On this date of July 11, 1862 President Lincoln had returned to Washington from his visit with McClellan and the Army of the Potomac at Harrison’s Landing. As further evidence that the President was not impressed with McClellan’s unsolicited letter, he appointed Henry Halleck as General-In-Chief – a position originally held by Little Mac, but taken from him when he departed for the Peninsula.
Halleck had always been Winfield Scott’s preferred replacement when old “Fuss and Feathers” had retired from this same post. But at that time, McClellan was on the crest of a wave of popular support that included Lincoln’s confidence.
Halleck came to the position from service in the West. He was far from an inspiring character – either by looks or personality. But he was a smart fellow, having written an acclaimed book on military science called “Elements of Military Art and Strategy.” For his wonkish book smarts, he was known in the army as “Old Brains.”
An 1839 graduate of West Point (3rd in the class), the native New Yorker passed the Mexican War in California in non combat roles of military governance and adminstration. He became a lawyer in the Golden State and, like most former military men, joined the war effort as the nation divided. His successes in the west were frankly more attributable to subordinates, as his hands-on command demonstrated a propensity for slow, deliberative movements. Yet Lincoln perceived him to be the possessor of necessary qualities for the execution of the War from Washington.
McClellan was predictably disturbed upon hearing of this appointment some days later (reportedly by reading it in a newspaper!). To his wife Nellie he wrote: “It is grating to have to serve under the orders of a man whom I know by experience to be my inferior.”
(I sometimes wonder why Nellie didn’t throw these letters into the fire!)