|George B. McClellan|
AKA George Brinton McClellan
Birthplace: Philadelphia, PA
Location of death: Orange, NJ
Cause of death: Heart Failure
Remains: Buried, Riverview Cemetery, Trenton, NJ
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Union Army General
Military service: US Army; Union Army
The American soldier George B. McClellan was born in Philadelphia on the 3rd of December 1826. After passing two years (1840-42) in the university of Pennsylvania, he entered the United States military academy, from which he graduated with high honors in July 1846. Sent as a lieutenant of engineers to the Mexican War, he took part in the battles under General Winfield Scott, and by his gallantry won the brevets of first-lieutenant at Contreras-Churubusco and captain at Chapultepec; he was afterwards detailed as assistant-instructor at West Point, and employed in explorations in the Southwest and in Oregon. Promoted in 1855 captain of cavalry, he served on a military commission sent to Europe to study European armies and especially the war in the Crimea. On his return he furnished an able and interesting report, republished (1861) under the title of Armies of Europe. In 1856 he designed a saddle, which was afterwards well known as the McClellan. Resigning his commission in 1857, McClellan became successively chief engineer and vice-president of the Illinois Central railroad (1857-60), general superintendent of the Mississippi & Ohio railroad, and, a little later, president of the eastern branch of the same, with his residence in Cincinnati. When the Civil War broke out he was, in April 1861, made major-general of three months' militia by the Governor of Ohio; but General Scott's favor at Washington promoted him rapidly (May 14) to the rank of major-general, U.S.A., in command of the department of the Ohio. Pursuant to orders, on the 26th of May, McClellan sent a small force across the Ohio river to Philippi, dispersed the Confederates there early in June, and immensely aided the Union cause in that region by rapid and brilliant military successes, gained in the short space of eight days. These operations, though comparatively trivial as the Civil War developed, brought great results, in permanently dividing old Virginia by the creation of the state of West Virginia, and in presenting the first sharp, short and wholly successful campaign of the war.
Soon after the first Bull Run disaster he was summoned to Washington, and the Union hailed him as chieftain and preserver. Only thirty-four years old, and with military fame and promotion premature and quite in excess of positive experience, he reached the capital late in July and assumed command there. At first all was deference and compliance with his wishes. In November Scott retired that the young general might control the operations of the whole Union army. McClellan proved himself extraordinarily able as an organizer and trainer of soldiers. During the autumn, winter and spring he created the famous Army of the Potomac, which in victory and defeat retained to the end the impress of McClellan's work. But he soon showed petulance towards the civil authorities, from whom he came to differ concerning the political ends in view; and he now found severe critics, who doubted his capacity for directing an offensive war; but the government yielded to his plans for an oblique, instead of a direct, movement upon Richmond and the opposing army. At the moment of starting he was relieved as general-in-chief. By the 5th of April a great army was safely transported to Fortress Monroe, and other troops were sent later, though a large force was (much against his will) retained to cover Washington. McClellan laid slow siege to Yorktown, not breaking the thin line first opposed to him, but giving Albert Sidney Johnston full time, to reinforce and then evacuate the position. McClellan followed up the Confederate rearguard and approached Richmond, using White House on the Pamunkey as a base of supplies; this entailed a division of his forces on either bank of the Chickahominy. At Fair Oaks (Seven Pines) was fought on the 31st of May a bloody battle, ending the following day in a Confederate repulse. Johnston being severely wounded, Robert E. Lee came to command on the Southern side. After a pause in the operations McClellan felt himself ready to attack at the moment when Lee, leaving a bare handful of men in the Richmond lines, despatched two-thirds of his entire force to the north of the Chickahominy to strike McClellan's isolated right wing. McClellan himself made little progress, and the troops beyond the Chickahominy were defeated after a strenuous defense; whereupon McClellan planned, and during the celebrated Seven Days' Battle triumphantly executed, a change of base to the James river. But the result was strategically a failure, and General Henry W. Halleck, who was now general-in-chief, ordered the army to reinforce General John Pope in central Virginia. The order was obeyed reluctantly.
Pope's disastrous defeats brought McClellan a new opportunity to retrieve his fame. Again in command of the Army of the Potomac, he was sent with all available forces to oppose Lee, who had crossed the Potomac into Maryland early in September. McClellan advanced slowly and carefully, reorganizing his army as he went. The battle of South Mountain placed him in a position to attack Lee, and a few days later was fought the great battle of Antietam, in which Lee was worsted. But the Confederates safely recrossed the Potomac, and McClellan showed his former faults in a tardy pursuit. On the eve of an aggressive movement, which he was at last about to make, he was superseded by Ambrose Burnside (Nov. 7). McClellan was never again ordered to active command, and the political elements opposed to the general policy of Abraham Lincoln's administration chose him as Presidential candidate in 1864, on a platform which denounced the war as a failure and proposed negotiating with the South for peace. McClellan, while accepting his candidacy, repudiated the platform, like a soldier and patriot. At the polls on the 8th of November Lincoln was triumphantly re-elected President. McClellan had previously resigned his commission in the army, and soon afterwards went to Europe, where he remained until 1868. Upon his return he took up his residence in New York City, where (1868-69) he was engaged in superintending the construction of an experimental floating battery. In 1870-1872 he was engineer-in-chief of the city's department of docks. With Orange, NJ, as his next principal residence, he became Governor of New Jersey (1878-81.) During his term he effected great reforms in the administration of the state and in the militia. He was offered, but declined, a second nomination. During his last years he made several tours of Europe, visited the East, and wrote much for the magazines. He also prepared monographs upon the Civil War, defending his own action. He died suddenly of heart-disease on the 29th of October 1885 at Orange.
McClellan was a clear and able writer and effective speaker, and his Own Story, edited by a friend and published soon after his death, discloses an honorable character, sensitive to reproach, and conscientious, even morbidly so, in his patriotism. He carried himself well in civil life and was of irreproachable private conduct. During the Civil War, however, he was promoted too early and rapidly for his own good, and the strong personal magnetism he inspired while so young developed qualities injurious to a full measure of success and usefulness, despite his great opportunities. The reasons for his final displacement in 1862 were both civil and military, and the President had been forbearing with him. As a soldier he possessed to an extraordinary degree the enthusiastic affection of his men. With the army that he had created the mere rumor of his presence was often a spur to the greatest exertions. That he was slow, and perhaps too tender-hearted, in handling armed masses for action may be admitted, and though admirable for defensive war and a safe strategist, he showed himself unfitted to take the highly essential initiative, both because of temperament and his habitual exaggeration of obstacles and opposing numbers. But he met and checked the armies of the Confederacy when they were at their best and strongest, and his work laid the foundations of ultimate success.
Son: George B. McClellan, Jr. (Mayor of New York City, b. 1865, d. 1940)
University: US Military Academy, West Point (1846)
Military Order of the Loyal Legion
Author of books:
Bayonet Exercise (1852, nonfiction)
Report on Pacific Railroad Surveys (1854, nonfiction)
Armies of Europe (1861, nonfiction)
Report on the Organization, etc., of the Army of the Potomac (1864, nonfiction)
McClellan's Own Story (1885, memoir)
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