Lincoln

Donald, David Herbert

Simon & Schuster, 1995

p. 245

In 1860 L was candidate for president, and was advertised as “the rail candidate,” with a lot of partly false hoo-ha about his family and his love of rail-splitting. L was labeled “The Rail Splitter” and it stuck. It was popular. His managers soon understood how to package him. “He could be packaged not merely as a powerful advocate of free-soil ideology or as a folksy, unpretentious, storytelling campaigner, but also as the embodiment of the self-made man, the representative of free labor, and the spokesman of the great West. It mattered very little that this myth–like most myths–was only partially true: Lincoln in fact has little love for his pioneer origins; he disliked physical labor and left it as soon as he could; he owed his early advancement as much to interested friends . . . as to his own exertions. Rather than a simple backwoodsman, he was a prominent and successful attorney representing the most powerful interests in emerging corporate America [especially Illinois Central Railroad]. The delegates at Decatur understood that myth was more important than reality.”

pp. 317- 318, 349, 357

General George B. McClellan, Lincoln’s initial and main general of the Union army till Grant, was 34, handsome, vigorous, and, above-all, stylish. He engineered fortifications for Washington, drew three-year volunteers by the thousands of men who loved him, trained his men in wonderful close-order drill. (P. 318): “Dashing about on a magnificent horse, he seemed omnipresent.” He thought so too, and told his wife that (p. 317) “by some strange operation of magic, I seem to have become the power of the land.” McClellan also knew how to do PR (p. 318) and made “a practice of inviting the President, the Secretary of War, other members of the Cabinet, and senators to be present when he staged a review of the troops. The contrast between the General and his commander in chief as they rode down the lines struck some observers as ludicrous. McClellan was superb in full-dress uniform, while Lincoln, wearing his customary stovepipe hat, looked, according to one observer, “like a scarecrow on horseback.” One problem: McClellan wouldn’t fight. He dawdled and then sulked when called on it. He also got sick quite a lot. (P. 349): Lincoln judged that McClellan “had the capacity to make arrangements properly for a great conflict, but as the hour for action approached he became nervous and oppressed with the responsibility and hesitated to meet the crisis.” He seemed to like to drill and pose better than anything else, and Lincoln had a terrible time trying to get M actually to fight any of the rebels. It seemed at times as if M thought it good enough to denounce them. But sometimes he denounced the President instead. June 18 to 25, 1862: McClellan finally gets ready to attack Richmond. Lincoln asked gently about when McClellan would do it. McClellan replied that he’d do it “as soon as Providence will permit.” But (p. 357) “in private he resented what he considered prodding by the President, and he believed the report of Allen Pinkerton, his chief intelligence gatherer, that ‘Honest Abe has again fallen into the hands of my enemies and is no longer a cordial friend of mine!’” In a classic case of projection the timid McClellan got ripped apart by General Robert E. Lee before McClellan could even attack, just because McClellan wholly underestimated Lee. He considered Lee (McClellan’s words) ”too cautious and weak under grave responsibility.”