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McClellan's War: The Failure of Moderation in the Struggle for the Union Hardcover – April 14, 2005

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Editorial Reviews


"... interesting and useful... clever approach." —H-CivWar

(H-CivWar 2006-01-00)

"Rafuse's book... offers the most comprehensive account of McClellan's prewar life and military career available, buttressed with a convincing analysis, and is sure to alter current perceptions and future assessments of the general's role in Civil War history." —Providence Sunday Journal

(Providence Sunday Journal)

About the Author

Ethan S. Rafuse is professor of military history at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and the author, editor, or co-editor of eight books on Civil War history, including Antietam, South Mountain, and Harpers Ferry: A Battlefield Guide and Robert E. Lee and the Fall of the Confederacy, 1863-1865.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press; First Edition edition (April 14, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0253345324
  • ISBN-13: 978-0253345325
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,480,777 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Dale P. Henken on March 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a delightful rendering of General George B. McLellan from Ethan Rafuse. I don't know if this treatment will restore Little Mac from the severe wounds history has inflicted on him but it does help us understand why he behaved the way he did. Politicians always slather thick layers of patriotic ardor over the stark brutality of modern war in order to get the hostilities underway; the attendant death & destruction is never full anticipated & always pitifully underestimated. The radical Republicans wanted to unleash the dogs of war right at the Secesh throat not realising the South had hounds of their own. McLellan with his gentile family background & his Whig- Democratic political leanings & his West Point education got in the way. He was mauled nearly to death.

This is an account of the life & generalship of McLellan from his triumphant processional into Washington & anointing up until his dismissal from command after Antietam (& the Emancipation Proclamation) in November, 1862. Rafuse focuses on the moderate political opposition to the radicals who ran Congress after the Whig party had been splintered into oblivion & the Southern Democrats had left the Republicans in a lopsided majority after Lincoln's election. This moderation is McLellan's raison d'etre.

McLellan thought reasonable, unemotional (not radical) professionals should run the war. A decisive set-piece battle & then some mopping up would bring the South back to the Union with their traditions & way of life, including their peculiar institution, intact. Treat the Southerners in a conciliatory sort of way & they would reject the fire-eating slaveholders who brought on the war & return to the fold. How wrong he was. Six hundred thousand dead later & the Union was victorious & slavery was abolished.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Kevin M. Derby VINE VOICE on May 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Sailing around the world, U.S. Grant sighed that George McClellan was one of the chief enigmas of the war. A century and a half later, most Civil War buffs would agree. McClellan's biographers either considered him a hero or, in the case of say Stephen Sears, a delusioned man who flirted with mental illness. Taking a page from the likes of Daniel Walker Howe, Ethan Rafuse argues that the key to understanding Little Mac is viewing him as an old line Whig of the Clay and Webster tradition who believed in self control, gentility, education and discipline. Rafuse goes into McClellan's prewar career and education and other influences (most importantly, Rafuse stresses how McClellan's jewel of a wife shaped his religious sentiments) and how they shaped his Civil War tenure. Readers may still view McClellan as a failed commander once they read Rafuse but at least they understand where he was coming from. As opposed to being plagued by psychological problems as Sears would have us believe, Rafuse shows that McClellan was man of his times who failed, in many ways, to grow with them. While Rafuse fails to provide a traditional narrative of military history, he provides an excellent political history of McClellan in 1861 and 1862. One wishes that Rafuse had taken his account to the 1864 election and McClellan's rather underappreciated political career after the war. Still, no other book truly offers such an interesting and insightful portrait of McClellan. If you want to understand the Union effort in the Civil War, you have to understand George McClellan's roller coaster ride in the high command. No other book does that as well as Rafuse's splendid "McClellan's War."
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35 of 42 people found the following review helpful By James W. Durney TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Finding a general in American history with as bad a reputation as George B. McClellan is not an easy task. Few Civil War books have anything good to say about him, fewer still defend his actions in the field. His victory at Antietam is often listed as a draw or even a Confederate victory. This "victory" is because McClellan should have destroyed the Army of Northern Virginia and their survival is a "victory" for them. His problems with military intelligence and the chronic over estimation of numbers is a "character defect" that he used to keep from fighting the army he created and loved to much to use. When pressed, even his harshest critics, will admit that McClellan created the Army of the Potomac and that it was the premier Union army during the war. Finally, they will acknowledge that McClellan always obeyed orders from Washington, even when he disagreed with them and felt they hurt his army.

This book covers McClellan's background and actions up to being removed from command for the last time in 1861. While not taking a position, each incident is completely covered and footnoted. This allows the reader to both check the author and to draw well founded conclusions from the text. For this reason, "McClellan's War" should become an important milestone in the evolving debate about his service. The amount of information packed into this book is staggering. While the book is so well written that, it reads like a good novel. The combination produces a very enjoyable and dynamic learning experience.

Everything is here. All the questions about relations with Congress, Lincoln and Scott, are examined and both sides presented. Coverage of the question about reinforcements during the Peninsula Campaign is complete with attention to the critical sequence of events.
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