Here in this final of three consecutive posts on reactions within the Army of the Potomac on the dismissal of General McClellan, I quote the most gracious of the excerpts. This text is of John Gibbon writing his evaluation of the situation. Gibbon was a strong McClellan advocate, evident clearly from these words from his book Personal Recollections of the Civil War (pp. 96-99).

John Gibbon

Gibbon begins his writing on this subject by inserting a letter that he wrote on the 9th of November 1862…

Yesterday the army was thunderstruck by the news that Gen. McClellan had really been relieved from the command of the army and Burnside appointed in his place. There is but one opinion upon this subject among the troops and that is the Government has gone mad. It is the worst possible thing that could have been done and will be worth to the south as much as a victory. Everyone feels gloomy and sad that a man who has done so much for his country, should be treated in this manner. He takes it as coolly as possible, says it will all come right in the end, begs all his friends to give Burnside the same support that they would give him, and will remain here long enough to give Burnside all the information he has.

Next, Gibbon continues with his writing for his Recollections book …

It would be impossible to give anything like an adequate description of the impression made on the army by this order. I think it took the army completely by surprise and that the term made use of in my letter <thunderstruck> was not too strong a one. Some few might have anticipated the possibility of such a thing, but I doubt if any did just at that particular time.  …

As for the private soldiers, they, without knowing all these details of the military situation, looked upon McClellan’s relief as simply a separation from a commander they liked and had confidence in. Before leaving Warrenton, McClellan was induced after much persuasion as I learned later to ride round through the camps in the vicinity to bid good-bye to the troops. It was an impressive sight, a painful and in some respects an alarming scene. As he rode along in front of the paraded troops, the men burst out into tumultuous cheers which were kept up as long as he was in sight … one general officer had called to him as he rode past his command, “Lead us to Washington, General, We will follow you there.”  …  I saw noting of this kind, myself …

Gibbon, in this section of his book, quotes from his next letter at the time, describing McClellan taking his leave …

The dissatisfaction is almost universal and I am afraid it will have a bad effect on the fighting qualities of our men. There is no doubt about the fact that they fight better under him than they do under anybody else. Burnside feels as badly as any of us and would much rather serve under McClellan than be in command of the army himself. Although smarting under the wrong done him, McClellan acts coolly and nobly through it all, giving Burnside all the information possible and begging all his friends to aid him to the uttermost of their power. Yet many seem to think now that McClellan is out of the way, we are going to Richmond on the wings of the wind. ‘We shall see.’

Returning to his Recollections writing some years later, Gibbon pens …

The last three words as they lie underscored in the letter before me now look like a prophecy fulfilled. Of course, there were many in the army who took a less gloomy view of the condition of affairs tan I did as there were many who did not have the same kind of confidence in McClellan or look on his relief as such a calamity. With these the “On to Richmond” spirit now began to develop itself. But the “brakes” had already been applied to our “swiftly moving train” and the few days delay required to transfer the command brought the army to a full stop whilst the “legs” of Lee’s forces were rapidly concentrating his army in front of us.

It is a significant fact, noted at the time, that the same train which carried McClellan from Warrenton, bore also Gen. Fitz-John Porter, relieved by orders, from the command of the 5th Corps. His trial, conviction and dismissal soon followed.

This except and Gibbon’s evaluation of the situation remind me much of the nature of the political divides of our day … amazing in the nature as to how two sides are able to look at the same set of circumstances and draw entirely different but equally pretty and persuasive statements upon the visible facts. Such divergent views are I suppose what makes life, and history, interesting and compelling.


About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed multiple hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and have been a sportswriter for various publications and online venues. My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with the Antietam Battlefield Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

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