Today in History:

George Brinton McClellan

 Below are two short biographies of George B. McClellan.  Both are provided from government sources to which we are very greatful for their efforts.

Gen. George McClellanGeorge B. McClellan was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on December 3, 1826. He was the third of five children born to Dr. George and Elizabeth (Brinton) McClellan. His family moved within the upper ranks of Philadelphia society.

Young George entered school at the age of 5. He attended private schools and a prep school before entering the Military Academy at West Point in 1842. At the age of 15, he was the youngest of the West Point arrivals that year to seek a place as fourth classman. In 1846, he had earned the distinction of graduating second in his class of 59. (He was outranked in his class only by Charles S. Stewart, who later would serve under him as a captain of engineers.) The class of '46 contributed 20 generals to the Union and Confederate armies.

Upon graduation, George McClellan was appointed 2nd Lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers. In the Mexican War, he won brevets of 1st Lieutenant and Captain for his zeal, gallantry, and ability in constructing roads and bridges over routes for the marching army. He was also an instructor at West Point for 3 years.

McClellan's other accomplishments include surveyor of possible transcontinental railroad routes. As a member of a board of officers, he was sent abroad to study the armies of Europe and observe the Crimean War. This resulted in the development of the "McClellan saddle," which was standard equipment in the army until mechanization eliminated horses in 1942.

In 1857, he resigned his commission of Captain in the 1st Cavalry to become Chief Engineer of the Illinois Central Railroad, where he occasionally worked with a lawyer named Abraham Lincoln. When the Civil War began, he was living in Ohio, where he served as president of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad.

His heart was captured by a young lady named Ellen Marcy. Ellen had received numerous marriage proposals, but was strongly encouraged by her father to accept McClellan's. On May 22, 1861, they were married in New York.

George McClellan had proven himself to be an efficient organizer with strong personal magnetism. For this reason, and some successes in West Virginia, President Lincoln approved him Major General in the regular army. He was outranked only by General-in-Chief Winfield Scott. He reorganized a disjointed and poorly disciplined army, which gained him the respect and approval of his men. However, his military operations soon became a frustrating series of lost opportunities. He consistently overestimated his opposing forces, and his carefully devised plans were lacking in execution.

After the Battle of Antietam, he was ordered to turn over his command to his good friend Ambrose E. Burnside and to go home to New Jersey to await further orders. They never came.

In 1864, McClellan was nominated for President by the Democratic Party but lost the election. He did serve as governor of New Jersey from 1878-1881. On October 29, 1885, George Brinton McClellan died in Orange, NJ. He is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Trenton.

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Photo:  George B. McClellan

George B. McClellan

George B. McClellan
1826-1885, Pennsylvania

McClellan was born in Philadelphia to a family that moved within the upper ranks of local society. He attended private schools before entering West Point where in 1846 he graduated second in a class of fifty-nine. Assigned to the Corps of Engineers, McClellan participated in the Mexican War, where he was awarded brevets of 1st lieutenant and captain. After the war he served briefly as an instructor at West Point. As a member of a board of officers, McClellan went abroad to observe the Crimean War and study European armies.

In 1857 McClellan resigned his army commission to become chief engineer of the Illinois Central Railroad. Five years later, when the Civil War broke out, he was president of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad. McClellan entered the war as a major general of volunteers and was soon commissioned with the same rank in the Regular Army. His success in a minor victory at Rich Mountain, West Virginia, just ten days before the Union disaster at First Bull Run, brought him to the public eye at a critical time. He was assigned command of the army at Washington (later known as the Army of the Potomac) and in November became general in chief of the Army, replacing Winfield Scott.

In the spring of 1862 the "Young Napoleon" took the Army of the Potomac by water to the Virginia Peninsula to capture Richmond. His departure as field commander resulted in his being relieved of command as general in chief on 11 March. During the Peninsula Campaign McClellan greatly overestimated the number of Confederates defending their capital and constantly asked the government for additional men in order to advance. Unable to provide the thousands of men requested, the War Department in early August ordered McClellan to withdraw his army from the peninsula. The Army of the Potomac was to unite with the Army of Virginia under Maj. Gen. John Pope. In late August, however, before all of McClellan's forces could join with Pope, the Army of Virginia was defeated at Second Bull Run. The remnants of Pope's command were then consolidated with the Army of the Potomac.

In early September Lee crossed the Potomac River into Maryland, and McClellan was tasked with leading the reorganized Army of the Potomac north. He confronted the Confederates along Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg. On 17 September the two armies fought to a draw in the Battle of Antietam, and two days later Lee withdrew back to Virginia. McClellan failed to pursue the Confederates and remained on the battlefield until early November, reorganizing his command and requesting reinforcements. This delay prompted his dismissal as army commander; although he still retained his commission as major general, he held no further command during the war. After running unsuccessfully for president in 1864 (and resigning his commission on Election Day), McClellan and his family sailed to Europe, not returning for three-and-a-half years. McClellan served as governor of New Jersey from 1878-1881.

Content From:
U.S. Army Center of Military History