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The first would use 80, men to invade Virginia through the Kanawha Valley toward Richmond. The second would use the same force to drive south instead, crossing the Ohio River into Kentucky and Tennessee. Scott rejected both plans as logistically unfeasible. Although he complimented McClellan and expressed his "great confidence in your intelligence, zeal, science, and energy", he replied by letter that the 80, men would be better used on a river-based expedition to control the Mississippi River and split the Confederacy, accompanied by a strong Union blockade of Southern ports.

This plan, which would require considerable patience of the Northern public, was derided in newspapers as the Anaconda Plan , but eventually proved to be the outline of the successful prosecution of the war. Relations between the two generals became increasingly strained over the summer and fall.

McClellan's first military operations were to occupy the area of western Virginia that wanted to remain in the Union and subsequently became the state of West Virginia. He had received intelligence reports on May 26 that the critical Baltimore and Ohio Railroad bridges in that portion of the state were being burned. As he quickly implemented plans to invade the region, he triggered his first serious political controversy by proclaiming to the citizens there that his forces had no intentions of interfering with personal property—including slaves.

The controversy was not that his proclamation was diametrically opposed to the administration's policy at the time, but that he was so bold in stepping beyond his strictly military role.

History Lesson

His forces moved rapidly into the area through Grafton and were victorious at the tiny skirmish called the Battle of Philippi , arguably the first land conflict of the war. His first personal command in battle was at Rich Mountain , which he also won. His subordinate commander, William S. Rosecrans , bitterly complained that his attack was not reinforced as McClellan had agreed.

McClellan, the Napoleon of the Present War".


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After the defeat of the Union forces at Bull Run on July 21, , Lincoln summoned McClellan from western Virginia, where McClellan had given the North the only engagements bearing a semblance of victory. He traveled by special train on the main Pennsylvania line from Wheeling through Pittsburgh , Philadelphia , and Baltimore , and on to Washington City , and was greeted by enthusiastic crowds that met his train along the way. Carl Sandburg wrote, "McClellan was the man of the hour, pointed to by events, and chosen by an overwhelming weight of public and private opinion.

On August 20, several military units in Virginia were consolidated into his department and he immediately formed the Army of the Potomac , with himself as its first commander. I almost think that were I to win some small success now I could become Dictator or anything else that might please me—but nothing of that kind would please me— therefore I won't be Dictator.

Admirable self-denial!

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During the summer and fall, McClellan brought a high degree of organization to his new army, and greatly improved its morale with frequent trips to review and encourage his units. It was a remarkable achievement, in which he came to personify the Army of the Potomac and reaped the adulation of his men. Scott, on matters of strategy.

McClellan rejected the tenets of Scott's Anaconda Plan , favoring instead an overwhelming grand battle, in the Napoleonic style. He proposed that his army should be expanded to , men and guns and "crush the rebels in one campaign". He favored a war that would impose little impact on civilian populations and require no emancipation of slaves. McClellan's antipathy to emancipation added to the pressure on him, as he received bitter criticism from Radical Republicans in the government. But he made no secret of his opposition to the radical Republicans.

He told Ellen, "I will not fight for the abolitionists. The immediate problem with McClellan's war strategy was that he was convinced the Confederates were ready to attack him with overwhelming numbers.

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On August 8, believing that the Confederacy had over , troops facing him in contrast to the 35, they had actually deployed at Bull Run a few weeks earlier , he declared a state of emergency in the capital. By August 19, he estimated , rebel soldiers on his front. McClellan's subsequent campaigns were strongly influenced by the overblown enemy strength estimates of his secret service chief, detective Allan Pinkerton , but in August , these estimates were entirely McClellan's own.

The result was a level of extreme caution that sapped the initiative of McClellan's army and dismayed the government. Historian and biographer Stephen W. Sears observed that McClellan's actions would have been "essentially sound" for a commander who was as outnumbered as McClellan thought he was, but McClellan in fact rarely had less than a two-to-one advantage over the armies that opposed him in and That fall, for example, Confederate forces ranged from 35, to 60,, whereas the Army of the Potomac in September numbered , men; in early December ,; by year end, , This places McClellan's estimates as significantly closer than previously thought.

The dispute with Scott became increasingly personal. Scott as well as many in the War Department was outraged that McClellan refused to divulge any details about his strategic planning, or even such basic information as the strengths and dispositions of his units. McClellan claimed he could not trust anyone in the administration to keep his plans secret from the press, and thus the enemy.

I have to fight my way against him. Rumors traveled through the capital that McClellan might resign, or instigate a military coup, if Scott were not removed. Lincoln's Cabinet met on October 18 and agreed to accept Scott's resignation for "reasons of health".

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However, the subsequently formed Army of the Potomac had high morale and was extremely proud of their general, some even referring to McClellan as the saviour of Washington. He prevented the army's morale from collapsing at least twice, in the aftermath of the First and Second Battles of Bull Run. Many historians argue that he was talented in this aspect. The president expressed his concern about the "vast labor" involved in the dual role of army commander and general-in-chief, but McClellan responded, "I can do it all.

Lincoln, as well as many other leaders and citizens of the northern states, became increasingly impatient with McClellan's slowness to attack the Confederate forces still massed near Washington. In December, the Congress formed a Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War , which became a thorn in the side of many generals throughout the war, accusing them of incompetence and, in some cases, treason.

McClellan was called as the first witness on December 23, but he contracted typhoid fever and could not attend. Instead, his subordinate officers testified, and their candid admissions that they had no knowledge of specific strategies for advancing against the Confederates raised many calls for McClellan's dismissal. McClellan further damaged his reputation by his insulting insubordination to his commander-in-chief. He privately referred to Lincoln, whom he had known before the war as a lawyer for the Illinois Central, as "nothing more than a well-meaning baboon", a "gorilla", and "ever unworthy of On January 10, Lincoln met with top generals McClellan did not attend and directed them to formulate a plan of attack, expressing his exasperation with General McClellan with the following remark: "If General McClellan does not want to use the army, I would like to borrow it for a time.

He refused to give any specific details of the proposed campaign, even to his friend, newly appointed War Secretary Edwin M. On January 27, Lincoln issued an order that required all of his armies to begin offensive operations by February 22, Washington's birthday. On January 31, he issued a supplementary order for the Army of the Potomac to move overland to attack the Confederates at Manassas Junction and Centreville. McClellan immediately replied with a page letter objecting in detail to the president's plan and advocating instead his Urbanna plan, which was the first written instance of the plan's details being presented to the president.

Although Lincoln believed his plan was superior, he was relieved that McClellan finally agreed to begin moving, and reluctantly approved. On March 8, doubting McClellan's resolve, Lincoln again interfered with the army commander's prerogatives.

He called a council of war at the White House in which McClellan's subordinates were asked about their confidence in the Urbanna plan. They expressed their confidence to varying degrees. After the meeting, Lincoln issued another order, naming specific officers as corps commanders to report to McClellan who had been reluctant to do so prior to assessing his division commanders' effectiveness in combat, even though this would have meant his direct supervision of twelve divisions in the field. Two more crises would confront McClellan before he could implement his plans.

The Confederate forces under General Joseph E. Johnston withdrew from their positions before Washington, assuming new positions south of the Rappahannock, which completely nullified the Urbanna strategy. McClellan revised his plans to have his troops disembark at Fort Monroe , Virginia , and advance up the Virginia Peninsula to Richmond, an operation that would be known as the Peninsula Campaign. Then, however, McClellan came under extreme criticism in the press and Congress when it was learned that Johnston's forces had not only slipped away unnoticed, but had for months fooled the Union Army with logs painted black to appear as cannons, nicknamed Quaker Guns.

Congress's joint committee visited the abandoned Confederate lines and radical Republicans introduced a resolution demanding the dismissal of McClellan, but it was narrowly defeated by a parliamentary maneuver. On March 11, , Lincoln removed McClellan as general-in-chief, leaving him in command of only the Army of the Potomac, ostensibly so that McClellan would be free to devote all his attention to the move on Richmond.

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Lincoln's order was ambiguous as to whether McClellan might be restored following a successful campaign. In fact, the general-in-chief position was left unfilled. Lincoln, Stanton, and a group of officers who formed the "War Board" directed the strategic actions of the Union armies that spring.

Although McClellan was assuaged by supportive comments Lincoln made to him, in time he saw the change of command very differently, describing it as a part of an intrigue "to secure the failure of the approaching campaign". McClellan's army began to sail from Alexandria on March It was an armada that dwarfed all previous American expeditions, transporting , men, 44 artillery batteries, 1, wagons, over 15, horses, and tons of equipment and supplies. An English observer remarked that it was the "stride of a giant".

McClellan's plan for a rapid seizure of Yorktown was foiled by the removal of 1st Corps from the Army of the Potomac for the defense of Washington. McClellan had hoped to use the 1st Corps to capture Glouchester Point and thus outflank the Confederate position.


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When he discovered that the Confederates had fortified a line across the Peninsula he hesitated to attack. As Swinton notes "It is possible, however — and there is a considerable volume of evidence bearing upon this point — that General McClellan, during all the earlier portion of the month before Yorktown, had it in his mind, even without McDowell's corps, to undertake the decisive turning movement by the north side of the York.

In this event, it would not only be in the direction of his plan to make no attack, but it would play into his hands that his opponent should accumulate his forces on the Peninsula. Yet this halting between two opinions had the result that, when he had abandoned the purpose of making the turning movement, it had become too late for him to make a direct attack.

Barnard , who recommended against an assault. This caused him to decide on a siege of the city, which required considerable preparation.