RIA Colt 1860 Owned By Gen McClellan


RIA recently shared this picture of a Colt 1860 owned by the twice Commander of the Union Army of the Potomac, General McClellan. A real piece of work he was. Probably the biggest ego of the war for a guy who didn’t do anything but complain. A noted expert on training and organizing an Army but not so much on the other stuff. His one debatable success coming from some one dropping General Lee’s attack plans in a field and a Union soldier finding them. The man could have taken Richmond if he moved with alacrity but that just wasn’t in his making. Within days of taking command of the Army of Northern Virginia, Lee drove Mac from virtually the city limits all the way back to DC. It didn’t do much for Mac’s reputation as you can imagine.

“Little Mac”as he was called by his troops was much loved. Robert E. Lee, on being asked (by his cousin, and recorded by his son) who was the ablest general on the Union side during the late war, replied emphatically: “McClellan, by all odds!” Surprising praise from Old Mars Lee. The only thing the man ever said I would not agree with. Maybe Mars Lee admired his organizational skills? Perhaps he confused him with some one else?

General U.S. Grant did not know what to make of Mac, after the war when asked about Mac, Grant said –

McClellan is to me one of the mysteries of the war. As a young man he was always a mystery. He had the way of inspiring you with the idea of immense capacity, if he would only have a chance. Then he is a man of unusual accomplishments, a student, and a well-read man. “

Considering what Grant did, I’m sure Mac was a mystery to him.

“Probably no soldier who did so little fighting has ever had his qualities as a commander so minutely, and we may add, so fiercely discussed.”

When reading Mac’s cables to the war Department and his own dairies and letters to his wife, there is not much to like about the man. It seems he had a persecution complex , delusions of grandeur and was apt to blame everything and everyone but himself. He constantly over estimated CSA troops by absurd amounts. He was famously tricked by Johnston by painting tree trunks black to look like canons ( quaker guns the troops called them).

McClellan himself summed up his style of warfare in a draft of his memoirs:

It has always been my opinion that the true course in conducting military operations, is to make no movement until the preparations are as complete as circumstances permit, & never to fight a battle without some definite object worth the probable loss

I guess the capital of the CSA was not a good enough objective for Little Mac. He was an excellent foe for Lee have to face while still fine tuning his command on the Army Of Norther Virginia though.

I didn’t mean this to end up on a semi lecture about Civil War Generals, I was ust going to show the gun. The war is a favorite subject of mine and is one of those things I know an absurd amount of things about. I wish I had devoted all that time to something more useful over the years and I’d probably be rich. Maybe I will write about it a little more from now on if you guys want me to.


  1. McClellan, from all my reading over the years, was the guy you wanted building and training your army; he was not the guy you wanted taking it into combat. You could make a case that he created the instrument that Grant eventually led to victory over the South, if such a thing can be termed a victory.

    The general feel I’ve developed for McClellan is that he was a man who loved what he built a little too much, and he did not want to risk losing it to the enemy. The soldiers loved him; he cared for them, and I think he loved them right back–Which was why he couldn’t bear being the one giving them the orders that would inevitably kill them.

    Military leadership at almost all levels has to include a healthy dollop of outright sociopathy, or you’re going to wind up going nuts once the bullets start flying and people dying. It’s a subject that the military never wants to discuss, but there it is: You have to be able to simultaneously be a heartless bastard who dismisses the human costs of war, and at the same time, be the guy who “takes care of the troops” well enough to get them to follow you into fire. Leadership is the trick of getting people to do things that will kill them, and getting them to like it. Lots of men can’t handle the dichotomy, and I believe that about 90% of leader-level PTSD probably comes from the after-battle realization that you’ve served as a Judas Goat for your men. Reconciling that realization with the necessities of it all is where we start to break down as human beings–Very, very few can handle that. In McClellan’s case, I think he was unable to take the army he’d built and throw it at the enemy, knowing “his” men would die.

    At the lower level, as a leader, you have to be “that guy” who builds rapport and bonds with the troops in garrison, doing all the little things like getting them days off to take care of personal business, and all that other crap. In the field–You eat last; they eat first, and you give them their food. You do everything you can to put their needs first, sacrificing your own. Someone’s sleeping bag gets lost or wet…? You’re f**ked, ‘cos if you’re doing it right, Joe is gonna be sleeping in your dry bag tonight, not you. You do all this so that when the time comes, and you tell Joe he’s gotta move up on that machinegun nest, he’s going to remember all those times you were there for him, and he’s gonna stand up under fire and do his best. And, if he doesn’t make it, then you’re going to yell out for Ted, or Mike to do the necessary, and expend their lives like water to end the threat of that MG position firing on the flank of your company. And, if at the end of the engagement, it’s just you and your team leader looking at the ruin of the squad you built with love, care, and compassion…? Well, guess what, Staff Sergeant? You get to do it all over again, no matter what the psychic cost might be. You don’t get men to move forward under fire because they’re patriotic, they’re doing it for their low-level leaders and their buddies. And, the cost of all that for the guys doing the pulling and the pushing forward…? It isn’t light. Not at all.

    I read McClellan as a man who couldn’t do the necessary, when it came to getting his men killed. Grant could, and if that makes him a high-functioning sociopath…? Well, that’s what it takes. You have to have that quality, in order to be at all effective at the art of war. Love your men too much? You won’t be able to do that, and I believe that was at least a part of McClellan’s complex of dysfunction as a leader.

    • “Military leadership at almost all levels has to include a healthy dollop of outright sociopathy…”

      All leadership has to have a truncated sense of empathy. Military leadership definitely takes this to different levels, but even shuffling papers around an office is going to get people butthurt sometimes, and leaders have to know when to say, “Stop with the butthurt. There are papers in the Inbox that need to get shuffled to the Outbox. Go forth and shuffle.”


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