Civil War Times


MAJOR GENERAL GEORGE B. McCLELLAN—the general with the “slows.” Even among those unfamiliar with Civil War history, that is how McClellan is usually remembered, as the commander President Abraham Lincoln had to prod into action. The aftermath of the Maryland Campaign and the Battle of Antietam in the fall of 1862 is often held up as Exhibit A of “Little Mac’s” dithering. McClellan had no plans for another campaign, the common story goes, and more important, he used the excuse that his army was not receiving the necessary supplies to delay launching another campaign across the Potomac River.

The first allegation is easily refuted. McClellan confided to his wife on September 22, 1862, “I look upon the [Maryland] campaign as substantially ended & my present intention is to seize Harper’s Ferry & hold it with strong force. Then go to work to reorganize the army ready for another campaign.”

McClellan’s concern about supply shortages is another matter. The oft-told story is that Lincoln did everything he could to push the slow general into action, including a visit to Antietam in early October to personally observe the condition of the army. Two days after his visit, Lincoln issued an order for McClellan to move. Day after day of fine autumn weather passed, however, while McClellan stayed put. Throughout much of October, McClellan constantly complained that his requisitions for supplies had not been met; consequently it was impractical, if not impossible, for him to cross over his army’s namesake river and take the war back into Virginia. Many Civil War historians dismiss McClellan’s supply crisis as a manufactured excuse for chronic dawdling. Substantial documentation, however, proves that McClellan had a genuine supply crisis.

In the Eastern Theater, the Peninsula, Seven Days, Second Bull Run, and Maryland campaigns had occurred in fairly quick succession, not to mention the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of May-June 1862. Some of McClellan’s men had been on the march

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