Saturday, July 19, 2008

Thanks, Brett!

Some time ago, Brett Schulte reviewed and recommended Russel Beatie's volume on the beginning of the Peninsula Campaign. I told Brett that I doubted I had the stamina or the interest to read 700 pages covering a 90-day period, which did not even get me to Seven Pines. I confessed, however, that the only book on the Peninsula Campaign that I had read was Stephen Sears's To the Gates of Richmond, which was highly critical of McClellan. I inferred from Dimitri's heated but cryptic posts that there were other points of view, particularly regarding troop numbers. Did Brett have a recommendation on another book on the Campaign?

In response, Brett was kind enough to recommend Brian K. Burton's Extraordinary Circumstances: The Seven Days Battles, which I finally got around to ordering and received on Thursday.

Although I have only just cracked the book, this is clearly a well-done work. I could not resist turning first to the book's Appendix A, entitled "Union and Confederate Troop Strengths," which is alone worth the price of admission.

However, Burton's conclusion -- that "the two armies were very close in effective strength," perhaps within 1,000 men -- does not absolve McClellan. Burton himself concludes that responsibility for the ridiculously inflated estimates of Confederate troop strength produced by Pinkerton lies with McClellan:
The first substantial overestimate of Confederate numbers occurred in early August 1861 and was McClellan's alone. Pinkerton's first strength report, while an overestimate, was not as high as McClellan's, and Little Mac then told Pinkerton to make his estimates high. Moreover, as Pinkerton improved his estimates of the number of rebel regiments -- to the point where he was only 20 percent or so off -- he stopped using regiments to estimate strength and instead resorted to irrational methods.

Burton tentatively concludes "that McClellan believed his own numbers, there was no attempt to deceive people in Washington." However, that only convicts McClellan of stupidity at best and moral cowardice at worst.

I will read with interest Burton's take on McClellan's decision to board the Galena on June 30. Stephen Sears's withering criticism has stuck with me: "The truth of the matter is that George McClellan had lost the courage to command." We shall see. In the meantime, thanks, Brett, for a great lead!

1 comment:

  1. Elektratig,

    You're welcome! I was happy to help. As you say, Burton's book is very well done. It was interesting to hear from NPS personnel around the Richmond area sy that they much preferred Sears. I haven't been able to figure that one out.



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