The state of Civil War history, part 4 of 5
General George McClellan probably interacted with more Union political figures than any general in the Civil War. He mentioned, after the war in a letter to his future literary executor, that he had started a project he called his "Secret History" and that this woulld be a true account of his relations with various political figures. The idea struck him in Europe, shortly after the war. He said little more about it, except that the writing was in the form of various memoranda.
Stephen Sears, in Young Napoleon, confused McClellan's Secret History with a McClellan book manuscript destroyed in a New York warehouse fire. The burned book, if surviving notes are any indication, would have been a military history of the type published posthumously under the title McClellan's Own Story. The Secret History was something different and has never been found.
If we take McClellan's goal, a "true history" of the war based on civil- military interactions, we realize that we can now begin to outline it without requiring his personal recollections. Enough diaries have been published, enough letters, enough memoirs.
The assiduous historian, sidestepping the single-track, narrow-guage railroad laid by American History and its partisans, will encounter powerhouse state governors mapping regional military strategy in gubernatorial summit meetings; minor cabinet members issuing military orders to officers in the field; unknown generals like Hitchcock, Patterson, Dix, Lane, Hunter and Sherman working in tandem with congressmen and cabinet members for major military ends; and one will even find Eastern campaigns no one has even heard of, like Winfield Scott's 1861 three-pronged operation against Harper's Ferry -- a clever victory that fathered many Union defeats.
McClellan, then envisioned what a full history of the war would include. We know, from studying his career, that he understood the following basic Civil War facts:
* Individual military careers were created and sustained by political sponsors
* These sponsorships were dynamic and subject to flux
* Lincoln generally did not sponsor military careers
* The sponsorship of governors, congressmen and cabinet members carried different weights and combinations of such sponsorship were very powerful
* The longevity of senior generals corresponded to the strength of their civilian sponsorships
* Military sponsorships of military careers held only limited promise.
* No officer in the high command was ever, even a little bit, "apolitical."
These points should mark a starting line for any serious Civil War historian.
[To be continued]