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Army of the Potomac: McClellan's First Campaign, March - May 1862 [Hardcover]

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Item description for Army of the Potomac: McClellan's First Campaign, March - May 1862 by Russel Beatie...

McClellan's First Campaign, the 3rd volume of Russel Beatie's masterful series, covers the pivotal early months of General George McClellan's Peninsula Campaign through the siege of Yorktown, the pursuit toward Richmond, and the fighting at Williamsburg. As he did in his first two volumes, Beatie tells the story largely through the eyes and from the perspective of high ranking officers, staff officers, and politicians. This study is based upon extensive firsthand research (including many previously unused and unpublished sources) that rewrites the history of Little Mac's inaugural effort to push his way up the peninsula and capture Richmond in one bold campaign.

In meticulous fashion, Beatie examines many heretofore unknown, ignored, or misunderstood facts and events and uses them to evaluate the campaign in the most balanced historical context to date. Every aspect of these critically important weeks is examined, from how McClellan's Urbanna plan unraveled and led to the birth of the expedition that debarked at Fort Monroe in March 1862, to the aftermath of Williamsburg. There were many reasons why the march to Richmond did not move as expeditiously as many hoped it would, though until now, few of these reasons have been satisfactorily (or even fairly) explored. President Abraham Lincoln's interference, both politically and militarily, argues the author, lengthened considerably McClellan's odds of success. Just one example was the president's tampering with the corps command structure. Lincoln's experiment undermined his army commander by elevating the wrong men to positions of importance, a sad fact amply demonstrated by the inept leadership displayed before Yorktown and during the important fighting at Williamsburg.Beatie is the first author to deeply investigate and expose the role of the Navy in the Yorktown episode. His sweeping and convincing conclusion is that if the Navy had done what it promised it would do-what it could have done, but refused to do-Yorktown would have fallen weeks sooner than it did. McClellan's First Campaign is a story about the men in command-their knowledge, intentions, successes, and failures. To capture the full flavor of their experiences, Beatie employs the "fog of war" technique, which puts the reader in the position of the men who led the Union army. The Confederate adversaries are always present but often only in shadowy forms that achieve firm reality only when we meet them face-to-face on the battlefield.

Well written, judiciously reasoned, and extensively footnoted, McClellan's First Campaign will be heralded as the seminal work on this topic. Civil War readers may not always agree with Beatie's conclusions, but they will concur that his account offers an original examination of the Army of the Potomac's role on the Virginia peninsula.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   864
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.1" Width: 6.2" Height: 2"
Weight:   2.5 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   May 5, 2007
Publisher   Savas Beatie
ISBN  1932714251  
ISBN13  9781932714258  

Availability  0 units.

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Reviews - What do customers think about Army of the Potomac: McClellan's First Campaign, March - May 1862?

Beatie's Series Continues to Impress  May 3, 2008
Was George McClellan the ridiculously cautious but extremely organized general he is caricatured as? Or is there much more to the oft-maligned Little Mac? In Army of the Potomac, Volume 3: McClellan's First Campaign March 1862-May 1862, author Russel H. "Cap" Beatie continues his discussion of the that very topic. McClellan's many difficulties during the early portion of the Peninsula Campaign constitute the main theme of the book. Beatie argues McClellan had to face an uncooperative government who appointed leaders and took away troops without his advice, an uncooperative navy who was unwilling to help capture Yorktown, inept Corps commanders at in the upper echelons of his command structure, and even nature, when constant rainfall and poor roads slowed his advance up the Peninsula to a crawl. Beatie believes McClellan would have benefited greatly by making Lincoln an ally. Throughout it all, McClellan struggled to make his campaign a success on his own.

By March 1862 McClellan's careful nurturing of the Army of the Potomac was paying dividends. Large numbers of troops were trained and ready for use against the Confederates. The question became "when and how are these troops going to be used", and McClellan was constantly criticized for not moving forward. Eventually, his plan was to ship his Army of the Potomac by boat to the Urbanna peninsula to outflank the Confederate Army and occupy a position closer to the Confederate capital in Richmond. However, Joseph Johnston's cautious nature caused him to fall back to the Rappahannock River line on March 9, 1862, rendering McClellan's plan obsolete. Still not wanting to fight an "overland" campaign, McClellan decided to land his men even further south on the Yorktown Peninsula, and the movement was initiated on March 17, 1862.

McClellan moved slowly up the Peninsula in late March and early April, finally settling in for the "Siege" of Yorktown on April 5, 1862. It was not technically a siege in the true sense of the word as the Confederates were able to leave at any time. Still, McClellan did heavily rely on siege operations, bringing in heavy artillery and starting to dig parallels to try to force the Confederates away. On May 4, 1862, just as McClellan's Battery #1 was getting ready to launch a full scale bombardment, Johnston's Army retreated under cover of darkness. The Confederates fought a rearguard action at Williamsburg on May 5 before falling back westward to positions behind the Chickahominy River.

While this early phase of the Peninsula Campaign was underway, Stonewall Jackson was not quiet in the Shenandoah Valley. He had suddenly and unexpectedly reversed course during a retreat from Winchester and struck James Shields' Union division (commanded by Nathan Kimball in the field) at the Battle of Kernstown on March 23, 1862. Although Jackson had underestimated the strength of the Union forces and was beaten in the fight, he won a strategic victory. Lincoln grew concerned with the threat Jackson posed to Washington, D.C. and began funneling as many troops as possible to the Shenandoah Valley or to positions between Jackson and the capital. A good portion of these troops, including Irvin McDowell's entire I Corps, were taken from McClellan's Army of the Potomac.

In the Army of the Potomac series, Cap Beatie has repeatedly stressed to readers his focus on the upper echelon leadership of this Union army, the brigade, division, corps, and army commanders. While Beatie does continue this method in Volume 3, he also has strayed a bit, going into great tactical detail for the Battle of Williamsburg especially. I have read that Beatie believes this portion of the Peninsula Campaign is so misunderstood that he felt the need to go into greater detail than he normally would, his purpose being to refute some generally held beliefs on McClellan's handling of the situation. In the future, I would rather see the author stick more to his area of focus. If he does not, I cannot imagine how long this series is going to be!

Throughout the book Beatie stresses the hardships McClellan faced as he tried to successfully wage his campaign to take Richmond and end the war. One of these hardships involved the leaders he found under his command, specifically his Corps commanders. Lincoln decided to appoint these men without consulting McClellan and before McClellan was ready to use them. His choices, according to Beatie, were with only one exception poor. Beatie believes Keyes was a coward, Sumner was in over his head, and only Heintzelman performed with any degree of skill. McClellan had wanted to keep divisions as the highest official organizations until suitable corps commanders could be found as their battlefield skills shone through. Interestingly, the Confederates did just this through the end of the Seven Days, and in fact official "Corps" were not created until late 1862 in the Army of Northern Virginia. Beatie believes the division commanders McClellan was able to choose performed well almost without exception (Silas Casey comes to mind) during the campaign. The colonels of regiments were almost always appointed by state governors, and Beatie believes they did a remarkably good job considering the political nature of these appointments.

You cannot win campaigns without manpower, and McClellan was stripped of a large number of troops he expected to use on the Peninsula. Stonewall Jackson's thrust at Kernstown caused a major overreaction by Lincoln. McDowell's large I Corps of the Army of the Potomac (40,000 men with Franklin) was taken from McClellan with only the exception of William Franklin's division (10,000 men) and placed along the Rappahannock River. Banks' original V Corps, Army of the Potomac (30,000 men) was in the Shenandoah Valley trying to neutralize the wily Jackson. Blenker's German Division was sent to Fremont in the Mountain Department. Gen. Wool's 10,000 man garrison at Fortress Monroe on the tip of the Peninsula was off limits as well. Rather than call these deductions excuses by an overcautious McClellan, Beatie correctly (IMHO) sees this as unfortunate and unneeded tampering by Lincoln and Stanton.

Beatie believes the Union naval forces failed McClellan badly at Yorktown. Admiral Louis M. Goldsborough was in command of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, and he assigned only Captain John S. Misroon and several ships to the York River flotilla to help with the capture of Yorktown. In Beatie's book, Misroon and Goldsborough offer up many excuses for not being able to help McClellan, especially running the batteries at Yorktown and Gloucester. They claimed the risk of losing capital ships was too great in such an operation. Beatie makes an excellent point when he refers to prior Union naval experiences at New Orleans, Port Royal, and Fort Donelson under similar circumstances. No capital ships were sunk in these operations. In fact, by 1865 almost no major Union ships were sunk by shore battery fire. The excessive caution of the Navy, argues Beatie, left McClellan with no real alternatives. The last point to make on naval cooperation involves Lincoln. As Commander-in-Chief, he was the one man who had the authority and the ability to make the two services work together. Unfortunately, says Beatie, Lincoln failed to recognize this was even an issue.

The last of McClellan's obstacles during the campaign was his relationship with the politicians who mattered, especially Abraham Lincoln and his Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Stanton and McClellan were at odds almost immediately, especially because of their irreconcilable political views. This enmity and distrust continued to fester throughout McClellan's tenure as the commander of the Army of the Potomac. To make matters worse, Lincoln was growing to dislike McClellan as well, something Beatie shows the general did not yet realize. McClellan's best option, says the author, would have been to make Lincoln a strong friend and ally who could have acted as a buffer against Stanton and other Radical Republicans.

The idea of McClellan as an able organizer but ridiculously cautious commander when conducting a campaign is far too simplistic. Efforts to rehabilitate the general's image have been undertaken by many, including Ethan Rafuse, Beatie, and Dimitri Rotov at Civil War Bookshelf and the McClellan Society. I applaud these efforts, and wish for the purposes of this review that I had already read Rafuse's book McClellan's War. I got the sense repeatedly in this volume in particular and less strongly in the earlier volumes that Beatie tends to give McClellan the benefit of the doubt while at the same time refusing to extend this courtesy to others, especially Stanton. Stanton obviously had serious issues and was almost assuredly a megalomaniac, but some of the interaction between Stanton and McClellan seems too one sided in favor of the general. This is small quibble in what is for me an essential look at the early phases of the Peninsular Campaign, but I felt I had to mention my perception of this bias in order to be fair as a reviewer.

Volume III of the series is the first published by Savas Beatie, a favorable turn of events IMHO. Spelling and grammatical mistakes are fewer in this volume than in the first two, but enough were found to make this an ongoing issue. I hope Savas Beatie makes it a particular point in the next volume to try to eliminate as much as possible these issues, and I am confident they will. The great thing about Savas Beatie, as I have said many times in the past, is their belief in packing as many maps into a book as possible. Cap Beatie, not only the author of the book but co-owner with Ted Savas, believes the same. One area in which you will not be disappointed is the number and quality of the maps in this book. By my count, the book contains no less than 36 maps, which is an astonishing number and one you simply will not find in book by major publishers or university presses. Compare the number of maps in this book, for instance, with two other recent studies on the Army of the Potomac. Jeffry Wert's The Sword of Lincoln, published by Simon & Schuster, contains around 16 maps. Stephen R. Taaffe's Commanding the Army of the Potomac, published by the University Press of Kansas, has only nine maps. Both of these studies cover the entire war.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Beatie's style. He employs a "fog of war", "you are there" look at the Army of the Potomac. The reader knows only what McClellan and his generals know without the benefit of almost 150 years of hindsight. The author also relies almost completely on primary sources, discovering for himself what was written and basing his interpretations of events. This leads to what has so far been a much different and sometimes controversial view of the early life of the Army of the Potomac. I for one welcome these new interpretations. Even if I am not convinced in some situations by Beatie's writing, he is making me question what I thought I knew about one of my favorite campaigns of the entire war, and this is always a good thing.

Russel H. Beatie's third volume in the Army of the Potomac series continues to tread new and important ground. The move to Savas Beatie bodes well for the future of this series as well. Beatie's look at the difficulties McClellan faced takes readers through the thought processes of the Army of the Potomac's upper echelon leaders, providing those readers with a "you are there" look at McClellan's army during the early stages of the Peninsula Campaign. Deep readers and those interested in detail will find this book and the other volumes in the series indispensable. Despite some minor issues I had with the book, I can unreservedly recommend this one, just as I did the other two volumes. You may not agree with everything Beatie says about the Army of the Potomac, but you will be impressed with the detailed research and interesting new interpretations of events in this army from March to early May 1862.
Can the 4th volume FINALLY win me over?????  Oct 26, 2007
I still am not on Beatie's bandwagon. Some errors that other reviewers have found bother me, as well. Better editing and diminished choppiness would greatly improve the series. I also have doubts about Beatie's analysis. Rafuse writes much better and his pro-McClellan philosophy is much more sound. I can't get by key problems with Beatie's central tenets:

1. He said poor generalship made Willliamsburg a fiasco, but then he calls McClellan a great battlefield leader. Hello, who's in command of the army???
2. Beatie believes the corps commanders were all incompetent, but then says Lincoln's withholding of McDowell doomed the campaign. Adding one more incompentent Major General to the mix would have saved the day? How would McClellan have used McDowell's 40,000 men on the horrible roads that Beatie never seems to want us to forget (he mentions them continuously)?
3. Beatie criticizes Lincoln for acting as "commander-in-chief" over McClellan. Sir, read your Constitution before you put that phrase in quotes in your book. You've been a lawyer for 40 years and you get that one wrong??? Lincoln made some mistakes, but McClellan didn't exactly prove himself to be William the Conqueror during the war.

I'll continue to read the series, nonetheless. Beatie has spent 1500 pages just getting to May of '62, though. He is averaging over 100 pages a month for the war. At this rate, the whole series will be about 6,000 pages. Dull writing, poor editing, and third rate analysis are hard to take for 20 pages, so let's hope things rebound by the time get gets to page 2,000.
More Reservations About Beatie  Aug 8, 2007
In his third volume, Beatie arrives at the beginning of the Peninsula Campaign, the apogee of McClellan's career as commander of the Army of the Potomac. While his focus continues to be on the major commanders at divisional and higher level, the volume slides more towards a more general history of the campaign, presenting moderately detailed tactical treatments of engagements at Winchester, Lee's Mill and Williamsburg. Hopefully Beatie will restrain himself when we reach the Seven Days; a work on army, corps and divisional leadership should rarely worry about company-level issues.

On the technical side, this volume is the first in the series from Savas-Beatie, the earlier volumes having been published by Da Capo Press. Physical production values are fine and there is a generous supply of well-done maps, too often in short supply in histories. However, the book lacks proper editing. There are multiple errors that should have been caught by a copy-editor, such as incorrect years (1863 instead of 1862) in the index of maps and multiple instances of secession being spelled as succession, sometimes in the same paragraph as the correct spelling. Beatie's own command of English still lacks and would benefit from a good editor, although well-edited books are becoming less and less common in modern publishing.

The volume opens with the reoccupation of Harper's Ferry and the lower Shenandoah Valley and the attendant difficulties therein. Particular attention is given to Banks' caution and the machinations of James Shields, who Beatie distinctly disapproves of. The narrative then turns to the flurry of activity surrounding the Confederate evacuation of the Manassas-Centreville area before continuing on to the approval of and preparations for the Peninsula Campaign. Much of this focuses on the evolving relationship and friction between McClellan, Stanton and Lincoln, particularly with regard to the protection of Washington in the absence of the Army of the Potomac, the creation of corps and appointment of their commanders and Lincoln's need for and seeking of military advice from McClellan, from the other generals in the Army of the Potomac and from those outside of the AoP. Beatie strives to present a balanced picture of these events, sharing credit and blame amongst McClellan, Lincoln, Stanton and others as appropriate, although it is apparent that his sympathies are with McClellan. For instance, during his discussion of Williamsburg and the attendant command difficulties, emphasis is placed upon Lincoln's selection of Sumner as a corps commander, while a more complete discussion, with acknowledgement of McClellan's role in Sumner's command of that battle and likely selection as a corps commander following in the next (and final) chapter.

I continue to have doubts about Beatie's scholarship and the accuracy of his depiction of what he finds in his sources. Others have pointed out errors in previous volumes. In this volume, a particular example is his narrative concerning Irwin McDowell's promotion to Major General accompanying his appointment as a corps commander. Beatie draws from a single manuscript source for the bulk of his two page treatment of this. Throughout these pages, Beatie refers to the promotion as to Major General in the Regular Army, whereas the promotion was to Major General of Volunteers. While this might seem to be a minor point, the distinction was very important to those involved and had long-ranging implications. Had Beatie cross-checked his manuscript source or his recollection with Heitman's Historical Register, which he refers to frequently for many other less important figures, the Senate Executive Journal or a number of other primary and secondary sources, many of which are listed in his bibliography, this mistake would not have made it into print. This is indicative of sloppy research and writing. If he makes this error, how many others has he made and how does the reader know what they are? There are also works missing from Beatie's bibliography that I would expect to see there, such as Rowena Reed's _Combined Operations in the Civil War_.

Overall, I continue to be ambivalent about Beatie's contribution to Civil War scholarship. He has his boosters and others who are sympathetic. I would particularly like to see a detailed commentary by Ethan Rafuse on the strengths and weaknesses that he perceives in the work. As it stands, I'll continue to read Beatie, especially as I am interested in the evolution of Civil War command arrangements. But the more general readership would be better served by reading Stephen Taaffe's Commanding the Army of the Potomac (Modern War Studies), Rafuse's Mcclellan's War: The Failure Of Moderation In The Struggle For The Union or more general studies of the Army of the Potomac.
A captivating, solid, and seminal contribution  Jul 9, 2007
Written by former army lieutenant Russel H. "Cap" Beatie, Army of the Potomac: McClellan's First Campaign March-May 1862, Volume III is the latest in a series of in-depth, extensively researched and thoroughly footnoted civil war military histories, as told primarily through the eyes of high ranking officers, staff officers, and politicians. Drawing upon Beatie's laborious firsthand research, Army of the Potomac, Volume III scrutinizes "Little Mac" McClelland's efforts to force his way up the Virginia peninsula and capture Richmond in a daring campaign. Army of the Potomac examines the factors working against McClelland's venture, and reveals how President Abraham Lincoln interfered both politically and militarily, worsening McClelland's odds of success. Illustrated with a handful of black-and-white photographs and maps, Army of the Potomac, Volume III is a captivating, solid, and seminal contribution to civil war military history shelves.
Another dramatically long foul ball  Jun 16, 2007
After two volumnes, and nearly 1200 pages, "Cap" Beatie finally gets the Army of the Potomac onto a battlefield. (Much the same complaint those nasty politicians had about military men of the story.)

The first three chapters here aroused my enthusiasm. They are crisp, and the interplay of actions between the maze of commands are deftly incorporated. But the middle of the book falls back into the same sort of muddle of the previous works. It mires in biographical asides, and thought streams that somehow don't seem to be in the right place.

Beatie repeatedly insists that his study is primarily military and specifically about the Army of the Potomac. But he fumes at the Lincoln administration constantly; while the egregious shortcomings of George Brinton McClellan are whispered and passed over.

On point, McClellan twice in this short period miscues on where he should place his personal leadership over decisive action: he remains overlong in Washington pushing deployment when swift action is needed in Hampton to get the Army moving; and again after Johnston retreats he dawdles in Yorktown loading boats while his over cautious Corps commanders fumble over the Williamsburg battle.

I haven't changed my mind about the series. Good books; but not primers for the amateur.

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