Wednesday, December 14, 2005

CWL --- McClellan Reflected in the Mirror of the Times

McClellan's War: The Failure of Moderation in the Struggle for the Union, Rafuse, Ethan, Indiana University Press, 525 pp., maps, illustrations, notes, index, 2005, $35.

Rafuse cites Grant as remarking during the 1870s that McClellan 'is to me one to the mysteries of the war.' Did Grant intuit that McClellan was old-fashioned and unwilling to fight a war without moderation? Possibly Grant understood McClellan to have psychological problems that rendered him ill-suited for the task at hand in 1862. Was Grant prescient regarding historian's judgement of McClellan?

Cultural environment and family environments made McClellan essentially different from both Grant and Burnside. The Market Revolution during the Age of Jackson, upward social and political mobility and post-Mexican War nationalism are elements which are present in McClellan's life, much more present than in Grant's life, and somewhat more present than in Bursides' life.

Rafuse presents these dual environments, cultural and family, as being the seed-bed for McClellan's faith in elnightened reason, critical moderation, and the rational direction of activities. An attachment to order and hierarchy and the rigorous practice of deductive reasoning from established principles to the significant details of campaigns is the hallmark of McClellan, the man and soldier. If Grant had known McClellan as thoroughly as Rafuse does, McClellan would not have been a mystery to him. Grant's cultural and family environments were very different from McClellan's. Burnside's cultural and family environments were only somewhat different from McClellan's. Though having West Point in common, upon graduation all three took different lessons away from it.

During the Winter Campaign of November 1862-January 1863, things that went wrong for Burside (besides have Franklin as a wing commander) include the over-attachment to his plans in the face change, unfamiliarity with some the established principles of warfare, and his inability to reason deductively rather than inductively. Both Rable and O'Reilly present the activities of Burnside in the light of this failure to reason deductively, which includes the ability to gather information on the enemy and assess it with an eye to changing plans.

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