George B McClellan


Who: George Brinton McClellan

What: General-in-Chief of the Union Army, 1861-2.

Where: Born Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, died Orange, New Jersey.

Why: Organised the Army of the Potomac into a formidable fighting force.

When: December 3, 1826 – October 29, 1885.

“If he can’t fight himself, he excels in making others ready to fight” – Abraham Lincoln

George McClellan is one of the mysteries of the war. He studied law at the University of Pennsylvania at just 13, two years later switching to West Point to pursue a military career. Graduating second, he served in the Mexican-American war before resigning in 1857. He became a successful railroad executive before the Civil War broke out, and he was re-commissioned a major general. He was appointed commander of the Military Division of the Potomac after the disastrous defeat at Bull Run, and organised the Army of the Potomac, becoming General-in-Chief in November after Winfield Scott’s retirement. By the year’s end, the Army of the Potomac was a well-drilled force of nearly 200,000 men, but people were beginning to get frustrated at McClellan’s lack of action. Lincoln finally removed him from command in March, leaving him commander of only the Army of the Potomac, and a week later the Army began its Peninsula Campaign. Despite overwhelming superiority in numbers, McClellan failed to gain any advantage and was shamefully beaten back by Robert E Lee. After Alexander Pope’s defeat at Second Manassas, however, Lincoln reappointed him, only to remove him once more in November 1862 after he failed to capitalise on his quasi-victory at Antietam and allowed Lee to escape. He never returned to important command, although Ulysses S Grant considered it upon his promotion. McClellan went into politics, and ran against Lincoln on the Democratic ticket in the 1864 presidential election, losing soundly. He later became Governor of New Jersey, writing a memoir defending his actions in the war, dying of a heart attack at 58.

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