McClellan, George Brinton

McClellan, George Brinton,

1826–85, Union general in the American Civil War, b. Philadelphia. After graduating (1846) from West Point, he served with distinction in the Mexican War and later worked on various engineering projects, notably on the survey (1853–54) for a Northern Pacific RR route across the Cascade Range. Resigning from the army in 1857, he was a railroad official until the outbreak of the Civil War. In May, 1861, McClellan was made commander of the Dept. of the Ohio and a major general in the regular army. He cleared the western part of Virginia of Confederates (June–July, 1861) and consequently, after the Union defeat in the first battle of Bull Run, was given command of the troops in and around Washington. In November he became general in chief. The administration, reflecting public opinion, pressed for an early offensive, but McClellan insisted on adequate training and equipment for his army. In Mar., 1862, he was relieved of his supreme command, but he retained command of the Army of the Potomac, with which in Apr., 1862, he initiated the Peninsular campaignPeninsular campaign,
in the American Civil War, the unsuccessful Union attempt (Apr.–July, 1862) to capture Richmond, Va., by way of the peninsula between the York and James rivers. The Plan

Early in 1862, Gen. George B.
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. The collapse of this campaign after the Seven Days battlesSeven Days battles,
in the American Civil War, the week-long Confederate counter-offensive (June 26–July 2, 1862) near Richmond, Va., that ended the Peninsular campaign. After the battle of Fair Oaks the Union general George B.
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 was charged by many to his overcaution. In Aug., 1862, most of McClellan's troops were reassigned to the Army of Virginia under John PopePope, John,
1822–92, Union general in the American Civil War, b. Louisville, Ky. He fought with distinction at Monterrey and Buena Vista in the Mexican War and later served with the topographical engineers in the West.
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. After Pope's defeat at the second battle of Bull Run, McClellan again reorganized the Union forces, and in the Antietam campaignAntietam campaign
, Sept., 1862, of the Civil War. After the second battle of Bull Run, Gen. Robert E. Lee crossed the Potomac to invade Maryland and Pennsylvania. At Frederick, Md., he divided (Sept.
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 he checked Robert E. Lee's first invasion of the North. He was slow, however, to follow Lee across the Potomac and in Nov., 1862, was removed from his command. In 1864, McClellan was the Democratic candidate for President, although he rejected the party's peace platform. McClellan's candidacy caused the administration much uneasiness, but President Lincoln was reelected by a substantial majority. McClellan resigned from the army on the day of the election and afterward traveled extensively with his family in Europe. He was later chief engineer of the New York City department of docks and was governor of New Jersey (1878–81). Despite his faults "Little Mack" was an able general and was loved and trusted by his men of the Army of the Potomac. He wrote McClellan's Own Story (1887) in defense of his military record.


See The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan: Selected Correspondence, 1860–1865 (ed. by S. W. Sears, 1989); biographies by W. S. Myers (1934), H. J. Eckenrode and B. Conrad (1942), and W. W. Hassler, Jr. (1957); T. H. Williams, McClellan, Sherman, and Grant (1962).

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McClellan, George Brinton

(1826–85) soldier; born in Philadelphia. The son of a prominent surgeon, he graduated second in his West Point class (1846) and served during the Mexican War. He taught at West Point (1848–51) then went with Marcy's expedition that explored the sources of the Arkansas River (1852). In 1855 he went to Europe to study the European military systems but resigned from the army in 1857 and went to work as an engineer/administrator with railroads; by 1860 he was president of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad. With the outbreak of the Civil War, he was commissioned a major general of the Union forces in Ohio (May 1861); after the loss at First Bull Run, he was called to Virginia to command the Army of the Potomac; when he maneuvered Confederate forces out of western Virginia, he became the first Union hero of the war. In November 1861 he replaced Gen. Winfield Scott as general-in-chief of the army; self-confident (and self-important), he was still fondly known as “Little Mac” as he reorganized and trained the army, but he delayed committing it to battle. After much prodding from Lincoln, he launched the Virginia Peninsula Campaign (spring 1862); after its failure, he returned to Washington, his responsibilities reduced. He fought Lee to a standstill at Antietam (September 1862) but was removed from field command for failing to pursue the retreating Confederates. Increasingly more open in his criticism of Lincoln's conduct of the war, he became the Democratic candidate and challenged Lincoln for the presidency in 1864. He left the army and became an engineer for the New York City department of docks (1870–72) and then served as governor of New Jersey (1878–81). No one disputed his intellectual talents or administrative abilities, but the consensus has been that he lacked the instinct for decisive, prompt action in the face of combat.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.