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“I Can Do it All”

On Thursday, 8 December 2011, I will be in Littleton, Colorado, speaking to the Rocky Mountain Civil War Round Table on “McClellan as General-in-Chief.”

This Thursday, of course, will be the 150th plus one month anniversary of the day in 1861 when then thirty-four year old Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan (his 185th birthday is this Saturday!) ascended to the post of Commanding General of the United States Army upon the retirement of Bvt. Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott.

From U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (70 vols. in 128 parts; Washington, 1880-1901), ser. 3, vol. 1: 613-14:

GENERAL ORDERS,
HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY, Numbers 19.
Washington, November 1, 1861.

In accordance with General Orders, Numbers 94, from the War Department, I hereby assume command of the Armies of the United States. In the midst of the difficulties which encompass and divide the nation, hesitation and self-distrust may well accompany the assumption of so vast a responsibility; but confiding as I do in the loyalty, discipline, and courage of our troops, and believing as I do that Providence will favor ours as the just cause, I cannot doubt that success will crown our efforts and sacrifices.

The Army will unite with me in the feeling of regret that the weight of many years and the effect of increasing infirmities, contracted and intensified in his country’s service, should just now remove from our head the great soldier of our nation–the hero who in his youth raised high the reputation of his country on the fields of Canada, which he hallowed with his blood; who in more mature years proved to the world that American skill and valor could repeat if not eclipse the exploits of Cortez in the land of the Montezumas; whose whole life has been devoted to the service of his country; whose whole efforts have been directed to uphold our honor at the smallest sacrifice of life-a warrior who scorned the selfish glories of the battle-field when his great qualities as a statesman could be employed more profitably for his country; a citizen who in his declining years has given to the world the most shining instance of loyalty, in disregarding all ties of birth and clinging still to the cause of truth and honor. Such has been the career, such the character, of Winfield Scott, whom it has long been the delight of the nation to honor both as a man and a soldier. While we regret his loss, there is one thing we cannot regret-the bright example he has left for our emulation.

Let us all hope and pray that his declining years may be passed in peace and happiness, and that they may be cheered by the success of the country and the cause he has fought for and loved so well. Beyond all that, let us do nothing that can cause him to blush for us; let no defeat of the Army he has so long commanded embitter his last years, but let our victories illuminate the close of a life so grand.

GEO. B. McCLELLAN,
Major-General, Commanding U. S. Army.

From John Hay, Letters of John Hay and Extracts from Diary (3 vols.; Washington, 1908), vol. 1: 50-51:

…. The night of the 1st November we went over to McC[lellan]‘s. The General was there and read us his General Order in regard to S[cott]‘s resignation and his own assumption of command. The President thanked him for it and said it greatly relieved him. He added:—”I should be perfectly satisfied if I thought that this vast increase of responsibility would not embarrass you.” “It is a great relief, Sir! I feel as if several tons were taken from my shoulders, today. I am now in contact with you and the Secretary. I am not embarrassed by intervention.” “Well,” says the President, “draw on me for all the sense I have, and all the information. In addition to your present command, the supreme command of the army will entail a vast labor upon you.” “I can do it all,” McC[lellan] said quietly.

McClellan was the fourth man and first graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to hold the post of Commanding General. His predecessors in the office, which was created in 1821, were Jacob Brown, Alexander Macomb, and Scott. McClellan was by a considerable margin the youngest man ever to hold the office, which was eliminated in the General Staff Act of 1903. (The second youngest was Grant, who was about 42 when he became general-in-chief in 1864.)

Information on the Rocky Mountain Civil War Round Table, including logistics for next week’s meeting, can be found at this site.

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