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 Posted: Fri Apr 1st, 2011 05:00 pm
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Hosford1
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Like most lovers of Civil War history, I grew up believing General McClellan was in the last tier of that war's generals.  And, no doubt, his reputaton for passivity and  reluctance to fully commit his army to battle is well deserved.  But while he is rightfully commended for his skills at organization, I believe he has not been properly credited as a strategist.  In fact, I believe he could and would have won the war in 1863 had he been supported by Lincoln and Halleck.

Grant is largely credited with ending the war by wearing Lee down from The Wilderness to Cold Harbor, crossing the James, investing Petersburg and extending and starving Lee to ultimate surrender.  The fact that he lost over 60,000 men (and Lee less than half that) by the time he got to Petersburg is cited as a mere cost of war.  A necessary evil.  While that may or may not be true one thing is historical fact.  The McClellan plan that was rejected in 1862-63 was the same plan finally successfully adopted by Grant in 1864.  And McClellan reached his conclusion in half the time and at a fraction of the cost in lives and material.

GRANT.  At the time of The Wilderness Grant's intention was to attack Lee relentlessly, overwhelm him with numbers and material and literally bowl his way through to Richmond.  After being caught in the vines of the wilderness and having both flanks turned, he sidled to Spotsylvania and tried it again.  Being twice unsuccessful he turned to his left again for a race to the North Anna.  When Lee failed to give battle there he raced to Cold Harbor - where more frontal assaults were easily repulsed, losing more lives that morning than Lee did with Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg.  Only then did he decide to race to the James, cross over and take Petersburg by storm - thereby opening the way to take Richmond and the destruction of Lee's army on its resulting retreat south.  But the process of being bled white from the Wilderness to the James had so badly shaken his army that the initial assaults on Petersburg were timid at best.  General Meade at the time had to throw up his hands in disgust when repeated orders to attack were simply refused by the men in the ranks.  Best estimates put Grant's loses on the eve of the Petersburg siege at over 60,000 and Lee's at less than half that number.

MCCLELLAN.  Following the Seven Days battle McClellan was on the James and requesting permission to cross over, invest Petersburg and take Richmond in the same way eventually done by Grant.  While at the time McClellan had already lost thousands of lives in Seven Days, it was fraction of those lost by Grant in his Overland Campaign.  McClellan was in the exact position as Grant, and with the same plan, in a fraction of the time and with a much better army than Grant.  But Halleck disapproved - and while he did the same with Grant, he didn't have the veto power with the latter that he did with the former. 

No doubt McClellan's investment of Petersburg would not have been done with the same relentless pressure exerted by Grant.  Judging on past performance, there is every reason to believe McClellan would have refused to stretch his lines and make periodic stabs at Lee's thining entrenchments.  But he wouldn't have had to.  His presence alone would have compelled Lee to make the attacks - which would have certainly been repulsed as they were at Malvern Hill.  Had Lincoln funneled McClellan all the men he asked for - admittedly without merit - McClellan's siege would have eventually starved Lee out and the same result as Grant's would have followed. 

To give Grant his due, he was relentless and refused to turn back during the campaign.  Also true is the fact that Grant's Overland Campaign did take away from Lee almost 30,000 men.  But Lee still faced Grant at Petersburg with approximately the same number that he would have faced McClellan with in 1863 - and with much greener troops. 

I think there is every reason to believe McClellan would have ended the war in 1863.  What say the rest of you? 

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