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I’m way far from being an expert on battles, etc, nor am I a fan of pocket-Napoleon McClellan, yet the last sentence of the following quote rings false to me:

“A plan signifies intent to act, but until executed, it simply remains as a good intention. Inaction or timid execution will negate a well laid plan. General George B. McClellan, a brilliant planner, repeatedly failed to bring victory to the Union forces. His obsession with “getting ready” and the subsequent delay robbed him of his will to execute and prolonged the Civil War.”

(I don’t know the quote’s source. Google yielded only contract law and karma. My sister sent it to me in an email, with the question: True?)

McClellan’s relative softness toward the South notwithstanding, he didn’t lack the will to execute. He was an ambitious, vainglorious man who basked in being a public hero. Further, McClellan was forced to step down as general-in-chief in March 1862; his command of the Army of the Potomac was taken from him November 5 of that year. The war continued for nearly three more years. McClellan wasn’t needed to drag things out.

George McClellan, Mary Todd Lincoln, Civil War
“And McClellan and his slowness are as vehemently discussed. Allowing this beautiful weather to pass away is disheartening the North… Many say they would almost worship you, if you would put a fighting general in the place of McClellan…” Mary Todd Lincoln to her husband, dated November 2, 1862 (Collection LOC)

Both R.E. Lee and McClellan  hoped for “political victory” — the other side surrendering out of prudence and public pressure and, especially in Lee’s case, the threat of foreign support (which never came) — rather than military victory, with its attendant destruction and misery. McClellan’s parade shows of Union military supremacy (along with a more conciliatory attitude) seemed to be calculated to wear down the resolve of the South.

U.S. Grant’s merciless drive and genuine military brilliance helped win the war. But to give credit where due, Grant also had the advantage of witnessing the downfall of McClellan and subsequent commanders.

To indulge in the CW buff’s favorite game: What if….

If McClellan had two years to carry out his well-laid plans and he’d gotten solid intelligence on the South’s relative lack of resources and he’d enjoyed the benefit of observing several other chiefs’ downfalls, would Union victory have come at a lower cost in life and property?

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