American Military Observers - Crimean War 1853-1856

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American Military Observers - Crimean War 1853-1856

Post by Volyn » 26 Aug 2022 23:30

I came across some information about a then-Captain of Cavalry George McClellan and two other US officers, Major Richard Delafield and Major Alfred Mordecai. They had been sent to the Crimea in 1855 to act as war observers as part of The Delafield Commission.

The Delafield Commission - photo taken around June 1855 in St. Petersburg -
Left to right: Maj. Alfred Mordecai, Lt. Colonel Obrescoff (Russian escort), Maj. Richard Delafield, and Capt. George B. McClellan

The American orders were to observe all sides of the war, and they were able to join with the British Army first. However, due to issues of trust, the French would only allow their presence on the condition they would not observe the Russian forces. The Americans initally decided to forgo that option, instead they travelled to St. Petersburg in June 1855 to meet with Russian commanders and obtain permission to observe their side of the war. A delayed Russian response (mid-September) had the same condition, if they observed their forces they could not go back to the French.

They accepted the French offer, because the Siege of Sevastopol had already ended in a Russian defeat while they waited for a reply. The French allowed them to view the Russian fortifications post-battle, which they felt was their best option at that point.
Report of the secretay of war, communicating the report of Captain George B. McClellan, (First regiment United States cavalry,) one of the officers sent to the seat of war in Europe, in 1855 and 1856.

There were few opportunities for American military personnel to observe European wars prior to the US Civil War, this would have been viewed as a rare and significant event for the officers who could potentially be chosen for this assignment.

At the time both Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee and Capt. McClellan had been recognized for their battlefield excellence as engineers during the Mexican-American War 1846-1848, however, I do not understand why Lee was not part of the commission as well?

One reason given for McClellan to be added is he could speak French fluently, but according to Lee's biography he scored a 98.5/100 in French while at West Point (not sure how that rates to actual fluency).
*Douglas S. Freeman, R. E. Lee, a Biography. (New York: Charles Scribner & Sons, 1934), Vol. 1. pp. 36, 82.

Both of them had been in the Corps of Engineers except when they were assigned to West Point; McClellan was an instructor from 1848-1851, and Lee served as the Superintendent from 1852-1855. McClellan and Lee were engineers by training, but they were both assigned to their first postings as Cavalry officers on 3 MAR 1855 when the creation of the 1st and 2nd Cavalry Regiments was authorized by the US Congress. Capt. McClellan was assigned to the 1st Cav Regt, and Lt. Col. Lee was assigned as the executive officer for the 2nd Cav Regt (a posting which he ultimately did not like).

If McClellan could be temporarily removed from his command immediately after having received it, why was Lee overlooked?

Maj. Delafield was one of the Army's most respected engineers, but so was Lt. Col. Lee, and the inclusion of Maj. Mordecai as an ordnance expert is understandable since he was a noted soldier-scientist in gun and artillery technologies. However, according to the book The Delafield Commission and the American Military Profession, the commission is viewed as incorrectly assembled and will draw the wrong conclusions from their battlefield reports. The book goes as far as to say that the selected members "confirmed the Army's intellectual immaturity through the work of it's handpicked representatives." The United States Secretary of War at the time was Jefferson Davis, and he selected The Delafield Commission members.
*Moten, Matthew. The Delafield Commission and the American Military Profession. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 2000. ... &q&f=false

In light of this view, would it have been a benefit for a Lt. Col. Lee to have accompanied the commission?

Later, when Jefferson Davis became the President of the Confederate States of America, he appointed Lee as the General in Chief of the Armies of the Confederate States. McClellan was appointed by President Lincoln as the General in Chief of All the Union Armies of the United States. Clearly, these two officers were headed along near identical paths during their careers, and both of them can be viewed in 1855 among the very elite in their profession.

In the US Civil War there is a comparison to be made of Gen. McClellan's command during the Peninsula Campaign (Virginia) in 1862, and how events unfolded with the Crimean Peninsula Campaign in 1854. They both began with large amphibious landings of soldiers, and they were both successful at off-loading them. The size of McClellan's force that landed at Ft. Monroe numbered almost 121,500 men and supplies, basically 2x the size of the joint French-British-Ottoman force of 60,500 men and supplies that landed at Eupatoria in 1854; an armada of ships was required to transport and deploy both forces as well.
*Sears, Stephen W. George B. McClellan: The Young Napoleon. New York: Da Capo Press, 1988.
*Arnold, Guy Historical Dictionary of the Crimean War (Volume 19). Scarecrow Press, 2002.

Both campaigns involved a siege (Sevastopol 1854–1855 & Yorktown 1862) and the initial battles of those campaigns are nearly identical as well. In the Battle of Alma in 1854 and the Battle of Williamsburg in 1862, similar sized forces engaged and produced a similar number of casualties. In both instances the aggressor failed to pursue the opponent during their retreat in order to secure a swift victory. One last item, the Battle of Balaclava in 1854 and the Battle of Eltham's Landing in 1862 also have similar sized forces engaged with results closely aligned to each other.

There are more similarities throughout these two campaigns, and many of Gen. McClellan's actions seem to copy that of the French-British-Ottoman coalition playbook, even though he was not present for those battles in 1854, having preceeded his arrival by one year.

How did these disparate events parallel each other so closely?

Was Gen. McClellan intentionally using the same tactics from the Crimean War to fight his campaigns during the Civil War?
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Re: American Military Observers - Crimean War 1853-1856

Post by Hoplophile » 02 Nov 2022 23:59

The report of Major Mordecai, which is rich in detail about cannon and such, can also be found on

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Re: American Military Observers - Crimean War 1853-1856

Post by Sheldrake » 03 Nov 2022 00:15

I am not sure what Robert E Lee would have learned from the Crimean war except how not to fight a war. One of the British junior officers in the Crimea was Garnet Wolseley who would be an observer to the US Civil War. He became an admirer of Lee and wrote a biography. ... index.html

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