McClellan’s Firing Almost Sparks Mass Resignations among Officers
November 16, 1862. When orders came from Washington on November 7, 1862, relieving General George McClellan of command of the Union’s Army of the Potomac and appointing Major General Ambrose Burnsides as his successor, the order of removal was published and posted in camps. The next day, says historian Shelby Foote, “the reaction combined disbelief and horror, both of which gave way to rage, which in turn was tempered by sadness.”
McClellan remained in camp for a few days, and then departed for good on November 11. The shock of that event was still felt for weeks to come.
Several days after McClellan left, Major Henry Livermore Abbott of the 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry wrote to his father about the incident: “The removal of McClellan caused as much row as we thought. The men cried & so did McClellan. Officers in high positions were only prevented from resigning by a general order from the boss at the War Dept. threatening dishonorable dismissal to all officers who gave McClellan’s removal as the reason of their resignation.”
Burnside’s subsequent disastrous decisions at Fredericksburg would increase their doubts about the wisdom of this change in command.
– Submitted by Bill Halainen
Maj. Henry Livermore Abbott, 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, excerpted from Fallen Leaves: The Civil War Letters of Major Henry Livermore Abbott, a compendium of his letters, Kent State University Press.