General John McClernand invites historians’ vitriol. T. Harry Williams called him “a stupendous egotist,” and that’s one of the milder epithets. Meyers, however, considers him one of the better political generals Lincoln commissioned. Acquainted with him from years in Illinois politics, Lincoln knew what he was getting: a popular orator, recruiter, and pro-Union Democrat. After dispensing with the two pols’ antebellum connections, Meyers recounts McClernand’s military rise and fall due to politicking and public proclaiming. An early omen might have come at the 1861 Battle of Belmont. An elated McClernand gave a premature victory speech to his men; then counterattacking Confederates forced them to fight for their lives. A recurring problem Meyers acknowledges was McClernand’s habitual submission of reports and self-advertisements to Lincoln, circumventing military protocol and annoying professional soldiers like Ulysses Grant. Nevertheless, Meyers maintains McClernand was a relatively effective combat leader through the 1863 Vicksburg campaign, when a characteristically self-congratulatory proclamation gave Grant an excuse to relieve him. A conditional rehabilitation of a controversial figure, Meyers’ study supplies buffs with well-grounded debating points. --Gilbert Taylor
About the Author
Christopher C. Meyers is professor of American history at Valdosta State University. He has contributed articles to The Georgia Historical Quarterly, The Journal of Southwest Georgia History, and Columbiad.