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McClellan Literature

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  • Thomas Clemens
    Some recent comments got me to thinking. One member suggests that all the Conventional Wisdom is that McClellan was a poor general, and all , or most, of
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 11 8:26 PM
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      Some recent comments got me to thinking. One member suggests that all
      the "Conventional Wisdom" is that McClellan was a poor general, and all
      , or most, of the literature supports that view. Certainly the most
      recent biography before Rafuse was Sears', and it is certainly a
      negative view. It was touted as written entirely from primary sources,
      and describes him as a man "beset by demons and delusions. "
      Interstingly enough, Joe Harsh has never written anything on McClellan
      other than his dissertation, which deals solely withthe few month is the
      summer of 1861 when he was espousing a conciliatory war policy while
      organizing the army, and an article titled "On the McClellan-Go-Round."
      In this article he points out that all treatments of McClellan are
      either laudatory, Hassler for example, or derisive, as in Sears.(Written
      after the article, but this is the best illustration.) None seem to be
      balanced or present a logical explanation for perhaps one of the greater
      enigmas of the Civil War. How this makes Harsh a McClellan apologist I
      am not sure, but the main point of this is that the literature is
      neither unanaimous, nor definitive.

      Comparing the bibliographies of Sears versus Rafuse shows that they used
      many of the same sources, although Rafuse uses more primary sources ,
      and delves much deeper into McClellan's early life and career. So I am
      cannot imagine how one can be "gospel" and the other "worthless." It
      strikes me that anyone really interested in the topic should read both
      books and decide for themselves what the man was really like.
      In closing I would like point out that Rafuse's footnote are far easier
      to trace. Having found some obvious errors in Sears' LTR, and
      unsuccessfully attempted to decipher which source applies to which
      statement, I treat his other works cautiously, but do not, and cannot
      dismiss them out of hand. It seems to me Rafuse deserves at least
      similar respect.
      Tom Clemens
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