Question of the Week: 1/23-1/29/17

Question-HeaderDuring the end of 1861 and beginning of 1862, some of President Lincoln’s cabinet members expressed doubt about General George B. McClellan’s leadership and strategies? There were discussions and questions about replacing him.

Who would’ve been a good replacement for McClellan at the beginning of 1862? Or was he the best Union general at the time?

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21 Responses to Question of the Week: 1/23-1/29/17

  1. Jeffrey Ross says:

    With hindsight on who became a successful general and who didn’t we have a big advantage over Mr. Lincoln. With that said it would have to be someone at corps level at least to be recognized. I feel the solution would be easy, whose the only genera who first and foremost drives moral higher then the morning birds fly through getting the troops what they need, clothes, pup tents, plenty rations? Who is strategically and tactically sound? Whose the alpha male that laughs at Marse Roberts? Who went on to fight lee/Jackson with a MAJOR concussion and how serious we know they are today and still manage a near draw? There’s a reason Hookers in command of the first corps, reason he was sent in first at Antietam, reason he went out to save chatanooga and rolled through one confederate line after another while Sherman spent the day not knowing what mountain he was on all the while having his clock rewound by Cleburne. For all thehyper-aggressive Jackson fans and all the highly intelectual yet unable too see any fault EVER committed by Lee and are fuming over my chancellorsville refrence check the body count keeping in mind the confederates undercount and Mr. Hooker if not concussed had enough cannon and high ground to make there marquee victory so costly Lee wouldn’t have entered Pennsylvania. Hooker was EVERYTHING McClellan wasn’t

  2. Jeffrey Ross says:

    With hindsight on who became a successful general and who didn’t we have a big advantage over Mr. Lincoln. With that said it would have to be someone at corps levjel at least to be recognized. I feel the solution would be easy, whose the only genera who first and foremost drives moral higher then the morning birds fly through getting the troops what they need, clothes, pup tents, plenty rations? Who is strategically and tactically sound? Whose the alpha male that laughs at Marse Roberts? Who went on to fight lee/Jackson with a MAJOR concussion and how serious we know they are today and still manage a near draw? There’s a reason Hookers in command of the first corps, reason he was sent in first at Antietam, reason he went out to save chatanooga and rolled through one confederate line after another while Sherman spent the day not knowing what mountain he was on all the while having his clock rewound by Cleburne. For all thehyper-aggressive Jackson fans and all the highly intelectual yet unable too see any fault EVER committed by Lee and are fuming over my chancellorsville refrence check the body count keeping in mind the confederates undercount and Mr. Hooker if not concussed had enough cannon and high ground to make there marquee victory so costly Lee wouldn’t have entered Pennsylvania. Hooker was EVERYTHING McClellan wasn’t

  3. ncatty says:

    Winfield Scott called him “…a perfect soldier” and “… the bravest man I ever knew.” Stonewall Jackson agreed. They were talking about Phil Kearney who, incidentally, accused McClellan of cowardice or treason for failing to advance on Richmond after Malvern Hill.

  4. Jeffrey Ross says:

    Great suggestion I Love Phil Kearny, but you have to remember after the battle of first Bull Run he fought in Chantilly and lost his life so he would not have been there to take control. I also love Winfield Scott you mention who went on to become grants hammer, but he was so low in the ranks he would not have even been known by the Lincoln Administration. That’s what I meant you had to be like at least a Corps Commander or near the top. Anyway great suggestion it’s just not possible very fun to read though

  5. Kearny was killed after Second Bull Run, in August, 1862. So he was available, but I am not sure he had been appointed in the time-frame under discussion.

    • Jeffrey Ross says:

      I apologize for my mistake, thank you for correcting me, the whole point is to learn something, which thankfully I did today. Have a safe great day everybody!!!

  6. With hindsight to our advantage, I’d nominate Winfield S. Hancock.
    *However* – I’m not sure how he would’ve performed as an army commander. He may have been one of those men who was brilliant as a brigade, division, corps commander but couldn’t have managed an entire army. During the 1863 army commander squabbles, Hancock assured Meade he didn’t want army command. So…maybe he was too smart to ever take the job?

    • Jeffrey Ross says:

      Sarah you make a excellent point, Hancock flourished as 2corp commander. I do think it’s a total shame the other 3 Corps Commanders expecially after Sedgwick was shot we’re so weak but I honestly believe Grant ran not only Hancock score but Hancock himself into the ground. Hancock Head that growing injury sense Gettysburg yet he managed to get along fine when he finally called it quits towards the end I think he was just physically and mentally drained. Grant not only used him to deliver the hammer blows all through the Overland campaign when they got to Petersburg and Richmond he would hang them out as bait and we all know that didn’t work out very well. I believe Hancock and George H Thomas were the most underrated Union Generals obviously Thomas could direct an entire Army but I agree Hancock was more of a Corps Commander. By the way Sarah my name is Jeffery my public email is Jeffrey underscore are underscore Ross at yahoo.com, I’m only telling you that not to creep you out but I’m desperately looking for two issues of blue and gray to go along with Timothy B Smith’s book. I need volume 28 issue for Battle of forts Henry and Donelson and the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Shiloh. I’ve checked Amazon and beat eBay for so many months I don’t even want to try anymore. So if you hear of any let me know please that. I am currently at a doctors appointment but I really enjoy talking history with you, I went to the University of Michigan Dearborn, I only have a Bachelors though. Where did your education take you?

      • Sarah Kay Bierle says:

        Hi Jeffery,
        Thanks for sharing your thoughts on General Hancock’s leadership. I agree that he had a rough job in the Overland Campaign; combined with lingering effects of his Gettysburg wound, 1864 was quite nightmarish for him.
        I’ve responded in an email to your question regarding the magazines.
        Best,
        Sarah

  7. Chris Kolakowski says:

    Everyone is employing hindsight. However, this overlooks several important points:

    – The United States had never fought a war on this big a scale before; indeed, the largest Army ever commanded by an American before First Manassas was Washington’s 17,000 at Yorktown

    – The concept of joint operations, massive logistics, and communications was still in its infancy

    – The candidates already mentioned all had to work their way up through the ranks; just about everyone nominated above started their ascent in spring 1862

    We must look forward from end 1861/early 1862, and not backward with the luxury of our knowledge of how things turned out.

    As for my candidate to replace McClellan at that time, the real answer is there was nobody who was overwhelmingly preferable to the “Young Napoleon.” Sure you had options among senior commanders like Halleck, possibly Grant, or Fremont, but each had liabilities or were still proving themselves. The Lincoln Administration had hitched its strategic and political wagon to the Young Napoleon, both as Commanding General of the U.S. Army and as Army of the Potomac commander; they had to go with him, sink or swim.

    An intriguing thought is if Lincoln had kept Scott past 1st November 1861 – what kind of commander might he have been? He was almost certainly unfit for field command, but as Commanding General in Washington he may have made a decisive difference in the overall prosecution of the war.

    • Jeffrey Ross says:

      As to everyone not starting there ascent until ’62 there’s a very good reason for this-they were NEVER given the chance sir. As for refitting, preparing, boosting esprit de Corp your saying Hooker didn’t do all these things in a almost miraculous way after taking over after Fredericksburg? The AoP was so disgusted with Burnside and his “brilliant” plan of action of thinking of nothing better then to run straight up mayres hill at a defender firmly entrenched behind a stone fence (And remember he still wanted to lead the entire IX corps up hill until his corps commanders talked him out of it) that soilder after soilder STILL wrote home in letters to loved ones that they believed they could whip the ANV if they had a competent General. As for good old useless Hallek not liking Hooker who did he ever like beside the man in the mirror? I mean we’re talking about the guy who wanted to sack Grant AFTER Forts Henry and Donelson.All Hallek contributed besides “TAPS” when it became time to picking commanders or his input on the subject was the negatives of each and every one, he seemed to never have a positive thing to say unless Mr. Lincoln put his foot down, so with all due respect sir I think it was a lack of opportunity. Not like Hooker was unknown sir, he was the Ist Corps Commander, and that did carry some meaning. I just very respectively disagree, but it’s very fun to discuss.

      • Chris Kolakowski says:

        Your points are all valid, Jeff, and you accurately point out that Hooker successfully reset the Army of the Potomac in the first few months of 1863. But for the purposes of this discussion, which deals with with winter of 1861/62, they are irrelevant – at that time, none of them had happened yet. Indeed, during that period, Hooker was a brash and popular division commander in III Corps.

        I suggest you try and ignore what we know through hindsight and look at it through what they knew at the time. It can be quite an illuminating exercise, what I call “reading history forward.” I blogged about it here: https://emergingcivilwar.com/2015/05/14/what-espn-classic-teaches-us-about-civil-war-history/

      • Jeffrey Ross says:

        Dear Kris Kolakowski,
        Thank your for your reply, it is difficult to answer historical questions w/o bias when you know the outcome of the individual general’s strength and weeknesses, no matter how hard you try. Your input is much appreciated by me for a couple reasons. First you work ethic blows me away, the amount of QUALITY work you put out there along with your other responsibilities is amazing. Secondly after finishing high up in my class at U OF M began going days wo sleep, crippling panic attacks followed by sleeping 24hrs and awaking still to exhausted to get up. Then followed the bipolar diagnosis wich runs very strong in both sides of my family. I only say this because after I finished school I found reading relaxed me and I immediately dove head first into WW2 (which began in 1914 or WW1 didn’t end until 1945 for thosec that understood the big picture). So I competed in powerlifting, played with my dogs, and read, from 23 to 36 anything and everything on the subject. Four years ago I was in a bookstore picking up gifts for my nephew when I spotted Shelby Footes trilogy and I was hooked hard. Last 4years I’ve gone through 350 civil war books, blue and gray ect..Being bipolar making friends is really hard, but keeping them is nearly impossible even at 40. So to be able to talk/text/email with someone of your knowledge is thrilling. I’ve developed all my hypothesis and beliefs on my own, and while that has many positives you do miss as you wrote me simply because you didn’t see it in a different light, I was just ignorant of the sitauation, or I was simply wrong. So thank-you. I know this is a public forum and I never would have explained the reasoning why I appreciate the feedback so much even ten years ago due to the horrid stigma attatched but st 40 I could care less, I have a great family, health, and love reading anything CW. Thank you all for your comments. Just need to figure out how to get at certain primary sources to write my book. Again my PUBLIC email for anyone who I can help in anyway is jeffrey_r_ross@yahoo.com…Great job ECW and keep up the great work!!!!

  8. Charles Martin says:

    I’m not so sure that replacing McClellan during the winter of 61-62 would have achieved the results expected from a more “aggressive” general. What the army needed was a drill master and an organizer, someone to instill esprit d’ corps that they so sorely needed after Bull Run and Ball’s Bluff. McClellan weeded out the political officers, drilled the recruits to perfection, and came up with a flanking plan that could have worked if Joe Johnston was not replaced by Bobby Lee. Replacing McClellan that early would have shattered the troops’ morale, which became obvious after 2nd Bull Run and forced Lincoln to bring him back in command of the army. Even the veterans marched more quickly before Gettysburg when they thought McClellan would replace Hooker. McClellan had his faults and loved his army so much that he didn’t want to see anyone hurt his creation. Hence, the siege of Yorktown by getting his artillery in place to blow them out of their fortifications with a minimum of casualties for his soldiers. His fear of the size of the Confederate army speaks more to the lack of adequate intelligence than an aversion to fighting. Even Lee himself gave McClellan his highest rating in withdrawing the army under fire. Lincoln at that time was without the experience in military matters to pick a successor to McClellan. Pope was a flop, better suited to hanging Indians than commanding the army. Burnside was an obvious problem as shown by his delay in getting across that bridge at Antietam rather than seeing just how deep the creek was. Lincoln should have seen that problem, but using John McClernand as his military advisor when sizing up McClellan after Sharpsburg was the blind leading the blind. Burnside was also a complete logistical failure. It was only after Gettysburg when Lincoln as self-educated himself enough to spot a good general. Even the president had doubts about Grant during the Vicksburg campaign, so selecting him a year and a half earlier to lead his eastern army just wouldn’t have happened. Hooker was good at corps command, but his egotistical letter to Lincoln suggesting his success on the battlefield would lead to his assumption of unchecked political power gave Lincoln pause as to Hooker’s motivation to do well in command -for himself or the army? I think McClellan was the right man at the right time to get the army in shape. I don’t see anyone behind the horizon at the time with the benefit of hindsight who could do a better job at what needed to be done at that exact time in history.

  9. Ryan Quint says:

    As Chris K. has already pointed out, McClellan was the best man for the job during this time period. There simply wasn’t anyone else ready for such a task.

  10. I have to agree with Chris K. and Ryan. In the time frame that you are asking about there are few viable options. McClellan was the man.

    A few folks named personalities that were not major players at the outset of 1862 or had no chance of command.

    -Hancock does not become the Hancock we really know until after Antietam.

    -Kearney is a hell of a combat leader, but he was divorced, was a non-West Pointer, and spoke his mind more than McClellan.

    -Sedgwick never wanted army command and was not fit for it.

    -Hooker could not get a field command prior to First Bull Run. He had run afoul of Halleck in the antebellum army. Until he proved himself on the field and in the papers, he had no chance at heading an army.

    -The four original corps commanders of the AoP were useless. McDowell had already failed. Sumner was a yes man and a poor tactician to boot. Heintzelman was useless. Keyes was in over his head.

    -Pope’s victory at Island Number 10 was still in the future as were Grant’s victories at Henry and Donelson.

    As Chris K. pointed out, it was Fremont, Halleck, or Little Mac. I may throw William Rosecrans hat in the ring on top of Chris’s list. He had proven himself useful in Western Virginia. Overall it was McClellan or bust.

  11. Dave Powell says:

    Kris, until your final paragraph, it occurred to me that everyone was overlooking Rosecrans, who was fairly senior and who had already proven himself to be an effective combat commander in West Virginia.

  12. Chris Kolakowski says:

    Good call, Kris and Dave, on including Rosecrans as a candidate.

  13. Bob Ruth says:

    McClellan greatly improved the organization, training and esprit de corps of the AoP.

    Unfortunately for this star-crossed army, he left a legacy of jealousy, back-biting and bitterness toward civilian authority that lasted until the very end of the war. Virtually every army – both Union and Confederate – experienced many of the same problems. But none to the degree of the AoP (with the possible exception of the Army of Tennessee under Braxton Bragg).

    And the blame for the AoP’s infighting must be lain directly on the shoulders of McClellan. He set the example almost from the first day he took command. Despite his best efforts, Ulysses Grant was unable to cure the AoP of these serious internal problems during his many months as its commander.

  14. John Foskett says:

    Interpreting the time frame literally (ending in “early 1862”), McClellan may have been the right choice (although someone like Rosey is an intriguing alternative). That time frame primarily required an organizer, a trainer, and someone skilled in logistics. I am a long-time Kearney admirer but i don’t think Phil was especially suited for anything above divisional command. The way he met his demise illustrates why. To quote Inspector Callahan, “a man’s got to know his limitations”. If we go beyond March, 1862 I would offer Israel B. Richardson – a very capable officer with the right mixture of aggressiveness balanced by “big picture” sense who, by the way, was very well-connected with Chandler and the Michigan Republican Party. And I’m not merely relying on the statement attributed to Lincoln when he visited the mortally wounded general after Antietam.

  15. Without re hashing every thing . I vote for McClellan . Clearly all the best choice’s had all ready went south. /.Bad for the yankees good for us Rebs .

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