If you are scared out of your wits to make a mistake and lose face, guess what? You will fail and lose face.
If the Civil War produced one man who could never admit to any mistake and heaped all the responsibility for setbacks on others, it must be George B. McClellan.
What makes McClellan’s case extra sad, is the man had a very bright head on his shoulders. He was a superb organizer of men and can in some ways he is the father of the Army of The Potomac, one of the most important Union armies. He was extremely meticulous, his men adored him, and he did come up with a very good plan to defeat his opponent.
Fairly early in the war, McClellan devised an original plan to transport his massive host over sea and drop it on the flank of his enemy, where it was poised to take out the enemy’s capital at Richmond, Virginia. He had unfortunately taken a hell of a lot of time to put the plan in motion, because he was always afraid he didn’t have enough men.
Somehow, McClellan was struggling to achieve the impossible: he wanted to have 100 percent certainty his army would prevail. Of course, in war nothing is certain, and its common knowledge “no plan survives contact,” meaning as soon as armies clash there’s the inevitable factor we tend to call ‘luck’ or ‘chance’ which is out of our control. Usually because of miscalculations and human error.
McCellan’s huge ego could not allow for failure, so he moved at a snail’s pace. Although he vastly outnumbered his opponent, he insisted on dragging cumbersome siege guns to the front lines to blast his way through. His opponent was smart enough to wait till the last minute and retreat before the siege guns were finally ready to open fire. In this way, they deftly stalled for time, which allowed them to assemble more forces.
McCellan meanwhile kept clamoring for more reinforcements, almost pestering his superiors with requests and accusations, telling everyone who would listen how the authorities were doing everything they could to thwart him. Going so far as to say he was the only one who could save the army, in spite of the foolish decisions of all the other idiots in charge. He had this to say about Abraham Lincoln: ‘The President is no more than a well-meaning baboon. I went to the White House directly after tea, where I found “The Original Gorilla”, about as intelligent as ever. What a specimen to be at the head of our affairs now.’ That may have been the case, but McCellan was still walking in fear. Fear never wins the day.
His fear of failure also led him to believe that his opponent vastly outnumbered him, whereas the complete opposite was true. In the end, he did manage to come very close to the outskirts of his enemy’s capital. There his opponent, Robert E. Lee, decided to attack. McClellan got scared and retreated, even though the damage was rather minimal and he had far more reserves than his enemy. His self-fulling prophecy dictated his actions and ultimately, he retreated all the way back and abandoned his campaign.
On a later occasion, by an impossible stroke of luck, McClellan’s enemy’s precise marching orders fell into his hands. He knew everything his outnumbered and outgunned opponent was going to do and he still failed to destroy his enemy. To his wife he wrote: ‘Those in whose judgment I rely tell me that I fought the battle splendidly and that it was a masterpiece of art.’
Big egos, big, embarrassing failures
Credit: Frank M.
The Get Me Home Bag
My thanks to Corporal Kelly @ Corporal’s Corner, Youtube
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