Lincoln & McClellan: Doomed Relationship?

A consideration of Abraham Lincoln and George McClellan is a study in contrasts. They were opposites in so many ways.

Here’s a short list:

Lincoln:                                                                         McClellan:

Born in the South (Kentucky)                                        Born in the North (Pennsylvania)

Little formal education                                                  West Point graduate (1846)

Brief military service in state militia                               Military officer with extensive experience

Was not engaged in combat during wartime                Commendations earned for gallentry during Mexican War

Whig/Republican                                                           Democrat

When Abraham Lincoln became President and, thus, Commander-In-Chief-the eventual conflict was set in motion. Lincoln appeared to General McClellan as uneducated, physically homely, ill-mannered, and inept. McClellan called Lincoln the “original gorilla.” MClellan held a distain for his Commander-In-Chief that was not kept secret. We all know about his shunning of Lincoln during a visit to McClellan’s residence. McClellan’s letters to his wife are filled with disrespectful refernces to Lincoln. Sometimes communications to Lincoln from McClellan were edited because of his caustic statements. McClellan resented that a man with no formal military training or education would advise him on how to run a military operation.

President Lincoln, for his part, realized he was not schooled in the art of the military. He studied what he could from books obtained from the Library of Congress. He hired George McClellan to do a job. He was his boss.  He depended early on for General McClellan to organize the Union Army after it’s defeat at Bull Run. McClellan did just that. He was superb. Lincoln was willing to “put up” with McClellan-as far as his thoughts towards him-as long as the General gave results. That’s where the problem came in. For Lincoln, McClellan had the “slows.” Lincoln needed him to be something that McClellan didn’t seem willing to be- a fighting General. McClellan’s excuses are now legendary. He was eventually replaced.

Even so, General McClellan did give Lincoln a victory at Antietam.   Lincoln lamented that McClellan didn’t finish off General Lees’ army while in retreat-so the victory was not a complete one. Yet, Lincoln felt it was good enough to be able to issue his Emancipation Proclaimation. He had been waiting for a Union success in the field to be able to do so.

In 1864, George McClellan ran against Lincoln in the presidential election. He lost. In spite of all of his self-perceived superiority over Lincoln-he was defeated for the highest office of the land. Even his beloved troops did not vote for him by and large. It had to be hard for him to accept that loss. The relationship between the two that was doomed to failure was then sealed in history.

Ask the common person on the street who Abraham Lincoln was and you’ll be sure to get an answer. Ask the same person who George McClellan was and he or she will probably have “no clue.” I grew up in Detroit one block away from McClellan Street. The street was, indeed, named for General George McClellan. As a kid, I didn’t know who it was named after. In fact, I didn’t know it’s namesake until many years afterward. I also played with Lincoln Logs as a child. You better believe I knew who they were named after! McClellan is probably rolling over in his grave!

 Mail this post

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply