From 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)
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This is a useful but somewhat strange work about a pair of mismatched men who briefly controlled the fate of our nation during its greatest trial. Waugh, a journalist and historian, repeatedly refers to the partnership between President Lincoln and General George McClellan and then shows again and again that they were more antagonists than partners. Lincoln was born dirt poor, lacked formal education, and could be crude in manner and speech. McClellan was well born, well educated, and looked down upon those who were not, including Lincoln. But their mutual antagonism was mostly fueled by McClellan’s conduct of the war while general in chief. Lincoln initially met virtually all of McClellan’s demands for men and material, he did so expecting his general to move swiftly and effectively against Confederate forces in Virginia. Instead, McClellan, although showing superb organizational skills, constantly moved slowly or not at all, and wildly overestimated the number of Confederate troops opposing him. Civil War buffs will find little new here, but general readers who wish to learn more about the Civil War will find this work informative and easily digestible. --Jay Freeman