The Mexican War Diary and Correspondence of George B. McClellan
edited by Thomas W. Cutrer, LSU Press
In 1917 Princeton University historian William Starr Myers, whose 1934 book on George B. McClellan remains one of the most insightful and important studies of the general’s life and career, published an edited version of the diary that McClellan kept while he was a junior officer during the Mexican War. Since then, this remarkable document has become a truly essential source for students of that conflict—especially those interested in the experiences and perspectives of the U.S. Army’s rapidly professionalizing junior officer corps—and of the young lieutenant who would later play such a conspicuous role in the Civil War. Thomas W. Cutrer improves on Myers’ effort in a useful and highly accessible work, republishing the diary and also including letters the future general wrote and other primary source documents of importance to this part of his life.
These aspects of McClellan’s career are of course well known to most Civil War enthusiasts. (The operations described in this book are not, however, making the volume’s lack of maps regrettable.) But what comes across above all, particularly in the letters McClellan wrote to his family, is that this was a young man with skill as a writer as well as considerable charm. Why so many of his contemporaries were powerfully attracted to McClellan while historians have not been so kind is less of a mystery after reading Cutrer’s book.
Originally published in the April 2010 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.