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How the Civil War Became a Revolution

by Richard Slotkin

Pub Date: July 16th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-871-40411-4
Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Slotkin (No Quarter: The Battle of the Crater, 1864, 2009, etc.) painstakingly enumerates the instances of Gen. George McClellan’s wavering, delaying and outright disobedience of orders.

Throughout the book, the author exhibits his vast knowledge of the numerous generals involved in both sides of the conflict. McClellan was strongly in the camp of those who felt maintaining slavery in the South would end the war and, more importantly, leave him as the true savior and leader of the nation. Lincoln knew that compromise would only leave the country to fight another day. The general’s letters to his wife clearly outlined his megalomania, his delusional rages and his insistence that he was the only possible savior of the country. He even insulted the cabinet and the president by refusing to divulge his military plans. Known as the “Virginia Creeper,” McClellan knew that an early victory would allow the “radicals” to take over the war and insist on subduing the South. His outright blackmail in refusing to move his army until he received full command will make readers question why Lincoln put up with the man. Lincoln claimed he was the only capable general available. While the devotion of McClellan’s troops encouraged him as they parroted his opinions and grievances against Lincoln and others, that intense loyalty effectively barred any attempt to remove him. Slotkin’s comprehensive descriptions of the battles of 1862 show his deep understanding of the terrain, the difficulties of communication, the impossible logistics and the characters that influenced the outcome. The author includes a detailed, helpful chronology of the events of that fateful year.

If this seems much more a book about General McClellan, there’s good reason. The author deftly exposes his egocentric, messianic tendencies as he purposely prolonged the beginning of the conflict.