June 28, 1862: McClellan Orders Retreat to Harrison’s Landing

After the Confederate victory at Gaines Mill on June 27, General McClellan, the commander of the Army of the Potomac completely lost his nerve.  Certain that he was massively outnumbered by the Confederate’s, he ordered the withdrawal of the Army of the Potomac from its positions in front of Richmond to Harrison’s Landing on the James River.  McClellan did not direct this retreat, abandoning the army while he went to a position south of Malvern Hill.  He gave no marching orders for the corps under his command, leaving it to his corps commanders to do so.  Massive mountains of supplies and ordinance were set on fire, and the Union wounded were abandoned after the retreat following the battle of Savage’s Station.  Few episodes have been as shameful in the history of the United States Army, and the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of McClellan.  Instead of acting as the commander of an Army, McClellan was busily attempting to shift the blame for the debacle his inept generalship had created:

June 28, 1862 12:20 a.m.

                                                                                                Savage Station

Edwin Stanton

On the east bank of the river our men did all that men could do, but they were overwhelmed by vastly superior numbers even after I brought my last reserves into action. I have not a man in reserve and shall be glad to cover my retreat and save the material and personnel of the Army. I have lost this battle because my force was too small. I am not responsible for this. I shall draw back to this side of the Chickahominy. I should have gained this battle had I had 10,000 fresh troops. I feel that the Government has not sustained this Army. If I save this Army now I tell you plainly that I owe no thanks to you or any other person in Washington. You have done your best to sacrifice this Army.

                                                            G.B. McClellan, Maj. Gen. Commanding

McClellan, although he had talent as an organizer and trainer of an army, and some ability as a strategist, was completely useless in operational command.  Opposed by one of the great captains of history, Robert E. Lee, McClellan was so hopelessly outclassed the situation would have been farcical, but for the fatal results to so many of the men under his command.

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Published in: on June 28, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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One Comment

  1. Alas, the indictment is all too true.


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