What Do You Really Think of the President, General McClellan?
George B. McClellan was not a man without virtues. He was bright, ambitious, a snappy dresser, and charismatic. His men adored him and Mrs. McClellan thought he was charming at parties. He turned the army of the Potomac from a disorganized mess into a well-fed, well-clothed, well-disciplined fighting force the likes of which have never been equaled.
He had his faults as well. Mathematics was not his strong suit – he had a tendency to count 3 to every 1 Confederate in his front. His unwillingness to use the magnificent army he so meticulously built drove his commander-in-chief to distraction, and he had a hyper-inflated sense of self importance that rivaled some of the academics I know.
He thought his superior Winfield Scott was in the way and he referred to Lincoln as the “original gorilla” and “nothing more than a well-meaning baboon” in public. No one could tell Little Mac his business…as he informed the President, “he could do it all.” My favorite anecdote revealing his ego-maniacal tendencies involves what may be one of the greatest snubs in presidential history. In November 1861, shortly after McClellan was promoted to general-in-chief of all United States forces, President Lincoln, secretary of state William Seward, and presidential secretary John Hay paid a visit to McClellan’s house to discuss strategy. The presidential party was informed that the general was out and invited to wait. Within an hour, McClellan returned and was told by his porter that the president awaited. Without a word, he adjourned to his room. Another half hour transpired until at last McClellan sent word to the patient guests that he had gone to bed and that should they wish to speak with him, they could return another time.
It seems that McClellan forgot that he had a boss. Lincoln was not outwardly offended…putting etiquette and obnoxious behavior aside. Still, Lincoln never returned to speak with McClellan at home (he did visit him in the field) and eventually thought that he could not do it all, or anything really, and relieved him of command altogether. See how far a giant ego can get you?