Tag Archives: George McClellan

Our Struggle to Commemorate the Peninsula Campaign

One hundred and fifty years ago George B. McClellan made his way up the Virginia Peninsula in what many anticipated would be the final campaign of the war.  With the largest army ever assembled on the American continent he would seize the Confederate capital of Richmond and reunite the nation.  As we commemorate the campaign and McClellan’s failure outside of Richmond in the Seven Days Battles 150 years later, however, we seem to be struggling with its significance and meaning.

Part of the problem is the scope of the campaign, which covered roughly three months in the late spring and early summer of 1862.  It’s much easier to frame a useful interpretation of a major battle, where the armies meet and there is a clear victor.  Bull Run and Shiloh is where we lost our innocence; Gettysburg and Antietam connect to the story of emancipation and freedom; the fall of Atlanta ensured Lincoln’s reelection and Appomattox is where the nation reunited.  Regardless of how accurate such narratives might be they help to make sense of and even justify the bloodletting that took place at these sites.

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Where Have You Gone, Benjamin Butler?

I’ve caught bits and pieces of the Museum of the Confederacy’s “Person of the Year: 1862″ symposium on CSPAN-3.  It’s an entertaining event for the children of the Civil War Centennial.  The historians in charge of nominating this year include Robert K. Krick, David Blight, James McPherson, Jack Mountcastle, and Emory Thomas.  The historians selected are all familiar to the audience and their selections, for the most part, are predictable. Can anyone imagine Krick selecting anyone else but Jackson or anyone but Lee for Thomas?  Blight chose Frederick Douglass, which is not surprising.  McPherson’s choice of Farragut may be the only one that couldn’t be predicted.  I don’t know what to make of Mountcastle’s choice of McClellan since I am not familiar with his scholarship.

There is nothing wrong with their selections since this is clearly not a question that has a final answer.  There is also nothing necessarily wrong with the selection of historians.  All of them are well respected scholars.  That said, I do have a few suggestions for next year.  Get a panel of younger historians, whose choices may not be so predictable.  Not only are you likely to get a different short list of nominees, but the Q&A will also be an opportunity to explore new terrain rather than rehash the same tired stories.   You have to include at least one woman and an African American.  In short, perspective is everything when it comes to these kinds of events.

So, who would you choose?

My choice: Benjamin Butler

Our Civil War Soap Opera

Ethan Rafuse recently shared a writing assignment that he was given by “America’s Civil War” magazine to come up with a list of six Civil War generals that we “like to hate.”

Civil War buffs love to blame particular generals for lost battles and campaigns—McClellan, Bragg, McDowell, etc. Why do we like to hate them so much, and do they deserve it? Pick a couple from each side and examine what made them pariahs—and whether hindsight should rehabilitate their Images. Pick three from each side, 500 or so words on each, and a 500-word intro for about 3,500 words.

I guess the editor could have framed the question around major mistakes made in the field by Civil War generals, but the choice to inquire as to why some military figures engender such a visceral reaction in some is potentially interesting.  Perhaps we should take one step back for a little perspective.  Is there anything comparable in America’s other wars?  Anyone out there hate Henry Knox, Winfield Scott, John J. Pershing, Omar Bradley, or William Westmoreland?

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OED Online Word of the Day (McClellan)

McClellan, n.

Mar. 2009 Brit. /m{schwa}{sm}kl{ope}l{schwa}n/, U.S. /m{schwa}{sm}kl{ope}l({schwa})n/ Forms: 18- McClellan, 18- M’Clellan, 18-McLellan (irreg.). [< the name of George B. McClellan (1826-85), U.S. army officer and commander of the Army of the Potomac 1861-2.] {dag}

1. U.S. Army slang. McClellan pie n. (also McClellan’s pie) a piece of hard biscuit of a kind issued to troops under McClellan’s command during the American Civil War. Obs. 1863 Brief Narr. Incidents War in Missouri 21 Our fare hard crackers (which we called McClellan pie..), bacon-side, and coffee for breakfast and supper.

1863 Army & Navy Jrnl. 10 Oct. 99 The old soldier who has received more hard knocks and ‘McClellan’s pies’ than fame or greenbacks. 1864 F. C. ADAMS Story of Trooper 587 ‘McClellan pies’, as the soldiers called their hard bread, came to be a luxury.

2. attrib. Designating a type of saddle with a wooden leather-covered frame and a high pommel and cantle, invented by McClellan and formerly used by the U.S. cavalry. Alsoabsol.

1864 Army & Navy Jrnl. 20 Feb. 402 The McClellan saddle seems to be the general favorite. 1866 J. E. COOKE Surry xxii. 83 His saddle was a plain ‘McClellan tree’ strapped over a red blanket for saddle cloth. 1885 W. D. HOWELLS Rise Silas Laphamii. 47 A burly mounted policeman, bulging over the pommel of his M’Clellan saddle, jolted by. 1901 F. NORRIS Octopus I. v. 161 In the corners of the room were muddy boots, a McClellan saddle, a surveyor’s transit, an empty coal-hod, and a box of iron bolts and nuts. 1935 in V. Randolph Pissing in Snow (1976) 85 The McClellan is an old-style army saddle, and there ain’t no horn on it. 1940 W. V. T. CLARK Ox-bow Incidentii. 124 He didn’t have a stock saddle either, but a little, light McLellan. 1981 E. HARTLEY-EDWARDS Country Life Bk. Saddlery & Equipm. 98/3 The earliest McClellan saddles did not have panels.