I believe the phrase, “What the hell, McClellan!” was heard a lot in the White House. General George McClellan was the first General-in-Chief during the start of the Civil War. Now, he didn’t last very long in office. He was a headache for Lincoln and extremely criticized by citizens. In the Tumblr history community, he’s mostly a vehicle for jokes about retreating. Here’s a few reasons McClellan actually kind of sucked at his job.
5. He overestimated his enemies and was overly cautious.
If you’ve ever played Risk, you’ve probably played with a McClellan. He’s the one that takes a day and a half to pick where his 5 troops will go, imagining and reimagining his strategy three turns ahead. Finally, he decides to put
them all on Madagascar and someone gets so angry, they table flip the whole board. McClellan once estimated the Confederate army to consist of over 150,000 men. He gave no logical explanation for this number. He literally pulled it out of thin air. In reality, his enemy’s army consisted of 60,000 men. What happened to that other 90,000? Aliens.
4. He kept all of his plans to himself.
Another aggravating thing about McClellan was that he would not let anyone in on what he was doing! It took him being summoned to the White House by the President to finally get him to tell anyone what he was planning. This guy has more than 100,000 men to command and he’s not telling any of them what’s going on.
3. He essentially brought his Achilles’ heel into command.
In the beginning of the war, General McClellan crafted something known as the Peninsula Campaign, an operation to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond, Va. Although brilliant in theory, McClellan’s execution was a bit lacking. The only reason he wasn’t beat out of the south right away was because the Confederates also had a “cautious” general, Joseph E. Johnston. McClellan and his troops actually made it to the outskirts of Richmond and I’m sure he could smell the victory right at his fingertips. However, a minor battle occurred and, subsequently Johnston was wounded. Johnston was then replaced by Confederate General Robert E. Lee, a fellow graduate of West Point Military Academy who was extremely more aggressive than his predecessor. This would later spell doom for our dear general.
2. He and Abraham Lincoln couldn’t stand each other.
Imagine if you invited your boss to your house for dinner and instead of meeting him at the door like a normal person, you decided to instead make him wait for a half hour before finally sending one of your servants to tell him
that you had gone to bed and couldn’t see him that night. This was exactly what McClellan did to Lincoln while the President was visiting his home. He even criticized Lincoln behind his back, calling him a baboon. Don’t think Lincoln took this lying down, though. One day, while meeting with other Union generals, he remarked that “If General McClellan does not want to use the army; I would like to borrow it for a time.” Oh, burn. Lincoln would later dismiss McClellan and replace him with the alcoholic, but certainly more competent, General Ulysses S. Grant.
1. The Battle of Antietam.
Oh, the Battle of Antietam. The moment when Lincoln looked upon McClellan and said “thou aret not worthy”. Historians are surprised it was even a “victory”. With all of the meticulous planning that McClellan was known for, he was unable to concentrate his troops effectively enough to take advantage of his numbers. He even decides to attack each side of Lee’s army (left, center, right) in order and one at a time. Though this battle was tactically a tie, Lee technically lost because he withdrew his troops from the engagement first. Now, Lee’s troops are weak and have their backs turned. What General wouldn’t run after them and take them out in one, final blow meant to finish the whole war in one swing? McClellan, that’s who. Lincoln and the rest of the Union commanders were fuming when they heard McClellan refused to follow and instead pulled back his troops. Good job, McClellan, you retreated from a victory!
Now don’t get me wrong, McClellan was actually a really good strategist (most of the time) and even though the Battle of Antietam was technically a draw, the United States would be able to use it as a rallying cry and eventually drum up enough political and military support to win the war. Antietam also brought about the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation, as Lincoln was waiting for a Union victory to release it. McClellan may have been pretty bad at his job, but he laid the foundation for Grant to later become victor over the Confederates and usher in a new era of American History. Gold star, you tried!
Want to rant about McClellan with us? Maybe you want to try and defend him? Drop us a line at email@example.com or find us on twitter @sparkysquill.