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George Brinton McClellan

Brilliant Organizer and Strategist Is
Most Controversial Union General

George Brinton McClellan was the most controversial and least understood general of the Civil War. Political enmity was largely his undoing. He was a keen strategist and organizer, which carried him to the highest Union rank. ■ However, he was a Democrat who disagreed with the policies of President Lincoln and his Republican cabinet and he quickly fell from favor. Some historians consider McClellan a genius. Others say he wasn’t fit to command. He was graduated from West Point at 19 and spoke several languages fluently. ■ McClellan was born December 3, 1826, in Philadelphia, the son of a physician. The McClellans were from Galloway in southwest Scotland. They moved to Ulster before James McClellan emigrated to New England in the early 1700s. ■ George McClellan was cited for distinguished service in the Mexican War and returned to West Point to teach from 1848 to 1851. He also served as a Crimean War observer. ■ After the federal defeat at Bull Run, he was made top commander of the Union armies. He quickly whipped the defeated army into shape but disagreed with Lincoln as to whether or not the men were ready to take the offensive. He was relieved of his command but stayed on to defeat General Lee at Antietam. ■ McClellan was nominated by the Democrats to oppose Lincoln in 1864. On election day he sailed for Europe and stayed there for four years. On his return he was elected governor of New Jersey and served as President of the Great Western Railroad. ■ His later years were spent traveling and writing. He died suddenly at Orange, New Jersey, on October 29, 1885. It is interesting to note that he was one of the group that founded the Illinois Saint Andrew Society in Chicago in 1845.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
Scottish-American History Club
2800 Des Plaines Avenue
North Riverside, IL 60546