A Civil War specialist’s nutshell assessment of a famously dysfunctional relationship.
In the summer of 1862 a frustrated senator urged Abraham Lincoln to relieve Gen. George McClellan from command, begging the president to replace the Little Napoleon “with anybody.” Lincoln was well-acquainted with the general’s flaws—his proclivity for secrecy, his tendency to micromanage, his constant demands for more troops, his contemptuous treatment of superiors in the government and officers under him and, most of all, his reluctance to aggressively pursue Lee’s army—and his saintly patience was dwindling. At the war’s outset, McClellan’s appointment made sense. The decrepitude of the old Mexican War hero Winfield Scott and the defection of many of the nation’s top officers to the Confederacy left a vacuum the remarkably young McClellan easily filled thanks to his exceptional training, distinguished service in Mexico and victories in several early skirmishes in Western Virginia. He quickly set about drilling and refurbishing the army, secured a teetering capital against attack, restored confidence and inspired devotion from his troops. The strutting general saw himself as the Union’s savior, floating above and deeply resenting the filthy political scrum. As superintendent of the Illinois Central Railroad before the war, the genteel, broadly educated, socially adept McClellan had employed Lincoln as occasional legal counsel. He neither liked nor respected the unsophisticated prairie lawyer, a feeling he never abandoned. Lincoln finally dismissed McClellan in November 1862, making the general the immediate frontrunner for the bitterly divided Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. McClellan’s landslide 1864 electoral defeat ended his tortured connection to Lincoln. Explaining without dwelling on McClellan’s deficiencies in the field, Waugh (One Man Great Enough: Abraham Lincoln’s Road to Civil War, 2007, etc.) neatly focuses on the general’s tragic inability to subordinate himself to a man whose greatness he never understood.
A handy volume that efficiently covers all the essentials.