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McClellan - Without Question - George McClellan - The Participants of the War - Mikitary & Civilian - Civil War Interactive Discussion Board
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 Posted: Mon Aug 25th, 2008 12:00 am
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Wrap10
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Hi folks,

Here's something that has intrigued me for a while. After the war ended, as I remember the story, someone - I think it may have been a reporter, but I can't recall for sure - asked Lee who he thought his best opponent was during the war.

Lee's answer - "McClellan. Without Question."

I'm going on memory, but that's how I recall it.

Two things about that answer that I've always wondered about. First, why McClellan? And second, why did the 'interviewer' not ask that very obvious follow-up question, as he apparently failed to do? Or if he did, he did not leave a record of Lee's answer, or I've not heard of it.

I've thought about it some and I have a theory of sorts as to why I think Lee chose McClellan, but on the face of it, it does seem like a surprising answer. And it has a sense of finality about it, as if it's not even open for debate. "Without question" doesn't leave much wiggle-room. So my question is, why do you think he chose McClellan as the best commander he faced during the war? I'd like to hear what everyone thinks.

Perry



 Posted: Mon Aug 25th, 2008 12:17 am
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The Iron Duke
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I remember reading this in one of Stephen Sears's books. I've always been curious about the source for that statement.



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 Posted: Wed Aug 27th, 2008 01:40 am
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I'd have to look it up to make sure. I just can't remember who the source was. If you're wondering about the accuracy of the quote - whether Lee actually said such a thing - you're not alone. I've wondered about that as well. But if it was simply made up out of thin air for some reason, I can't see why except as a possible shot at Grant. We'd need to know more about the person who quoted Lee.

That said, I suspect that Lee did give that answer, although I can't prove it. But I've wondered about it, and why he would have chosen McClellan. If you think about the possible choices, you've got a total of six - McClellan, Pope, Burnside, Hooker, Meade, and Grant. Of those, you can immediately eliminate Pope, Burnside, and Hooker. Lee dispatched each of them in a single battle, and there's no way he would have picked one of them as his best opponent. So that leaves McClellan, Meade, and Grant. He only faced Meade in one stand-up battle, and although he lost, I suspect he felt that loss was due more to his own mistakes than anything Meade did. Plus, Meade did not appear very eager to engage Lee in battle in the months after Gettysburg, even when he had the chance.

So that really only leaves McClellan and Grant. Of those two, only one of them was ever able to impose his will on Lee, force him onto the permanent defensive, and finally force his surrender. Yet Lee picked the other commander as his best opponent in the war. If we are to believe the quote. The question is, why? And would anyone here also pick McClellan as Lee's best opponent?

Perry



 Posted: Wed Aug 27th, 2008 01:52 am
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The Iron Duke
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EP Alexander said that Hooker's plan at Chancellorsville was the best the Union army in the east ever devised.

And yes I do question the truthfulness of that supposed statement by Lee.



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 Posted: Wed Aug 27th, 2008 03:14 am
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Good point about Alexander, although I don't think it would have caused Lee to call Hooker his best opponent.

Have you ever come across another quote attributed to Lee about Grant, where he supposedly says he had carefully researched military history going back through the ages, and had never found Grant's equal as a commander?


Perry



 Posted: Wed Aug 27th, 2008 03:47 am
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The Iron Duke
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Yes I've seen that quote about Grant and I think that one has some truth in it. The reason I think that is because when AP Hill was denouncing Grant as a butcher Lee said back to him, "I think Grant has managed his affairs pretty well up to the present time."

Last edited on Wed Aug 27th, 2008 03:47 am by The Iron Duke



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 Posted: Thu Aug 28th, 2008 12:52 am
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Well, I guess we're on opposite ends here. I'm more inclined to believe the quote about McClellan, and less inclined to believe the one about Grant. Keyboards at 20 paces? :)

Perry



 Posted: Thu Aug 28th, 2008 02:14 am
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The Iron Duke
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Why do you believe the McClellan quote?



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 Posted: Thu Aug 28th, 2008 12:35 pm
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I'm not certain that either quote is authentic, but if one of them is, I'm more inclined to believe it was the quote about McClellan. Something about it just sounds more believable to me.

For instance, why would Lee want to take the time to search through history to find a commander he felt was the equal of Grant? Does it really make sense that he would have done this? And when did he do so? He only lived for five years after the war, and most of that was spent as president of a college that occupied a good bit of his time and attention.

I wish I could find the exact quote as it is rather extensive, but I couldn't find it last night. Same luck I've had with trying to find that Stacy Allen essay on Wallace. But as I understand it, the quote attributed to Lee about Grant was written down, as opposed to the verbal comment about McClellan. So if Lee did write that, there should be some record of it, or at least must have been at one time.

The first time I came across it was on the dust-jacket of a book about Grant, but the author gave no information about the quote inside the book, oddly enough. I still have the book, but the dust-jacket has long since disappeared.

Perry



 Posted: Thu Aug 28th, 2008 04:37 pm
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The Iron Duke
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Well I'm sure Lee studied great generals in his younger years. It could be that the person who wrote down the quote changed Lee's words around.



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 Posted: Sat Aug 30th, 2008 03:29 pm
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I have heard this waht Lee said about "McClellan without question"

I heard that Lee said of Grant "I would have done same"

I have never been able to track either back to their source. 

It hard to believe McClellan except his plan for defeating and capturing Richmond was more ingenious then Grant's "I will hit and hit until you fall". 

I  do not know or can find an answer for Warp10...



 Posted: Sat Aug 30th, 2008 03:36 pm
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It's actually "Wrap10." Bowling term. But Warp10 isn't bad either. Sounds like a really fast starship. :)

I think there was more to Grant's Overland Campaign than just "hit until you fall." But I'll save that for another day.

I'm just more inclined to think Lee's quote about McClellan is closer to what he really thought. Perhaps not, but the quote attributed to Lee about Grant just sounds off to me. I wish I could find the darn thing. I remember it being in two parts, as it were. I remember the first part sounding fairly believable. But the second part, where he talks about carefully searching through history for Grant's equal as a commander...I just don't see him doing that. It makes no sense to me.

Perry



 Posted: Wed Jan 21st, 2009 11:51 am
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I agree with Wrap10 that I believe Lee's quote about Mac, and dismiss outright the quote about Grant. Of course, this is simply my opinion, but the qhote about Mac is much more in line with what I know of Lee and his character than the quote about Grant:

While Lee did indeed come to the defense of Grant when many others in the Southern command dismissed him as only a butcher, Lee also is attributed with another quote-when asked who he thought the greatest general of the war was, he responded that it was a man whom he had not met, his name is Forrest. Even if this quote is fictitional-which indeed it can be argued as so, other evidence, including the meeting of the two postwar, would indicate that Lee would never say anthing of the sort about his old adversary-not to mention the absurdity of the statement itself. Grant, while a fine General, is by no means the greatest general in history-I don't believe even his fiercest proponent would argue such, and Lee certainly was not that. So Lee dismisses his idols-Washington in character and accomplishment, Napoleon in the military art, along with Hannibal, Ceasar, Alexander, Wellington, etc-in favor of Grant? I don't buy it.    

Last edited on Wed Jan 21st, 2009 11:53 am by Kentucky_Orphan



 Posted: Wed Jan 21st, 2009 04:17 pm
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The Iron Duke
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I take that quote about Forrest with a grain of salt.



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 Posted: Mon Mar 8th, 2010 01:10 pm
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Despite his known impatience (or more so, his advisor's) with McClellan, particularly post-Antietam, Lincoln was also an admirer of 'Little Mac'-

"Well, Stoddard, for organizing an army, for preparing an army for the field or for fighting a defensive campaign, I will back General McClellan against any general of modern times—I don't know but of ancient times also."
President Lincoln to his assistant William O. Stoddard (William O. Stoddard, Lincoln's Third Secretary, p. 160.)

However, he did finish the converstaion by saying "But I begin to feel as if he would never get ready to fight!"



 Posted: Sun Apr 3rd, 2011 02:08 am
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Lee would have made the perfect general for Lincoln. He was aggressive and wanted to deliver punishing blows to his enemy.....just like Grant did to him in 1864. I think Lee realized Grant was the guy that was going to beat him after the Wilderness.



 Posted: Mon Apr 4th, 2011 06:56 am
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I wonder if the Lee quote came from a McCleallan quote. Randall Bedwell's War Is All Hell: A Collection of Civil War Quotations provides the following quote from McClellan:

 
I prefer Lee to Johnston. The former is too cautious and weak under grave responsibility----personally brave and energetic to a fault, he yet is wanting in moral firmness when pressed by heavy responsibility and is likely to be timid and irresolute in action.
Ironic as McClellan seemed to so often overestimate the fighting strength of the Confederate Forces opposing him and moved in accordance with this belief.

 

Last edited on Mon Apr 4th, 2011 06:57 am by Hellcat



 Posted: Mon Apr 4th, 2011 01:57 pm
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what were Lee's thoughts on McClellan during the war (as opposed to post-bellum)? I do not recall any glowing praise for him in 1862.

typically, contemporary thoughts are more valid than those many years later where time has mellowed or sharpened an opinion...



 Posted: Mon Apr 4th, 2011 08:22 pm
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Right now the only one I can get is this from June of 1862:

 
McClellan will make this a battle of posts. He will take position from position, under cover of his heavy guns. I am preparing a line that I can hold with part of our forces in front, whilethe rest I will endeavor to make a diversion to bring McClellan out.
Not really much, just talking about how he planned to deal with McClellan during the Seven Days Battle. The next quote in the book (again it's Mr. BedWell's War is All Hell I got this from) is from McClellan, has McClellan talking about saving the army. The quote is directed at Stanton and comes from June 28th.



 Posted: Sat Oct 22nd, 2011 02:36 pm
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I think McClellan would be a logical choice for Lee. The battles that McClellan were in should speak for their selves. I would argue that McClellan took a bad rap from the radical republicans that had took control of the northern government. Certainly the Lincoln government could not take any responsibility in the union army not trouncing that band of rag a muffins( Lincoln after Chancellorsville ) down south. Such as the pursuit of Lee's army after Antietam, just not fast enough for them politicians. Should of throwed his entire army against Lee that second day, 12,410 union causalties did not meet their quota for the first day. Take George G. Meade, who IMO is the best union General for the union during the entire war, his pursuit after Gettysburg was not fast enough. To criticize Meade after Gettysburg does make me wonder if McClellan was not right about Lincoln when he said Lincoln" was nothing more than a well-meaning baboon."

McClellan's Battle's : Seven Pines, men 42,000 faced Joesph Johnston, men42,000        union causalties 5,031  confederate 6,134

Seven Days : men 91,000 faced Lee, men 95,000, union causalties 15,849 confederate 20,614

South Mountain : men 28,000 faced Lee, men 18,000, union causalties 1,813 confederate 2,685

Antietam : men 75,000 faced Lee, men 52,000, union causalties 12,410 confederate 13,724

After seeing McClellan's battles we can see the casualty rate is in the union's favor. I also know that inflicting the most causalties does not mean you win the battle, such as the Seven Days. But compared to some of the other battle's we can clearly see the difference. Also note the total force of both sides. Here is a few examples.

Chancellorsville, Hooker in command. men 105,000 faced Lee, men 57,000, union causalties 16,792 confederate 12,764

Fredericksburg, Burnside in command. men 114,000 faced Lee, men 72,000, union causalties 12,653 confederate 5,309

Cold Harbor, Grant in command. men 108,000 faced Lee, men 62,000, union causalties 12,000 confederate 2,500

This is not to show this should of been done or that. McClellan was not a great General as Lee or Meade. But all in all I think he was alot better than history gives him. As I said before his battle records should speak for themselves. It is easy to say he should of done this or that from our living rooms. Even from the white house, Lincoln could criticize him for not doing what he should of done. But Lee did say McClellan was he's toughest opponent and Lee did have the advantage, he was there we were not.

Pender

 

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