Thursday, December 15, 2005

CWL --- O'Reilly on Burnside

McClellan's 'I can do it all' statement to his wife regarding his ability to be both the commander of the Army of the Potomac and co-ordinator of all the field armies of the Union contrasts well with Burnside's hesitancy and reluctance in accepting the position of commander of the Army of the Potomac.

Also, McClellan's decision to move the army as wings worked well but immediately before a battle he dispensed with the grand division command and relied on his corps commanders. Conversely, Burnside, who also used the grand division command system to move the army, kept the wing commanders during the battle of Fredericksburg. This decision was a detriment to the successful completion of his battle tactics, especially during the Prospect Hill attack. Franklin's non-support of Meade, as Burnside ordered it, is a case in point. Additionally, Franklin allowing Reynolds to focus upon the artillery and not his troops, worked to the disadvantage of the Pennyslvania Reserves under Meade.

Faced with the delay of the pontoons, Burnside waited until all was ready. McClellan may have done the same. Faced with similar situations, such as Yorktown, and June 1862 in front of Richmond, and after Sharpsburg, McClellan was deliberate and constantly addressed the issues of readiness. I suspect that faced with the delay of pontoons at Fredericksburg, McClellan too would have waited until they arrived. But instead of attacking over them, it appearsly probably that McClellan would not have attacked at all. Of course, McClellan may not have chosen Fredericksburg as a destination in November, 1862. Though, he successfully managed to get the Army of the Potomac between the wings of the Army of Northern Virginia in late October and early November, Rafuse is unsure what course McClellan would have taken if he would have stayed in command during November.

O'Reilly's choice of adjectives on several occassions in 'Winter War on the Rappahannock' lends a degree of triteness to his writing style. Fortunately, he holds close to the primary sources and quotes observers' impressions of Burnside as the battle slips beyond his grasp. A condition 'akin to desperation,' 'unbalanced,' 'dead with sleep,' having a 'great nervous exhaustion' led to Burnside's decision to personally lead the next day's attack. Stamina appears to be a major difference between McClellan and Burnside. McClellan kept his head during his times exhaustion though during these times he had the tendency to shove blame upon others shoulders. Burnside lacked the stamina that McClellan had, but Burnside did have a positive characteristic that McClellan did not have. He could accept blame and admit his faults. I can not recall an instance when McClellan accepted blame and admitted his faults, after reading Rafuse's 'McClellan's War'.

Next, Rable on Burnside.

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