McClellan's Other Story: The Political Intrigue of Colonel Thomas M. Key, Confidential Aide to General George B. McClellan

Author:Michael Cavallaro
Position:Judge Advocate, U.S. Coast Guard. Presently assigned as the Deputy Chief of the Office of Regulations and Administrative Law (CG-0943), U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters, Washington, D.C. J.D., George Mason University School of Law; M.A., U.S. Naval War College; B.A. Villanova University. 1 WILLIAM B. STYPLE, MCCLELLAN'S OTHER STORY: THE POLITICAL ...
Pages:246-261
 
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246 MILITARY LAW REVIEW [Vol. 216
MCCLELLAN’S OTHER STORY1
REVIEWED BY COMMANDER MICHAEL CAVALLARO*
The United States has not suffered for lack of charismatic,
flamboyant, or controversial military officers. Some of the best known
military officers include World War II Generals Douglas MacArthur and
George S. Patton, but many other famous names come to mind: General
William T. Sherman, General George Custer, and Marine General
Smedley Butler, to name just a few.2
* Judge Advocate, U.S. Coast Guard. Presently assigned as the Deputy Chief of the
Office of Regulations and Administrative Law (CG-0943), U.S. Coast Guard
Headquarters, Washington, D.C. J.D., George Mason University School of Law; M.A.,
U.S. Naval War College; B.A. Villanova University.
1 WILLIAM B. STYPLE, MCCLELLANS OTHER STORY: THE POLITIC AL INTRIGUE OF
COLONEL THOMAS M. KEY, CONFIDENTIAL AIDE TO GENERAL GEORGE B.
MCCLELLAN (2012). The title is an allusion to McClellan’s memoir, McClellan’s Other
Story.
2 Sherman suffered a nervous breakdown early in the Civil War. His decision in 1864 to
“March to the Sea” after capturing Atlanta began the era of ‘total war” and earned him
the opprobrium of generations of Southerners, which was ironic because he had a poor
opinion of African-Americans and refused to have them in his army. After the Civil War,
he favored a harsh policy against the Western tribes, at one point writing General Ulysses
S. Grant, ‘[w]e must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to their
extermination, men, women and children.” MICHAEL FELLMAN, CITIZEN SHERMAN 264
(1995).
After graduating last in his class (1861) at the U.S. Military Academy, Custer was
promoted from Captain to General in 1863 at the age of 23. Earning a reputation for
reckless courage during the Civil War, Custer became a controversial figure during the
Indian Wars. He was court-martialed and suspended from duty for a year in 1867 for
abandoning his troops to visit his wife, and his 1876 testimony detailing War Department
corruption before a congressional committee was highly embarrassing to the Grant
administration. His last decision—to split his forces and attack the huge Indian
encampment at the Little Bighorn—has been the subject of debate ever since, and has
earned him a dubious immortality.
After retiring from a career where he saw action in the Philippines, China (Boxer
Rebellion), Central America (The Banana Wars), Mexico, and Haiti, Butler famously
said, “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I
spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and
the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico
and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and
Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in
the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I
helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in
1902—1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests
in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In
China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking
2013] BOOK REVIEWS 247
Perhaps not as well known, but just as fascinating, is General George
B. McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac from 1861 to
1862 and later, the 1864 Democratic candidate for President of the
United States. Simply put, history has not been kind to General
McClellan. While most historians give him credit for organizing and
training the Army of the Potomac, they have sharply criticized him for
his lack of aggressiveness in the field and his antagonistic relationship
with President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.
Stephen Sears, his foremost biographer, wrote that “[n]o one came close
to matching him as a center of controversy.”3
In McClellan’s Other Story: The Political Intrigue of Colonel
Thomas M. Key, Confidential Aide to General George B. McClellan,
William Styple4 offers a new explanation for some of McClellan’s most
controversial actions during his tenure in command. Styple wrote that he
became interested in Colonel Thomas Key “and his peculiar role on
McClellan’s staff” after he discovered an unpublished letter by General
Philip Kearny,5 in which General Kearny accused Key of treasonable
activity.6 Styple “became convinced that [Kearny’s] suspicions were
correct,” prompting him to “investigate the life and military career of
McClellan’s so called ‘Confidential Aide.’”7 Styple concluded that Key
“effectively influenced and manipulated one of the most powerful men in
the Nation,” costing McClellan “his military and political career.”8
It must be stated from the outset that when he was appointed to
command the Army of the Potomac in July 1861, the possibility that
General McClellan would fail seemed remote. The son of a prominent
back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to
operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.” SAUL LANDAU, THE
GUERRILLA WARS OF CENTRAL AMERICA: NICARAGUA, EL SALVADOR AND
GUATEMALA 6 (1993).
3 THE CIVIL WAR PAPERS OF GEORGE B. MCCLELLAN: SELEC TED CORRESPONDENCE
1860–1865, at ix–x (Stephen Sears ed., 1989).
4 Mr. Styple is a graduate of Catawba College. He has published a number of books
about the Civil War and is currently working on a biography of General Philip Kearney.
He has discussed MCCLELLANS OTHER STORY on C-Span American History TV, at
http://www.c-span.org/History/Events/The-Civil-War-Gen-McClellan-amp-Col-Key/107
37436865/.
5 Kearny commanded a division in III Corps, Army of the Potomac. He was killed at the
battle of Chantilly on September 1, 1862.
6 STYPLE, supra note 1, at 17.
7 Id.
8 Id. at 16–17.

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