Was McCellan a Coward or....

Zip

Jan 2018
648
Comancheria
McClellan was a lollygagger. Lee defeated McClellan by attacking. Lee defeated Pope and Hooker by attacking. Many battles were won by attacking--too many to mention. And routine entrenching on the battlefield wasn't common until 1864 and even then many battles saw little use of works. And some battle saw works overrun---Jonesboro, Chattanooga, Nashville and the final assault on Petersburg come to mind.

I think the effect of the rifle musket on the battlefield is vastly overstated; people should read Paddy Griffith and Earl Hess about that. I think a battalion of Wellington's Peninsulars armed with Brown Bess was more dangerous to approach than a Civil War outfit armed with rifle muskets. Now the 66th or 7th Illinois infantry armed with Henry repeaters, that's another story.
 
Last edited:
Nov 2019
138
Memphis TN
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 offense 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.
For sure , hindsight is always 20/20...

What I am proposing is a super simple plan.. if they are not dug in to well attack...

If they are dug . Then you dig trenches and starve them out. Making them charge your fortified position to break out..
I however disagree that any military concept is universally true I All times and places..


I think periodically weapon systems have totally rewritten the rules.. turning conventional wisdom on its head..



Like a wooden battleship after the invention of steel and concrete destroyers or the horse archers of the steppes after firearms...

If you attack a destroyer with wooden ships you do not gain the initiative, you lose your fleet.

I think this same thing happened to napoleonic tactics.. attacking became the wrong thing to do.. you wanted to be the one with cover defending..

Also.. to your first point last, lol..

I do not think it is crazy for someone who knows the weapons and tactics of the time to look at the situation and tell it is crazy to attack...

I’m not saying McCellan was hip to it, but it isn’t far fetched imho






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Zip

Jan 2018
648
Comancheria
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.

Pruitt
I think Lee was just jagging people. And McClellan didn't fool Lee, he stood like a deer in the headlights, but Grant totally bamboozled Lee when he crossed the James. If Grant had had his energetic and aggressive midwestern Armies of the Tennessee and the Cumberland under his command instead of the lackadaisical eastern Armies of the Potomac and James...well, he didn't. And that was that.
 
Last edited:
Feb 2019
905
Pennsylvania, US
McClellan was a lollygagger. Lee defeated McClellan by attacking. Lee defeated Pope and Hooker by attacking. Many battles were won by attacking--too many to mention. And routine entrenching on the battlefield wasn't common until 1864 and even then many battles saw little use of works. And some battle saw works overrun---Jonesboro, Chattanooga, Nashville and the final assault on Petersburg come to mind.

I think the effect of the rifle musket on the battlefield is vastly overstated; people should read Paddy Griffith and Earl Hess about that.
Lee almost had to remain on the offensive... otherwise it would have been like a bit of a siege with the South just waiting for the Federals to knock down the door.

It would be interesting to look at the percentages of battles in the ACW won by taking the initiative and attacking... it's not something I'd thought of before! Very interesting...
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,779
Dispargum
Civil War Battles Won/Loss
1st Manassas - defender
Pea Ridge - defender* (battle decided on the first day)
Shiloh - defender* (battle really decided on the first day)
Fair Oaks/Seven Pines - split
Seven Days - attacker
2nd Manassas - attacker
Antietam - attacker
Perryville - attacker
Fredericksburg - defender
Chancellorsville - attacker
Murfreesboro - defender
Champions Hill - attacker
Big Black River - attacker
Gettysburg - defender
Chickamauga - attacker
Chattanooga - attacker
Peachtree Creek - defender
Ezra Church - defender
Atlanta - defender
Wilderness/Spotsylvania/Cold Harbor - tactically indecisive, strategically won by the attacker
Franklin - defender
Nashville - attacker
Five Points/Dinwiddie Courthouse - attacker

This list is not complete, but it's most of the main battles. Roughly half of the battles were won by defenders and half by attackers. Some battles, like Chancellorsville, there's an argument over who was on the strategic vs tactical offensive/defensive. I went with the tactical over the strategic since we're talking about weapons and firepower and Napoleonic tactics, not strategy.
 
Feb 2019
905
Pennsylvania, US
McClellan was mired in the establishment - he was skilled player in a rather onerous bureaucratic game. It could be safe to suppose that he was attempting to keep his hands clean as he had his eye on the presidency... he didn't want blood on his hands for this reason. But then again, he would basically sabotage anyone who appeared as though they were climbing the ladder too quickly or could pose a threat to him (Grant was held down by McClellan's and Halleck's fears of his ability... McClellan trying to pass off Grant's victories as his own, as if he somehow orchestrated it all from the D.C. telegraph office).

His personality was egotistical and insubordinate - a good case study of Narcissistic personality traits could be found in McClellan's correspondence ... reading his letters gives insight into this sort of inflated sense of importance he had. He enjoyed perpetuating his nickname "the Young Napoleon". As he flummoxed Antietam, he personally regarded his actions as "a masterpiece of art". His opinion of Lincoln was scathing: “The President is nothing more than a well-meaning baboon”... “The President very coolly telegraphed me yesterday that he thought I had better break the enemy’s lines at once! I was much tempted to reply that he had better come and do it himself”. He entertained the idea of dictatorship so that he could essentially bypass Lincoln, leaving him a mere figurehead, and have ultimate control over the war... but applauded himself for his "admirable self-denial" at not pursuing the idea further... Lincoln would essentially demand that McClellan act, and Little Mac would refuse... that is insubordination. So in a sense, you could try to extrapolate this behavior to superiors as traitorous.

Frankly, the man had such want of good character traits (humility, honesty, determination, sound judgement) that it almost suggested he would be unable to do any good in the position he had. He lied to himself over and over, to the point that he almost seems out of reality... and I can't think of many professions that would work with this sort of behavior... I mean, even if he were a novelist, I'm sure it would have also been a boring, predictable, melodramatic read.

Perhaps I have too low of an opinion of him... but then I remember what he wrote to his wife, when Lincoln had to reinstate him (because he had no better options):

“I have no choice. The people call upon me to save the country – I must save it & cannot respect anything that stands in the way.”

Gag.

:vomit::lol:
 
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Feb 2019
905
Pennsylvania, US
Civil War Battles Won/Loss
1st Manassas - defender
Pea Ridge - defender* (battle decided on the first day)
Shiloh - defender* (battle really decided on the first day)
Fair Oaks/Seven Pines - split
Seven Days - attacker
2nd Manassas - attacker
Antietam - attacker
Perryville - attacker
Fredericksburg - defender
Chancellorsville - attacker
Murfreesboro - defender
Champions Hill - attacker
Big Black River - attacker
Gettysburg - defender
Chickamauga - attacker
Chattanooga - attacker
Peachtree Creek - defender
Ezra Church - defender
Atlanta - defender
Wilderness/Spotsylvania/Cold Harbor - tactically indecisive, strategically won by the attacker
Franklin - defender
Nashville - attacker
Five Points/Dinwiddie Courthouse - attacker

This list is not complete, but it's most of the main battles. Roughly half of the battles were won by defenders and half by attackers. Some battles, like Chancellorsville, there's an argument over who was on the strategic vs tactical offensive/defensive. I went with the tactical over the strategic since we're talking about weapons and firepower and Napoleonic tactics, not strategy.
This is great!!! Thanks for putting this together.
 
Jun 2017
2,996
Connecticut
McCellan of the Civil war infamy is remembered by history as either a coward, a traitor and many other usually derogatory things.

He gained this reputation due to his inaction in the civil war.. he had a far superior force basically the entire time, but just refused to use it. Always claiming he believed the confederates to far outnumber their actual troop count.

Well I kinda wonder if we are not forgetting to add in the fact that he was right... ...

Pretty much everyone agrees that using napoleonic tactics probably should have died before he did..

Charging fortified positions, even with a far superior force was suicide..

It makes me wonder if he was not smart enough to realize “line fighting” and “turning the flank” was dead, but not smart enough to engineer a brand new war manual from scratch..

I could see how some one decently smart could believe that napoleonic tactics were the right way of doing things, because that was MORE THAN the conventional wisdom of the time... it was considered the gospel truth...

That is what every military school on the planet taught...

But also be smart enough to tell using those tactics against fortified positions with the present weapons.....

That could make anyone’s butt pucker up..

It really took a couple wild cards looking at the chess board from the side to make any real progress..

People who had less loyalty to the “brave military tradition” narrative that kept napoleonic tactics the ONLY thing being considered..

Sherman who was kinda crazy and didn’t care what people thought...

Forrest using gorilla tactics....


Stone wall was using napoleonic tactics, he just ran his men to death and got their before they could dig in... maybe now brilliantly making due with a bad situation... maybe not smart enough to though out the manual...






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His passiveness wasn't just in relation to charging fortified positions though. He let the Army of Northern Virginia get away when their backs were to the water at Sharsburg. The civil war would have likely been over. He also didn't move his army for the better part of a year after he got the job.

Ironically McClellan's nickname was Napoleon of the West.
 

Zip

Jan 2018
648
Comancheria
It would be interesting to look at the percentages of battles in the ACW won by taking the initiative and attacking... it's not something I'd thought of before! Very interesting...
Well, here are some Federal victories won by attacking--- Mill Springs by counter attack. Fort Donelson by a counter attack that took enemy fortifications. Shiloh by following a day on the defensive with a day counter attacking. Pea Ridge by counter attack. Raymond, Champions Hill and Big Black by attacking. Chattanooga by attacking. Atlanta (the Decatur Rd. battle commonly called the battle of Atlanta) by counter attacking. Jonesboro by attacking. Fort McAllister by attacking. Bentonville by counter attack. Nashville by attack; left jabs and right hooks. Sheridan's Valley fights by attacks or counter attacks. Fort Fisher by attack. Five Forks by attacks. Final fall of Petersburb by attacks. Saylors Creek by attacks. Spanish Fort and Blakely by attacks.
 
Jun 2017
2,996
Connecticut
"Gorilla Tactics", AB? One of his many failures was McCllelan believing Lee had thousands of troops held in reserve. Little Mac actually had thousands in Reserve at Antietam that he never used. Lee did beat several of McClellan's successors, so who would have done better than he did?

Pruitt
The issue is McCllelan was in a better position to succeed than any of his successors(until Grant at the very end I guess). He wasn't fighting Lee until Johnston got shot(unlike Pope, Burnside and Hooker) and had the CSA's battle plans handed to him on a silver platter before Sharsburg. Burnside was attacking a loaded position.