McClellan was born into an affluent family with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, his dad was a well-renown surgeon and would eventually run a surgical school in Philadelphia.(1) George was given all the best things in life and was given every chance to succeed; he would be enrolled in an ivy league college at the age of 13 and would eventually take his talents to West Point. While at West Point, George found himself a model student, he did not garner many demerits while at the academy and would excel in the classroom. He would eventually graduate 2nd in his class in 1846 and would excel in his service in the Mexican American war. In the decade before the Civil War, McClellan would leave the army and would gain a high paying job as a railroad executive in the mid-west. With the outbreak of hostilities in 1861, the governor of Ohio would ask McClellan to command all of that state's volunteer forces. McClellan would do quite the good job in Kentucky and what is today West Virginia. His ability to keep Kentucky out of the Confederacy early in the war deserves praise, and he is partly responsible for keeping Confederates at bay in the western counties of Virginia, which would allow those western counties to create the new state of West Virginia.
All of these early success would lead to McClellan being asked to do what many saw as the impossible, reorganize and drill the Army of the Potomac after the debacle at Bull Run. What you must understand is that McClellan was a fantastic army organizer, he was gifted in the acts of training, drilling, feeding and clothing a huge army. McClellan would garner the admiration of his men for these abilities and many in Washington were quite impressed with his ability as an army organizer, but it is during the later months of 1861 that we begin to see his greatest downfall as a General emerge, his unwillingness to listen to his commander in chief, and his unwillingness to use the army he organized.
McClellan would not advance his massive army through 1861 and early 1862, Lincoln was all but begging him to come up with a plan and execute it. Here we see some of McClellan's most disgusting acts of disrespect, he grows annoyed with Lincoln and in letters home to his wife refers to Lincoln as "the original gorilla" and a "well-meaning baboon". I have a huge problem with our greatest President in American history being disrespected by a little Napoleon wannabe in such a manner. Finally, little Mac was ready to move and outlined his peninsula campaign, which was a convoluted idea of sailing his massive army onto the Virginia peninsula and attacking Richmond from that direction. Lincoln gave his approval and Mac was on his way, but from the onset we see Mac delaying and refusing to fight armies when he encounters them.
McClellan was always seeing boogeymen around every corner when he was in command, he was convinced that he was facing a Confederate army that VASTLY outnumbered him which was a ludicrous assumption. The problem was with whom he chose as his leader of Army intelligence, Allan Pinkerton. Pinkerton is famous for all Wild West buffs as the leader of the Pinkerton detective agency, during the Civil War he volunteered his talents to the Union war effort. Now, Pinkerton was a very capable detective, but he was an absolute disaster as an army intelligence officer. He devised this convolution mathematical equation to determine troop strength where he would take the number of soldiers he saw and do a multiplication problem with that, the result being that he vastly expanded Confederate troop strengths. Mac would listen to his reports and believe them to the man so he was convinced that he was facing an army of massive proportions.
The truth was that if Mac would have attacked Johnston on the peninsula and kept up the offensive, he would have most likely ended the war right then and there in 1862. Instead, he wastes the offensive, gets bogged down by Johnston's replacement Lee and is demoted by Lincoln in August of 1862. Mac would be given another chance to command the Army of the Potomac in September if 1862 and this would lead to his biggest blunder.
Mac was given the greatest gift that any military leader has ever been given in the history of warfare, he was handed the marching orders for Lee's invasion of the north. Some Union soldiers found Lee's marching orders in a field and they found their way to McClellan. McClellan would not act on these orders for almost two days and would allow Lee to position his men for the fight that would be at Antietam. Even with wasting that initiative, McClellan had the opportunity to destroy Lee on September 17,1862. The fight near Sharpsburg, MD would be the bloodiest day in American history, McClellan had multiple opportunities to crush the Confederates, but he would only send his army in piecemeal rather than sending in reinforcements. This means that McClellan would allow individual corps to be decimated without reinforcing them so he would never gain the initiative. The result was a bloody draw, but even with the draw Lee was forced to retreat and Mac had the perfect opportunity to deal a death blow. Instead, he sat around Antietam creek and refused to attack and eventually after begging his general to attack for weeks, Lincoln would fire him for the 2nd and final time.
The years after his command are the most galling, He would run AGAINST Lincoln in the election on the stance that he would end the war immediately. That means that means that he was going to allow the south to gain their independence; this shows the historian of today that all of his actions as commander of the Army of Potomac are now tainted with the knowledge that he was undermining efforts of the Lincoln administration. He would spend his later life making a multitude of excuses for his pathetic performance and would die before his memoirs could be published.(2)
So, who are the people from history you love to hate? Would love to hear all of your ideas. Remember to like the facebook page and to check out my spreaker podcast page at