From Antietam to Chancellorsville: September 1862 to May 1863

McClellan in Charge

What was McClellan’s plan?

Like General Irvin McDowell on the night before the Battle of Bull Run, McClellan did not reveal his full hand to anyone. It was his intention to attack the next morning, but all that his different corps commanders received was the order in which they would enter the battle. Examining the battle plans, one is almost forced to conclude that McClellan did not wish to shed too much blood. Perhaps he believed that a sharp early morning contest would persuade Lee’s Confederates to surrender.

The honor of beginning the battle went to General Joseph Hooker (1814–1879), commander of the First Federal Corps. A native of Massachusetts and a West Point graduate, Hooker was one of the more stubborn of McClellan’s subordinate generals: he had gained a fine reputation during the Peninsula Campaign, and his men called him “Fighting Joe.” To make certain his men would recognize their commander, Hooker rode out on a magnificent white horse on the morning of September 17, 1862, which just happened to be the seventy-fifth anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution.


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