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General McClellan at Antietam

Excerpts from "McClellan at Antietam" by Stephen Sears

In all his months as army commander, Major General George Brinton McClellan fought just one battle, Antietam, from start to finish. Antietam, then, must serve as the measure of his generalship. Colonel Ezra Carman, who survived that bloody field and later wrote the most detailed tactical study of the fighting there, had it right when he observed that on September 17, 1862, “more errors were committed by the Union commander than in any other battle of the war.”

General McClellan’s most grievous error was hugely overestimating Confederate numbers. This delusion dominated his military character. In August 1861, taking command of the Army of the Potomac, he began entirely on his own to over-count the enemy’s forces. Later he was abetted by Allan Pinkerton, his inept intelligence chief, but even Pinkerton could not keep pace with McClellan’s imagination. On the eve of Antietam, McClellan would tell Washington he faced a gigantic Rebel army “amounting to not less than 120,000 men,” outnumbering his own army “by at least twenty-five per cent.” So it was that George McClellan imagined three Rebel soldiers for every one he faced on the Antietam battlefield. Every decision he made that September 17 was dominated by his fear of counterattack by phantom Confederate battalions.

Source: "McClellan at Antietam" by Stephen Sears, The Civil War Trust

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Record Details

Title: General McClellan at Antietam


Maryland - Sharpsburg, Washington Co. - The Battle of Antietam Creek, 16-18 September 1862 was a strategic victory for the Union but inconclusive on the political front. General George McClellan v. Gen. R.E. Lee, whose forces suffered crippling casualties.

Published by The Age; Jan 1866

HMI - Civil War 1

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