Lee...." This could have been a critical blow.
The text continues that McClellan might have been forgiven a multiple of failures had he kept his eye on the military objective, the destruction of the Army of Northern Virginia. However, McClellan's strategy to capture Richmond was not without merit as Richmond was a critical manufacturing, transportation and financial center. The Tredegar Iron Works alone justified the capture of Richmond. Richmond's fall during the first two war years would have been devastating to the Confederacy. Regarding Antietam, Rowland correctly notes that regardless of McClellan's shortcomings, Antietam was a Union victory. McClellan had stopped Lee from delivering a demoralizing blow on northern soil.
The book concludes, "McClellan's strategy, though reflective of the unrealistic war aims of the years 1861-62,was cogent, reasoned, and consistent with conventional military wisdom.... McClellan can scarcely be elevated to the ranks of the great captains of war, but he was hardly the worst that the conflict dragged into the center stage."
The book is somewhat repetitious and devotes too much space to comparing McClellan's faults with similar faults of Grant and Sherman. However, the book is worth reading for its discussion of Union military and political strategy during the first two years of the Civil War.
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36 of 46 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing in the Extreme, July 5, 2001
By 
David M. Smith "Dave Smith" (Villa Hills, Kentucky USA) - See all my reviews
As an Amazon.com reviewer, I can see that I am going to be in the decided minority in my opinion on this book. Hopefully I can adequately point out my perceived problems with Mr. Rowland's work, and yet maintain the positives other reviewers have posted.
I have long been fascinated with George B. McClellan as not only a Civil War general, but as a Civil War personality as well. Here we have a man who should have been the one, single, Union military success - a man who had it all: brains, looks, youth, education, and family. And yet, there is no single Union general who managed to accomplish so little in over a year's time, with so much.
I hoped that Thomas J. Rowland's "George B. McClellan & Civil War History: In the Shadow of Grant and Sherman" would provide some insight into McClellan's flawed character that did not come forth from modern biographers such as Stephen Sears. Yet within Rowland's work, I was sorely disappointed.
Rowland sets forth to disprove Little Mac's critics by doing the one thing in Civil War writing that I abhor - rather than building up his subject, and letting McClellan's story stand on its own - he sets out to drag everyone else down. For some strange reason, there appears to be more and more of this going on in Civil War historiography of late, much to the detriment of our understanding of history.
Rowland sets out to outline the perceived problems with McClellan's personality and generalship, and rather than refute the contentions directly, often sets out to discredit others such as Grant, Sherman, and Edwin Stanton. If Rowland's guy cannot stand tall, then no one else will, as well. For example, we have on page 67 a typical statement of Rowland's: "The notion that McClellan was the butt of more embarrassing incidents than anyone else is greatly diminished by any extended review of the war's comical and tragic mistakes." And from there, rather than review Little Mac, Rowland sets out to review other participants on history's stage.
Rowland attempts to minimize McClellan's flaws by qualifying his admittance of such flaws throughout the book. Thus, we see Rowland admit, cautiously, that McClellan could be petty, vain, and vindictive "on occasion." In other places, his review of other historian's work is tinged with statements like "Unfortunately, that is not entirely true." The reader is left to try to ponder which portions are partially true, and partially not.
This book is not a comprehensive analysis of the life and times of General George B. McClellan, but a selected bibliography of truth and half-truth that uses only what the author wants the public to see about McClellan - and more importantly, anyone else held in higher esteem than the Young Napoleon that can be drawn down to the perceived level that history holds McClellan.
All in all, this was a very disappointing work. If you want to come to grips with the enigma that was McClellan, this book will leave you very short of your expectations.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Were character flaws "peculiar to McClellan"?, April 16, 1999
By A Customer
Thomas J. Rowland set out to prove that, although George McClellan was not a great general, neither was he as bad as so many Civil War historians and writers have depicted him. I believe that he has succeeded. Having read Stephen Sears' classic biography on "Mac", I was certain that the definitive McClellan verdict was a fait accompli. How wrong I was! Historians T. Harry Williams, Kenneth P. Williams, and Bruce Catton were also cited for a less than even-handed assessment of McClellan. Still, one must add that Rowland did not maliciously criticize the intent of these historians. He merely pointed out that they needlessly made Lincoln, Grant, and Sherman--men who remain giants without anyone's help--larger than they should be, at McClellan's expense. After examining their records during the first two years of the war, each of these men showed less than a superlative level of performance, contrary to popular assumption. I think that Rowland's book is one of best buys I have ever made. A more superbly-written, well-argued, and illuminating book on George McClellan and his impact on the Civil War and its interpretation would be hard to find. It's great. Buy it!
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a very refreshing look at an old subject., February 6, 1999
By A Customer
Not only does the author restore a much needed sense of perspective to the historical treatment of McClellan, but he suggests a needed framework in which Civil War leadership in the North can be examined without falling into the "cliche" trap of "good general vs. bad general." If you want a refreshing view of familiar material -- this is the book to read!
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Little Mac": a reassessment, April 4, 2006
By 
S. A. Kuipers (Groningen, Netherlands) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I am in two minds about this book. On the one hand: history has not been kind to "Little Mac", and it was about time somebody stood up for McClellan. Mr. Rowland has picked up the gauntlet. Lately, it seems to me, one can detect a bit of a trend towards that end. Mr. Rowland and other authors have reexamined and reassessed the General's personality and actions. Mr. Ethan S. Rafuse's book on McClellan ("McClellan's War") is another example of a fresh look at McClellan.
To do so and fly in the face of the "communis opinio" (the widely held view) of McClellan is in itself commendable.

On the other hand: I don't think that there is much purpose to this excercise. As I see it, and I'm pretty sure in that many other ACW scholars, buffs and aficionados, share this point of view, no matter how fresh or objective one tries to look at George Brinton McClellan, one reaches the same conclusions again and again: that the General was a deeply flawed man, to say the least, vain and boastful, and yet (or perhaps even because of this) also extremely cautious, highly insecure and frankly, paranoid. I've read of people, in his own time already, not just smart-mouth Amazon book-reviewers like yours truly, referring to him as a crackpot. I even think it was Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. Well, we know that Secretary Stanton was no great friend of McClellan and that he was quite stern in his opinions about the Generals he had to deal with, but in this case his ususally hot-headed judgement is not necessarily a wrong one.

Is it time for some revisionist history concerning McClellan? Is this necessary? Are the commonly held views of McClellan subject to debate, are these views thought to be untrue, unjust, unfair or even unhistorical by a growing number of ACW scholars, students and buffs? No, of course they are not. Because the general view of McClellan is born out of something "Little Mac" himself so conspicuously lacked: common sense.

Major General George Brinton McClellan had it all when he was called to Washington in 1861. He had a towering reputation (which was undeserved, after his successfull but minor campaign in Western Virginia, but the Union was elated to have a military success at last), he was hailed as the savior of the Union and he was given command of the Union's most important field army. The President and the cabinet trusted him, deferred to his judgement and put themselves at his disposition in stead of the other way round. He soon succeeded in ousting Winfield Scott, the venerable US Army Chief, and became General in Chief of all Union armies. McClellan, catapulted into this position of enormous power, then started to believe the adulation and the flattery of the people, the press and the politicians himself. He seemed to need it more and more, because as his influence and power increased, so did his insecurities, his doubts, his paranoia and his unbalance.
Well, we don't need to make to much of McClellan's flaws, after all, who of is isn't flawed in some, or even many, ways. Mr. Rowland correctly makes that point. McClellan wasn't more or less flawed than Grant and or Sherman. The thing is, however, that Grant and Sherman overcame their flaws, faced their demons and learned to function adequately if not superbly in command.
McClellan did not succeed in ridding himself of his fears or in learning to control them, nor in curbing his insecurities and his paranoid tendencies, and as such he was definitely not the right man to command the Army of the Potomac in the field.

Also there is cause to question his moral and indeed even his physical courage: McClellan stayed well away from the field of fight during any action. And there are more instances of behavior which justify this question mark against "Little Mac"'s honor of than the often cited episode of McClellan sailing away on a gunboat just after the beginning of the battle of Malvern Hill. An "unforgivable act of pusillanimity", as was said by some at the time, for which McClellan never offered an adequate explanation. Well, surely he was not prepared to get down to the level of his accusers and react to such slander, mr Rowland says. Yeah, right. That is the way in which people like McClellan usually respond to such considerations. I think, as do many others, that there remains a reasonable doubt as to McClellan's courage, based on his actions.

As to his judgment, well, let's name an aspect of this that puts a different light on the General's fitness for command. I'm talking of course of McClellan's tendency to systematically overestimate the number of enemy troops opposing him. He did this from day one in command and kept it up to right after Antietam, when he was finally relieved, in october 1862.

Why oh why did he do this? How did he come by those incredibly fantastic figures of hundreds of thousands of rebels opposing him and his poor little army? Was it all Pinkerton's fault? The great detective, after all, supplied the figures to McClellan. Pinkerton later said that he and his operatives had always given McClellan true numbers to the best of their knowledge. He also stated that they had not supplied McClellan with data which would support the exaggerated numbers of troops McClellan claimed Johnston and after him Lee had arrayed against him. In other words: McClellan took what Pinkerton gave him and then did some calculating of his own. He tailored the facts to fit his opinions and impressions, a professional hazard for a General, made all the more probable by McClellan's psychological make-up.
Whatever the psychological reasons; his inability to admit mistakes is one of the least attractive traits of McClellan's character.
After the war, indeed even during it, it became clear that Johnston and Lee had never commanded anything near the numbers of men that McClellan had claimed in his frantic cries for reinforcements and on which he had based his overcautious strategies.
After doing some maths it must have dawned on the people of the North that the war, which had gone on for four bloody years, could have ended in 1862. It could have ended with McClellan taking Richmond in june 1862 or with McClellan crushing Lee's badly outnumbered army at Antietam. In those days McClellan had acted too cautiously because he had convinced himself he was outnumbered. Even McClellan must have known, pretty soon after the war, that he had been tricked, by the rebels and by his own mind. But he never made any comment on the question!
He never apologized (well, that would have been impossible for a man like him) but neither did he ever explain his behavior. He never said on what he had he had based his now manifestly wrong actions in the Peninsula and Antietam campaigns!

What I even less understand, why weren't the people of the Union states furious with him for failing to win the war in 1862? He dawdled, faltered and failed and in doing so wasted the opportunities to end the war out of weakness, lack of resolve, moral cowardice and pig-headedness! He had Lee's battleplans in his possession just prior to Antietam, for Pete's sakes!! Why wasn't there more of an outcry against him? The war lasted two more years thanks to him! Why was he not dragged before congress or before a court-martial? In my view there was every reason to do so.

Now to the plus side. McClellan made the Army of the Potomac. He built it from the masses of raw volunteers that came to Washington in 1861. He trained these men, and selected their commanders, and he made some inspired choices in this regard (men like Gibbon, Hancock, and Hunt, for instance). He drilled the army, organized it and fed, clothed and housed it. He kept the army in good health an kept it supplied.
The fine performance of the men of the Army of the Potomac, especially that of the infantry and the gunners, owed a very great deal to the rigourous training programme to which McClellan subjected them. The General turned out to possess an enormous talent for organization and training. He honed the skills of the army and prepared it to an excellent degree for it's task. The credit for this is largely due to McClellan. Maybe this was part of the problem: McClellan built the army and knew it's strengths and it's weaknesses. After having made this huge army he was reluctant to commit it to action. They were all so green! There were so few regulars! He could not do what the French had done in 1793 when they fused the professional Royal Army with the new volunteer army, made up of inexperienced national guardsmen. They amalgamated the two types of soldiers in a new army: they put one regular army batallion in a demi-brigade with two batallions of volunteers. In this way the old sweats showed the rookies the ropes of soldiering and infused old-fashioned discipline while in turn the volunteers were an example and an inspiration of revolutionary elan to the old soldiers.
McClellan could not do this: there were only some 17.000 regular soldiers in the US Army in 1861. He felt he had to use his army very very carefully and cautiously, if he lost it, he would lose the war, and the Union with it. This realization, of which he convinced himself, eventually paralyzed him.

This is book that makes you think, and think again, on McClellan. Four stars for that!!!
I do not share Mr. Rowland's conclusions, though. In 1862 McClellan was not the best man for the job to command the Army of the Potomac.
It would have been for him and for his reputation had he continued in an organizing/facilitating capacity. Lincoln should have made him Chief of Staff in Washington, in fact, should have given "Little Mac" the job Henry Halleck got in 1862, or should have made him Quartermaster-General or even Secretary of War.
It would in all probability have meant that McClellan would have become the Lazare Carnot of the Union: "The Organizer of Victory" The man who supplied the tools that won the war for the Union. He could then have supervised the productions of arms and ammunition, the supplying of the army, it's transportation, the training of it's new recruits, and he would more than probably have done a great job. He was the born military organizer. He was not, alas, a great field commander. McClellan would have lived to great respect and glory and would not have died at 58, of a heart condition which probably stemmed from the stress of supreme command, and which after the war was aggravated by the constant stress of battling to keep his reputation intact. McClellan died a controversial figure, respected and yet partly tragic, partly ridiculous. But he had only himself to blame for this.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most important CW book published in 1998/99, January 29, 1999
By A Customer
This is the first book-length study of McClellan's critics. Its importance is magnified both by its challenge to consensus "truths" about McClellan and by the importance of McClellan himself to the early Union war effort. Well written, eminently reasonable, thoroughly informed of all the McClellan controversies, this is a volume for anyone who wants to delve just a little deeper than pop history. Rowland makes historiography (ugly word) easy and even enjoyable. I can't recommend this work highly enough.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Defense Brief for McClellan, April 8, 2009
Be warned. This is not a narrative of George B. McClellan's roller coaster ride in command of the Union Army. Instead, Thomas Rowland offers an interesting number of chapters taking aim at historians who have highlighted what they consider McClellan's character flaws. Rowland shows that McClellan was not delusional or mentally unstable and guides the reader through studies on McClellan and the Union war effort. Rowland compares McClellan to Sherman and Grant the entire book and it can get a bit repetitive. Rowland also reminds readers that McClellan faced the Confederate army in its prime. The book is dry and legalistic; more concerned with reviewing other works on McClellan instead of offering a portrait of "Little Mac." Readers will leave the book conceding that McClellan was not as incompetent and as unstable as the likes of Stephen Sears make him out to be but still agree with Grant that McClellan is one of the leading enigmas of the war.
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George B. McClellan and Civil War History: In the Shadow of Grant and Sherman
George B. McClellan and Civil War History: In the Shadow of Grant and Sherman by Thomas J. Rowland (Paperback - September 1, 2008)
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