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Vol. 23 No. 5 - May 2010

President's Message

I am so pleased to announce that we have speakers for June, July and August. If you have any suggestions or ideas for programs, please call me or talk to me at a meeting. If you have any books or DVDs, please bring them for the raffle. All donations are greatly appreciated.

Upcoming Program: Wednesday, May 12, 2010

William D. McEachern will give a talk on "General Robert E. Lee and the Art of Command: 2d Manassas. "McEachern is an investment advisor who provides investment advice and financial planning services to individuals and companies having investable assets of $50,000 or more. McEachern practiced law as a tax attorney, specializing in estate planning for nearly thirty years in Palm Beach County. He is the author of numerous articles and several treatises on estate planning and estate tax issues. He has lectured extensively. He is writing a Civil War book analyzing the generalship of Robert E. Lee and a novel on ancient Rome. His great-grandfather witnessed the bombardment of Ft. Sumter, fought in Hampton's Legion under Hood, Jackson, and Longstreet in the army of Northern Virginia. He survived fighting in both the eastern and western theaters and surrendered at Appomattox.

April 14, 2010 Program


Edward H. Bonekemper, III, spoke on "George McClellan - Abraham Lincoln's Worst Nightmare." Bonekemper galvanized his audience by first giving us a short comparison of Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant as war leaders. In his first book, How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War, Bonekemper concluded that Lee had two major faults as a military leader: (1) he was too aggressive when stalemate might have led to successful secession, and (2) his viewpoint never extended outside Virginia and by ignoring the war in the West, lost several chances to tilt the war in favor of the South. To deify Lee after the war, certain historians denigrated Grant as a "butcher," a "plodder" and a closet drunkard. In his second book, A Victor Not a Butcher: Ulysses S. Grant's Overlooked Military Genius, Bonekemper pointed out that once Grant came East, he won the war in less than a year! Who was the real butcher? Lee, leading one army in one theater, incurred 209,000 killed, wounded, missing or captured, while Grant, leading four armies in two theaters over the same time period, incurred 155,000 killed, wounded, missing or captured. Incidentally only three armies surrendered during the war, all to Grant: 14,000 at Fort Donelson, 28,000 at Vicksburg and 30,000 at Appomattox Court House.

The two sides had completely opposite war aims: the North had to "win" the war to reunite the nation; on the other hand, the South only needed a prolonged military stalemate leading to (1) recognition of the Confederacy by the European powers and (2) popular dissatisfaction in the North sufficient to compel the Northern war leaders to concede secession. In 1861-62, many in the North and in Europe felt the South would succeed.

What caused the war? In Bonekemper's opinion, the dispute over slavery outweighed every other cause, including the postwar sanitizing of the "Lost Cause" as primarily about protecting "states' rights." The big issue in the 1860 election was not abolition (which Lincoln did not publicly favor) but whether slavery should be allowed to expand into the territories. Of course, the Southern leadership elite understood full well that if slavery were to be bottled up in the areas in which it was legal in 1860, it eventually would wither on the vine as cotton and tobacco exhausted the soil. The delegates to the various secession conventions complained primarily about the North's refusal to enact the Fugitive Slave Laws, threatening their investment in slaves. Not a word was uttered about state's rights! Seven states seceded even before Lincoln was inaugurated. Once the war started, Lincoln had to find generals who understood and believed in the Northern war aims. Unfortunately, this took time, blood and money.

His third book, McClellan and Failure: A Study of Civil War Fear, Incompetence and Worse, occupied the rest ofthe evening. Bonekemper summed up his own opinion by saying, "McClellan made Lee look good!" In Bonekemper's opinion, McClellan did not believe in the war. He did not want to disturb Southern property rights (including slavery). McClellan admittedly was a great organizer and trainer, but lacked the intestinal fortitude to fight.

McClellan was born December 3, 1826, in Philadelphia. His father, a prominent doctor, founded Jefferson Medical College and made a very good living for his family. McClellan was extremely bright. He entered the University of Pennsylvania at 13 and West Point at 15, where he finished Second in the Class of 1842, which he resented, thinking he deserved to be First. Unfortunately, his intelligence was coupled with a commensurate ego - he never showed respect for others, even those above him in the "chain of command." His superiors, Jeff Davis, Winfield Scott, Robert E. Lee, helped his career to blossom. In 1846-47, he saw limited action in the Mexican War suffering from dysentery and malaria that kept him off the field for extended periods. In 1853, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis sent him West to scout out transcontinental rail routes to the Pacific. McClellan scoffed at a Northern route and got into a heated debate with the Governor of Washington Territory. Bonekemper noted that Davis, who had sent McClellan, favored a Southern route, which probably influenced McClellan's behavior. In 1855, he was sent to observe the Crimean War with two other officers, whom he called "Old Corpses." The Siege of Sebastopol had a great influence on him: the besieger could pound the besieged into submission with little loss of life for its own army. He also learned to "appreciate" flanking movements as opposed to frontal assaults. Finally, he developed a dislike for volunteer soldiers and officers, particularly political officers.

After the Mexican War, McClellan resigned from the Army and entered the railroad industry, where he became both successful and widely known. At the start of the Civil War, several states want him Napoleonicto command their militias, but the Governor of Ohio "captures" him with the offer of being commander of the Ohio army. He is ordered to drive the Confederates out of Western Virginia. His troops win two battles before he even takes command. Before the third battle (Rich Mountain), Gen. William S. Rosecrans suggests that he flank the Confederate position so that once the battle is joined, McClellan can catch the enemy in a crushing pincer. As it turns out, while Rosecrans fights and wins the battle, McClellan keeps his men in camp! When Rosecrans reports his victory to McClellan, McClellan telegraphs the news to Washington, but takes credit for it! Bonekemper stated that McClellan's men win two more battles and clear the South out of Western Virginia, but McClellan never sets foot on a battlefield! The North seizes on these victories, which offset the debacle of First Bull Run, making him a national hero. A New York newspaper headline reads: "Gen. McClellan, the Napoleon of the Present War."

Desperate for a winner, on Scott's advice, Lincoln puts McClellan in command. McClellan revels in his fame, writing to his wife, "I find myself in a new and strange position here - Presdt, Cabinet, Genl Scott and all deferring to me--by some strange operation of magic, I seem to have become the power of the land."

McClellan does a fantastic job of building a fighting machine, quickly improving the organization and morale of the army, reaping the adulation of his men. McClellan's real goal at this time seems to be to undercut Scott (who had been his patron). In a letter to his wife, he called Scott a "great obstacle ... either a traitor or an incompetent." Finally, on November 1, 1861, Scott retires and McClellan, more or less by default, is named "General-in-Charge." McClellan was both disrespectful and insubordinate to Lincoln, snubbing him by going to bed when he came to McClellan's house and privately referring to Lincoln as "nothing more than a well-meaning baboon, ... a gorilla ... unworthy of his high position."

By November his army reached 168,000 men, but he fails to move, thus incurring more and more criticism from the Radicals and those in the North who want to fight. Despite his huge manpower advantage, from the beginning, McClellan whines that he cannot attack because there are 100,000 Confederates facing him (really there were only 35,000). McClellan's apologists now say that Allen Pinkerton, his intelligence chief, misled him. To the contrary, McClellan told Pinkerton what to say. In fact, when McClellan was touting 100,000 rebels against him, Pinkerton had not yet even reported to him for duty. By the end of the Seven Days Battle, the imagined Confederate forces have grown to 200,000 (they never exceed 60,000) and McClellan says he is outnumbered by 2-to-l whereas in truth his army rarely has less than a 3-to-l manpower advantage. Pinkerton's estimates of Southern strength never approach McClellan's bloated estimates. Finally, the Confederate army abandons its fortifications, leaving behind numerous "Quaker Cannons" (big logs), making McClellan look like a fool.


Lincoln wants McClellan to move South, thus shielding Washington, but McClellan comes up with a complex plan to go by water to Fortress Monroe, south of Richmond (labeled the "Peninsular Campaign"), thus flanking Lee. At a meeting with Lincoln, McClellan refuses to divulge details of his "secret" plan, but the next day spends two hours telling New York reporters his plan in detail! Lincoln authorizes McClellan's plan but insists on enough troops being left behind to protect Washington. McClellan over counts the troops covering Washington and when Lincoln and Stanton discover this, they order troops camped at Fredericksburg to stay there. McClellan takes two months to reach Yorktown. After a month's preparation for a siege, the night before it is to begin, the Confederates retreat to Williamsburg. Even though he could hear the battle at Williamsburg, McClellan stays in Yorktown, purportedly to supervise the movement of troops flanking the Confederates, but he never sends them!

A key and unlucky moment for McClellan is the wounding of Joe Johnston, which leads to the appointment of Robert E. Lee as commander of the Army of Virginia. Lee fortifies Richmond, but takes two-thirds of his army and attacks McClellan. Over seven days they fight six battles. As Lee attacks, McClellan retreats. This is a major strategic victory for Lee. He saves Richmond while the North is capturing New Orleans and Fort Donelson. His tactical victory is, however, costly to Lee - in one week he loses 20,000 killed, wounded, captured and missing, while the North loses 16,000 (of which 10,000 are prisoners). Lee counts on Jackson coming in on the left, but Jackson is exhausted and never plays a significant role in the battles. D. H. Hill, whom Bonekemper considers one of the better Confederate generals, calls the battle of Malvern Hill, "Not war but murder." Despite his Pyrrhic Victory, at the end Lee's army is in shambles and McClellan misses a real chance to win the war by counterattacking. Instead, McClellan is on a gunboat ten miles away looking for a place to move his camp to safety. [Editor's note: Military historian Stephen W. Sears, in Controversies and Commanders: Dispatches from the Army of the Potomac, Houghton Mifflin Co. 1999, writes, "When [McClellan] deserted his army on the Glendale and Malvern Hill battlefields during the Seven Days, he was guilty of dereliction of duty. Had the Army of the Potomac been wrecked on either of these fields, ... charges under the Articles of War would likely have been brought against him."]

Lincoln is obviously unhappy and asks McClellan for his next plan of action. Instead, McClellan writes a letter to Lincoln telling him how to run the country and expressing his opposition to abolition and to seizing slaves as tactics. Lincoln, desperate, replaces McClellan as General-in-Chief with Henry Halleck, who got the credit for Grant's victory at Fort Donelson. Halleck is simply not up to the job and becomes a glorified clerk. Instead of taking action, McClellan tells Halleck he needs 50,000 more troops. On June 3, 1862, Halleck orders McClellan to move back to Northern Virginia. John Pope was put in charge of the Army of Virginia. Lee, not worried about leaving AntietamMcClellan in his rear, moves quickly north to destroy Pope. Incredibly, McClellan takes 30 days to come to Pope's aid. At Second Bull Run, McClellan had 25,000 fresh troops that could have helped Pope turn the tide, but disobeys six direct orders to move. Why did McClellan fail to help Pope? Bonekemper concludes that McClellan wants Pope to lose so "they will have to put me back in charge" and characterizes McClellan's conduct as treason. Lincoln's cabinet wants to fire McClellan, but with Lee within 20 miles of Washington, Lee decides to put McClellan in command of the Northern troops near Washington. Within a week, McClellan has reorganized and revitalized the troops, most of whom love him and remain loyal to him. Lincoln accurately sized up McClellan: "We must use what tools we have. There is no man in the Army who can man these fortifications and lick these troops of ours into shape half as well as he. If he can't fight himself, he excels in making others ready to fight."

In September, by a stroke of luck, Lee's plan of campaign ("Order 199") falls into McClellan's
hands, but he moves too slowly to take full advantage. Lee is able to make it through the mountain gaps. McClellan fails to reinforce Harpers Ferry, which falls to Jackson with 11,000 prisoners. Lee places his army in Sharpsburg, a poor choice since there is only one ford by which to escape if defeated. McClellan outnumbers Lee 4-to-l but fails to attack quickly. By September 17, the ratio is down to 2-to-l in McClellan's favor, who incredibly thinks he is outnumbered by 2-to-l.

When the battle does come, Lee should have been destroyed, but McClellan's plan is faulty in that he
attacks piecemeal: (1) (#s2-5 on the map)
Miller's Cornfield: At 4 AM, the Union army is mowed down. Lee should have stayed in the woods but counterattacks instead, getting mowed down in turn.

Each side attacks seven times suffering a total of 23,000 casualties (12,000 in the first few hours)! (2) (#6 on the map) The Sunken Road (Bloody Lane): the attacking Union soldiers suffer terrible casualties, but the Confederate army abandons the Sunken Road by mistake, leaving Lee in desperate shape. McClellan had 25,000 fresh reserves but fails to attack. (3)(#7 on the map) Burnside's Bridge: Burnside is ordered to cross Antietam Creek and flank Lee. Burnside is "ticked off' at McClellan and obsesses on crossing the bridge instead of simply wading, across the creek! After capturing the bridge with heavy losses, Burnside takes two hours off. When Burnside finally attacks, D. H. Hill's troops wearing newly captured Union uniforms from Harpers Ferry, surprise Burnside and nearly wipe his force out. McClellan commits other military sins: (4) his faulty use of cavalry: McClellan never uses his cavalry for reconnaissance--instead they are his bodyguards! (5) He ineptly places his headquarters so far away that he can never even see the battles. After the battle, Lee stays put for 24 hours, knowing McClellan will not attack (even though McClellan had 30,000 fresh troops available). Antietam is a major strategic defeat for Lee and the South, coming at a time when a victory might have led the European powers to recognize the Confederacy as a nation. Instead, on September 22, 1862, Lincoln converts the war into a moral cause by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, after which the dream of European recognition faded away.

For the next seven weeks, McClellan simply stays put, refusing to go after Lee despite Lincoln's pleas. On October 1, 1862, Lincoln visits McClellan at Harpers Ferry to encourage action. McClellan gives one excuse after another (typical, on October 25: my horses are "sore tongued and fatigued," inciting Lincoln's famous retort: "Will you pardon me for asking what the horses of your army have done since the battle of Antietam that fatigues anything?") Once the 1862 Congressional elections are over, Lincoln is quick to relieve McClellan of command.

[Editor's note: McClellan is usually ranked in the lowest tier of Civil War generals. He has been universally praised for his organizational abilities and his very good relations with his troops. It has been suggested that his reluctance to enter battle was caused in part by an intense desire to avoid spilling the blood of his men. For whatever reason, McClellan repeatedly fails to take the initiative, thereby passing up good opportunities for decisive victories, which could have ended the war earlier and spared thousands of soldier who died in subsequent battles. Sears, op. cit., writes: "There is ample evidence that the terrible stresses of commanding men in battle, especially the beloved men of his beloved Army of the Potomac, left his moral courage in tatters. Under the pressure of his ultimate soldier's responsibility, the will to command deserted him. Glendale and Malvern Hill found him at the peak of his anguish ... and he fled those fields to escape the responsibility. At Antietam, where there was nowhere for him to flee to, he fell into a paralysis of indecision. Seen from a longer perspective, General McClellan could be both comfortable and successful performing as an executive officer, and also, if somewhat less successfully, as a grand strategist; as battlefield commander, however, he was simply in the wrong profession."] McClellan's absences at Glendale and Malvern Hill, especially news that he was aboard a gunboat ten miles away provided fodder against him in the 1864 election. The text says: "Fight on my brave Soldiers and push the enemy to the wall. From this spanker boom your beloved General looks down upon you."

A spirited question-and-answer session followed. However, one assertion by a member drew this e-mail from Bonekemper: "During Q&A, one questioner asserted that most of the 180,000 Black Union soldiers were New England free Blacks. I disagreed. According to a Union chaplain's memoir, there were 70,000 Black soldiers recruited in the Mississippi Valley alone (John Eaton, Grant, Lincoln and the Freedmen: Reminiscences of the Civil War with Special Reference to the Work for the Contrabands and Freedmen of the Mississippi Valley (Negro Universities Press, 1969). This memoir is by a Union chaplain involved in Union Black recruitment efforts. I hope others will dig into deter-mining the geographic origins of the 180,000 Black soldiers and 20,000 Black sailors who fought for the Union."

Last changed: 08/05/10

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