November 5, 1862: Lincoln Removes McClellan

By November 5, 1862, Abraham Lincoln had reached the end of his patience with George B. McClellan, Commnder of the Army of the Potomac.  The story of the War in the East for the Union in 1862 was largely the tragedy of Little Mac.  A superb organizer and trainer of troops, and not a bad strategist, McClellan lacked all tactical ability and  could not win battles.  Additionally, he simply was afraid to risk the fall of the iron dice of war.  McClellan had created the Army of the Potomac and made certain that the men under his command were well supplied, paid on time, and well-equipped, and as the above video indicates most of his men were fond of him.  If some other general could have acted as field commander, McClellan would have made a fine chief of staff.  As it was, the Army of the Potomac was not going to meet with success as long as Lincoln left him in command, and his removal was inevitable.    Here is the text of the order removing McClellan and turning a page in the Union war effort:

By direction of the President, it is ordered that Major-General McClellan be relieved from the command of the Army of the Potomac, and that Major-General Burnside take the command of that army; also that Major-General Hunter take command of the corps in said army which is now commanded by General Burnside; that Major-General Fitz John Porter be relieved from the command of the corps he now commands in said army, and that Major-General Hooker take command of said corps.

The General in Chief is authorized, in (his) discretion, to issue an order substantially as the above forthwith, or so soon as he may deem proper.


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  1. My Dear McClellan:

    If you are not using the army, I should like to borrow it for a short while.

    Yours respectfully,

    Abraham Lincoln

    One of my favorite Lincoln letters, and one which encapsulates his issues with McClellan.


    WAR DEPARTMENT, WASHINGTON CITY, October 24 [25?], 1862.


    I have just read your despatch about sore-tongued and fatigued horses. Will you pardon me for asking what the horses of your army have done since the battle of Antietam that fatigues anything?


    On another occasion Lincoln asked an aide what they had just visited. The aide said The Army of the Potomac. Lincoln responded that they had just visted McClellan’s personal body guard.

  3. McClellan loved the Army of the Potomac that he had created and he hated the idea of risking it in battle. Unfortunately to be a good soldier one must both love the Army and then see parts of what one loves be destroyed before one’s eyes in order to win battles. This dichotomy was brilliantly explored in this clip from the movie Gettysburg:

  4. McClellan is one of those historical personages I would like to have observed in person. There is no doubt the AoP loved him as much as he loved them, but none of that inspiring charisma shows up in his correspondence.

    Alas for the Union that Lincoln gave the Army to Burnside…

  5. “that Lincoln gave the Army to Burnside…”

    Burnside, unlike McClellan, a general who had no redeeming features, as opposed to his successor Hooker who might have done well except that in Lee and Jackson he was up against the greatest military partnership in American history.

  6. Meade was competent, but if only Hancock had been offered, or Reynolds accepted, command.

    Well, it turned out as it turned out.

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