Was McCellan a Coward or....

johnincornwall

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,872
Cornwall
I think it's often expected that generals should suddenly become great commander-in-chiefs despite having never commanded an army of more than 16,000 men which, I think, was around the total US army strength in early 1860. Whilst others do have a talent, some just cannot command 100,000 men or more from just reading a few books about Napoleon.

Slightly reminds me of Redvers Buller (smaller numbers obviously)- great Colonel, fairly good Brigadier - useless army commander. His bravery or loyalty couldn't be questioned either - he just didn't have it.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,779
Dispargum
Who said anything about forgiveness lol..
I’m jut wondering about his thinking process..
Obviously some generals were able to ignore napoleonic tactics.. so it would still make him sub standard.
But thinking about the casualty rate.. it was too high for the land gained..
Sherman and The anaconda plan to basically cut the south off and slowly work in ward is what worked.. not turning flanks and marching in rows.
I admire Sherman for realizing that Napoleonic tactics were obsolete by the 1860s so he eventually found a new strategy for winning the war that did not involve fighting a lot of battles. The difference between Sherman and McClellan is that Sherman was willing to experiment and find this new strategy. Meanwhile, pending this new strategy, Sherman was willing to fight. McClellan was not.

McClellan's problem is that he favored a soft war solution - he thought he could restore the Union painlessly. He did not realize the strength or intensity of Southern defiance. That defiance was not going to be destroyed painlessly. The best McClellan could have accomplished with a soft war strategy was to temporarily restore the Union but leaving the underlying issues unresolved. In five or ten years there would have been another national crisis over slavery.
 
Oct 2019
45
Near the dogbowl
If you think Napoleonic tactics don't work you aggressively engage in defensive war:

1. Use the castle strategy. Move into enemy territory and build defensive fortifications along enemy route of communication to control the area.
2. Use rapid moving forces to attack enemy supply positions.
3. Move your force into enemy territory and then force your opponent to attack you (Longstreet's preferred method).

I don't believe he did any of these. His letters and complaints did not involve a fear of strategy, but that he was afraid of enemy numbers and a lack of support on his side. Other commanders in the West were being successful. He was afraid to commit.

He was a missed asset. Like Halleck he was far too cautious. He should have been used to train forces or as Chief of Staff for the East, with Halleck as COS for the West.

In his defense, like the commanders that followed until Grant, he was constantly harangued and second guessed by Washington to attack etc. Lincoln was a hero, and not afraid to sack poor commanders, but he is to blame for many of those problems stemming from Washington. He needed to pull an FDR: oversee the big strategic decisions; and marshall the massive industry and communications needed to support the Union armies.
 

MG1962a

Ad Honorem
Mar 2019
2,211
Kansas
A great organizer , acceptable strategist , poor tactician and a coward
he should have been a quartermaster of the army , as a commander he flinched at imaginary risks
Exactly. He simply was not the right man for the job of offensive operations. Tell him what your plan is and he will make sure the boys turn up are on time, well fed, and well trained.

Sort of like putting General Patton as head of the PR and HR divisions of the army. Aint gonna end well.
 
Jul 2019
850
New Jersey
Coward is a bit of a strong word. Yes, he was timid where he should have been bold, but I'm not sure that makes him a coward. And to call him a traitor is unacceptable - I think everyone agrees on that nowadays. Allegations of treason would have emerged from his presidential run against Lincoln, on the platform of ending the war diplomatically (i.e. making concessions to the south).
 
Nov 2019
138
Memphis TN
Coward is a bit of a strong word. Yes, he was timid where he should have been bold, but I'm not sure that makes him a coward. And to call him a traitor is unacceptable - I think everyone agrees on that nowadays. Allegations of treason would have emerged from his presidential run against Lincoln, on the platform of ending the war diplomatically (i.e. making concessions to the south).
Should he have been bold considering the casualties that were coming??

I think the “let’s line up and attack a fortified positions rom the from!” Ship had sailed..

Imho except for Lees foray into the north.. the union army should have just starved them out..

That plan was even proposed by Winfield Scott at the very beginning of the war..

And the same thing goes for the confederacy.. imho if they didn’t repeatedly make bad voices on the alter of southern pride. I think they hold out..

If they do not fire first at sumner and lose the “moral high ground, and If they go defense in depth , while the union is still using napoleonic tactics... I think the northern population taps out..



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Oct 2019
45
Near the dogbowl
Should he have been bold considering the casualties that were coming??

I think the “let’s line up and attack a fortified positions rom the from!” Ship had sailed..

Imho except for Lees foray into the north.. the union army should have just starved them out..

That plan was even proposed by Winfield Scott at the very beginning of the war..

And the same thing goes for the confederacy.. imho if they didn’t repeatedly make bad voices on the alter of southern pride. I think they hold out..

If they do not fire first at sumner and lose the “moral high ground, and If they go defense in depth , while the union is still using napoleonic tactics... I think the northern population taps out..



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The plan wasn't just proposed, Anaconda was implemented. Blockades were put in place in the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic Coast. The Mississippi was taken by the Union.
 
Nov 2019
138
Memphis TN
The plan wasn't just proposed, Anaconda was implemented. Blockades were put in place in the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic Coast. The Mississippi was taken by the Union.
Not till the end of the war... they could have started there and couldn’t have a more credible person propose it..
Winfield Scott.


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Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,779
Dispargum
Should he have been bold considering the casualties that were coming??
I think the “let’s line up and attack a fortified positions rom the from!” Ship had sailed..
Imho except for Lees foray into the north.. the union army should have just starved them out..
That plan was even proposed by Winfield Scott at the very beginning of the war..
And the same thing goes for the confederacy.. imho if they didn’t repeatedly make bad voices on the alter of southern pride. I think they hold out..
If they do not fire first at sumner and lose the “moral high ground, and If they go defense in depth , while the union is still using napoleonic tactics... I think the northern population taps out..
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In 1861, no one knew, not even McClellan, how many casualties would occur before the war ended.
McClellan did try to bypass the fortified positions at Manassas with his Peninsula Campaign. That didn't work either. Not only was McClellan defeated on the peninsula but Pope was also defeated at Manassas of all places.

The North could not sit back and do nothing. To do so would concede victory to the South.

Whatever McClellan may have thought of Napoleonic tactics, one thing has always been true: the easiest way to control events is to attack. To stand on defense surrenders the initiative to the enemy. If McClellan had simply held Washington and waited for Grant and Sherman to eventually fight their way east, the Confederate army in Virginia could have invaded Maryland and Pennsylvania at will. In 1862, it was still possible that Maryland could have seceded. A good offensive into Virginia was the best way to protect Washington.

While the war did end with something resembling the Anaconda Plan, I'm not convinced that the Anaconda Plan was consciously applied. Alternative strategies were attempted from time to time. They just didn't work. It's easy from hindsight to say that the Anaconda Plan was the right strategy to apply, but in 1862 the wisdom of Scott's plan was far from obvious.
 
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Sep 2012
1,181
Tarkington, Texas
I am reminded that someone after the war asked Lee which Union General was better, McClellan or Grant? Lee said McClellan. He could not tell what Little Mac was going to do next, but he could tell what Grant was going to do. I think Little Mac was a better staff officer and trainer than a general.

Pruitt