Union general George B. McClellan is restored to full command

President Abraham Lincoln reluctantly restores Union General George B. McClellan to full command after General John Pope’s disaster at the Second Battle of Bull Run, Virginia, on August 29 and 30. McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac, saw much of his army transferred to Pope’s Army of Virginia after his failure to capture Richmond, Virginia, during the Seven Days’ Battles in June 1862.

Pope, who had one chance to prove his leadership at Second Bull Run against Confederate General Robert E. Lee, failed miserably and retreated to Washington, D.C. He had not received any help from McClellan, who sat nearby in Alexandria, Virginia, and refused to go to Pope’s aid. After a summer of defeats, the Union forces in the east were now in desperate need of a boost in morale. Even though McClellan was, in part, the architect of those losses, Lincoln felt he was the best available general to raise the sagging spirits of the men in blue. The president recognized McClellan’s talent for preparing an army to fight, even if he had proven to be a poor field commander. Lincoln wrote to his secretary John Hay: “We must use the tools we have. There is no man in the Army who can man these fortifications and lick these troops into shape half as well as he. If he can’t fight himself, he excels in making others ready to fight.”

There was little time for the Union to dawdle after Second Bull Run. Lee’s army lurked just 25 miles from Washington, and had tried to cut off the Union retreat at Chantilly, Virginia, on September 1. Even as Lincoln restored McClellan’s command, the Confederates were starting to move northward. McClellan was soon on the road in pursuit of Lee’s army.

Ellen Mary Marcy McClellan

As a young lieutenant, George B. McClellan, was very fond of his commanding officer’s young daughter, Ellen Mary Marcy, but she was in love with another future Civil War general, Ambrose Powell Hill, and it took McClellan seven long years to win her hand in marriage.

Image: Ellen Mary Marcy McClellan with her husband

Ellen Mary Marcy was born in 1836 in Philadelphia. She was the blonde, blue-eyed daughter of Major Randolph Marcy – explorer of the famous Red River and Federal chief-of-staff in the first years of the war. Marcy was an army officer who gained a good deal of fame in the decade just before the Civil War, as an explorer of the unsettled West. He was a strictly-business regular who blazed trails across the prairies and paved the way for the opening of the plains country.

George Brinton McClellan, the son of a surgeon, was born in Philadelphia December 3, 1826. He attended the University of Pennsylvania in 1840 at age 13, resigning himself to the study of law. After two years, he changed his goal to military service. With the assistance of his father’s letter to President John Tyler, young George was accepted at the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1842. The academy had waived its normal minimum age of 16, and George graduated second in the class in 1846.

McClellan was appointed to the staff of General Winfield Scott during the Mexican War (1846-48), and won three brevets for gallant conduct. He taught military engineering at West Point (1848-51), and in 1855 was sent to observe the Crimean War in order to obtain the latest information on European warfare.

Due to his intimate knowledge of Texas and Indian Territory geography, Major Randolph Marcy was selected for the Red River Expedition of 1852. Along with several troops and a young army lieutenant he liked very much – George B. McClellan – Marcy set out to discover the source of the Red River. Unlike his predecessors, he did not use a boat, but explored mainly on horseback. He kept a meticulous diary, made friends with the Indians, and wrote a dictionary of the Wichita language.

In 1854 when McClellan was 27 years old, he met 18-year-old Ellen Mary Marcy, the daughter of his former commander, and it was love at first sight for him. He wrote to Ellen’s mother: “I have not seen a very great deal of the little lady mentioned above, still that little has been sufficient to make me determined to win her if I can.” Her father did everything he could to persuade the girl to accept him. He had no luck Ellen simply did not love McClellan.

She loved Lieutenant Ambrose Powell Hill (future Confederate general). She wrote to her father, telling him that she was going to marry Hill, and Marcy promptly blew his stack. Any woman, he told his daughter, who married an army officer was simply asking for trouble pay was low, absences from home were frequent and extended, and military life offered no particular future. McClellan was also a soldier, but he was planning to leave the army and enter private industry, and his family had money.

Ellen was to abandon all communication with Lieutenant Hill, and “if you do not comply with my wishes in this respect,” her father wrote, “I cannot tell what my feelings toward you will become. I fear that my ardent affections will turn to hate…” Ellen was stubborn, but she listened to her father, and let the matter rest for nearly a year. In the end, Marcy had his way, and Lieutenant Hill at last faded out of the picture. General Ambrose Powell Hill was killed in battle one week before the Confederate surrender at Appomattox.

In June, McClellan proposed and Ellen promptly rejected him. It probably didn’t help that she was two or three inches taller than McClellan. Leaving Washington, McClellan continued to keep in touch with Ellen and the family. Life for Ellen was going quickly as George continued his quest by mail. Before she reached the age of 25, she had received and rejected nine proposals of marriage.

McClellan left the United States Army in 1857 to become chief of engineering and vice president of the Illinois Central Railroad, where he became acquainted with Abraham Lincoln, the company’s attorney. McClellan became president of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad in 1860. He performed well in both jobs, but despite his successes and lucrative salary ($10,000 per year), he was frustrated with civilian employment and continued to study classical military strategy.

In 1859, Major Marcy was ordered west, and the family visited McClellan in Chicago. On October 20, George again proposed marriage, and this time Ellen accepted. Ellen and George were married at Calvary Church, New York City, on May 22, 1860. McClellan was 33 and Ellen was 25.

They had a son and a daughter: George Brinton McClellan, Jr. who was born in Dresden, Germany, during the family’s first trip to Europe. Known to the family as Max , he served as a US Representative from New York State and as Mayor of New York City from 1904 to 1909. Their daughter Mary married a French diplomat and spent much of her life abroad. Neither Max nor Mary gave the McClellans any grandchildren.

The two would remain married for 25 years and were devoted to each other, writing daily when separated. “My whole existence is wrapped up in you,” he wrote in one such letter. McClellan’s personal life was without blemish. If Ellen Marcy ever regretted the turn of events, she left no record of it, coming down in history as a pretty, rather sad young woman looking out of the Brady photographs.

According to legend, Hill nourished a grudge against McClellan, and fought against him during the Civil War with more than ordinary vigor. Whenever the Confederates attacked the Army of the Potomac (which happened fairly often during the summer of 1862), the Union soldiers ascribed it to A. P. Hill and his personal feud with McClellan.

The story was told that McClellan was aroused from sleep early one morning by the crackling musketry from the picket line where Hill’s division was opening another assault. McClellan detached himself grumpily from his blankets, and screamed these words: “My God, Ellen! Why didn’t you marry him?”

McClellan offered his services to President Abraham Lincoln on the outbreak of the Civil War. On May 3, 1861, he was named commander of the Department of the Ohio, responsible for the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and later, western Pennsylvania, western Virginia and Missouri. On May 14, he was commissioned a major general in the regular army, and at age 34 outranked everyone in the Army except Lt. General Winfield Scott, the general in chief.

On July 26, 1861, the day he reached the capital, McClellan was appointed commander of the Military Division of the Potomac, the main Union force responsible for the defense of Washington. On August 20, several military units in Virginia were consolidated into his department, and he immediately formed the Army of the Potomac, with himself as its first commander. He reveled in his newly acquired power and fame.

George B. McClellan letter to Ellen, July 26, 1861

I find myself in a new and strange position here – President, Cabinet, General Scott & all deferring to me – by some strange operation of magic, I seem to have become the power of the land… I almost think that were I to win some small success now, I could become Dictator or anything else that might please me – but nothing of that kind would please me – therefore I won’t be Dictator. Admirable self-denial!

During the summer and fall, McClellan brought a high degree of organization to his new army, and greatly improved its morale by his frequent trips to review and encourage his units. It was a remarkable achievement, in which he came to personify the Army of the Potomac and reaped the adulation of his men. He created defenses for Washington that were almost impregnable, consisting of 48 forts and strong points, with 480 guns manned by 7,200 artillerists.

But this was also a time of tension in the high command, as McClellan quarreled frequently with the government and the general-in-chief Lt. General Winfield Scott on matters of strategy. McClellan’s view of slavery as an institution recognized in the Constitution – and entitled to federal protection wherever it existed – also received bitter criticism from Radical Republicans in the government.

Scott (along with many in the War Department) was outraged that McClellan refused to divulge any details about his strategic planning, or even mundane details such as troop strengths and dispositions. McClellan claimed not to trust anyone in the administration to keep his plans secret from the press, and thus the enemy.

On November 1, 1861, General Winfield Scott retired, and McClellan became general in chief of all Union armies. The president expressed his concern about the “vast labor” involved in the dual role of army commander and general-in-chief, but McClellan responded, “I can do it all.” But Lincoln, as well as many other leaders and citizens of the northern states, became increasingly impatient with McClellan’s slowness to attack the Confederate forces massed near Washington.

McClellan further damaged his reputation by his insulting insubordination to his commander-in-chief. He privately referred to Lincoln, whom he had known before the war, as “nothing more than a well-meaning baboon”, a “gorilla”, and “ever unworthy of… his high position.” On November 13, the president visited McClellan at his home. McClellan made the president wait for 30 minutes, only to be told that the general had gone to bed.

McClellan insisted that his army should not undertake any new offensives until his new troops were fully trained. He believed that to keep resistance to a minimum, it should be made clear that Union forces would not interfere with slavery and would help put down any slave insurrections.

McClellan appointed Allan Pinkerton to spy on the Confederate Army. His reports exaggerated the size of the enemy, and McClellan was unwilling to launch an attack until he had more soldiers available. Under pressure from Radical Republicans in Congress, Abraham Lincoln decided in January 1862 to appoint Edwin M. Stanton as his new Secretary of War.

On March 11, 1862, Lincoln removed McClellan as general in chief, leaving him in command of only the Army of the Potomac, so that McClellan could devote all his attention to the capture of Richmond, the Confederate capital. Lincoln’s order was ambiguous as to whether McClellan might be restored following a successful campaign.

Lincoln, Stanton and a group of officers called the War Board directed the strategic actions of the Union armies that spring. Although McClellan was assuaged by supportive comments from Lincoln, in time he saw the change of command very differently, describing it as a part of an intrigue “to secure the failure of the approaching campaign.”

The Peninsula Campaign
McClellan and the Army of the Potomac took part in this major Union operation in southeastern Virginia from March through July 1862, the first large-scale offensive in the Eastern Theater. Lincoln disagreed with McClellan’s desire to attack Richmond from the east, and only gave in when the division commanders voted eight to four in favor of McClellan’s strategy.

On April 2, 1862, McClellan arrived with 100,000 men at the southeastern tip of the Virginia peninsula. He took Yorktown after a month’s siege but let its defenders escape. He encountered the Confederate Army at Williamsburg on May 5 and was initially successful against the equally cautious General Joseph E. Johnston.

On May 31, Johnston’s 41,800 men counterattacked McClellan’s slightly larger army at Fair Oaks, only 6 miles from Richmond. Johnston was badly wounded during the Battle of Fair Oaks, and the aggressive General Robert E. Lee was assigned to replace him as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia.

McClellan had been unable to command the army personally because of a recurrence of malarial fever, but his subordinates were able to repel the attacks. Nevertheless, he received criticism from Washington for not counterattacking. McClellan spent the next three weeks repositioning his troops and waiting for promised reinforcements, losing valuable time as Lee continued to strengthen Richmond’s defenses.

A series of engagements known as the Seven Days’ Battle were fought from June 25 through July 1, 1862. On the second day, Union General Fitz-John Porter drove back a Confederate attack at Mechanicsville, 5 miles northeast of Richmond. Joined by General Stonewall Jackson, the Confederate troops constantly attacked McClellan.

As Lee continued his offensive, McClellan played a passive role, taking no initiative and waiting for events to unfold. In a telegram to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, reporting on these events, McClellan blamed the Lincoln administration for his reversals. “If I save this army now, I tell you plainly I owe no thanks to you or to any other persons in Washington. You have done your best to sacrifice this army.”

On June 27, a Confederate charge broke through the Union center at Gaines Mill. McClellan ordered the army to fall back toward the James River, where he would have the cover of Union gunboats. On July 2, after sharp rear guard actions at Savage’s Station, Frayser’s Farm and Malvern Hill, McClellan’s troops reached Harrison’s Landing and safety.

On July 1, 1862, McClellan and Lincoln met at Harrison’s Landing, and McClellan once again insisted that the war should be waged against the Confederate Army and not slavery. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, Edwin M. Stanton and vice president Hannibal Hamlin led the campaign to have McClellan sacked, but Lincoln decided to put McClellan in charge of all forces in the Washington area.

The Maryland Campaign
Northern fears of a continued offensive by General Robert E. Lee were realized when he launched his Maryland Campaign on September 4, 1862, hoping to arouse pro-Southern sympathy in the slave state of Maryland. McClellan’s pursuit began on September 5. He marched toward Maryland with six of his reorganized corps, about 84,000 men, leaving two corps behind to defend Washington.

Lee divided his forces into multiple columns, spread apart widely as he moved into Maryland. On September 10, 1862, he sent Stonewall Jackson to capture the Union Army garrison at Harper’s Ferry, and moved the rest of his troops toward Antietam Creek. This was a risky move for a smaller army, but Lee was counting on his knowledge of McClellan’s temperament.

However, Little Mac soon received a miraculous stroke of luck. Union soldiers accidentally found a copy of Lee’s orders, and delivered them to McClellan’s headquarters in Frederick, Maryland, on September 13. However, McClellan continued his cautious line, ordering his units to set out for the South Mountain passes the following morning. The delay gave Lee more time to prepare his defenses.

The Union army reached Antietam Creek on the evening of September 15. A planned attack on September 16 was put off because of early morning fog. On the morning of September 17, 1862, McClellan and General Ambrose Burnside attacked Lee at the Battle of Antietam. Although greatly outnumbered, Lee held out until A.P. Hill arrived with reinforcements.

McClellan sent in less than three-quarters of his army, enabling Lee to fight the Federals to a standstill. During the night, both armies consolidated their lines. McClellan did not renew the assaults. Lee continued to skirmish with McClellan throughout the 18th, while removing his wounded. After dark, the battered Army of Northern Virginia crossed the Potomac River, unhindered.

McClellan wired to Washington, “Our victory was complete. The enemy is driven back into Virginia.” Yet there was obvious disappointment that McClellan had not crushed Lee, who was fighting with a smaller army with its back to the Potomac River. Lincoln was angry at McClellan because his superior forces had not pursued Lee across the Potomac.

The Beginning of the End
The Battle of Antietam was the single bloodiest day in American military history. Despite significant advantages, McClellan had been unable to concentrate his forces effectively. Historian James M. McPherson has pointed out that the two corps McClellan kept in reserve were in fact larger than Lee’s entire force.
As a result of being unable to achieve a decisive victory at Antietam, Abraham Lincoln postponed the attempt to capture Richmond. A few days later came the order from Washington to “cross the Potomac and give battle to the enemy or drive him South.” However, McClellan refused to move, complaining that he needed fresh horses. Radical Republicans now began to openly question McClellan’s loyalty.

Abraham Lincoln finally recalled him to Washington with the words: “My dear McClellan: If you don’t want to use the Army I should like to borrow it for a while.” On November 7, 1862, Lincoln removed McClellan from all commands and replaced him with Ambrose Burnside.
McClellan wrote to Ellen:

Those in whose judgment I rely tell me that I fought the battle splendidly, and that it was a masterpiece of art… I feel I have done all that can be asked in twice saving the country… I feel some little pride in having, with a beaten and demoralized army, defeated Lee so utterly… Well, one of these days history will, I trust, do me justice.

In October 1863, George B. McClellan began his political career, and was nominated by the Democratic Party to run against Abraham Lincoln in the 1864 presidential election. Following the example of Winfield Scott, he ran as a U.S. Army general still on active duty he did not resign his commission until election day, November 8, 1864. In an attempt to obtain unity, Lincoln named a Southern Democrat, Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, as his running mate.

The deep division in the party, the unity of the Republicans, and the military successes by Union forces in the fall of 1864 doomed McClellan’s candidacy. Lincoln won the election handily, with 212 Electoral College votes to 21 for McClellan, and a popular vote of 403,000, or 55%. Lincoln’s share of the vote in the Army of the Potomac was 70%.

After the 1864 election, McClellan set sail for Europe, and wrote to President Lincoln:

It would have been gratifying to me to have retired from the service with the knowledge that I still retained the approbation of your Excellency – as it is, I thank you for the confidence and kind feeling you once entertained for me, and which I am conscious of having justly forfeited…

In severing my official connection with your Excellency, I pray that God may bless you, and so direct your counsels that you may succeed in restoring to this distracted land the inestimable boon of peace, founded on the preservation of our Union and the mutual respect and sympathy of the now discordant and contending sections of our once happy country.

McClellan spent three years in Europe, returning to the US in 1867 to head the construction of a newly designed warship called the Stevens battery, a floating ironclad battery intended for harbor defense. In 1869, the project ran out of money, McClellan resigned, and the ship was eventually sold for scrap metal.

In 1870, McClellan became chief engineer for the New York City Department of Docks, and built a second home on Orange Mountain, New Jersey. Evidently the position did not demand his full-time attention because, starting in 1872, he also served as the president of the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad.

After resigning this position in the spring of 1873, McClellan established Geo. B. McClellan & Co., Consulting Engineers & Accountants , and then left for a two-year trip through Europe, from 1873 to 1875. His essays on Europe were published in Scribner’s , and his analyses of contemporary military issues in Harper’s Monthly and The North American Review .

In 1877, the Democratic Party in New Jersey was divided into several contentious factions, producing a deadlock in the race for the gubernatorial nomination. At the state convention in early September, McClellan was nominated on the first ballot, serving as governor of New Jersey from 1878 to 1881.

In late 1880, McClellan moved his family to Gramercy Park in Manhattan. Over the next few years, he and Ellen spent winters in New York City, Augusts at a resort in New Hampshire’s White Mountains or Maine’s Mount Desert Island, and the rest of each year in New Jersey.

McClellan’s final years were devoted to traveling and writing. He justified his military career in McClellan’s Own Story , published posthumously in 1887. In early 1885, McClellan was expected to be named secretary of war in the Grover Cleveland administration, but his candidacy was torpedoed.

General George B. McClellan died unexpectedly in 1884 at age 58 at Orange, New Jersey, after having suffered from chest pains for a few weeks. His final words, at 3 a.m. were, “I feel easy now. Thank you.” He is buried at Riverview Cemetery, Trenton, New Jersey.

Ellen Mary Marcy McClellan, although in poor health, outlived George. She died in 1915 in Nice, France, while visiting daughter May at her home.

When this sad war is over we will all return to our homes, and feel that we can ask no higher honor than the proud consciousness that we belonged to the Army of the Potomac.

General George B. McClellan

Abraham Lincoln, in a discussion with journalists about General George McClellan (March 1863):

I do not, as some do, regard McClellan either as a traitor or an officer without capacity. He sometimes has bad counselors, but he is loyal, and he has some fine military qualities. I adhered to him after nearly all my constitutional advisers lost faith in him. But do you want to know when I gave him up? It was after the Battle of Antietam.

The Blue Ridge was then between our army and Lee’s. I directed McClellan peremptorily to move on Richmond. It was eleven days before he crossed his first man over the Potomac it was eleven days after that before he crossed the last man. Thus he was twenty-two days in passing the river at a much easier and more practicable ford than that where Lee crossed his entire army between dark one night and daylight the next morning. That was the last grain of sand which broke the camel’s back. I relieved McClellan at once.

Union general George B. McClellan is restored to full command - HISTORY

Major General George Brinton McClellan, U.S.A.
( 1826 - 1885 )

A brilliant engineer and highly capable organizer, George B. McClellan just wasn't an army commander. Put in that position, he proved the weakness of West Point in its early years the academy was simply geared to the production of engineers and company officers for a small, pre-Civil War regular army.

The Philadelphia native had entered the academy from the University of Pennsylvania and graduated in 1846 in the second position of his class. Accordingly he was assigned to the engineers. He earned two brevets under Winfield Scott in Mexico and later served at his alma mater. The slow promotions in the regular army prompted him to take a captaincy in the cavalry in the 1855 expansion of the service.

He was dispatched to study European armies and filed an extensive report centering on the Crimean War siege operations at Sebastopol. This experience would later influence his decisions on the Virginia Peninsula. During the rest of his year overseas he traveled widely and altered the Prussian and Hungarian cavalry saddles into the "McClellan Saddle" that was used until the army abolished its mounted arm.

He resigned his commission on January 16, 1857, and entered railroad engineering. He worked for the Illinois Central-as chief engineer and vice president and just before the Civil War became a division president for the Ohio & Mississippi. Despite his success in the private field he was happy to reenter the military in 1862.

His assignments included: major general, Ohio Volunteers (April 23, 1861) commanding Ohio Militia (April 23 - May 13, 1861) commanding Army of Occupation, West Virginia, Department of the Ohio and the department (May 13-July 23, 1861) major general, USA (May 14, 1861) commanding Military Division of the Potomac (July 25 - August 15, 1861) commanding Army and Department of the Potomac (August 15, 1861 - November 9, 1862) and commander-in-chief, USA (November 5, 1861 - March 11, 1862).

Initially appointed by Ohio's Governor William Dennison, he was soon made second only to Scott by a former attorney for the Illinois Central-Abraham Lincoln. Letting his rapid rise from retired captain to major general go to his head, he issued comical denials of any desire to become a dictator. By then he had won some minor victories in western Virginia, receiving the Thanks of Congress on July 16, 1861, although much of the credit belonged to his subordinates there and in Kentucky.

He was called to take charge at Washington after the disaster at First Bull Run, but his behavior toward Scott and the civil authorities was unpardonable. Now called "The Young Napoleon," he actively worked for Scott's retirement and was named in his place. His engineering and organizational skills shined bright in the creation of the Army of the Potomac, a mighty machine. But he did not advance and refused to divulge his plans to the civilians over him. He even refused to see the president on one occasion. In December 1861 he was downed by typhoid and this prolonged the delays. By the time he did advance on Manassas, Joseph E. Johnston's army had withdrawn.

McClellan then planned an advance on Richmond by way of the Peninsula between the James and York Rivers. It was a good plan despite Lincoln's fears for Washington. But McClellan did not have the ability to direct it. The movement started well but - remembering Sebastopol - he begin siege operations at Yorktown, which allowed Johnston to move in reinforcements. When Johnston withdrew McClellan followed, fighting at Williamsburg to within sight of the Confederate capital. He then stopped. He was constantly overestimating the strength of the enemy facing him. It was these constant delays which prompted Lincoln to suspend him from command of all the armies on March 11, 1862, so that he could concentrate on the Army of the Potomac and Richmond.

He survived the Confederate counterattack at Seven Pines, principally through confusion in the Confederate army and the actions of his own subordinates. When Lee attacked him in the Seven Days in late June he failed to take the opportunity to strike at Richmond along the weakly defended south side of the Chickahominy River. Instead he panicked and ordered a dangerous change of base from the York to the James River in the facing of Lee's attacks. Most of the battles fought in the movement were Union successes but the overall outcome of the campaign was negative as a result of McClellan's weaknesses. Safely entrenched at Harrison's Landing he began condemning the War Department, Lincoln, and Stanton, blaming them for the defeat. Finally it was decided in Washington to abandon the campaign and transfer most of McClellan's men to John Pope's army in northern Virginia. There were charges that McClellan-now called by the press "Mac the Unready" and "The Little Corporal of Unsought Fields - "was especially slow in cooperating.

With Pope defeated at 2nd Bull Run and his men streaming back to the Washington fortifications, McClellan was restored to active command of his reconstituted army and was welcomed by his men who affectionately called him "Little Mac." In the Maryland Campaign he advanced to confront Lee in the western part of the state and moved uncharacteristically fast when some of his command found a copy of Lee's orders for the movement of his troops. Lee fought several delaying actions along South Mountain in order to reconcentrate his army. His caution returning, McClellan slowed down, and Lee was able to get most of his men in line at Antietam. McClellan attacked piecemeal and his attacks failed to crush Lee who was heavily outnumbered with his back to the Potomac River. Lincoln was extremely upset by the escape of Lee and his army but nonetheless used the "victory" to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

Continuing his dilatory tactics, McClellan resorted to constant demands for more men and called for massive reequipping and fresh mounts for his cavalry. Then for the second time JEB Stuart's cavalry rode completely around the Army of the Potomac, Under orders from the War Department, McClellan relinquished command on November 9, 1862, and repaired to his Trenton, New Jersey, home to await new directives destined never to arrive. The Democratic candidate for president in 1864, he was hampered by the party's plank calling for an end to the war, which was labeled a failure. He himself denounced the plank and was for the rigorous pursuit of victory. At first it appeared that he would defeat Lincoln, but Union victories in the field diminished the public's war weariness. Winning in only three states, he resigned from the army on election day. Active in state politics, he served as New Jersey's governor in the late 1870's and early 1880's. He died on October 29, 1885, at Orange, New Jersey, and is buried in Riverview Cemetery, Trenton.

(McClellan, George Brinton, McClellan's Ouw Story Hassler, Warren W., Jr., General George B. McClellan: Shield of the Union and Myers, William Starr, General George Brinton McClellan: A Study in Personality)

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Contents copyright 1995-2010 Rich Mountain Battlefield Foundation

McClellan Routed At Bull Run

After the rout at Bull Run, also known as the First Battle of Manassas, the Union’s Army of Northern Virginia was in a chaotic state. McClellan, a superb organizer, quickly organized and drilled it, winning the hearts of his men in the process. The army was renamed the Army of the Potomac.

While highly skilled in matter demanding organization, the Young Napoleon proved overly cautious and slow-moving as a field commander. He accepted at face value greatly inflated estimates of Confederate strength that were provided to him by Allan Pinkerton’s detective agency, and so he always thought he was outnumbered. Removed as general-in-chief in the spring of 1862, he was finally pressured by Lincoln and the War Department to do something with his army. He embarked upon the Peninsula Campaign, landing his forces near Fortress Monroe in the Virginia peninsula and advancing on Richmond. Had he moved rapidly, he might have captured the Confederate capital at Richmond—the army got close enough to hear its church bells—but his fear of his 100,000-man army being overwhelmed by the Confederate forces that he thought outnumbered him led to a snail-like advance. On June 26, General Robert E. Lee, who had replaced the wounded Joseph Johnston as commander of the army at Richmond, struck McClellan’s troops near Beaver Dam Creek. In a campaign that became known as the Battle of the Seven Days, Lee’s men forced McClellan back down the peninsula.The disappointed Lincoln replaced McClellan as general in chief of the armies with Henry Halleck, and the Army of the Potomac was placed under Maj. Gen. John Pope, until the latter met with disaster on the old Manassas battlefield in the Second Battle of Bull Run.

Lee, believing the Union forces would be disorganized and demoralized for some time after that battle decided to carry the war into the North for the first time. The return of their beloved Little Mac to lead them again, however, buoyed the Union troops’ spirits, and McClellan’s organization skills once again served that army well. After a copy of Lee’s marching orders fell into his hands, he marched to intercept the Southern army at Sharpsburg, Maryland. There, on the banks of Antietam Creek, the two armies fought the bloodiest single day in America’s history, resulting in over 22,000 casualties. The Battle of Antietam, in which Lee’s army might have been crushed with its back to the Potomac, ended as a crimson stalemate. The battered Southern army was permitted to withdraw without serious pursuit.

Although McClellan wrote to his wife that his officers “tell me I fought the battle splendidly,” in fact he never provided his corps commanders with a coordinated battle plan, and he kept an entire corps in reserve throughout the battle, fearing a counterattack by Lee. Had those thousands of fresh troops been committed against the weakened defenders, Little Mac might well have destroyed Lee’s army then and there, shortening the war considerably.

Union general George B. McClellan is restored to full command - HISTORY

McClellan was an interesting man, full of both strengths and weaknesses. A brilliant engineer and a great organizer, McClellan created the Army of the Potomac, the Union's mighty fighting force. He just didn't want to use it.

McClellan was better at organizing than fighting. He was highly intelligent, but couldn't wage a successful campaign. He always had an excuse for not engaging the enemy: his men were outnumbered (actually, they were not) he needed more troops and it wasn't a good time or place or season for a battle. Once, Lincoln was so frustrated at McClellan's failure to act that he sent the general a telegram that read, "If General McClellan does not want to use the Army, I would like to borrow it for a time, provided I could see how it could be made to do something."

McClellan graduated second in his class from West Point, the United States Military Academy. He fought under Winfield Scott in Mexico, and after the Mexican War, he studied European armies. He resigned from the army to work as chief engineer for a railroad company, and he was very successful.

When the Civil War broke out, McClellan reentered the military. He held several important military positions, and soon after the disaster at Bull Run, he was second in command under General Winfield Scott. Fiercely ambitious, he worked behind the scenes to force the general to retire. Some people called him "the Young Napoleon" after the French general and emperor. He refused to tell his civilian supervisors in the War Department what he was planning. Once he even refused to see President Lincoln—his commander-in-chief! Don't you think that was rude?

After many delays, McClellan marched his army overland to within a few miles of Richmond, the Confederate capital. But after a week of fierce fighting, he retreated. He thought the enemy had a much larger force. His retreat made Lincoln so mad that he suspended McClellan from command of all the armies, leaving him only the Army of the Potomac. McClellan blamed the War Department, Lincoln, and the Secretary of Defense for his defeats. He managed to defeat Lee at Antietam, but lost many men and squandered a chance to crush the Confederate Army. Finally, the exasperated Lincoln fired him.

McClellan, who remained popular with his men, ran for president against Lincoln in 1864 but was defeated. He resigned from the army and worked in state politics, serving as governor of New Jersey.

Thoughts, Essays, and Musings on the Civil War: A Civil War Historian's Views on Various Aspects of the American Civil War

I will begin this blog entry with a warning to readers: I despise George Brinton McClellan more than any other historical figure of the Civil War era. He represents everything I detest in people, in general, but even more so in a military professional. McClellan was an imperious, obstinate, arrogant, pseudo-intellectual patrician who saw almost everyone as his inferior. He trusted no one, could not delegate authority, had a massive ego, and a messianic complex that allowed him to see himself as the sole savior of the republic. He was also a class-conscious prig, who considered his commander-in-chief, Abraham Lincoln, as his social and intellectual inferior, and clearly unqualified for any national leadership role. He identified with the Southern aristocracy that led the rebellion against the government and, as a result, wanted a war that was limited, that respected property, including slaves, and that sought merely to restore the Union without inflicting emancipation, which he considered equal to inciting servile insurrection. Therefore, if you are seeking an objective opinion of the man, you would be wise to go elsewhere.

From that description, one might think McClellan would make an excellent subject for psychological analysis, and, indeed, he probably would. McClellan had issues with authority figures from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood. He clashed with teachers, his West Point instructors, commanding officers, and even his bosses while working in the railroad business. He saw enemies everywhere, and anyone who disagreed with his wisdom was instantly labeled as evil, as a foe to be vanquished. However, McClellan was not without incredible professional talents. He had remarkable energy and focus, and could organize and train an army like no other general during the Civil War. But, of course, that was not enough to achieve military success.

He also possessed a remarkable and powerful intellect, but it was one that was purely linear. As a result, he tended to make snap judgments and refused to adapt when events changed conditions or proved his initial decisions to be erroneous. This characteristic also led him to see dangers everywhere, to become timid in battle, and always overestimate the strength of the enemy. This latter aspect dominated his command of the Army of the Potomac and caused him to be overly cautious, passive, and defensive. Lincoln once characterized McClellan as having a case of the “slows” and that was being kind. This malady was a product of McClellan’s constant obsessive belief in the strength of the Confederate army before him. He would overestimate their numbers by orders of magnitude and insist he could not move forward without more troops and resources. But, what he was actually doing was setting the stage for either a brilliant victory or a defeat that was someone else’s fault.

This can be clearly seen in his reports on the Seven Days Battles in 1862. Before the beginning of the first battle at Fair Oaks, he insisted that his army of 130,000 men was outnumbered almost two to one, when, in fact, he faced only about 50,000 of the enemy. Following a successful battle, he overstated the brilliance of the victory and claimed results that were, frankly, utterly dishonest. However, when the newly appointed Southern commander, Robert E. Lee, counterattacked and took the offensive, McClellan began to blame the Lincoln administration for his defeats—defeats that were only losses because he withdrew in the face of inferior numbers. Worse, as the fighting continued, McClellan withdrew from command as well, letting his subordinates attempt to coordinate the army’s actions on the field. Meanwhile, he focused on making a successful retreat and upon shifting his line of supply from the York to the James River, an act he would later proclaim as one of the most brilliant in the annals of military history. Meanwhile, he failed to defeat the enemy. However, in his mind, that was the result of poor support and a numerically superior enemy.

McClellan also fought a near constant battle with Abraham Lincoln, whom he told his wife, Ellen, was “the original Gorilla.” McClellan considered Lincoln to be a fool, a man ill-suited to lead. His arrogance did not allow him to see that, while his own mind worked on a basis of linear thinking, Lincoln possessed an incredibly multidimensional intellect. As a result, McClellan thought he would always be able to outthink and outmaneuver his commander-in-chief. Instead, Lincoln quickly surpassed him in terms of both strategic thinking and political prowess. Still, as McClellan sat on the banks of the James River, cowering before Lee and his army, he wrote a policy paper on the conduct of the war, which he placed in the President’s hand during a visit by Lincoln to the Army of the Potomac.

McClellan’s policy proposal, which he assured his wife would “save the nation,” called for a polite war, a restricted war, one only intended to defeat the Confederate armies in the field and make the Southern leadership see the errors of their way. There was to be no subjugation of the Southern people, no confiscation of property, and, above all, no emancipation of the slaves. McClellan was particularly pointed on the latter, stating, “A declaration of radical views, especially upon slavery, will rapidly disintegrate our present armies.” In saying this, McClellan was not only demonstrating his sympathies for the Southern aristocracy, he also was showing that he did not recognize the rapidly changing dynamics of the conflict.

Following the disaster on the Virginia Peninsula, McClellan would quickly reorganize the Army of the Potomac and lead it forward in pursuit of Lee as the Confederate general invaded Maryland. Many had called for him to be sacked following the Peninsula Campaign but, with the defeat of John Pope’s Union Army of Virginia at Second Manassas, Lincoln could see that, once again, he badly needed McClellan’s administrative and organizational skills to repair the army and return it to fighting condition. So, he would give him one more chance.

McClellan would fail to deliver once more, although not as painfully as he had at the gates of Richmond. At Antietam, he faced a cornered, desperate Confederate army, badly outnumbered by Federal forces. However, once again, McClellan saw a nonexistent host of enemy forces and certain disaster at every turn. He believed Lee to have better than twice his actual strength and, at a crucial moment of the battle when his plan produced a desired situation, he hesitated. Lee’s entire center was open, utterly vulnerable to an attack that would split his battered forces in two. All McClellan had to do was launch an attack with a fresh reserve corps and Lee would be smashed. However, General John Fitz-Porter, a McClellan disciple, whispered to him that to do so would require committing the last remaining corps in the army to battle. McClellan quickly changed his mind, hoping instead that some other success might come without sending in his last reserves. That success did not manifest itself, as Lee was saved by the last minute arrival of A.P. Hill’s division on the field. McClellan would not renew the battle the next day, and Lee would slip across the Potomac into the safety of Virginia.

Lincoln’s attempts to prod McClellan into a pursuit failed, even weeks after the battle. However, ironically, McClellan’s bloody draw at Antietam allowed the president to issue of the Emancipation Proclamation, an action bitterly opposed by McClellan. It was now clear to everyone that McClellan could no longer be allowed to command the army or, in fact, serve anywhere in it. He was relieved on command and returned to civilian life. His last hurrah was his attempt to unseat Lincoln as President of the United Sates in the elections of 1864. Unfortunately for him, his plank calling for a peaceful reconciliation with the Confederacy did not ring true with either the voters of the North or the men serving in the army he once commanded. He was soundly defeated at the polls and disappeared into history.

But, I will end this essay by adding a few positive notes on the career of George McClellan. First, McClellan cared for his men, fed them and equipped them well. As a result, he was dearly loved by the soldiers he led in the Army of the Potomac, who lovingly referred to him as “Little Mac.” However, he cared for his men too much, perhaps, and could not bring himself to employ what Lincoln later called “the awful arithmetic” of war. Still, McClellan did leave us one truly positive legacy: Through his obstinate, arrogant, and insubordinate nature, he forced Abraham Lincoln to turn his considerable intellect toward the study of war. Almost singlehandedly, George McClellan caused Lincoln to see that war must not only be fought with vigor, with tenacity, and that it must have a moral basis in emancipation and “a new birth of freedom.” He also led Lincoln to see the true role of the Commander-in-Chief, which caused the President to eventually find the kind of general he needed to win the war and restore the nation whole.

McClellan at Antietam

Major General George B. McClellan. Wikimedia Commons

In all his months as army commander, Major General George Brinton McClellan fought just one battle, Antietam, from start to finish. Antietam, then, must serve as the measure of his generalship. Colonel Ezra Carman, who survived that bloody field and later wrote the most detailed tactical study of the fighting there, had it right when he observed that on September 17, 1862, “more errors were committed by the Union commander than in any other battle of the war.”

General McClellan’s most grievous error was hugely overestimating Confederate numbers. This delusion dominated his military character. In August 1861, taking command of the Army of the Potomac, he began entirely on his own to over-count the enemy’s forces. Later he was abetted by Allan Pinkerton, his inept intelligence chief, but even Pinkerton could not keep pace with McClellan’s imagination. On the eve of Antietam, McClellan would tell Washington he faced a gigantic Rebel army “amounting to not less than 120,000 men,” outnumbering his own army “by at least twenty-five per cent.” So it was that George McClellan imagined three Rebel soldiers for every one he faced on the Antietam battlefield. Every decision he made that September 17 was dominated by his fear of counterattack by phantom Confederate battalions.

The testing of battle uncovered another McClellan failing – his management of his own generals. Of his six corps commanders, he displayed confidence in only two, Fitz John Porter and Joseph Hooker. He had termed 65-year-old Edwin Sumner “even a greater fool than I had supposed,” and regarded William Franklin as slow and lacking in energy. He had recently rebuked Ambrose Burnside for his tepid pursuit of the Rebels after the fighting at South Mountain. Joseph Mansfield, new to command, was an unknown quantity. McClellan called no council of his generals to explain his intentions, issued no plan of battle, and on September 17 conferred at length only with Fitz John Porter.

By taking up a defensive position west of Antietam Creek, General Robert E. Lee challenged McClellan to attack him. McClellan responded to the challenge with obsessive caution. He determined to strike Lee’s left, or northern, flank with at first just Joe Hooker’s First Corps. Crossing the Antietam behind Hooker and in support of him was Mansfield’s Twelfth Corps. The Second, Fifth, and Ninth Corps and the cavalry remained east of the Antietam. That stream would serve McClellan throughout the battle as a defensive moat against the counterattacks he anticipated. Franklin’s Sixth Corps was belatedly ordered up from Pleasant Valley, and only reached the field with the battle half over.

Having Hooker spearhead the attack, backed by Mansfield, was McClellan’s deliberate ploy to derail command influence by Ambrose Burnside and Edwin Sumner. On the march north from Washington, Burnside had commanded one wing of the army, comprising his Ninth Corps and Hooker’s First Corps. By peeling Hooker away and sending him to the opposite end of the battlefield, McClellan reduced Burnside’s authority by half, leaving that general sulking. Sumner had led the other wing of the army – his Second Corps and Mansfield’s Twelfth – on the march north. With Mansfield across the creek and slated to follow Hooker into battle, Sumner was left with only the Second Corps. Unlike Burnside, Sumner did not sulk at his demotion, but instead became more impatient to get into the fight.

McClellan’s initial design included a move against the Confederates’ other flank, to the south, by Burnside’s Ninth Corps. Either a diversion or a full-blooded attack – McClellan never made it clear which in dealing with Burnside – the assault was intended to prevent Lee from reinforcing against the Hooker-led main assault. However, since McClellan did not order Burnside to advance until the fighting elsewhere was three hours old, he was far too late to serve as a diversion. This was typical of McClellan’s orders that day – issued too late, or lacking in coordination, or reacting to events rather than directing them. Before long in that day of savage fighting, General McClellan lost control of the battle and fell captive to his delusions about the enemy he faced.

The fighting in the Miller Cornfield was some of the most vicious of the entire Civil War. Throughout the morning, both sides made charges through the tall stalks. Robert Shenk

The morning struggle on the northern front – in the West Woods and the East Woods and the Cornfield and around the Dunker Church – proceeded in bursts from 6 a.m. onward and was unimaginably bloody. Hooker struck first with his First Corps. Rather than advancing to Hooker’s immediate support, Mansfield’s Twelfth Corps was posted too far back and brought up too late. The forces of Hooker and Stonewall Jackson shot each other to pieces without interruption.

It was not until 7:30 that the Twelfth Corps pushed past the shattered First to take up the fight. An early casualty was General Mansfield, struck in the chest with a mortal wound General Alpheus Williams took over the command. Williams’s men were soon entangled in pockets of bitter fighting all across the northern battleground. Joe Hooker was wounded, depriving the Army of the Potomac of one of its best fighting generals at a critical moment. At nine o’clock Williams signaled McClellan: “Genl. Mansfield is dangerously wounded. Genl. Hooker wounded severely in foot. Genl. Sumner I hear is advancing. . . . Please give us all the aid you can.”

Sumner’s big Second Corps – its 15,200 men made it almost as large as the First and Twelfth Corps combined – was indeed finally advancing. But Sumner needed to cross the Antietam and march two miles to the scene of the fighting, so the Twelfth Corps, like the First, would make its fight alone. Even in unleashing Sumner, McClellan acted with exceeding caution. He permitted only two of Sumner’s three divisions to cross the Antietam. He held Israel Richardson’s division east of the creek until a division from the reserve came up to replace it. Only at nine o’clock would Richardson follow the rest of the Second Corps into action.

By then Sumner had marched straight into disaster. Furious at McClellan’s delays, he personally led John Sedgwick’s division onto the field – and into an ambush. Forty percent of Sedgwick’s men became casualties in hardly 15 minutes. To make matters worse, the trailing division could not keep pace with Sumner, lost direction, and struck the Rebel defenders of the Sunken Road, at the center of the battleground. Richardson’s division, released at last by McClellan, went to William French’s aid. This shifted the weight of the fighting to the Sunken Road.

During these early morning hours, as the First Corps, then the Twelfth, then the Second plunged separately into this fiery cauldron of a battle, McClellan held back Burnside’s Ninth Corps. Finally came word that the Sixth Corps, called up from Pleasant Valley, was approaching. This would replenish the defenses behind Antietam Creek, so McClellan released Burnside. The order, timed 9:10 a.m., read: “General Franklin’s command is within one mile and a half of here. General McClellan desires you to open your attack.”

Dead soldiers along the "Sunken Road" at Antietam. Library of Congress

While Burnside grappled with the problem of getting across the Antietam, the fighting at the Sunken Road abruptly turned in the Federals’ favor. Due to a mix-up of orders, the Confederate infantry abandoned the position, leaving a large gap in the center of Lee’s line. McClellan witnessed all this from Porter’s Fifth Corps headquarters, but by now he was drained of all aggressiveness. He ordered the troops at the Sunken Road to stand on the defensive.

William Franklin’s Sixth Corps was up now, and Franklin and his generals urged an assault against the depleted enemy defenses on the northern flank. McClellan rode to the scene, heard them out, then listened to a demoralized General Sumner insist that taking the offensive there would “risk a total defeat.” Bowing to his defeatist lieutenant, McClellan ordered the troops on the defensive here as well. One of Franklin’s generals, William F. Smith, termed it “the nail in McC’s coffin as a general.”

The last opportunity for a decisive victory fell to Ambrose Burnside. By one o’clock, after fumbling and false starts, Burnside seized a bridge across the Antietam and by three o’clock started a thrust toward Sharpsburg to turn Lee’s southern flank. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, Confederate general A.P. Hill assailed the Ninth Corps’ open flank. Hill had marched his division 17 miles from Harper’s Ferry to reach the field at exactly the moment to stymie Burnside. Correspondent George Smalley was with the general commanding at Fifth Corps headquarters. McClellan, he wrote, “turns a half-questioning look on Fitz-John Porter, who stands by his side, and one may believe that the same thought is passing through the minds of both generals. ‘They are the only reserves of the army they cannot be spared.’” Burnside, unsupported, retreated to his bridge.

This final Union setback was due as much to General McClellan as the rest of the day’s setbacks. Contrary to all the canons of generalship, he had not a single cavalry vedette guarding his army’s flanks. A.P. Hill’s assault came as a complete surprise.

Antietam must be judged the best chance to utterly defeat Robert E. Lee until that day two and a half years later at Appomattox. Against an enemy he outnumbered better than two to one, George McClellan devoted himself to not losing rather than winning. Nor would he dare to renew the battle the next day. The final measure of his self-delusion is his letter to his wife on September 18: “Those in whose judgment I rely,” he wrote, “tell me that I fought the battle splendidly & that it was a masterpiece of art.”

McClellan, George Brinton (1826&ndash1885)

George Brinton McClellan, United States army officer, engineer, and politician, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on December 3, 1826, the son of Dr. George and Elizabeth Steinmetz (Brinton) McClellan. After attending the University of Pennsylvania he entered the United States Military Academy at West Point on July 1, 1842, and graduated second in his class in 1846. He was brevetted a second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers and, as a member of Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott's staff, won brevets to first lieutenant and captain for distinguished service in the Mexican War. He took part in the battles of Contreras, Churubusco, and Chapultepec. For the three years following the war he was an instructor at West Point. In June 1851 he was transferred to assist in the construction of Fort Delaware, on an island in the Delaware River some forty miles below Philadelphia. Less than a year later, however, he was appointed engineer, commissary, quartermaster, and second-in-command of Capt. Randolph B. Marcy's Red River expedition. On March 5, 1852, McClellan was ordered to Fort Smith, Arkansas. From there the seventy-five-man expedition moved to Fort Washita, Indian Territory, and then into the Texas Panhandle. In 1852 the upper Red River area remained the largest unexplored tract of Texas, and the expedition's duty was to map the region for future travelers and settlers. Also among McClellan's duties was the keeping of a detailed daily meteorological record and a collection of mineral samples found on the route. On June 16 the party discovered the source of the north fork of the Red River and named it McClellan Creek. Of the Palo Duro Canyon McClellan wrote, "the scenery equals in beauty and wildness any that I ever beheld. The immense bluffs tower above us on every side, and assume every shape that fancy may suggest." McClellan married Marcy's daughter Mary Ellen on May 22, 1860, and they had two children.

Back in Arkansas on July 28, McClellan received orders to report to Brig. Gen. Persifor F. Smith, commander of the Military District of Texas. As Smith's chief of engineers, McClellan accompanied the general on tours of inspection of frontier forts in Texas. In October 1852 he was ordered to oversee a survey of the state's rivers and harbors from headquarters at Corpus Christi, and in March 1853 he reported the need for extensive dredging of port facilities. In April he was assigned to a surveying expedition for a proposed railroad through Washington Territory to the Pacific Ocean. He was promoted to captain and assigned to the First United States Cavalry on March 3, 1855, and that same month Secretary of War Jefferson Davis sent him to Russia to observe French and English military operations in the Crimean War. When he returned from Europe he designed the famous cavalry saddle that still bears his name. He resigned from the army in 1857 and became chief engineer and later vice president of the Illinois Central railroad in 1860 he became president of the Ohio and Mississippi railroad.

In 1861 McClellan was living in Cincinnati. On April 23, with the outbreak of the Civil War, the governor appointed him a major general of Ohio volunteers. His victories at Rich Mountain and Corrick's Ford, now in West Virginia, won him national attention, and on July 27, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln appointed him commander of the principal Union army in the East, which McClellan reorganized and named the Army of the Potomac. A staunch Democrat, he quarreled bitterly with Lincoln and many of his cabinet, but nevertheless, on November 1, 1861, he was named general in chief of all United States forces. Only after receiving a direct order from Lincoln did he launch his amphibious invasion of Virginia in March 1862, landing his 118,000-man army at Fort Monroe on the tip of the peninsula formed by the James and York rivers. His march up the peninsula toward Richmond was repeatedly checked by much smaller Confederate forces under generals John B. Magruder and Joseph E. Johnston, and in a series of battles around the Confederate capital in late June McClellan was repulsed by Gen. Robert E. Lee and forced to withdraw his army to its transports and sail for Washington. Lincoln, disgusted with McClellan's failures, relieved him of his duties as general in chief in July 1862 and transferred most of his divisions to Maj. Gen. John Pope's Army of Virginia. But when Lee delivered Pope a resounding defeat at the second battle of Manassas or Second Bull Run, McClellan was restored to command of his army. He fought a drawn battle with Lee's weaker Army of Northern Virginia at Sharpsburg, Maryland, (also known as the battle of Antietam) on September 17, 1862, but failed to exploit his strategic advantage. Lincoln therefore removed him from command for a second and final time.

McClellan thereupon entered politics full-time and in 1864 ran as the Democratic candidate for president of the United States. He resigned from the army on election day, November 8. After his defeat he returned to civil engineering and from 1878 until 1881 served as governor of New Jersey. In August 1885 he and Marcy returned to the Red River to inspect a Foard County copper-mining venture that McClellan had organized. His autobiography, McClellan's Own Story, published in 1887, is generally considered acutely biased and self-serving. He died in Maywood, New Jersey, on October 29, 1885, and was buried in Riverview Cemetery, Trenton.

McClellan's War : The Failure of Moderation in the Struggle for the Union

"A superb piece of historical scholarship. Rafuse has crafted a book that is groundbreaking in its conception." -- Joseph L. Harsh, author of Confederate Tide Rising: Robert E. Lee and the Making of Southern Strategy, 1861--1862

"Brings something new, or at least relatively unknown, to the 'McClellan debate.'. It is the first work I have read that explains McClellan's approach in a way that is both somewhat favorable and satisfactory, showing the basis of McClellan's views." -- Brian K. Burton, author of Extraordinary Circumstances: The Seven Days Battles

This biography of the controversial Union general George B. McClellan examines the influences and political antecedents that shaped his behavior on the battlefield, behavior that so frustrated Lincoln and others in Washington that he was removed from his command soon after the Union loss at Antietam. Rather than take sides in the controversy, Ethan S. Rafuse finds in McClellan's politics and his desire to restore sectional harmony ample explanation for his actions. Rafuse sheds new light on the general who believed in the rule of reason and moderation, who sought a policy of conciliation with the South, and who wanted to manage the North's military resources in a way that would impose rational order on the battlefield.


McDowell was born in Columbus, Ohio, son of Abram Irvin McDowell and Eliza Seldon McDowell. [2] He was a cousin-in-law of John Buford, [3] and his brother, John Adair McDowell, served as the first colonel of the 6th Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. [2] Irvin initially attended the College de Troyes in France before graduating from the United States Military Academy in 1838, where one of his classmates was P. G. T. Beauregard, his future adversary at First Bull Run. He was commissioned a second lieutenant and posted to the 1st U.S. Artillery. McDowell served as a tactics instructor at West Point, before becoming aide-de-camp to General John E. Wool during the Mexican–American War. He was brevetted captain at Buena Vista and served in the Adjutant General's department after the war. While in that department he was promoted to major on May 31, 1856. [3]

Between 1848 and 1861, McDowell generally served as a staff officer to higher-ranking military leaders, and developed experience in logistics and supply. He developed a close friendship with General Winfield Scott while serving on his staff. He also served under future Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston. [4]

McDowell was promoted to brigadier general in the regular army on May 14, 1861, and was given command of the Army of Northeastern Virginia on May 27. The promotion was partly because of the influence of his mentor, Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase. Although McDowell knew that his troops were inexperienced and unready, and protested that he was a supply officer, not a field commander, pressure from the Washington politicians forced him to launch a premature offensive against Confederate forces in Northern Virginia. His strategy during the First Battle of Bull Run was imaginative but ambitiously complex, and his troops were not experienced enough to carry it out effectively, resulting in an embarrassing rout.

After the defeat at Bull Run, Major General George B. McClellan was placed in command of the new Union Army defending Washington, the Army of the Potomac. McDowell became a division commander in the Army of the Potomac. On March 14, 1862, President Lincoln issued an order forming the army into corps and McDowell got command of the I Corps as well as a promotion to major general of volunteers. When the army set off for the Virginia Peninsula in April, McDowell's command was detached for duty in the Rappahannock area out of concern over Stonewall Jackson's activities in the Shenandoah Valley (one division was later sent down to the Peninsula).

Eventually, the three independent commands of Generals McDowell, John C. Frémont, and Nathaniel P. Banks were combined into Major General John Pope's Army of Virginia and McDowell led the III Corps of that army. Because of his actions at Cedar Mountain, McDowell was eventually brevetted major general in the regular army however, he was blamed for the subsequent disaster at Second Bull Run. McDowell was also widely despised by his own troops who believed him to be in cahoots with the enemy. He escaped culpability by testifying against Major General Fitz John Porter, whom Pope court-martialed for alleged insubordination in that battle. Pope and McDowell did not like each other, but McDowell tolerated serving under him with the full knowledge that he himself would remain a general after the war was over while Pope would revert to the rank of colonel. Despite his formal escape, McDowell received no new assignments for the next two years.

In July 1864, McDowell was given command of the Department of the Pacific. He later commanded the Department of California from July 27, 1865 to March 31, 1868, briefly commanded the Fourth Military Department, then commanded the Department of the East from July 16, 1868 – December 16, 1872. On November 25, 1872, he was promoted to major general. On December 16, 1872, McDowell succeeded General George G. Meade as commander of the Military Division of the South, and remained until June 30, 1876. From July 1, 1876, he was commander of the Division of the Pacific. In 1882, Congress imposed a mandatory retirement age of 64 for military officers, and McDowell retired on October 14 of that year.

In 1879, when a board of review commissioned by President Rutherford B. Hayes issued its report recommending a pardon for Fitz John Porter, it attributed much of the loss of the Second Battle of Bull Run to McDowell. In the report, he was depicted as indecisive, uncommunicative, and inept, repeatedly failing to answer Porter's requests for information, failing to forward intelligence of Longstreet's positioning to Pope, and neglecting to take command of the left wing of the Union Army as was his duty under the Articles of War.

Following his retirement from the army, General McDowell exercised his fondness for landscape gardening, serving as Park Commissioner of San Francisco, California until his death from heart attack on May 4, 1885. In this capacity he constructed a park in the neglected reservation of the Presidio, laying out drives that commanded views of the Golden Gate. He is buried in San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio of San Francisco.

How did George B McClellan die?

Similarly, why was General McClellan removed from his command? On March 11, 1862, Lincoln removed McClellan as general-in-chief, leaving him in command of only the Army of the Potomac, ostensibly so that McClellan would be free to devote all his attention to the move on Richmond.

Beside this, what did George B McClellan do after the Civil War?

After the war McClellan lived in New Jersey and worked as chief engineer for the New York City Department of Docks. He was elected and served creditably as governor of New Jersey from 1878 until 1881, and then served on the Board of Directors for the National Home for Disabled Soldiers.

What happened to General George McClellan?

Following his presidential defeat, McClellan resigned from the army and spent several years in Europe. He would return to the railroad business in 1872 as president of the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad. From 1878 to 1881, he served one term as the governor of New Jersey.

Watch the video: General George B. McClellan (January 2022).