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Lee vs. McClellan: The First Campaign Hardcover – October 22, 1996
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About the Author
Clayton R. Newell, a retired U.S. Army officer, has held the John J. Pershing Chair of Military Operations and Strategy at the Army War College.
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The author shows that Virginia was two different states when the war began and that it actually always had been. First, the area is geographically isolated from Virginia and the South. Due to railroads and river trade this isolation was further reinforced by strong economic connections to the North. Second, the founding families of the Old Dominion and the political power in the state were located in the eastern counties and this caused resentment in the westerners who felt powerless and oppressed by the control of the tidewater/piedmont aristocracy. Third, the all important issue of slavery. Except for the Kanawha River Valley slavery was impractical for farming operations in the mountainous land that made up the majority of the area. I found it interesting that from the beginning of hostilities there was a movement to break away and form a seperate state. The book looks into these efforts that would bear fruit in 1863 with the formation of the state of West Virginia. All these factors made the occupation and defense of this area important for the Lincoln administration and its attempts at defeating the Confederacy.
The formation and composition of the opposing armies and background information for Lee and McClellan is given as well as the military/logistical situation in the contested region. The book shows that McClellan and the Union forces had huge advantages in transportation (river/rail) that aided them in concentration and logistics over the Confederate forces who primarily had to depend on roads for troop movements and supplies. The book teaches the reader that the use of these roads was tough enough in good weather but rain and mud during the campaign slowed down and sometimes made operations impossible. Lee was further hindered in his attempts to hold/regain the region because of troublesome, qaurrelling subordinates more interested in maintaining independent command or infighting with old politacal rivals (two of Lee's subordinates in the region, Floyd and Wise, were former governors of Virginia, imagine Clinton and Bush commanding parts of the army your trying to lead to victory!) than defeating the Northern army and regaining Northwest Virginia. I really found it interesting how McClellan's antebellum career as Chief Engineer/Vice President of the Illinois Central Railroad helped him use Northwest Virginia's railroads and the telegraph to aid the Union effort.
All the small battles and skirmishes that made up the campaign are covered briefly but in enough detail that the reader understands the sequence of events for each. I found McClellan's indecision at the battle of Rich Mountain very prophetic as an insight into his command of later operations in the war. Luckily for him and the Union Rosecrans carried the day. McClellan comes across as jealous and petty afterwards by claiming all the laurels of victory and playing down Rosecrans contributions. The predominant pro-Union leanings of the areas inhabitants aided the Norths effort and hindered the Conferacy quite a bit, and the book touches on this. Lee's laid back, let the subordinate carry out the orders as given style of leadership is examined also. It caused a lot of problems with the subordinate generals he had to deal with and I came away wondering if things would have been somewhat different if Confederate General Richard S. Garnett hadnt been killed at Corrick's Ford? In contrast to McClellan, Lee comes across as too nice and tolerant of his subordinates, but as someone only wanting to accomplish military victory and not seeking personal accolades. Much different from Little Mac, as history would show.
The book is well written and it wasnt a task to read it, I enjoyed the authors style. The maps in the book are good (seven total), but it could have used more. There is a good map of Virginia that shows the different regions of the state and helps explain the geographic/economic isolation of the Northwestern region. A Theater of Operations map zooms the reader in and also shows the roads the opponents had to use in the region (this map needed to be bigger and show the railroads), five Area of Operation maps are included covering military actions at Phillipi, Rich Mountain, Gauley Bridge, Carnifex Ferry, and Cheat Mountain but there are no tactical battle maps, would have liked to see one of these for each clash of arms (especially Scary Creek and Cross Lanes). But for an introductory overview of the campaign the maps are sufficient. The book has 38 photos and illustrations that aid in the telling of the story and give the reader a face to put with the name for many of the participants. The book ends with an informative Epilogue that gives the reader info on campaign participants during the rest of the war and peacetime. The Notes section only listed sources, no additional information, but the Selected Bibliography list plenty of further reading for anyone interested (it did not include what I feel is the best single volume for more in depth campaign/battle descriptions with lots of maps "The Glories of War" by Charles P. Poland Jr.).
Well researched and written, a great introduction. Highly recommended.
For as author Newell points out so clearly and so accurately in this captivating account of the little-known Fall 1861 campaign in West Virginia, McClellan had much going for him as Lee had much against him.
For McClellan and the Union, it was McClellan's devout yet crusty subordinate, General William S. Rosecrans who deserves much of the credit for the Union victory. Rosecrans was aggressive, and he didn't hesitate whereas his boss did. Indeed, Rosecrans own career skyrocketed after his success in West Virginia, only to nose dive so quickly two years later at Chickamauga.
McClellan also had the services of General Jacob Cox of Ohio, who would later distinguish himself in Sherman's Atlanta Campaign, and of the famed explorer Frederic West Lander, who at one time rivalled Fremont in his Westward explorations, but who died so suddenly after the West Virginia campaign.
Also involved was a then little-known NCO named Ambrose Bierce, whose own macabre writings, including "A Horse-Man in the Sky" and "The Mocking Bird" came directly out of his experiences serving in an Indiana regiment during the fighting in West Virginia. If you like the twist and turns of Bierce's fiction, then this non-fiction work is a must.
Also going for McClellan was the key factor of a mountain populace that was on his side.
In contrast Lee suffered from poor generals - one of them, John B. Floyd, bicked constantly with his fellow generals. Floyd, the treasonous Secretary of War in the pre-Lincoln Buchanan Administration, was in constant fear of being captured and hanged. One of the more gifted Generals, Robert Garnett, was killed early on in the retreat from Rich Mountain. Garnett's cousin, Richard, would die in Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg almost two years later.
Lee's troops suffered from poor morale - a fact not lost on the future Confederate commander, who learned from his lessons here, whereas McClellan quickly forgot his.
Of additional note is the fact that two future Presidents - Rutherford Hayes and William McKinley, served in the 24th Ohio during the West Virginia battles, while the Grandfather of George S. Patton fought with the Confederate forces.
Not only does Newell cover fresh ground, but the illustrations, particularly those at the beginning of each chapter, give the reader a "you are there" feel.