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Civil War Soldiers - McClellan

McClellan, George B., major-general, U.S. Army, was born in Philadelphia, Pa., Dec. 3, 1826. He received his early education in the schools of his native city and in 1841 entered the University of Pennsylvania, where he remained nearly two years. In 1842 he entered the U. S. military academy, being graduated second in the class of 1846, the largest that had ever left the academy, and he was first in the class in engineering. In June, 1846, he was commissioned brevet second lieutenant of engineers and in September of the same year accompanied the army to Mexico, being assigned to a company of sappers and miners which had just been organized. He distinguished himself under Gen. Scott in the battles of Contreras, Churubusco, Molino del Rey, and Chapultepec, and was commissioned second lieutenant and brevetted captain for gallantry in action. The intrepid act which won him the brevet of captain occurred while Gen. Worth's division was camped on the Puebla road preparatory to the advance on the City of Mexico. McClellan went out at early dawn on a personal scouting expedition, accompanied only by an orderly. On mounting a ridge he came suddenly upon a Mexican engineer officer who, it afterward developed, was engaged in the same work. Taking in the situation at a glance, McClellan dashed forward and with his large American horse rode down the Mexican, disarmed him, handed him over to his orderly and then climbed to the summit of the ridge, from which he discovered a body of 2,500 cavalry forming for attack. He promptly returned with his prisoner to camp, the "long-roll" was beaten, and the next night found Gen. Worth occupying Puebla. At the close of the Mexican war Capt. McClellan was assigned to the command of the engineer corps to which he was attached and returned with it to West Point, where he acted as assistant instructor in practical engineering until 1851, when he was put in charge of the construction of Fort Delaware. In the following year he went on the Red River exploring expedition with Capt. R. B. Marcy. In the meantime he had written and published a "Manual on the Art of War." In 1853 and 1854 he was on duty in Washington territory and Oregon and commenced a topographical survey for the Pacific railway. In 1855 he was one of three American officers sent to observe the campaign in the Crimea, the other two being Maj. Richard Delafield and Maj. Alfred Mordecai. After their experience in Crimea the members of this commission traveled through various European countries, examining military posts and fortresses and acquainting themselves with the military methods in use, and on returning each of the three made an official report, Capt. McClellan's being on the arms, equipment and organization of the European armies. In Jan., 1857, McClellan, who had been promoted to a full captaincy and transferred to the 1st cavalry, resigned his commission to accept the position of chief engineer and afterward vice- president of the Illinois Central railroad company, and later he was made president of the eastern division of the Ohio & Mississippi railroad company. On May 22, 1860, he married Ellen Mary Marcy, daughter of Capt. (afterward Gen.) Randolph K. Marcy, and settled in Cincinnati, Ohio. At the outbreak of the Civil war he was in an excellent business position, as regards both salary and prospects, and had every temptation to refrain from offering his services in the war, had not his patriotism and his character as a soldier forced him to do so. He volunteered for the service and on April 23, 1861, was commissioned major-general of Ohio volunteers, but by the recommendation of Gen. Scott, who knew his value, on May 3 following he was placed in command of the Department of the Ohio. He issued a proclamation to the Union men of western Virginia and an address to his soldiers, and then entered upon the western Virginia campaign, during which he freed that section from secessionists and preserved it to the Union. He was then summoned to Washington and assigned to the command of the Division of the Potomac as major-general, U. S. A., and on Nov. 1, 1861, he was made commander-in-chief of the Federal forces. He was one of the few who foresaw a long war and he discerned the necessity of making a most careful preparation for it ; of organizing what should be a real army, like the armies he had seen in Europe, and not a mere mass of untrained, undisciplined volunteers or militia; and of erecting fortifications or some kind of defenses for the extensive exposed frontier lines of the loyal states. The promptness with which he collected and organized the military resources of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, satisfied the authorities at Washington that he was at least the right man in the right place, and he may be said to have been called upon to save the government, after the disastrous retreat of the Federal army from the field of the first Bull Run. It was he who created the Army of the Potomac, and even the delays and apparent inertness at Yorktown, where it seemed that he was fortifying against the air, were the means by which McClellan was training his men to understand and apply the rules of war. His Peninsular campaign in the spring of 1862 was based on the distinct understanding that the army which he then controlled should not be diminished ; and had it not been for the withdrawal of Gen. McDowell's force of 40,000 men from the neighborhood of Fredericksburg, it is highly probable that McClellan's army would have entered Richmond before the end of June. On June 28 McClellan wrote to the secretary of war, stating that if he had been sustained by the government he could have captured Richmond, and in enclosing this despatch to Stanton he exhibited the deep chagrin and unhappiness which he felt in these words : "If I save this army now, I tell you plainly that I owe no thanks to you or to any persons in Washington ; you have done your best to sacrifice this army." He had fought the battle of Gaines' mill and had begun his movement to the James, the most remarkable general retreat during the war, and in some respects the most remarkable in the history of any war, inasmuch as the result was not utter disaster to the general making the movement. The battles of Mechanicsville, Gaines' mill and White Oak swamp were followed by Savage Station and the fighting at Frazier's farm, where McClellan had a line eight miles in length attacked at once by "Stonewall" Jackson, Magruder, Longstreet, and Hill. The army succeeded in reaching Harrison's landing, just before which another attack was made along the whole line at Malvern hill, where the Confederates, although fighting magnificently, were finally defeated. Finally, on Aug. 30, 1862, McClellan was relieved of his command and superseded by Gen. Pope, whereupon followed the second disaster at Bull Run. With a smaller force than was subsequently put at the disposal of some of his successors, McClellan had encountered the largest Confederate army that ever took the field, in the very flower of its vigor, and commanded by the greatest Confederate captains of the Civil war. He had shown strategical and tactical ability of a high order, out-maneuvering, out-witting and out-fighting the enemy throughout the entire campaign, and he had displayed personal qualities that gained and kept the love of his soldiers through every trial. On the night of Aug. 30, after he had been relieved from command, he asked for permission to go to the front as a volunteer, that he might be with his own men. "If it is not deemed best," he said, "to intrust me with the command even of my own army, I simply ask to be permitted to share their fate on the battle-field." The request was put aside. The battles of Gainesville, Groveton, Manassas, and Chantilly, ended in disastrous defeat to the Federal arms, and McClellan was then a second time called upon to save the government and the capital at Washington. On Sept. 2 President Lincoln came to him at his house in Washington, informed him that he (Lincoln) regarded Washington as lost, and asked him if he would under the circumstances consent to accept command of all the forces. Without a moment's hesitation and without making any conditions whatever, McClellan at once said that he would accept the command and would stake his life that he would save the city. On the evening of the same day he rode to the front and was received with enthusiasm by the beaten and weary but undisheartened soldiers, and before the day broke on the following morn the troops were all in position prepared to repulse an attack and the capital of the nation was safe. On Sept. 3 the enemy disappeared from the neighborhood of Washington, with the design of crossing the upper Potomac into Maryland, and the same day McClellan began his counter movement, reporting the facts to Gen. Halleck, general-in-chief of the army, by whom he was informed that his command included only the defenses of Washington and did not extend to any active column that might be moved out beyond the line of works. This was the condition of affairs on Sept. 7, when, Lee having crossed into Maryland at Leesburg and was concentrating at Frederick City, it became absolutely necessary that his army should be met. As Gen. McClellan was afterward accused of assuming command without authority, for nefarious purposes, his own statement of the case is of interest : "As the time had now arrived for the army to advance, and I had received no orders to take command of it, but had been expressly told that the assignment of a commander had not been decided, I determined to solve the question for myself, and when I moved out from Washington with my staff and personal escort I left my card with P. P. C. written upon it, at the White House, War Office, and Secretary Seward's house, and went on my way. * * * I fought the battles of South mountain and Antietam with a halter around my neck, for if the Army of the Potomac had been defeated and I had survived I would * * * probably have been condemned to death. I was fully aware of the risk I ran, but the path of duty was clear and I tried to follow it." But the Army of the Potomac was not defeated. McClellan carried Crampton's gap and Turner's gap on Sept. 14 by one of the most spirited combats of the war in the battle of South mountain, and on Sept. 17 attacked Lee and won the great battle of Antietam, forcing the enemy to retreat across the Potomac on the evening of the following day. Yet he was still in disgrace among the Republican party heads at Washington. It was charged upon him that he did not follow Lee as he should have done, and soon afterward he was relieved by Gen. Burnside who was presently defeated at Fredericksburg and was succeeded in turn by Gen. Hooker, who immediately went into winter cantonment. From Antietam to Gettysburg the history of the Army of the Potomac was a history of defeat and disaster, during which time McClellan had virtually been placed in retirement, and in fact his brilliant and victorious Maryland campaign closed his military career. In 1864 he was nominated for the presidency of the United States by the Democratic party, and he resigned his commission in the army on election day of that year ; but when the votes were counted it was found that he had been defeated, receiving a popular vote of 1,800,000, while Mr. Lincoln polled 2,200,000. From that time until his death Gen. McClellan was engaged in various important civil pursuits. He made a visit to Europe and on his return, in 1868, settled at Orange Mountain, N. J. In 1870 he was appointed by the mayor of New York city engineer-in-chief of the department of docks, and in 1871 was offered the nomination for comptroller of the city, which honor he declined. On Nov. 6, 1877, he was elected governor of New Jersey, serving until 1881, and later he settled in New York, where a number of friends presented him with a handsome residence, and where he superintended several important enterprises. Gen. McClellan died at South Orange, N. J., Oct. 29, 1885. He left two children, a daughter and a son, the latter of whom, George B. McClellan, Jr., is now (1907) mayor of Greater New York.

Source: The Union Army: A History of Military Affairs in the Loyal States 1861-1865, Volume 8 Biographical, 1908

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