Freedom: A History of US

Webisode 6. Segment 3
Lincoln's Generals

In the West, out in Tennessee and Mississippi, Abraham Lincoln had his own successful generals See It Now - Abraham Lincoln and his Generals—men like Philip Sheridan See It Now - Philip Sheridan, William Tecumseh Sherman See It Now - William Tecumseh Sherman, George Thomas See It Now - George Thomas, and Ulysses S. Grant See It Now - Ulysses S. Grant. Between February and June 1862 they won a series of remarkable victories there. But in the East—which was a much more visible arena to most people—Lincoln had trouble finding the right generals.

To start with, he had old General Winfield Scott See It Now - Winfield Scott, who had commanded the army in the Mexican War in 1846. Scott was a big man, but in terrible physical shape, as he himself admitted: "For more than three years I have been unable, from a hurt, to mount a horse or to walk more than a few paces at a time."

It was Scott's idea to mount a blockade of Southern ports. He knew that would really hurt the South See It Now - "The Hercules of the Union". General Scott also said the North needed to control the Mississippi River. That would cut off Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas from the rest of the South. Then the Union could send armies from the east and west to squeeze the Confederacy like an anaconda squeezes its prey. It was a good idea, but Scott's plan was widely ridiculed, and President Lincoln was forced to look for a new general. In his resignation, Scott said this: "It is with deep regret that I withdraw myself, in these momentous times, from the orders of a president who has treated me with distinguished kindness and courtesy."

Now Lincoln found a man who was handsome and intelligent and popular with his troops. He was an excellent organizer. There was just one problem with General George B. McClellan See It Now - George B. McClellan: He didn't like to fight. He kept hesitating, and making excuses. Lincoln's secretary of war Edwin Stanton See It Now - Edwin Stanton was soon fed up with him. He said, "If we had a million men, McClellan would swear the enemy had two millions, and then he would sit down in the mud and yell for three."

During the spring of 1862, McClellan planned to capture Richmond, Virginia. Richmond was not only capital of the Confederacy, it was one of the few industrial cities in the South. If Richmond fell, the Confederacy might collapse and the war would be over. It was a fine plan, but it went terribly wrong, mostly because McClellan was so cautious when it came to action. After seven days of fierce fighting Check The Source - The Battle of Malvern Hill (it was called the Battle of Seven Days) there was no clear winner, and McClellan ordered his army to retreat. He ran away. All those months of planning, marching, and fighting, and nothing gained Check The Source - George B. McClellan's Evacuation. Elisha Rhodes, from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, was amongst the returning forces. He said, "Today we took a steamer and went up the Potomac past Washington and landed at Georgetown. It is hard to have reached the point we started from last March, and Richmond is still the Rebel capital."

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