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Lincoln, McClellan at odds, once again
Actors present an unusual pairing of Lincoln and McClellan that illustrates the tension between the president and his slow-moving general. By Scott Boyd

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Date published: 8/20/2005

By Scott Boyd

"I CAN'T WAIT to see you fired!" the renowned Civil War author said to the general. Or, rather, to the actor portraying the general (about whom he had written a biography in 1988).

Well-known writer Stephen W. Sears was addressing James Finch, the actor portraying Union Maj. Gen. George Brinton McClellan, prior to his scripted confrontation with his boss, President Abraham Lincoln. Sears was in the audience for the show.

Sears' 1992 book, "To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign," chronicled the strained relationship between the inept general and the unhappy president during the 1862 Union effort to march from Fort Monroe up the peninsula between the York and James rivers to seize the Confederate capital. McClellan's mistakes eventually cost him his job.

The setting for this presentation was the third annual Battle of Hampton Roads Weekend at The Mariners' Museum.

Finch as McClellan and George Buss as Lincoln gave a Readers' Theater presentation of the increasingly acrimonious relationship between the two men during the Peninsula Campaign. Standing at opposite sides of the stage, the two costumed actors read excerpts from the letters exchanged by the impatient president and his bungling general (who was known fondly by his men as "Little Mac").

Buss has been portraying Lincoln for over 15 years, when he's not busy with his full-time job teaching at Freeport High School in Freeport, Ill.. The lanky Buss says he is within 10 pounds and 1 inch of Lincoln's 185-pound, 6-foot-4-inch frame.

For many years, Buss took his Lincoln act on the road with the late Rich Sokup playing his best-known antebellum political opponent, Stephen Douglas. Sokup was the president of the Lincoln-Douglas Society and Buss the vice president. The two men presented the Lincoln-Douglas debates approximately 400 times in venues across the country. They were televised live on C-SPAN in 1994.

Following Sokup's untimely passing, Buss sought a new character to accompany his Lincoln around the country. At last year's Battle of Hampton Roads Weekend, Buss worked alone as Lincoln. This year he had Finch, following a suggestion by a museum worker last year that it might be interesting if he could appear with McClellan.

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