In 1857, George McClellan
resigned his captain's commission to become chief engineer of the Illinois Central
Railroad. Rewards came as readily to him in civilian life as in the military.
He was soon promoted to vice president of the Illinois Central and in May 1860, married a
beautiful and vivacious young woman, Ellen Nellie Marcy, the daughter of Captain Randolph
B. Marcy, McClellan's commander on one of the Western explorations. Four months
later, McClellan was named president of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad's Eastern
Division with offices in Cincinnati.
McClellan sensed that war was coming.
When he leased a house in Cincinnati for three years, he insisted upon a clause releasing
him in the event of hostilities. On April 23, 1861, eleven days after Confederate forces
fired on Fort Sumpter, he accepted a commission as major general of Ohio volunteers.
Soon the War Department gave him command of the Department of Ohio embracing volunteer
forces from Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.
In June, a few weeks before the Federal defeat
at Bull Run, George McClellan sent his 20,000 troops across the Ohio River into the
western part of Virginia. He had two objectives: to prevent Confederate forces
from severing the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Washington's direct link with the West and
to preserve the Union anti-sessionist section of Virginia.
He would succeed on both counts. With
three times as many men as his foe, he sent his troops into a series of clashes that
routed the Confederates and paved the way for the region's entry into the Union two years
later as the new state of West Virginia. These were not major battles, and
casualties on both sides were light. But with the exception of Brigadier General
Nathaniel Lyon's small victories in Missouri, they were the only Federal successes on the
battlefield during the first months of the War. So McClellan was immoderately
celebrated in the Northern press, and when he was summoned east, reporters awarded him the
romantic title:: "Young Napoleon."
As the man of the hour, with all Washington at
his feet, General McClellan plunged into his new assignment with supreme self assurance.
"By some strange operation of magic I seem to have become the power of the
land," confided McClellan in a letter to his wife. "I see already the main
causes of our recent failure; I am sure that I can remedy these, and am confident that I
can lead these armies of men to victory once more.:.
"Forward to Richmond!! Forward to
Richmond !!" The Rebel congress must not be allowed to meet there on the 20th
of July. By that date the place must be held by the National Army.""
On July 16, the Federal Army of Irvin McDowell
moved out westward from the Potomac in the general direction of Centreville and Manassas,
VA. At Manassas, Brig Gen. Beauregard had been in command since June 1, until now
his Confederate force numbered some 22,000 men. McDowell's 35,000 men paraded from
the Washington area, making only is miles westward and slightly south the first day.
As the jubilant Federals march out "on the sacred soil of Old Virginia"
they believed they were enroute to Richmond singing "John Brown's Body."
Beauregard had been expecting a Federal
advance and there had been numerous rumors. Also he was planning on a quick switch of
Joseph E. Johnston's troops from the Shenandoah to Manassas to enlarge his army. Out
in western Virginia there was a slight skirmish at Barboursville. The Confederate
prize crew of the schooner, S.F. Waring was surprised and captured by the Yankee prisoners
on the vessel leb by William Tilghman, a Negro. The vessel got to New Your on the
22nd of July, 1861.
Dismay over First Bull Run or Manassas spread
in the North and elation spread in the South. The Confederate Congress in Richmond
called for a day of thanksgiving. In Washington, Maj. Gen. George B McClellan, a
youthful victor in western Virginia, was ordered to come take command of the army which
had suffered such a defeat under General McDowell. Orders for reorganizations were
issued. Of course, McDowell had to be a scapegoat, although his strategy had been
sound and while not a brilliant soldier, he had many capabilities.
In Washington DC, the House of Representatives
passed a resolution (The Crittendon Resolution) announcing that the war was being waged,
"To the Union", and not to interfere with slavery or subjugate the South.
While reverberations of Bull Run continued in
both capitals and both nations, people did wonder what was coming next. It seemed
that the battle in Virginia had ended one phase of the war or started another.
General command changes continued, with Maj. Gen. John A Dix taking over the Department of
Maryland and Brig. Gen. W.S. Rosecrans assuming command of the Department of the Ohio
which included Virginia.
President Lincoln was busy indeed, but he did
jot down a memorandum of military policy, a result of the Bull Run defeat. In this
he suggested pushing the blockade, strengthening forces in the Shanandoah Valley,
reorganizing the troops around Washington, bringing new men forward quickly and in
general, firmly standing and preparing for increased war.
On Saturday, July 27, 1861, General McClellan
assumes Command of the Division of the Potomac. Major General George B. McClellan
was officially put in command by President Lincoln of the Federal Division of the Potomac,
"The Army of Northern Virginia."
The youthful, self contained, vigorous George
Brinton McClellan succeeded aged, obese and ailing Lieut. General Winfield Scott.
Throughout the four bloody years of battle, McClellan served his country well. In November
1864, he ran against President Lincoln for presidency and was defeated 212 electoral votes
Two days after the loss to Lincoln, McClellan
wrote his resignation as Commander of the Northern Army and as to the election, :
"For my country's sake I deplore the result.:" He disclaimed personal
disappointment. President Lincoln accepted the resignation of McClellan and
named General Sheridan to the rank of Major General in the Regular Army.
By General Peter S. Michie (1901) (pdf)