With the fall elections over and Lincoln’s supporters still in control of Congress, the President felt he could finally fire Gen. George McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac. He did so on Nov. 7, 1862.
Gen. Catharinus Buckingham, a native of Zanesville and long-time resident of Mount Vernon, carried the order from Washington to the Army. Buckingham was serving as an aide to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and it was thought that McClellan would treat the order with more respect if it came from the hand of a general, rather than a captain or other lower rank that would normally carry written orders.
Buckingham first had to find Gen. Ambrose Burnside and make sure he would take the command (which he had been offered — and refused — before).
The pair then went to McClellan, who accepted the orders and left quietly. Historians have disagreed about whether there was anything to the fear that Little Mac would attempt to march on Washington and stage a coup. Of course, he did not, but he certainly thought he was smarter than anyone in the government and that the radicals had conspired to force him out.
The response of Democratic newspapers was not as outraged as you might have expected. Some saw that McClellan had missed a great opportunity at Antietam. Some also recognized that the only way to preserve the pre-war society (“the Union as it was and the Constitution as it is”) was with a quick victory in the war, and McClellan was never going to deliver that.
Lecky Harper wrote in the Nov. 14 Banner: “People may talk as they please about the removal being made on account of a lack of energy on the part of Gen. McClellan in not following up the rebels; but every person of ordinary intelligence knows that the removal was solely brought about through the villainous prosecution and satanic misrepresentation of the Abolition leaders, who hate McClellan because he would not give his sanction to their vile schemes of Negro emancipation.
“What effect this removal will have upon the army, and the general conduct of the war, we are unprepared to say, but judging from the history of the past, we are afraid it will be anything but favorable. No man in this country enjoys the confidence of the rank and file in the army to so great an extent as Gen. McClellan. The soldiers love, nay almost idolize him. Under his command they have faced danger without flinching, and fought like tigers, against superior numbers.
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