The New International Encyclopædia/McClellan, George Brinton

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The New International Encyclopædia
McClellan, George Brinton
Edition of 1905. See also George B. McClellan on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

McCLEL'LAN, George Brinton (1826-85). A distinguished soldier in the American Civil War. He was born in Philadelphia, December 3, 1826. He attended the University of Pennsylvania for two years; and graduated at West Point in 1846. He distinguished himself in the Mexican War, and for gallant and meritorious conduct in the battles of Contreras and Churubusco he was brevetted first lieutenant, and for similar conduct at Chapultepec he was brevetted captain. On his return he was appointed to an instructorship at West Point, and while there prepared a Manual of Bayonet Exercises, adapted from the French, which became a part of the system of instruction. He was assistant engineer in the construction of Fort Delaware; was chief engineer in charge of the coast surveys in Texas; collected railroad statistics for the War Department; and was one of the three officers appointed on the military commission to visit the seat of war in the Crimea and report upon the condition of the European armies. On his return in 1857 he resigned his commission, and became successively chief engineer and vice-president of the Illinois Central Railroad, and president of the Saint Louis and Cincinnati Railroad. At the opening of the Civil War he was appointed to the position of major-general of the Ohio volunteers, and made a successful campaign in what later became West Virginia, driving out the enemy and capturing 1000 prisoners. For this he received the thanks of Congress, and after the first disaster to the Federals, at Bull Run, was placed in command of the Army of the Potomac. Upon the retirement of Lieutenant-General Scott in November, 1861, he was appointed commander of the armies of the United States. He spent the winter in reorganizing and drilling his forces, and in March, 1862, he removed to the Yorktown Peninsula in order to attack Richmond from that base.

President Lincoln was continually insisting upon a forward movement, but instead of following his advice, McClellan sat down before Yorktown and began a scientific siege of the place. After its evacuation by the Confederates and the engagement at Williamsburg, McClellan moved leisurely up the Peninsula only to be subjected to a great disappointment in the dispatch of McDowell's 40,000 men to the Shenandoah — an army upon whose aid McClellan had confidently counted. Then followed various engagements ending with the Seven Days' battles (q.v.), in which the Federal armies were generally successful, although the loss in men was large and Richmond was still untaken. There was dissatisfaction at Washington with the result, and in July McClellan was superseded by Halleck as General-in-chief. He was then ordered to evacuate the Peninsula and go to the aid of General Pope, then in command of the Army of Virginia, but arrived too late to be of any great assistance. After the disastrous campaign of Pope, culminating in his defeat in the second battle of Bull Run, McClellan was again placed in active command of the Army of the Potomac. Organizing his army as he proceeded, he followed Lee into Maryland, and with him fought the battle of Antietam (q.v.), September 16-17, 1862. This, though tactically a drawn battle, was strategically a Federal victory; but in view of the great disparity between the numerical strength of the two armies and of McClellan's failure vigorously to pursue Lee's retreating army, the result was not satisfactory to the Government, and in November he was superseded in his command by General Burnside. After this he took no further part in the war. McClellan always asserted that the Administration at Washington not only refused to coöperate with him in his military operations, but even attempted to discredit him on account of his political opinions. The President and the Secretary of War, on the other hand, insisted that General McClellan was not aggressive and prompt enough in the circumstances, but too often pursued a dilatory policy, which caused him to win only fruitless victories, and that he disregarded the advice and suggestions of the commander-in-chief. General McClellan was remarkably popular with his soldiers, over whom he exerted a wonderful influence, and who affectionately called him ‘Little Mac’ In 1864 he was nominated by the Democratic Party as its candidate for President of the United States on a platform which denounced the war as a failure. To this view, however, McClellan did not subscribe, and in his letter of acceptance he advocated a vigorous prosecution of the war. He was defeated by Lincoln. In the Electoral College the vote stood 212 for Lincoln and 21 for McClellan, while the popular vote for Lincoln was 2,200,000 and for McClellan 1,800,000. Already in September he had resigned from the army, and after the election went to Europe, where he remained until 1868. Upon his return he settled in New York, where he was engaged in various engineering enterprises until 1877, when he was elected Governor of New Jersey, having in the meantime acquired a residence in that State. He served with credit for one term, but declined a renomination. He died suddenly of heart disease at his home in Orange, N. J., October 29, 1885, and was buried at Trenton. As a scientific engineer and military tactician, McClellan had few superiors. Among his literary works may be mentioned an autobiography entitled McClellan's Own Story, and various reports on military campaigns and military organization. The most recent and thorough biography of General McClellan is that of Michie (New York, 1901), in the “Great Commanders Series.” Consult also: Rhodes, The First Six Weeks of McClellan's Peninsular Campaign, published by the Massachusetts Historical Society; and Ropes, Story of the Civil War, vol. ii. (New York, 1895).