Mr Lincoln's Army

Mr Lincoln's Army by Bruce Catton

Book: Mr Lincoln's Army by Bruce Catton Read Free Book Online
Authors: Bruce Catton
Tags: Military, Non-Fiction
the regiments were sworn into Federal service only after they
had been completely organized in the states. This threw a heavy load on the
governors—men of peace and politics, whose military staffs consisted of
militia colonels and brigadiers, ardent persons but utterly ignorant of any
warlike activity beyond a peacetime militia muster. The governors, as a result,
were frantic to get a few West Pointers around them, and a retired army officer
with an excellent record, like McClellan, was an obvious prize. So by
mid-April, McClellan, who was a Pennsylvanian by birth, had received a message
from Governor Andrew G. Curtin of Pennsylvania, inviting him to come to
Harrisburg at once and take charge of the Pennsylvania troops. He wound up his
business affairs in Cincinnati as quickly as he could and took off for
Harrisburg, stopping at Columbus en route to see Ohio's Governor William
Dennison, who wanted his advice. The stopover made all the difference.
    McClellan appeared at Dennison's office,
wearing civilian garb and a soft felt hat, impressing the governor and his
advisers as a quiet, modest, self-possessed man and looking, as one of them remarked,
exactly like what he was—"a railway superintendent in his business
clothes." The governor explained what he was up against. He had what
looked like the impossible job of getting ten thousand men ready for the field,
and there was no one around who knew the first thing about the military arts.
The state arsenal contained nothing in the way of equipment but a few boxes of
ancient smoothbore muskets, badly rusted, plus a couple of brass six-pounder
field-pieces, somewhat honeycombed from the firing of salutes and devoid of any
auxiliary equipment except for a pile of mildewed harness. The recruits were
already beginning to show up—a few companies, gaudy in old-style militia
uniforms, had got to town and were sleeping in uncomfortable elegance in the
legislative chambers in the state-house—and so far the state had not even
picked a site for a training camp. Under these circumstances the governor had
no intention of letting a good West Pointer slip through his fingers, and he
then and there offered McClellan the command of Ohio's troops—the command of
them, plus the task of getting them housed, fed, clad, trained, and organized.
McClellan promptly accepted, moved into an office in the statehouse, and got
down to work, a major general of volunteers. 1
    It is interesting to speculate about the
difference there would have been in McClellan's career had he gone on to
Harrisburg and taken command of the Pennsylvania troops instead of staying in
Ohio. Fame would have come much more slowly, and he would have had a chance to
adjust himself to it. Pennsylvania sent a solid division down to Washington
shortly after Bull Run. It was the division McClellan would have commanded had
he gone to Harrisburg; it contained good men and had some first-class
officers, and it was just the right organization to build a solid reputation
for its commanding general—it brought George G. Meade up to the command of the
Army of the Potomac in 1863, after giving him plenty of time to prove himself
and to find himself in battle. What would McClellan's luck have been with that
division? No immediate limelight, comparative obscurity during the army's
early days—what would have become of him, anyway?
    (Another might-have-been: there came to
McClellan's Ohio headquarters one day that spring a former infantry captain,
somewhat seedy, presenting himself as a one-time acquaintance of the general
looking for work; name of U. S. Grant. Was there a place for him, perhaps, on
McClellan's staff? The general was away that day, and Grant was told to come
back later. Instead of coming back Grant went west and finally wangled command
of a regiment of Illinois volunteers. McClellan would have given him a staff
job if he had seen him. What, one wonders, would Grant's future have been in
that case?)
    Well, the might-have-beens

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