Sunday, December 12, 2010

Letter to the Editor: Article on McClellan and Second Manassas

The December issue of Civil War Times ran an article by Edward H. Bonekemper III entitled "General Disobedience: 'Little Mac' let John Pope twist in the wind." Bonekemper makes the compelling case that Major General George McClellan was less than cooperative in assisting Major General John Pope as the Army of Northern Virginia moved to pounce on Pope's Army of Virginia.  As much as I agree with many of Bonekemper's conclusions, I thought that the article was a bit imbalanced and wrote a letter to the editor of Civil War Times.  On Friday I received my February 2011 copy of the magazine and was pleased to see that Civil War Times had published my letter.  In case readers don't subscribe to the magazine, here is my letter as printed in the February issue:
I enjoyed Edward Bonekemper’s article “General Disobedience” in the December 2010 issue. Bonekemper presents convincing evidence that General George McClellan purposely disobeyed orders and undermined General John Pope.  The article downplays, however, another aspect of this unfortunate episode, namely, McClellan’s own exaggerated fears that the Confederates were possibly planning to attack the nation’s capital.
On August 28, 1862, McClellan informed General-in-Chief Henry Halleck that various sources were reporting "the enemy with 120,000 men intend advancing on the forts near Arlington and Chain Bridge, with a view of attacking Washington & Baltimore." As McClellan confirmed in a subsequent letter to his wife, "[a] rumor got out that Lee was advancing rapidly on the Chain Bridge with 150,000 men....I did not get 5 minutes consecutive sleep all night--so thick were the telegrams!"
Always cautious and inclined to imagine worst-case scenarios where he was outnumbered, McClellan seemed to believe that General Robert E. Lee might be trying to get his army between Pope and Washington. McClellan’s paranoia about Lee’s forces may at least in part explain why he held back the II and VI corps until the last possible minute. He was determined to keep the capital safe, even if in his twisted logic that involved leaving Pope to fend for himself.  I am far from a McClellan apologist, but Bonekemper’s article seems to overlook any plausible justification for McClellan’s decisions at the time.
Incidentally, I blogged about McClellan's handling of the II Corps around the time of Second Manassas several months ago.  (See here.) 

Courtesy of Civil War Times Facebook page

Ethan Rafuse over at Civil Warriors was asked to author a rebuttal to Bonekemper's article, which can be found here, on the Civil War Times website.  (A shorter version appears in the "Mail Call" Section of the February issue.)  McClellan clearly generates controversy and debate nearly 150 years later!

No comments: