Friday, September 22, 2023

Booknotes: Conflict of Command

New Arrival:

Conflict of Command: George McClellan, Abraham Lincoln, and the Politics of War by George C. Rable (LSU Press, 2023).

Obviously, any attempt at gaining a full understanding of the momentous period between the Union humiliation at First Manassas in July 1861 and the end of the following year's fall campaigning season has to critically examine the complex personal relationships and political dynamics involved in the many important interactions between President Abraham Lincoln, his administration, and Major General George B. McClellan. Knowing that, writers and scholars have scrutinized the 1861-62 Lincoln-McClellan association, in part of in full, inside the pages of innumerable books and articles, and a standard interpretation has emerged, one significantly deviated from only on rare occasion.

From the description: "The fraught relationship between Abraham Lincoln and George McClellan is well known, so much so that many scholars rarely question the standard narrative casting the two as foils, with the Great Emancipator inevitably coming out on top over his supposedly feckless commander." However, in his new book Conflict of Command: George McClellan, Abraham Lincoln, and the Politics of War, "acclaimed Civil War historian George C. Rable rethinks that stance, providing a new understanding of the interaction between the president and his leading wartime general by reinterpreting the political aspects of their partnership."

In this reinterpretation, the most expansive yet attempted, Rable "pays considerable attention to Lincoln’s cabinet, Congress, and newspaper editorials, revealing the role each played in shaping the dealings between the two men. While he surveys McClellan’s military campaigns as commander of the Army of the Potomac, Rable focuses on the political fallout of the fighting rather than the tactical details. This broadly conceived approach highlights the army officers and enlisted men who emerged as citizen-soldiers and political actors."

More: "Most accounts of the Lincoln-McClellan feud solely examine one of the two individuals, and the vast majority adopt a steadfast pro-Lincoln position. Taking a more neutral view, Rable deftly shows how the relationship between the two developed in a political context and ultimately failed spectacularly, profoundly altering the course of the Civil War itself." Sounds refreshing. The blurb writer agrees that Rable succeeded in being "fair to both men."

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