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Lincoln and McClellan: The Troubled Partnership between a President and His General Hardcover – May 11, 2010
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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
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Its greatest moment during that time was Antietam (or Sharpsburg), where McClellan (with a good bit of luck and contrary to his basic instincts) managed to corner Lee, who had just invaded the North, with his forces divided and his back to the Potomac. After a day of ferocious battle, the most lethal day in American military history, the two armies paused to catch their breath and gather their wits. Then Lee and the Confederate Army turned, re-crossed the Potomac, and limped back to deep Virginia and safety. Many then and now believe that McClellan - by allowing Lee to slip away - also let slip away a splendid opportunity to end the Civil War in late 1862. The issue is still debated among Civil War buffs, but the only one whose opinion really mattered was Abraham Lincoln. Two weeks after the battle, he visited the Union Army, still spread out around Sharpsburg. Standing on a hill overlooking the vast encampment, Lincoln asked an old friend, "Do you know what this is?" The friend, rather perplexed, answered, "It is the Army of the Potomac." Lincoln countered: "So it is called, but that is a mistake; it is only McClellan's bodyguard." One month later, Lincoln sacked McClellan, ending his active military career.
The bulk of LINCOLN AND McCLELLAN is devoted to the 15 months -- July 22, 1861 through November 6, 1862 -- that McClellan had principal responsibility for the Union army in the East. Again and again, McClellan pats himself on the back, grossly overestimates (hallucinates?) the strength and numbers of the Confederate forces opposite him, clamors for yet more troops, and then hems and haws and dilly-dallies and finds ever new reasons to postpone the offensive. Again and again Lincoln strokes his ego, then prods him, and then tries to shame him into action. It is almost as if the two speak different languages or come from alien ways of life.
One of the insights of author Waugh is to underscore that Lincoln and McClellan did, in a sense, come from entirely different cultures. Lincoln was back-woods, the son of a hard-scrabble frontier family, with very little formal schooling and not much more polish or social refinement. McClellan came from a patrician background, the crème de la crème of Philadelphia society. He attended the best private schools in Philadelphia, then the University of Pennsylvania, and then West Point, where he was a star, graduating second in his class. He oozed polish and refinement. This upbringing had two salient consequences during the 15 months he commanded the Union Army under Lincoln as civilian commander-in-chief. One, he looked on Lincoln as his "social, intellectual, and moral inferior", and hence he was blind and deaf to the opinions and advice Lincoln constantly pressed on him, much of which actually was sound. Two, as a general, McClellan was overly cautious and conservative; he was, like many of his class, risk-averse. (And the Confederate generals knew full well, and took conscious advantage of, that trait; his friend and co-officer during the Mexican War, Confederate General Joe Johnston, in assessing the situation during the Peninsular campaign, commented, "No one but McClellan could have hesitated to attack [us].")
By no means am I a Civil War scholar, but over the years I have read a fair amount on the subject and, excepting many of the details, there was little in this book that was new to me. Nor does its portrayal of McClellan differ significantly from what I have read elsewhere. Based on what I know, LINCOLN AND McCLELLAN is solid, middle-of-the road history. In coming up with the 218 pages of text, Waugh draws on an impressively extensive collection of sources. Too many in many instances - he often provides four quotes to illustrate a point when one or two would have served just fine. Had the book been written primarily to explicate the major aspects and conflicts of the Lincoln/McClellan relationship with less attention to corroborating quotations and other detail, those 218 pages of text could have been halved. The writing itself suffices though it rarely sparkles.
LINCOLN AND McCLELLAN is a detailed, workmanlike rendering of the 15 months during which the title figures were "partners". I sense that it will be of more interest to the Civil War buff than to the general reader.
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I thought so much of this title that I acquired it for my father-in-law, Edgar Willis, who is a Civil War buff, an historian,...Read more