But he was cautious to a fault. While nicknamed "The Little Napoleon" (from his preferred poses for the new fangled photographers of the day), he refused to implement Napoleon's dictum for success on the battlefield: l'audace, l'audace. toujours l'audace!*
And so Robert E. Lee was able to play him like a fiddle. Lee took over command of the Army of Northern Virginia in June of 1862 when its former commander Joseph Johnston was wounded. Lee was not then held in high regard, his stock having fallen from its pre-war heights. Lee soon put that to rest. In a stunning series of tactical assaults called The Seven Days, Lee essentially lost eight battles in seven days, at which point McClellan loaded his entire army on naval transport and sailed back to Washington, defeated.
Lee wasn't attacking the Army of the Potomac, he was attacking McClellan. No matter how good an administrator and organizer McClellan was, he couldn't fight effectively.
Actually, that's not true - he was very effective in fighting his own organization, and especially his commander in chief. His insubordination was the least of it (he once kept Lincoln waiting 30 minutes when the President came to call, and then had Lincoln informed that he had gone to bed and couldn't see him). He wouldn't fight. There was always a reason why - he didn't have enough men, he didn't have enough supplies, the weather was bad. Lincoln once summoned a council of war of McClellan's generals - pointedly without McClellan himself - saying that if McClellan wasn't using the army he'd like to borrow it for a while.
Finally, McClellan went too far, and Lincoln fired him. Whether for revenge, or because of his weakness for flattery, he ran against Lincoln in the 1864 elections. Grant and Sherman won that for Lincoln. Unlike McClellan, they would fight.
Newt Gingrich just handed Mitt Romney his tail end, utterly demolishing the myth of Romney's inevitability. Watching this unfold, and looking at Romney's impressive organizational skills, his rich war chest, and his support from the entire GOP establishment, I cannot stop thinking about George McClellan reviewing the Army of the Potomac. Crisp new uniforms, polished brass, snappy salutes, and brave martial music from the marching bands made for a pretty - and a pretty impressive - sight.
Ulysses S. Gingrich just won a lopsided victory against all odds. He did it because while he possesses many personal faults when compared to his opponent, he possesses one outstanding virtue.
It's a long, long road to the Republican Convention, and anything can happen. It's hard to say who will be the nominee. But it's not at all hard to see the Obama Campaign attacking not the GOP, but their General should the timid and overly calculating Romney get the nod**. If Newt is the standard bearer, then it will be a real rumble.
Shelby Foote, in his incomparable history The Civil War: A Narrative writes about the Union Army after they had been thrashed at the beginning of the Wilderness Campaign in 1864. Dejected - they always knew that Bobby Lee drove them back after a single battle - they prepared to march back to Washington. Instead, the order came down the line to turn south. A cheer rose up, as men who had been whipped squared their shoulders and turned to chase their foe. That's the kind of leader Grant was.
That's the kind that Newt is, too.
To the surprise of the V Corps men, the march was south, in rear of Hancock's portion of the line. At first they thought that this was done to get them on the plank road, leading east towards Chancellorsville, but when they slogged past the intersection they knew that what they were headed for was not the Rapidan or the Rappahannock, but another battle somewhere south, beyond the unsuspecting rebel flank. Formerly glum, the column now began to buzz with talk. Packs were lighter; the step quickened, spirits rose with the growing realization that they were stealing another march on old man Lee. Then came cheers, as a group on horseback - "Give way, give way to the right," one of the riders kept calling to the soldiers on the road - doubled the column at a fast walk, equipment jingling. In the head was Grant, a vague, stoop-shouldered figure, undersized on Cincinnati, the largest of his mounts ...McClellan looked ever so much more the General than did Grant. Romney looks ever so much more Presidential than Gingrich. But neither McClellan nor Romney would fight. The troops know it.
* Boldness, boldness, always boldness.
** Apologies to all true Sons and Daughters of Dixie for casting Obama in the role of Robert E. Lee.