The Civil War, Day by Day

General George McClellan

McClellan Relieved of his Command

He issued an order that Major General George McClellan “be relieved from the command of the Army of the Potomac; and that Major General Burnside take the command of that Army.”

During the early months of the war, McClellan was a shining hero to the Union. He was a brilliant military tactician and a superb disciplinarian, earning the respect of his soldiers and the President alike. Unfortunately, the Napoleonic general began to bask in the glory - and continually stalled Lincoln’s pleas to move on Lee’s forces in Richmond. Fearing he was outnumbered, McClellan continually requested more men and provisions - even though he had more than 130,000 soldiers under his command.

When McClellan finally headed for Richmond in late October of 1862, Lincoln secretly put him to the test: if Lee’s Confederate forces came between McClellan’s army and Richmond, Lincoln would remove McClellan. As Lincoln feared, the inevitable happened in Culpeper, Virginia. The President knew he was risking the morale of the Union - but he could ill afford to keep a general who was reticent to fight.

Despite his ego, McClellan accepted his dismissal gracefully - he already had plans for his future civilian life. In 1864, McClellan ran against Lincoln for the U.S. Presidency on the Democratic ticket.

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All illustrations by Mort Künstler. Text by Michael Aubrecht, Dee Brown, Henry Steele Commager, Rod Gragg, Mort Künstler, Edward Lengel, James McPherson, and James I. Robertson, Jr. - Copyright © 2001-2019. All Rights Reserved. No part of the contents of this web site may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means without written consent of the artist.