George Brinton McClellan was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on December 3, 1826. He was the third of five children born to George McClellan, a doctor and founder of a medical school, and his wife, Elizabeth Brinton McClellan. Both of his parents belonged to old and distinguished Philadelphia families. As a result, McClellan had many advantages growing up. He attended a top preparatory school as a boy, then enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania at the age of thirteen. In 1842, he received an appointment to attend the prestigious U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York. At fifteen, McClellan was actually too young to become a cadet at West Point, but the school made an exception to its age rule for him. He had a brilliant career as a cadet (military student) and graduated second in his class in 1846.
After leaving West Point, McClellan joined the U.S. Army as an engineering officer. He served in the Mexican War (1846-48; a dispute between the United States and Mexico over large sections of territory in the West) and won two awards for distinguished service. After the United States forced Mexico to give up its claims on California and other areas in 1848, McClellan remained in the military and built forts, harbors, and railroads. He also became an instructor at West Point for three years. In the mid-1850s, McClellan traveled to Europe to study the latest military advancements. This was an important assignment for the young officer. Upon his return, he designed a new saddle for military use and introduced the pup tent to American forces. In 1857, McClellan resigned from the army to become an engineer in the rapidly growing railroad industry. By 1860, he had become president of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad. He also married Ellen Marcy that year. They eventually had a son and a daughter together.
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