Sunday, February 9, 2014

Review: Lincoln and McClellan at War

By Chester G. Hearn

The relationship between Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan was difficult at its best, and complicated by political and military needs and wants.  It was a relationship strained by differing strategies, mistrust, and egotism.  It is a relationship that has been examined and studied many times over, but a subject that never gets old.  And thus Chester G. Hearn has added his tome, “Lincoln and McClellan at War” to the ever growing library.

An 1846 graduate of Military Academy at West Point, and having won a couple of minor battles early in the war, McClellan was elevated to the command of The Army of the Potomac after the disastrous Federal defeat at Bull Run, and later to the post of General-in-Chief of the entire Federal Army, replacing the aging and infirm Winfield Scott. McClellan created an army from nearly nothing, oversaw its training, supplied and fed it.  Mr. Hearn’s thesis:  having built the greatest army in the world McClellan did not want to use it to fight offensively, but rather preferred defensive fighting.  This can be summed up in a quote from Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Killer Angels, “To be a good soldier you must love the army. But to be a good officer you must be willing to order the death of the thing you love.”  In short McClellan was not willing to risk an offensive strategy and order the death of the army that he was largely responsible for creating.  On the other hand Lincoln, who schooled himself in the art of military science, preferred an offensive instead of a defensive strategy.  Hearn points out that ultimately their differences in how best to prosecute the war is what eventually led to McClellan’s dismissal.

I am not a McClellan apologist, but I do feel that Mr. Hearn frequent usage the moniker “Little Mac” demonstrates a slight bias against McClellan.  I can’t blame him for that, in a contest between Lincoln and McClellan you would be hard pressed to find anyone without a bias against McClellan, and McClellan certainly gave his enemies plenty of ammunition to use against him.

Exhaustively researched, and expertly written, “Lincoln and McClellan at War” spans the length, depth and breadth of the relationship between these two towering personalities in American history and is an excellent primer on the Lincoln-McClellan relationship.

ISBN 978-0807145524, Louisiana State University Press, © 2012, Hardcover, 280 pages, Maps,  End Notes, Bibliography & Index. $45.00.  To purchase this book click HERE.

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