Irvin McDowell (see Plate A3) was born in Columbus, Ohio, on 15 October 1818. At first educated in France, he was graduated in the US
Military Academy class of 1838, and taught tactics at the Academy from 1841 to 1845. lie served as a staff officer in the Mexican War, earning a captain's brevet for gallantry at Buena Vista (22 February 1847). From then until the outbreak of the Civil War he was assigned to duty in the office of the Adjutant General of the Army.
On 14 May 1861 he was appointed a brigadier-general in the regular army, although he had exercised no command until that point. He was given command of the Army of the Potomac and directed to lead it on Richmond. McDowell believed that the army was unready to take the field, and later testified to Congress: There was not a man there who had ever manoeuvred troops in large bodies. There was not one in the army; I did not believe there was one in the whole country; at least, I knew there was no one there who had ever handled 30,000 troops. I had seen them handled abroad in reviews and marched, but I have never handled that number, and no one here had. I wanted very much a little time; all of us wanted it. We did not have a bit of it. The answer was: 'You are green, it is true; but they are green, also; you are all green alike'."
His campaign plan was a good one, but his ill-trained force fell apart at First Bull Run (Manassas) on 21 July, and he was replaced in command of the army by George McClellan. In March 1862 he was named a major-general of volunteers and given command of a corps in the Army of the Potomac. His corps was left to defend Washington during the Peninsula campaign, but took the field in the Second Bull Run campaign in summer 1862.
Colonel David Strother met McDowell in June 1862 and noted in his diary: "His manner is not strong but his conversation was clear and concise, showing a good understanding of the subject in hand." A month later he had a chance to talk further with McDowell: "Sitting down, we had a very pleasant half of an hour [talking] chiefly about trouting, of which he is very fond. His manners are very kind and he talks agreeably... ."
McDowell was blamed for the army's defeat in the Second Bull Run campaign almost as much as was John Pope, its commander. It had not helped him that many of his troops, at all levels, basically distrusted his loyalty to the Union. McDowell himself complained to Marsena Patrick on 12 July 1862 "that [Brig.Gen. Abner] Doubleday has been the cause of more evil to him than any one else, having made the matter of his guarding rebel property the test of his loyalty".
McDowell was relieved from command and spent two years of inactivity, finally being assigned as commander of the Department of the Pacific on 1 July 1864. He later commanded both the Department of the East and that of the South before returning to command the Department of the Pacific. He died in San Francisco on 4 May 188"), and is buried at the Presidio there.
Irvin McDowell had the ill fortune to be the first commander of the wholly unprepared Army of the Potomac in its unsuccessful First Bull Run (Manassas) campaign of July 1861. He had previously been involved with construction projects in Washington, DC, as a professional engineer, and as a long-time staff officer he had very little experience of command. He was perfectly well aware of his own and his army's failings, but was unjustly blamed for the outcome when the government forced him into premature action.
3eorge Gordon Meade as a -lajor-general. Meade thought that he would be replaced as commander of the Army of the Potomac after earning Lincoln's displeasure for his failure to destroy Lee's army after Gettysburg, at Bristoe Station, and at Mine Run; but he was -etained in command until the end of the war. He looks ugubrious in portraits, but was mown for his hot temper: a contemporary called him a -damned old goggle eyed snapping turtle."
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