Monday, January 6th, 1862.
…Cabinet Meeting held at night to confer with the Joint Committee of the two Houses of Congress on the Conduct of the War. The members of the Committee, especially Messrs. Chandler, Wade, Johnson, Odell and Covode, were very earnest in urging the vigorous prosecution of the War, and in recommending the appointment of Genl. McDowell as Major-General, to command the Army of the Potomac.
A great deal of discussion took place. I expressed my own views, saying that, in my judgement, Genl. McClellan was the best man for the place he held known to me – that I believed, if his sickness had not prevented he would by this time have satisfied every body in the country of his efficiency and capacity – that I thought, however, that he tasked himself too severely – that no physical or mental vigor could sustain the strains he imposed on himself, Often on the saddle nearly all day and transacting business at his rooms nearly all night – that, in my judgment, he ought to confer freely with his ablest and most experienced Generals, deriving from them the benefits which their counsels, whether accepted or rejected, would certainly impart, and communicating to them full intelligence of his own plans of action, so that, in the even of sickness or accident to himself, the movments of the army need not necessarily be interrupted or delayed. I added that, in my own opinion, no one person could discharge fitly the special duties of Commander of the Army of the Potomac, and the general duties of Commanding General of the Armies of the United States; and that Genl. McClellan, in undertaking to discharge both, had undertaken what he could not perform.
Much else was said by various gentlemen, and the discussion was concluded by the announcement by the President that he would call on Genl. McClellan, and ascertain his views in respect to the division of the commands.
Excerpts from Salmon P. Chase’s journal, January 6, 1862
Salmon P. Chase
He was Secretary of the Treasury for most of the Civil War. He was tasked with finding ways to finance the war effort. Under Chase’s leadership the United States established a national banking system and started printing and issuing paper currency. Prior to the Civil War, he was a lawyer supporting abolition, Governor of Ohio, and briefly a U.S. Senator.
Serving as Secretary of the Treasury, Chase was present at cabinet meetings with President Lincoln and other executive advisors. And they didn’t just talk about government; they had to discuss the war effort too. The excerpt from Chase’s diary reveals cabinet debate and opinion on General McClellan at the beginning of 1862.
Significantly, Chase supported McClellan, but felt he had taken too many responsibilities. Still, he advocated keeping the young general in command because there didn’t seem to be a better choice at the time.
George B. McClellan
McClellan was under “opinion fire” at the beginning of 1862. He had been ill and his lack of transparency and communication concerned some. McClellan was ambitious and not always as tactful as he could’ve been. He had successfully reorganized the Army of the Potomac and was supposedly overseeing campaigns and operations in other districts. However, nobody knew or could comprehend his intentions with the Army of the Potomac. It’s not the best idea to organize and train an army…then have no idea what to do with it.
Whether McClellan was bluffing, truly being secretive, or just trying to make himself an irreplaceable genius is a matter of debate. Either way, his leadership and capability was called into question in presidential cabinet meetings at the end of 1861 and beginning of 1862. Eventually, they would agree to keep their “Young Napoleon” and see what he could plan and accomplish.
“Undertaken what he could not perform.” McClellan wanted to do it ALL. He wanted to be the grand hero (though he gave himself humble airs). Salmon P. Chase was worried about McClellan’s undertakings and lack of communication, fearing that he would fail because he tried to accomplish too much.
This observation came as a warning to me. As I’m writing, it’s January 2, 2017. I always set big goals for new years. I don’t like to be lazy. Have I taken on too much? Am I doomed to a McClellanic Failure? I hope not. The “campaign” plans are drafted, and there’s lots to accomplish.
Still, it’s important to consider…do we set ourselves up for failure by taking too many tasks? Not communicating? Not listening to advice? Pride?
Not to put a damper on anyone’s plans or new year’s resolutions… Let’s just be practical!
P.S. With hindsight to help our perspective, do you think McClellan should’ve been replaced or his plans modified in January 1862?