Friday, September 27, 2019

Booknotes: Too Useful to Sacrifice

New Arrival:
Too Useful to Sacrifice: Reconsidering George B. McClellan’s Generalship in the Maryland Campaign from South Mountain to Antietam by Steven R. Stotelmyer
(Savas Beatie, 2019).

McClellan revisionism will seemingly always have a steep hill to climb when it comes to even scratching, let alone cracking, the hardened edifice of negative opinion related to the general's army leadership and politics. Proponents range from those who just want to give McClellan a fair shake in the historiography to those who truly believe him to have been one of the war's great captains. I still think Ethan Rafuse, whose views I place closer to the former end of that spectrum, has written the best McClellan book of any kind. I obviously haven't read his book yet, but I would guess that Steven Stotelmyer would also situate himself somewhere in the middle. His book Too Useful to Sacrifice: Reconsidering George B. McClellan’s Generalship in the Maryland Campaign from South Mountain to Antietam seeks to explode a host of what the author sees as key myths and misconceptions about the campaign and McClellan's role in it.

The book is essentially a collection of five interpretive essays. The first discusses a variety of hotly debated topics related to Lee's Special Orders No. 191. The next chapter attempts to reframe the discussion of the affect of the South Mountain battle on the course of the campaign and elevate the fighting there from its traditional secondary position. The third essay addresses criticism of the Union pursuit of Lee's army as it fell back from South Mountain to its next defensive position behind Antietam Creek. Chapter Four examines how the political firestorm against General Porter stemming from his actions at Second Bull Run affected how history would assess both the McClellan-Porter relationship and the role of the reserves at Antietam. Finally, Chapter Five deals with the Army of the Potomac's post-Antietam pursuit of Lee and the subsequent decision by the Lincoln administration to remove McClellan from command.

From the description: "Utilizing extensive primary documents and with a keen appreciation for the infrastructure of the nineteenth century Maryland terrain, Stotelmyer deeply explores these long-held beliefs, revealing that often the influence of political considerations dictated military decision-making, and the deliberate actions of the Lincoln Administration behind McClellan’s back resulted in bringing about many of the general’s supposed shortcomings. As readers will soon discover, Lincoln did not need to continue searching for a capable commander; he already had one."


  1. Looking forward to your review. There seems to be two types of McClellan "revisionists" out there. One group tends to let the evidence guide the conclusions. I would definitely include Rafuse and Harsh, and probably Clemens. This group generally reaches measured, careful assessments. The other group tends more to the "advocacy" realm and selects the evidence to fit the conclusions. Not surprisingly, they overreach when evaluating McClellan overall. It will be interesting to see where you think this one fits.

    1. I've only read one of the essays (the first one), but I like what I see so far.


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