The repulse had lifted the morale of the Philadelphia Brigade considerably, and later that night General Webb raised it even higher by announcing that on the morrow McClellan would be operating on Lee's communication line with 40,000 men.This was not just a hit for me, it was a new (fourth) type of McClellan Gettysburg story: McClellan off the battlefield with an independent force.
This was followed by a friendly email from novelist and painter Nick Korolev, who reached for his copy of The 20th Maine by John Pullen and the chapter on Gettysburg:
Of their march from Hanover towards Gettysburg the night of July 1st Chamberlain reports, "At the turn of the road a staff officer, with the air of authority, told each colonel as he came up that McClellan was in command again, and riding ahead of us on the road."I hope I've extracted that passage correctly from his message. It does look like I'm on a roll here.
Private Theodore Gerrish wrote,"Men waved their hats and cheered until they were hoarse and wild with excitement." No one knew how the rumor got started, but for a time the intensly keyed up men marched believing their beloved McClellan was once again leading them into battle.
Before you dismiss this post an an pointless exercise in ACW esoterica, let me disagree.
Our Civil War histories have been so purged and cleansed of the soldier's milieu of half-truths, rumors, and inaccurate news reports, that their "truth" becomes a ridiculous lie. Was the Philadelphia Brigade emotionally whipsawed by McClellan rumors for successive nights? If so, that is an immensely "true" part of their experience and its removal from any history - on grounds that the rumors were untrue - begets a falsehood of its own.
A very senior librarian wrote some time ago that she could not believe how little use Civil War historians make of contemporary newspapers. Well it's simple: they are innacurate. Filled with noise. Lots of crazy rumors. Got to keep the story straight, you know.
And yet in war, at every level from private to general commanding, lies and half truths are an immense component of the day-to-day reality. Compile every story of McClellan at Gettysburg and lay it on a timeline; plot it unit by unit. The breadth of this meme will surprise, I am sure. More important, it will act as a weathervane pointing to the much vaster body of information (true and false) making up the soldier's world: Why are we here? Where are we going? Who's in charge? What's happening in front? There's a lying answer to every question that is a true part of the daily grind.
As I collected soldiers' anecdotes about "our George" from letters and newspapers I came to understand that the Civil War soldiers and officers experienced much of their service as what we call "folklore" and hearsay and that historians were not interested in it.
I don't see that changing. Once in a blue moon, someone compiles an anthology of the stuff - together with poetry and funny anecdotes - keeping it strictly separate from "fact." Which destroys "fact."
Seek your McClellans at Gettysburg and you will enjoy a richer, truer Civil War history reading experience.