President Lincoln Confers with General George B. McClellan

March 7, 1862

Union Commander George B. McClellan met with President Lincoln and then with his top dozen generals to discuss his proposed strategy for attacking Confederates in Virginia.   An attempted Union offensive near Harper’s Ferry the previous month had been aborted.  McClellan had been under considerate pressure from both the President and Congress to move more aggressively.  But McClellan had kept his plans close to his vest.  He let his father-in-law, General Randolph  Marcy, conduct the generals’ meeting.  But Marcy was not averse to appealing to the generals loyalty in their decision-making.   Marcy told one general “that there was a strong effort to have him superceded & that he would be unless we approved his plans.”  The generals voted 8-4 to approve McClellan’s plan to move the Army of the Potomac down to Urbanna on the Rappahannock, River to begin an attack on Richmond.  Some generals, however, had serious questions about whether the Army could mount such an ambitious, amphibious expedition.

Later, the generals meet with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and President Lincoln.  Stanton, clearly unhappy with McClellan’s plan, persistently questioned the generals about its logistics.  President Lincoln was also disappointed in the generals’ decision.  He admitted:

‘We can do nothing else than adopt this plan and discard all others; with eight out of twelve division commanders approving it we cannot reject it and adopt another without assuming all the responsibility in case of the failure of the one we adopt.”

Stanton, however, complains: “I agree with your conclusions, but I dissent from your arithmetic.  The generals who dissented from the proposed plan of campaign are independent of the influence of the commanding general, while all the rest owe their positions to him, and are especially under his influence, so that instead of eight to four there was but one against four.  You, as a lawyer, in estimating the value of testimony, look not only to the words of the witness, but to his manner and all the surrounding circumstances.  Now, who are the eight generals upon whose votes you are going to adopt the proposed plan of campaign? All made so since General McClellan assumed command, and upon his recommendation, influenced by his views, and subservient to his wishes.”

Lincoln responded: “I admit the full force of your objections, but what can we do?  We are civilians — we should justly be held accountable for any disasters if we set up our opinions against those of experienced military men in the practical management of a campaign.  The campaign will have to go on as decided by the majority.’”

Published in: on March 7, 2012 at 12:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

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