Thursday, June 27, 2013

Escalation of the war . . . study

I didn't start this McClellan investigation intending to defend McClellan but only to find out if he was really as bad as Sears said he was, but in the process of reading Rowland's George B. McClellan & Civil War History and now Joseph Harsh's Doctoral Dissertation, I am finding myself influenced, if not entirely persuaded, by their arguments.

I've begun Chapter two of Harsh's doctoral dissertation and in it Harsh discusses the "war aims" of the North. He uses some analyses and what statistics existed in 1970 to argue that 90% of those fighting for the North in 1861 were fighting for Union and not the end of slavery. McClellan was clearly in that category, but so was Sherman and almost everyone else.

The "war aims" were in 1861 necessarily "limited." You don't want a "scorched-earth" war if your goal is the reuniting of the two squabbling sides. Like two brothers in a sandbox, after they've blacked each others eyes you want them to dust themselves off and shake hands. Harsh and Rowland both show McClellan's policies reflecting that limited sort of war. But how do you fight a limited war? Lincoln's views were accelerating, leaving the "Limited" concept, more quickly than McClellan's. He wanted more aggression, perhaps because the political situation demanded it, but also because he (perhaps) more quickly saw that "Limited War" wasn't going to get the job done.

After Pope's defeat at Second Manassas, McClellan was brought back to achieve a very bloody victory at Antietam. Did that mean that he was adjusting to a less-than-limited war, or was he appalled by the "butcher's bill." I don't know. (Perhaps Sears' The Young Napoleon will tell me and I may look later on.)

McClellan didn't approve of Lincoln's emancipation proclamation, but he was willing to respect it. On page 96 Rowland writes, "Whatever thoughts he might have harbored toward opposing the president's edict were quickly suppressed in favor of abiding with civil prerogative. He ordered his soldiers to respect the decisions of the chief executive and pointed out that the only qualified redress to this instruction was grounded in the democratic process. 'The remedy for such errors, if any are committed,' he observed, 'is to be found only in the action of the people at the polls.'"

COMMENT: Were Lincoln, McClellan and the rest thinking in terms of "limited war" as Harsh defines it, or is he superimposing a concept that was never defined as such? Harsh's arguments sound valid, and if someone is going to challenge them, it seems to me, a repetition of the arguments Harsh and Rowland are arguing against probably isn't going to accomplish anything. "He has the slows" for example, takes on new meaning if we see Lincoln as wishing to abandon Limited War and become more aggressive. This would then become an indication of policy change and not a criticism of McClellan's psychology.

No comments: