|Date(s):||January 1, 1862 to November 30, 1862|
|Tag(s):||Seven Days, Burnside, McClellan, Antietam, Union, Confederacy, Lincoln|
|Course:||“The Civil War and Reconstruction,” Juniata College|
In November, 1862, a change occurred in Union power as President Abraham Lincoln removed General George McClellan from command of the Army of the Potomac. The New York Times stated, during “the fifteen months…he has had virtual control of the war have been utterly barren of results...Few commanders in history have had such splendid opportunities, and fewer still have so ostentatiously thrown them away.” McClellan commanded the Army of the Potomac satisfactorily from 1861 until November of 1862; as the war progressed, he quickly became paranoid about the size and talent of the Confederate Army. He was never outnumbered by the Confederates, and his paranoia put him at a mental disadvantage.
During the start of the Seven Days Battle of July 1862, McClellan ably commanded his army. McCllelan launched an attack on Robert E. Lee and his troops. The Federals did not make irreversible gains, but McClellan believed his troops were in control; yet he ordered them to fall back. The retreat gave Confederates the advantage of more time. Consequently, Lee and his troops defended their position and caused McClellan to retreat due to his fear of losing. After this failure, Lincoln decided to give McClellan another chance which came at the Battle of Antietam nearly two months later.
The night before the Battle of Antietam, McClellan believed the Confederate Army had 120,000 plus men. Stephan Sears states, “McClellan imagined three Rebel soldiers for every one he faced on the Antietam battlefield. Every decision he made that September…was dominated by his fear of counterattack by phantom Confederate battalions.” McClellan had a plan to send troops as a diversion; he believed this would prevent Lee from overtaking Joe Hooker’s division. However, he gave his orders too late, and this caused McClellan to lose control of the battle, and let his irrational fears of the Confederate Army take over.
Lincoln wrote to McClellan to discuss his failures and give him a chance to respond; however, McClellan failed to impress Lincoln. After his failures in battle, Lincoln wanted to appoint someone more capable to the position of Commander of the Army of the Potomac. Lincoln talked to General Ambrose Burnside about becoming the new commander. Burnside had previously been asked to accept control after his success in North Carolina, but at that time Burnside denied the offer. This time the request was coming directly from the President, making it difficult to refuse. Burnside did not believe that he deserved this position, and he accepted it with reluctance.
McClellan allowed his fear of failure to control his ability to succeed as commander of the Army of the Potomac. If he would have been able to think more systemically and put aside the pressure to be perfect, he may not have lost his position. He frequently overestimated the size and power of the opponent; ultimately, this led to failure. The refusal to pursue the enemy at the close of the Antietam battle and for weeks afterwards, was the last straw for Lincoln, and he removed McClellan from power. Ultimately, McClellan was replaced by General Burnside as the new commander of the Army of the Potomac.