Politics Unspun

In politics as in war, advantage is not enough
Near the outset of the U.S. Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln made Maj.–Gen. George McClellan General-in-Chief of the Union Amy. McClellan was highly popular among his men and a great organizer who had built the Army of the Potomac into a formidable force. Unfortunately for Lincoln, McClellan, the meticulous organizer, lacked the courage and judgment to be a field commander.

On April 5, 1862, Lincoln ordered McClellan to attack a Confederate force in Yorktown, Va. He had at his disposal 121,500 troops, 44 batteries of artillery and prodigious logistical support. The Confederate contingent in Yorktown, meanwhile, comprised something on the order of 10,000 men. The battle was a rout waiting to happen. It never did. McClellan told Lincoln the enemy was 100,000 strong and refused to attack. The delusion was partly due to Gen. John B. Magruder’s crafty parading of his Confederate soldiers in a circuit to give the illusion of greater numbers and his ordering of logs to be painted black to resemble cannons.

McClellan knew that intelligence estimates of Confederate strength were laughable exaggerations yet he acted as if they were true. Instead of attacking, he chose the do-nothing option of laying siege to Yorktown. In early May, Magruder and the Confederates slipped out to fight another day, leaving McClellan to enter an empty town. He declared victory. The last straw for Lincoln was McClellan’s repeated refusal to hasten after Gen. Robert E. Lee’s retreating army after the Battle of Antietam. On Nov. 5, 1862, Lincoln relieved him of command.

McClellan was an administrator who proved to be more of a coward than a commander, notwithstanding the Washington Post’s risible attempt to rehabilitate him. There may be a lesson here for a certain Canadian leader, one who finds himself at the head of a large force in the run up to a political war.

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