Why Some Succeed While Others Fail: George B. McClellan

On the 3rd of December, 1826, was born in Philadelphia, a child who would one day become celebrated in the annals of history.

He enjoyed the privilege of a good education, graduating at the University of Pennsylvania, and when twenty years old he also graduated at West Point, ranking second in his class.

George B. McClellan was a brilliant scholar, and during the Mexican war won high esteem as an engineer. After the war he was engaged in various engineering projects, and rendered valuable service to the country by introducing bayonet exercises into the military tactics at West Point, and translating a French Manual of Bayonet Exercises, which was adapted to the United States service, and became an authority. In 1855-‘6 he was a member of the Military Commission sent by the government to visit the seat of the Crimean war.

He resigned his commission in the regular army in 1857; became chief engineer of the Illinois Central Railroad, and in 1868 he also became Vice-President of the road; two years later, President of St. Louis and Cincinnati Railway. It is difficult to surmise what he might have become as a railway magnate but for the civil war.

At the outbreak of hostilities he became the major-general of Ohio volunteers, and by skillful generalship and bravery, succeeded in driving the rebels out of West Virginia, which made him commander-in-chief of the Army of the Potomac. General McClellan was over-cautious, and lingered about Washington with about 200,000 men, drilling and preparing for the battle. Succumbing to popular clamor he moved out toward Richmond.

Then followed the Peninsula campaign, wherein McClellan was forced to change his base, accomplishing one of the most masterly retreats in the annals of history. Being relieved of the command by Pope, who also failed, he was re-instated and fought the bloody battle of Antietam. In this battle he foiled the Confederate project of invasion, but popular clamor demanded his removal, as it was thought he followed up his victory too leisurely. This virtually ended his military services, and on November 8th, 1864, he resigned his commission. After his unsuccessful canvass for the presidency he, with his family, sailed for Europe, where he remained until 1868, when he returned to the United States and took up his residence at Orange, New Jersey. Henceforth he followed his profession as an engineer.

In 1877 he was elected Governor of New Jersey. On October 29th, 1885, he died at his residence in New York city from the effects of heart disease.

We do not propose to pose as a champion of McClellan’s wrongs, real or supposed, but in reviewing his life the following facts are worthy of thought: He was in command at a time when the whole North were laboring under a delusion as to the requirements of the war, and it is doubtful if any general would have succeeded at this time. The fact that such an able general as Hooker was relieved after one reverse, leads one to wonder what might have been the fate of even Grant had he commanded at this time. However, it is not for us to say, but certain it is, that no greater military tactician was to be found among the generals of our late war, and as such he deserves credit.