Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Review: Army of the Potomac: McClellan Takes Command

Army of the Potomac, Volume II:
McClellan Takes Command, September 1861-February 1862
By Russel H. Beatie

George B. McClellan is easily one of the most misunderstood and maligned people in history. Though not a McClellan apologist, Russel H. Beatie, in his second of three so far published volumes (of what is sure to be a massive multivolume work) on the history of The Army Of The Potomac, demonstrates what many people have come to believe about McClellan isn’t a true and accurate portrait of the man that was. A lawyer by profession and an historian by avocation, Mr. Beatie slowly builds his case against misconceptions of the perceived historical McClellan. As if pealing an onion, he removes layer after layer of historical half truths and misinformation, he shows the reader the mechanizations of politicians intent on pointing their fingers, placing the blame and passing the buck, and he explains the “why” of McClellan’s actions in regards to Winfield Scott, Edwin Stanton, the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the war and, most of all, President Abraham Lincoln.

Picking up were volume one left off, Winfield Scott’s resignation has been accepted by Lincoln and McClellan appointed the General-In-Chief of all the Union forces. Though not a battle book, a considerable portion of the book does involve The Battle of Ball’s Bluff, where Senator, General and close friend of Abraham Lincoln, Edward Baker is killed in action. Though paled in comparison to later battles of the war to follow, Ball’s Bluff is not important tactically to the story, but politically, having given Congress (and more notably the Radical Republicans) an excuse to form The Joint Committee On The Conduct Of The War.

In another large portion of the book, Mr. Beatie discusses in depth the various pools of men from which the Federal Army drew its generals: The Bull Run Officer Pool, The West Point and Regular Army Pools, Foreigner and Politician Pools and the Gubernatorial Pool, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of the various men who came out of those pools, but most notably he notes the bias against officers from the West Point Pool, being viewed as largely sympathetic to the Confederacy.

The last major portion of this book covers the McClellan-Lincoln relationship. Mr. Beatie shows us that McClellan did not trust the President or members of his cabinet and therefore kept his plans largely to himself. When McClellan was struck down by the effects of typhoid fever, Lincoln was confronted with politicians who were demanding military action. With the General-In-Chief confined to his bed and refusing to share his plans, Lincoln had no other option than to borrow the army for a while and begin to make plans of his own. McClellan, alerted by friends of the President’s actions, rose from his sick bed before Lincoln had the chance to put his plans into action. The book finishes with McClellan in the planning stages for what will become known as The Peninsula Campaign.

Mr. Beatie’s research is exemplary. He has unearthed many first hand accounts that until now have never been published anywhere. Though his narrative is at times dry and sometimes strays a bit from the path, much of the material between the covers of Russel H. Beatie’s Army of the Potomac, Volume II: McClellan Takes Command, September 1861-February 1862 has not previously been covered, nor found in any other published works on the topic, and Mr. Beatie provides a fresh look and new interpretations on many of the historical controversies surrounding George B. McClellan and the army he commanded.


Click HERE for my review of the first volume in this series.

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