GEORGE B. McCLELLAN: The Young Napoleon by Stephen W. Sears

GEORGE B. McCLELLAN: The Young Napoleon

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Sears, former editor with American Heritage magazine and author of the definitive history of the Battle of Antietam (Landscape Turned Red, 1983), now turns his full attention on one Civil War figure, Major General George Brinton McClellan. McClellan is remembered as a man whose grasp exceeded his talent. He was the soldier who earned command of the Army of the Potomac early in the Civil War, made it one of the best-disciplined forces in the world, and then found himself credited with only one Pyrrhic victory, Antietam. In the wartime election of 1864, he was the one public figure self-confident enough to run against Lincoln; in the years after the Civil War, he was also one of the few men in America who failed to realize that George McClellan had never possessed the potential to be either an American President or an American Caesar. Sears deftly compresses the general's very full prewar life and pursuits into a few chapters. At age 34, with outbreak of civil war, McClellan became the second-highest ranking general in the North. At this point, Sears' account takes its full shape and describes in fulsome, sometimes astounding detail the maturing of a monumental ego. McClellan assumed overall responsibility for some early successes by Union forces against poorly organized Confederates in western Virginia. This catapulted him to the command of the Army of the Potomac and in the press earned him the title ""The Young Napoleon."" At that time, the Union's main army in the East was made up of underdisciplined, poorly supplied volunteer soldiers. Surrounded by a cadre Of fiercely loyal officers, McClellan transformed these men into well-uniformed legions that marched crisply and broke into cheers for their general whenever he appeared. Meanwhile, as a Democrat at odds with the Lincoln Adminstration's war aims, he also squabbled with the War Department and spoke darkly of government schemes to use him as a scapegoat if upcoming battles went against him. McClellan's life story then becomes one of how one general fed upon the adoration of his men, battled with capitol figures, and built a cult of personality around himself strong enough to be a potential threat to the future of the Federal democracy. Sears' easily read work is just the latest of several McClellan biographies. What distinguishes it is the author's use of military archival material to define McClellan as a man as well as a general.

Pub Date: Aug. 24th, 1988
ISBN: 0306809133
Publisher: Ticknor & Fields/Houghton Mifflin