Literature

Commander and general


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Lincoln vs. McClellan in the Civil War

Lincoln and McClellan: The Troubled Partnership Between a President and His General By John C. Waugh
Paperback. 252 pages.
October 11, 2011. Palgrave Macmillan.

Over the past few years, John C. Waugh has become one of my favorite historians of the Civil War and its unique personalities. Books like The Class of 1846: From West Point to Appomattox -- Stonewall Jackson, George McClellan, and Their Brothers; One Man Great Enough: Abraham Lincoln's Road To The Civil War; Reelecting Lincoln: The Battle for the 1864 Presidency; and his latest offering, Lincoln and McClellan: The Troubled Partnership Between a President and His General (Paperback edition released in October 2011 by Palgrave Macmillan) have recast the people, places, and events which changed our nation before, during, and after the first shots of the Civil War were fired 150 years this years.

What is great about Waugh's books is that in capturing these subjects in a series of books we aren't reading stories that are squeezed in between two covers. Instead, Waugh gives us vignettes of sorts, and I think that's really the only way to study the Civil War -- in many different parts. The Civil War was never about just one issue, and Waugh broadens the study of the major events and players by telling the stories separately. For serious and casual readers of Civil War history, Waugh's books are perfect as we remember the sesquicentennial of that terrible conflict.

The last book of Waugh's that I read was Reelecting Lincoln: The Battle for the 1864 Presidency, which focused on Abraham Lincoln's struggle to win another term in the White House in 1864 despite very few Union victories up to that point of the Civil War, widespread unpopularity, and a serious challenge from the former commander of Union armies, General George B. McClellan. In Lincoln and McClellan, we see the beginnings of that relationship between Commander-in-Chief and General-in-Chief and we understand how Lincoln transitioned from appointing McClellan to lead the war effort to relieving McClellan from his duties to facing McClellan in the 1864 election.

The strength of Jack Waugh's books is his in-depth descriptions of the personalities and characteristics of the important leaders who were at the helm during the Civil War. Lincoln and McClellan is no different, and we are given a chance to learn more about General McClellan and his background. One of the most surprising things that I learned in Lincoln and McClellan is the fact that the President and the General knew each other even before Lincoln sought the Presidency in 1860. Their paths had crossed while Lincoln was a respected lawyer for Illinois railroad companies and McClellan was superintendent of the Illinois Central Railroad. There's even a McClellan link to the famed debates between Lincoln and Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas as McClellan, a loyal Democrat, provided Douglas with his own private railroad car and gave Douglas preference as he the Senator traveled between towns to debate Lincoln.

Above all else, Lincoln and McClellan tells the stories of two very different men from very different backgrounds with very different ideas about how the Civil War should be fought. McClellan, unsurprisingly, does not come across well in the book. Though Waugh gives McClellan the opportunity to tell his side of the story through the scores of personal letters that the General wrote home to his wife, Nelly, we still see a vain, ambitious, perhaps even delusional commander who could organize an Army better than anyone else in the country, yet never figured out how to use it. We also see President Lincoln do everything he can to support McClellan and push him to fight before finally giving up on the General. What's most astonishing isn't that President Lincoln fired General McClellan; it's that he waited so long to do so.

Lincoln and McClellan: The Troubled Partnership Between a President and His General by John C. Waugh is available now from Amazon, or for your e-reader. John C. Waugh's books and information about the author can also be found through his personal website.

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Updated Aug 12, 2017 1:44 PM EDT | More details

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