The First Battle of Bull Run

Here’s another episode of the excellent series, Civil War Journal.



  1. I know that Gen McClellan had his faults, but was he just trying to avoid another disasterous attack on a Confederate stronghold? If the North had formed an impenetrable force along the Virginia border, captured the Mississippi valley, and increased the naval blockade, could the “Anaconda plan” have worked?

    1. Winfield Scott thought it would work. Politically, it might have been a tough sell. I don’t know that the populace in the loyal states would have been patient enough to wait that long, and who knows what would have happened in Kentucky? They might have gone over to the confederacy. There would have been no creation of West Virginia, at least in the way it happened. Bottom line is we’ll never know for sure, and “impenetrable” is a bit tough to do.

  2. Al, I may agree with you, but I still want to expand this discussion. So for the sake of argument I’m going to try and defend McClellans point of view. Despite what his critics say about, him, he was a favorite at the Democratic Convention in 1864 and went on to receive over 47% of the popular vote in the general election. After the war he was Governor of New Jersey. In the video McClellan is called a failure. So, did 47% of the Union vote for a failure in 1864? Did New Jersey elect a failure as their governor? See my references from my biography of Gen George McClellan

    1. I’m personally a lot kinder to Little Mac. What you see in the video has been the dominant perspective on McClellan, but the Young Napoleon is undergoing a reinterpretation, and much of the credit for that goes to Ethan Rafuse.

  3. Garrett Davis replaced John Breckinridge as the Sen from Kentucky. Lincoln assured Sen
    Davis that the fed gov would not interfere with slavery in his state. West Virginia was a state before Gen McClellan took the job as commanding General. So, was it really necessary to attack Richmond rather than going after less fortified targets?
    See my references at

    1. West Virginia became a state in 1863, after McClellan had left the stage.

  4. Yes, West Va didn’t officially become a state until 1863, but didn’t it declare its independence from Virginia in 1861?

    1. No. In 1861 the Wheeling Convention declared all state offices vacant. That led to the formation of the loyal Virginia state government.

  5. Right, “declare independence” was incorrect. What I meant to say, was that the western section of Virginia was under the control of pro Unionist when Gen McClellan was in charge. After the war McClellan defended his decisions. Do you think he had a valid argument?

    1. Which decisions?

  6. The decision to wait until the enemy could be coerced into fighting on his terms, not theirs.

    1. The enemy will often refuse to do what one wants them to do.

  7. Al, thank you again for your opinion; it’s one that you share with many students of Civil War history.
    I just want to bring to your attention another points of view.

        According to author Thomas J. Rowland, McClellan’s strategy, though reflective of the unrealistic war aims of the years 1861-62, was cognate , reasoned, and consistent with conventional military wisdom, and his personal views of the nature of the conflict.” 7

    The Marion Daily Star of Marion Ohio printed the news, and a biography, under the heading, “Another Hero Dies”.  They quoted the Standard of London, “The death of Gen. McClellan removes another prominent figure from the Civil War.  He however, was not fortunate.  “He had the illuck to be politically opposed to President Lincoln, and therefore did not receive the support he should have had.” 

    1. I think the Rowland quote is a good summary of McClellan’s strategy, especially that it was consistent with McClellan’s personal views of the nature of the conflict. I’m not so sure McClellan’s view of the nature of the conflict was accurate, though. I don’t think British newspapers ever understood our Civil War.

  8. Enjoyed our discuss on McClellan. Ever think how McClellan vs Lincoln compares with McArthur vs Truman or LeMay vs Kennedy?

    1. I don’t think LeMay belongs in the same category. He was a strong advocate for his beliefs, but he never crossed the same line McClellan crossed with Lincoln or MacArthur crossed with Truman. I think McClellan-Lincoln could be compared with MacArthur-Truman, though of course there are some differences. For instance, MacArthur advocated a more aggressive war while Truman wanted it kept limited. McClellan was opposite.

  9. LeMay came to mind only because I remembered his role in the Cuban Missle Crisis.

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