Change of Perception

When brothers George Washington Cameron and Bazeleel Cameron went off to war with the 134th Pennsylvania on August 9, 1862, their commander, George B. McClellan, certainly looked the part of a general who could lead the Army of the Potomac to victory. The 134th did not fight at Antietam, but its men saw the gory aftermath and helped bury the Union dead. Even though it was a bloodbath, “Little Mac” was there to claim a great victory, and reassure his men they had chased Bobby Lee back across the Potomac River.

But McClellan was gone in November 1862, replaced by Ambrose Burnside. In the futile attacks at Fredericksburg, Bazeleel suffered a mortal wound. Joseph Hooker and the defeat at Chancellorsville followed. George Washington, my great-grandfather, mustered out in May 1863 and returned home without his brother, his perception of the war forever changed. He became a pacifist and refused to let his sons join the military. According to family lore, George would never talk about the war, except to say that McClellan was the best general he had served under. And why shouldn’t that be the case? The “Young Napoleon” (see related story, P. 18) had made his men feel like real soldiers, treated them well and fit their preconceived notions of how a general should look, act and lead.

When McClellan left the army, he took the conflict’s last vestige of glory with him for my great-grandfather. For both William Reid (P. 50) and Adolph Metzner (P. 58), Shiloh’s bloody fields marked the end of their romantic visions. Like them, the Cameron boys had seen the elephant early on—but the hard realities of combat took longer to sink in.


Originally published in the April 2012 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.