George B. McClellan

George B. McClellan

McClellan was an interesting man, full of both strengths and weaknesses. A brilliant engineer and a great organizer, McClellan created the Army of the Potomac, the Union's mighty fighting force. He just didn't want to use it.

McClellan was better at organizing than fighting. He was highly intelligent, but couldn't wage a successful campaign. He always had an excuse for not engaging the enemy: his men were outnumbered (actually, they were not); he needed more troops; and it wasn't a good time or place or season for a battle. Once, Lincoln was so frustrated at McClellan's failure to act that he sent the general a telegram that read, "If General McClellan does not want to use the Army, I would like to borrow it for a time, provided I could see how it could be made to do something."

McClellan graduated second in his class from West Point, the United States Military Academy. He fought under Winfield Scott in Mexico, and after the Mexican War, he studied European armies. He resigned from the army to work as chief engineer for a railroad company, and he was very successful.

When the Civil War broke out, McClellan reentered the military. He held several important military positions, and soon after the disaster at Bull Run, he was second in command under General Winfield Scott. Fiercely ambitious, he worked behind the scenes to force the general to retire. Some people called him "the Young Napoleon" after the French general and emperor. He refused to tell his civilian supervisors in the War Department what he was planning. Once he even refused to see President Lincoln—his commander-in-chief! Don't you think that was rude?

After many delays, McClellan marched his army overland to within a few miles of Richmond, the Confederate capital. But after a week of fierce fighting, he retreated. He thought the enemy had a much larger force. His retreat made Lincoln so mad that he suspended McClellan from command of all the armies, leaving him only the Army of the Potomac. McClellan blamed the War Department, Lincoln, and the Secretary of Defense for his defeats. He managed to defeat Lee at Antietam, but lost many men and squandered a chance to crush the Confederate Army. Finally, the exasperated Lincoln fired him.

McClellan, who remained popular with his men, ran for president against Lincoln in 1864 but was defeated. He resigned from the army and worked in state politics, serving as governor of New Jersey.

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