FREQUENTLY ASSERTED CLAIMS ABOUT
GEO. B. McCLELLAN


NO. 5
TOPIC
: SCOTT WAS A VICTIM OF MCCLELLAN'S PERSONAL AMBITION

CLAIM
: For personal reasons, especially ambition, McClellan worked to remove Winfield Scott as general-in-chief.

CITATIONS:

+"The first victim of McClellan's vainglory was General-in-Chief Scott." James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom
+"He intrigued hard to have General Scott removed as his superior." T. Harry Williams, McClellan, Sherman and Grant

RESPONSE:

This view trivializes the profound differences of opinion between Winfield Scott and George McClellan, and more importantly, Scott and the Lincoln Administration. It also ignores a pattern of bad relations between Scott and three generals preceding McClellan.

Some views and decisions of Gen. Scott are worth itemizing.

The above may help shed some light on why -- other than personal reasons -- subordinates might bypass Scott. Furthermore, Scott himself had trained his distant department commanders, including McClellan, to bypass him by failing to give them guidance, orders, plans, or materiel. Closer to home, Scott was, to a surprising extent, ignored and bypassed by superiors and subordinates.

Before McClellan's arrrival, Scott had three generals reporting to him in the East: Butler, McDowell, and Patterson. According to Allan Nevins, (The War for the Union, Vol. 1) all three suffered bad relations with Scott. Benjamin Butler denounced Scott as politically unreliable and incompetent to a civilian politician (Montgomery Blair). He deplored Scott's handling of the Baltimore disturbances, threatening to resign from the service, and charged neglect of Ft. Monroe. On promotion to major general, Butler visited Scott's office to initiate a public shouting match. Launching his advance on Richmond, Butler blamed Scott for the size of his small force and the miserable state of his artillery and cavalry. William Patterson (a Scott contemporary from the war of 1812), having forced the rebels out of Harper's Ferry, submitted a plan for a follow-up attack that he felt well able to execute. The plan was rejected by Scott who then took troops away from Patterson, exacerbating existing ill will. Irvin McDowell's relations with Scott have been summarized by Nevins as "Scott petulant and McDowell resentful." "McDowell felt that Scott had denied him the staff, equipment, and latitude in training which he needed." These were some of the keynotes of McClellan's later critique of Scott.

The above merely outlines his relations with subordinates. His relations with the civil government were worse. For instance: (1) After Scott's Anaconda plan was rejected, Lincoln made tactical and strategic plans without Scott's knowledge or approval; (2) The Secretary of the Treasury was directed to create tables of organization and equipment for the Army without Scott's input; (3) The government overruled Scott's defensive strategy for Washington and forced on him an aggressive second-in-command he did not request, McDowell; (4) The Bull Run campaign plan was submitted by McDowell to Secretary of the Treasury Chase, not Scott (9); (5) McDowell routinely dealt directly with Lincoln and the Cabinet, bypassing Scott; (6) After McDowell's defeat, McClellan became the second unsought deputy in a single season imposed upon Scott by the Administration.

Scott had capped this arduous period by publicly asking to retire just before McClellan's arrival. He would do so again two weeks after McClellan was brought to Washington, thus marking himself in bold colors as a transitional figure.

McClellan followed his appointment with an immediate, high profile campaign for reform that took him into the corridors of power both military and civilian. Rebuffed by Scott, he quickly moved around him, as his predecessors had. And like his predecessors, relations were bad. Within two weeks of his appointment, public relations between the Scott and McClellan became so notorious as to have required interventions from Cabinet, various Congressmen, and the President.

The charge is that McClellan "intrigued" against Scott. In the midst of such vigorous, high-profile, and principled conflict within a tiny two-week timeframe, how does one intrigue? Bureaucratic conflict is rarely so visible and in Scott's case it was the icing on a long period of disappointment, disagreement, and aggravation with his subordinates and superiors in the Lincoln Administration. The Administration's acceptance of Scott's retirement application came after a visit to Lincoln by congressmen that had just spoken to McClellan. The topic was an old one: obstruction and neglect. McClellan originated much in the war, but he did not devise this theme. It was a tune long familiar to Congress and the President.

SUMMARY
:

McClellan's opposition to Scott was public and based on many major policy disagreements. McClellan continued McDowell's system of ignoring Scott on most important day-to-day issues, especially in areas where Scott might obstruct or argue. In this he also followed Lincoln. Scott's record and relations with superiors and subordinates made a long tenure improbable.

ENDNOTES

(1) Bruce Catton's Centennial History of the Civil War. The letter was dated October 29, 1860.

(2) (8) John S.D. Eisenhower, Agent of Destiny

(3) (4) (6) Jen-Hwa Lee, The Organization and Administration of the Army of the Potomac Under George B. McClellan (PhD thesis)

(5) G.B. McClellan, McClellan's Own Story, and Lee. See also Hattaway and Jones, How the North Won.

(7) McClellan. A recent study of the West Virginia campaign seems to bear this out: Clayton R. Newell, Lee vs. McClellan.

(9) Rowena Reed, Combined Operations in the Civil War. For more on the Scott/McDowell team, see also Eisenhower.

(c) 1998 Dimitri Rotov # v.1, 4/98; v,2, 8/98

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