The Mexican War diary and correspondence of George B. McClellan edited by Thomas W. Cutrer Baton Rouge : Louisiana State University Press, c 2009 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. vi, 195 p. ; 23 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG
In his standard reference work on the Civil War, Generals in Blue, Ezra Warner declared George B. McClellan (1826-1885) “one of the most controversial figures in American military history.” In this revealing book, Thomas W. Cutrer provides the definitive edition of McClellan’s detailed diary and letters from his service in the Mexican War (1846-1848), during which he began the rise that culminated in his being named general in chief of the Union forces and commander of the Army of the Potomac early in the Civil War.
Democratic presidential candidate George Brinton McClellan is lampooned as an incompetent military leader. He sits in a saddle mounted on the boom of the Union ironclad vessel “Galena.” The print recalls two prominent failures in McClellan’s tenure as commander of the Army of the Potomac, which haunted him during the 1864 campaign. The “Galena,” a Union ironclad leading a flotilla of Union gunboats against Richmond, was driven back and badly damaged by Confederate batteries just miles from the capital in May 1862. McClellan was criticized for refusing to bring nearby land troops to the navy’s aid. Shortly thereafter McClellan’s peninsular campaign toward Richmond came to a disastrous conclusion with the Battle of Malvern Hill, shown here raging in the background. McClellan’s troops retreated to the protection of naval guns, effectively ending the Union threat to Richmond. The artist shows McClellan viewing the battle through a telescope from his safe perch. He calls to the troops, “Fight on my brave Soldiers and push the enemy to the wall, from this spanker boom your beloved General looks down upon you.”
McClellan graduated second in his class from West Point in 1846 and served as a second lieutenant in Company A of the prestigious Corps of Engineers, the only formation of combat engineers in the United States Army. The company participated in Major General Winfield Scott’s invasion of Mexico, playing a prominent role in the siege of Vera Cruz and the battles of Cerro Gordo, Churubusco, Molino del Rey, and Chapultepec and in the capture of Mexico City. Although only twenty-one years old at the war’s end, McClellan earned brevet promotions to first lieutenant and then captain for his efforts.
McClellan’s colorful diary and frequent letters to his socially and politically prominent Philadelphia family provide a wealth of military details of the campaign, insights into the character of his fellow engineers – including Robert E. Lee and P. G. T. Beauregard – and accounts of the friction that arose between the professional soldiers and the officers and men of the volunteer regiments that made up Scott’s command. McClellan formed close personal loyalties in those years. His diaries also reveal a man contemptuous of those he perceived as less talented than he, quick to see conspiracies where none existed, and eager to place upon others the blame for his own shortcomings and to take credit for actions performed by others.
The unlikely teaming of military leader George B. McClellan with Peace Democrat (Copperhead) George Hunt Pendleton as presidential and vice presidential candidates in the 1864 election is ridiculed here. The artist charges McClellan with disloyalty to his former troops by virtue of a “peace at any price” campaign. In the center McClellan (left) is attached to the side of his running mate by “The Party Tie.” McClellan says apologetically to the two Union soldiers at his left, “It was not I that did it fellow Soldiers!! but with this unfortunate attachment I was politically born at Chicago!” The Democratic national convention took place in Chicago on August 29, 1864. The soldier with his arm in a sling responds angrily, “Good bye little Mac’ if thats your company! Uncle Abe gets my vote,” The soldier at far left says, “I would vote for you General, if you were not tied to a “peace” Copperhead, who says that Treason and Rebellion ought to triumph!!” Pendleton addresses the two “Copperheads” at his right: Clement Laird Vallandigham, author of the Democrats’ peace plank, and Horatio Seymour, governor of New York and chairman of the Democratic national convention. Pendleton says, “I dont care how many letters Mac writes, if it brings him votes; for every vote for him, count one for me!!” Vallandigham concurs, “Yes Pen, that’s the only reason that I support the ticket; if you are elected both Jeff [Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy] and I will be triumphant!” Seymour (far right) replies, “With Pendleton as Vice: Val [Vallandigham] secretary of State; Wood [i.e., Fernando Wood, an organizer of the Peace Democrats] in the treasury, and I Govr. of New-York, we will have peace at any price the rebels choose to ask for it.” The cartoon appeared late in the brief 1864 campaign.
On the banks of the Rio Grande during his first weeks with the army, McClellan wrote in his diary: “I came down here with high hopes, with pleasing anticipations of distinction, of being in hard fought battles and acquiring a name and reputation as a stepping stone to a still greater eminence in some future and greater war.” Carefully edited by Thomas W. Cutrer, these diary entries and letters do indeed trace McClellan’s rapid development in the army and put on full display the ambition, and arrogance that characterized his career as general and politician.
Statue of the Napoleon of the west Connecticut Avenue, Washington, D.C.