McClellan Addresses the 5th Wisconsin

On May 7, 1862, General George B. McClellan reviewed and spoke to the men of the 5th Wisconsin, who two days before had helped win the Battle of Williamsburg. Since the 2d Wisconsin fought at First Manassas, this was the most prominent Badger action in Virginia, and would not be passed until August 1862.

McClellan’s words registered as significant enough to the men to be reproduced in full in E.B. Quiner’s Wisconsin in the War for the Union:

My lads, I have come to thank you for the bravery and discipline which you displayed the other day. On that day, you won laurels of which you may well be proud – not only you, but the army, the State, and the country to which you belong. Through you we won the day, and ‘Williamsburg’ shall be inscribed upon your banner. I cannot thank you too much, and I am sure the reputation your gallantry has already achieved, will always be maintained.”

These are stirring words. But consider what it says about what General McClellan prioritizes as a leader and the culture of the Army of the Potomac. The fact that McClellan had a parade to give a speech, in the midst of an active campaign toward Richmond, is significant. I have blogged before about the Army of the Potomac’s culture, and in events like this you can see it being expressed.

3 Responses to McClellan Addresses the 5th Wisconsin

  1. “And now boys, cruelly outnumbered by an enemy army well trained and equipped, brilliantly led and secure behind impenetrable fortifications, and unsupported by the traitorous, unfeeling politicians in Washington, I will lead to to certain disaster! Anyone up for a game of lawn bowling?”

  2. McClellan’s verbosity appeared to carry the aura of a politician as-well-as reflecting upon his image of self-importance. On June 11, he wrote to his wife: “I must be careful, for it would be utter destruction to this army were I to be disabled so as not to be able to take command.”
    He also reacted to political events occurring in Washington, writing on June 22, ” when I see such insane folly behind me I feel that the final salvation of the country demands the utmost prudence on my part, and that I must not run the slightest risk of disaster, for if anything happened to this army our cause would be lost.”
    Yet, other letters promised imminent success by taking the Old Tavern position as soon as all was ready. In the end, though McClellan’s boasts always stirred his audience, but his actions because of his aversion to risk that ultimately became his undoing.

  3. The land column had reached the end of their logistical range, and had sent their wagons back to be refilled before the next plunge. Smith’s division was the vanguard of the movement, and marched out the next day.

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