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Irvin McDowell, 1818-1885

Irvin McDowell, 1818-1885



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Irvin McDowell, 1818-1885

Union general closely linked with the Federal defeats at both First and Second Bull Run. McDowell was educated at the Collège de Troyes in France, before attending West Point (1834-1838), graduating twenty third in a class of forty-five. Amongst his fellow graduates that year was P.G.T. Beauregard. In total his class provided five Union and eight Confederate generals.

From West Point he was posted to the 1st Artillery, very quickly becoming a second lieutenant. He spend the first years of his career on the Canadian border, then an area of much tension. In 1841 he returned to West Point as a tactical officer, where he remained until the start of the Mexican War. While at West Point he was promoted to first lieutenant.

He started the war as aide-de-camp to General Wool (October 6 1845). In that capacity he distinguished himself at the battle of Buena Vista (22-23 February 1847), and was promoted to brevet captain. After the Mexican War, he served in a variety of staff roles, including a period at Army headquarters, rising to the rank of major in 1856.

Inevitably this service at headquarters meant that he was well known to General Winfield Scott, the head of the army at the outbreak of the civil war. On 14 May 1861 he was promoted to brigadier-general. At first he served under General Mansfield, in the army building around Washington. When part of that army was sent across the Potomac to the Virginia bank (23-24 May 1861), McDowell was appointed to command it, as head of the new Department of Northeastern Virginia (27 May). This army would become more famous as the Army of the Potomac.

McDowell was under intense pressure to act. There was a Confederate army at Manassas Junction, only twenty miles from Washington. The majority of the men in his army had enrolled for three months, and their time in the army would soon be coming to an end. General Scott’s preferred plan was to squeeze the Confederacy to death by blockading her ports and clearing the Mississippi (the ‘anaconda plan’. His plan was very close to what eventually happened, but the time was not yet right for such long-term planning. President Lincoln came under a great deal of pressure to act immediately against the army at Manassas Junction.

Lincoln decided that it was worth taking the risk. Other Confederate armies had not fought well. A large force at Harper’s Ferry, under General Joseph Johnston, had retreated at the first sight of a Federal column. If McDowell’s men succeeded, then they might have gone a long way towards winning the war. If they failed, then hundreds of thousands of men enlisted for three years were already filling the ranks of a new army that would take their place.

If anything McDowell’s extensive experience and military training now became a weakness. His plan for the upcoming campaign needed experienced troops. He had raw recruits, most only signed up for three months. Admittedly, so did the southern commander at Manassas, General Beauregard, but their defensive task was rather more straightforward. McDowell was well aware of the limited experience and training of his men, and would have preferred to wait until the new three-year men could be trained.

McDowell’s plan was for his army to advance towards the Bull Run area from Washington, while General Patterson at Harper’s Ferry made sure that the Confederate Army of the Shenandoah under Joseph Johnston was not able to move east to reinforce Beauregard. Unfortunately, Patterson failed to achieve this, and by the time McDowell launched his attack, most of Johnston’s army was already with Beauregard, while the final brigade arrived on the day of the battle. That attack was launched on 21 July 1861 (First Bull Run or Manassas), and came very close to success, but McDowell’s inexperienced army could not quite take the opportunities it was given. Finally, Beauregard launched a ferocious counterattack, and most of McDowell’s army simply dissolved.

Ironically, one of McDowell’s failures during the battle now helped him. He had been unable to get his reserve brigades into the action during the day. Now they formed a defensive line at Centreville, and waited for the Confederate counterattack. No such attack came. The Confederate army was in little better shape than McDowell’s. Its commanders were well aware of the strength of the defences around Washington.

McDowell was quickly replaced by George B. McClellan. His conduct of the battle had been sufficiently competent for him to be retained as a divisional commander in McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. However, they were never to fight together. In the preparations of McClellan’s Peninsula campaign, McDowell was promoted to major-general of volunteers and give command of the I Corps. In the initial plans this corps was to move first, but after the Confederate retreat from Manassas Junction altered McClellan’s plans, the order of movement was changed.

This meant that it was McDowell’s corps that was retained at Washington when Lincoln decided that the measures McClellan had taken to defend the capitol were inadequate. McDowell himself protested against this decision, but that did not prevent McClellan from numbering McDowell amongst his enemies in Washington. Matters were not helped when McDowell was given command of a new Department of the Rappahannock. Although large parts of McDowell’s corps joined McClellan, a sizable part of the Union army was effectively removed from the crucial battles on the Peninsula. When Stonewall Jackson began to win his victories in the Shenandoah Valley, McDowell’s corps was once again diverted from aiding McClellan, once again against McDowell’s advice.

Just as McClellan’s campaign was reaching its conclusion during the Seven Days’s Battles, a new army was being formed in northern Virginia. The three separate armies under McDowell, Fremont and Banks were combined to for a new Army of Virginia under General John Pope. While Fremont resigned, McDowell was happy to serve under Pope, and soon became close to his new commander.

Ironically, Pope’s campaign also ended in defeat at Manassas. At the Second Battle of Bull Run (29-30 August 1862), McDowell had command of Pope’s biggest corps, the Third. This corps played a very minor role in the fighting on 29 August. On that day Pope was attacking Stonewall Jackson’s wing of the Confederate army, unaware that Longstreet and Lee were approaching his left wing. McDowell’s men were only really in place at the end of the day, too late to make any significant contribution to the attack on Jackson’s positions. The next day his two divisions were scattered around the battlefield, ready to take part in what Pope expected to be the final push against Jackson, and so McDowell was given little chance to redeem himself, although he had sent Pope a message warning him of Longstreet’s impending attack. In Pope’s plans for 30 August, McDowell had actually been assigned to command the expected pursuit of Jackson’s broken forces!

Pope’s determined attack early on 30 August came close enough to success for Jackson to call for reinforcements. Longstreet and Lee’s response was to launch their counterattack on Pope’s weakened left wing. McDowell’s planned role would not been needed. Instead, he and Pope found themselves managing another retreat from Bull Run. This time things were different. This was the three-year army that McDowell had wanted to wait for in the previous year. It fell back but did not rout. Pope was able to keep most of his army together, even it was badly demoralised by now. McDowell was given command of the rearguard, but no pursuit was mounted. Pope was able to hand his army almost intact to General McClellan, who was restored to command for the campaign that saw Lee’s first invasion of the north defeated at Antietam.

Second Bull Run inevitably ended McDowell’s active military career. His movements on the first day of the battle had been sufficiently poorly handled to even raise doubts about his loyalty. In the aftermath of the battle, he was relieved of his command. He was later cleared by an inquiry, and remained in active service in the army, but not in the field. After being cleared by the inquiry, he was appointed to command the Department of the Pacific (1864). In that role he was based at San Francisco, where he later retired. After the war he remained in the army, eventually reaching the rank of major-general in the regular army in 1872.

McDowell was probably unfortunate in the roles that fell to him. His first ever independent command was the Army of the Potomac! His only major failing before First Bull Run was the slowness of his movements, hardly a unique failing amongst Union commanders at that time. The disaster at Second Bull Run was largely due to Pope’s misreading of the situation. McDowell was simply one of many commanders to be promoted above their capacity early in the war.


McDowell History, Family Crest & Coats of Arms

The McDowell family name comes from the personal name Dougal. The Gaelic form of the name is Mac Dhughaill and literally means "son of Dougal." The personal name Dougal, meaning "dark stranger."

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Early Origins of the McDowell family

The surname McDowell was first found in Galloway (Gaelic: Gall-ghaidhealaibh), an area of southwestern Scotland, now part of the Council Area of Dumfries and Galloway, that formerly consisted of the counties of Wigtown (West Galloway) and Kirkcudbright (East Galloway), where they held a family seat from early times and their first records appeared on the early census rolls taken by the early Kings of Britain to determine the rate of taxation of their subjects.

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Early History of the McDowell family

This web page shows only a small excerpt of our McDowell research. Another 193 words (14 lines of text) covering the years 1268, 1310, 1359, and 1363 are included under the topic Early McDowell History in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

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McDowell Spelling Variations

The translation of Gaelic names in the Middle Ages was not a task undertaken with great care. Records from that era show an enormous number of spelling variations, even in names referring to the same person. Over the years McDowell has appeared as MacDowall, MacDowell, MacDugald, MacDill, Dowall, Dowler and many more.

Early Notables of the McDowell family (pre 1700)

Another 47 words (3 lines of text) are included under the topic Early McDowell Notables in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

Migration of the McDowell family to Ireland

Some of the McDowell family moved to Ireland, but this topic is not covered in this excerpt.
Another 59 words (4 lines of text) about their life in Ireland is included in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

McDowell migration +

Some of the first settlers of this family name were:

McDowell Settlers in United States in the 18th Century
  • Ephraim McDowell, who arrived in Pennsylvania in 1729-1735 [1]
  • Ephrahim McDowell, who landed in Virginia in 1739 [1]
  • Jane McDowell, who landed in Virginia in 1739 [1]
  • Margaret McDowell, who landed in Virginia in 1739 [1]
  • Martha McDowell, who arrived in Virginia in 1739 [1]
  • . (More are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)
McDowell Settlers in United States in the 19th Century
  • Hugh McDowell, aged 50, who landed in Louisiana in 1812 [1]
  • Thomas McDowell, aged 40, who arrived in South Carolina in 1812 [1]
  • Andrew McDowell, who landed in Charleston, South Carolina in 1813 [1]
  • Joseph McDowell, who arrived in New York in 1819 [1]
  • Samuel Douglas McDowell, who arrived in South Carolina in 1824 [1]
  • . (More are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)

McDowell migration to Canada +

Some of the first settlers of this family name were:

McDowell Settlers in Canada in the 19th Century
  • David McDowell, who landed in Canada in 1840
  • Hiram McDowell, who arrived in Canada in 1840
  • Mr. Owen McDowell, aged 35 who immigrated to Canada, arriving at the Grosse Isle Quarantine Station in Quebec aboard the ship "Erin's Queen" departing from the port of Liverpool, England but died on Grosse Isle in August 1847 [2]

McDowell migration to Australia +

Emigration to Australia followed the First Fleets of convicts, tradespeople and early settlers. Early immigrants include:

McDowell Settlers in Australia in the 19th Century
  • Fanny McDowell, aged 32, a servant, who arrived in South Australia in 1855 aboard the ship "Rodney" [3]
  • Agnes McDowell, aged 20, a domestic servant, who arrived in South Australia in 1855 aboard the ship "Flora" [4]
  • Mary McDowell, aged 29, a domestic servant, who arrived in South Australia in 1855 aboard the ship "Flora" [4]
  • Annabella McDowell, aged 22, a domestic servant, who arrived in South Australia in 1859 aboard the ship "North"

McDowell migration to New Zealand +

Emigration to New Zealand followed in the footsteps of the European explorers, such as Captain Cook (1769-70): first came sealers, whalers, missionaries, and traders. By 1838, the British New Zealand Company had begun buying land from the Maori tribes, and selling it to settlers, and, after the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, many British families set out on the arduous six month journey from Britain to Aotearoa to start a new life. Early immigrants include:

McDowell Settlers in New Zealand in the 19th Century
  • John McDOWELL, who landed in Auckland, New Zealand in 1840
  • Miss Charlotte Jane Mcdowell (Gambel), (b. 1834), aged 13, Irish settler born in Jamaica travelling aboard the ship "Sir Robert Sale" from Gravesend via Cork arriving in Auckland, New Zealand on 11th October 1847 [5]
  • Mr. James McDowell, Scottish settler travelling from Greenock aboard the ship "Philip Laing" arriving in Otago, South Island, New Zealand on 15th April 1848 [5]
  • Mr. Atkinson Mcdowell, (b. 1844), aged 19, British school master, from Hereford travelling from London aboard the ship "Metropolis" arriving in Lyttelton, Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand on 16th June 1863 [6]
  • John McDowell, who arrived in Auckland, New Zealand aboard the ship "Nimroud" in 1863
  • . (More are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)

Contemporary Notables of the name McDowell (post 1700) +

  • Gene McDowell (1940-2021), American college football head coach of the UCF Knights (1985�)
  • Hugh Alexander McDowell (1953-2018), English cellist best known for his work with Electric Light Orchestra (ELO)
  • Michael McEachern McDowell (1950-1999), American two-time Hugo Award nominated novelist and screenwriter
  • Irvin McDowell (1818-1885), American Major General, best known for his defeat in the First Battle of Bull Run
  • Brigadier-General Rex McKinley McDowell (1893-1984), American Assistant Director Office of the Surgeon General US Army (1939-1945) [7]
  • William Fraser McDowell (1858-1937), Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church
  • Robert Brendan McDowell (b. 1913), Irish historian, Fellow Emeritus and former Professor of History at Trinity College, Dublin
  • Paul L. McDowell (1905-1962), American Olympic bronze medalist rower at the 1928 Summer Olympics
  • Graeme McDowell (b. 1979), Irish professional PGA golfer, winner of the Masters Tournament (2012), the U.S. Open (2010), The Open Championship (2012) PGA Championship (2009) and many more
  • Malcolm McDowell (b. 1943), British two-time Golden Globe nominated actor
  • . (Another 78 notables are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)

Historic Events for the McDowell family +

Halifax Explosion
  • Miss Eileen  McDowell (1911-1917), Canadian resident from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada who died in the explosion [8]
HMS Hood
  • Mr. Albert McDowell (b. 1922), English Ordinary Seaman serving for the Royal Navy from Portsmouth, Hampshire, England, who sailed into battle and died in the sinking [9]

Related Stories +

The McDowell Motto +

The motto was originally a war cry or slogan. Mottoes first began to be shown with arms in the 14th and 15th centuries, but were not in general use until the 17th century. Thus the oldest coats of arms generally do not include a motto. Mottoes seldom form part of the grant of arms: Under most heraldic authorities, a motto is an optional component of the coat of arms, and can be added to or changed at will many families have chosen not to display a motto.

Motto: Vincere vel mori
Motto Translation: Victory


Irvin McDowell, 1818-1885 - History

Three weeks later, McDowell’s army engaged the Confederates and lost when Confederate reinforcements arrived to reverse early Union gains. Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: “Lincoln went out of his way to console McDowell, whom he called ‘a good and loyal, though very unfortunate’ officer who had to ‘drive the locomotive as he found it. He told the general: ‘I have not lost a particle of confidence in you,’ to which the insouciant McDowell replied: ‘I don’t see why you should, Mr. President.” 2

In January 1862 McDowell participated in a series of White House meetings to determine army strategy. At one session on January 10, 1862, the President told Generals McDowell and William Franklin that he was “in great distress, and as he had been to General [George B. McClellan’s] house and the General did not ask to see him, and as he must talk to somebody, he [desired] to obtain our opinion as to the possibility of soon commencing active operations wit the Army of the Potomac. If something was not soon done, the bottom would be out of the whole affair, and if General McClellan wasn’t using the army, “he would like to borrow it, provided he could see how it could be made to do something.” 3 McDowell advocated another advance on Manassas — an approach that Mr. Lincoln himself preferred and McClellan opposed. Historian William Marvel argued that “McDowell so fervently wished for his own command that he would pose a threat of rivalry to any superior.” 4

The still ailing McClellan showed up at a meeting on January 13, 1862 to defend his authority. The President encouraged McDowell to present the plan they had been discussing and McClellan was clearly annoyed at the preemption of his authority. “You are entitled to have any opinion you please!” said McClellan to McDowell. 5 The meeting ended inconclusively with Mr. Lincoln saying: “Well, on the assurance of the General that he will press the advance in Kentucky, I will be satisfied, and will adjourn this council.” 6 McDowell was subsequently appointed a corps commander under General George McClellan. McDowell was kept near Washington, D.C. during the Peninsular Campaign. That earned him the lasting enmity of McClellan, who wanted to be reinforced by McDowell as Union forces approached Richmond in June 1862.

Historian William Marvel harshly criticized the actions of both McDowell and Lincoln. Marvel wrote that “on May 16…McDowell received a War Department telegram ordering him up to Washington right away. He rode immediately to the landing and steamed up the Potomac for a late-night conference with the president, and the next day the general returned to the Rappahannock with marching orders. Lincoln had decided to build McDowell’s corps up to full strength and send him down the line of the Richmond, Fredericksbrug & Potomac Railroad toward the Confederate capital, where he would cooperate with the Army of the Potomac. Ten months after his humiliating defeat at Bull Run, McDowell would have the opportunity to redeem his reputation, and with a larger force than he had commanded in the summer of 1861. The prospect so stirred McDowell that he made no effort to keep it a secret, and within twenty-four hours the common soldiers were gossiping about it in letters home.” 7 Like some other historians, Marvel concluded that withholding McDowell from McClellan crippled McClellan’s Peninsula campaign: “The fateful decision to divert half of McDowell’s troops to the Valley — which was indeed Abraham Lincoln’s decision, rather than Edwin Stanton’s – gave the Confederates at Richmond everything they had hoped for. With that single timid telegram the president threw away his best opportunity to overwhelm the Confederate capital…” 8 Historian James M. McPherson, on the other hand, argued that “Lincoln was right saying that he could not afford the risk” posed by Confederates to Washington, D.C. 9

McDowell served as a general in the Army of the Potomac until after the Second Battle of Bull Run when he was relieved of command at his own request on September 6, 1862. President Lincoln told Secretary of the Salmon P. Chase while visiting the Treasury Department that “the clamor against McDowell was so great that he could not lead his troops unless something was done to restore confidence and proposed to me to suggest to him the asking for a Court of Inquiry. I told him I had already done so, and would do so again.” 10 A relatively competent professional who tended to have rotten luck, he had good military sense but lack the capacity to inspire troops. After two defeats at Bull Run, he lost the trust of troops and politicians although he was subsequently cleared by a military court of inquiry of any negligence during the Second Battle of Bull Run.

In 1864, McDowell was named to command the Department of the Pacific, which effectively removed him from the combat theater. After army service, he served as a San Francisco parks commissioner.


Irvin McDowell After The War

Eventually McDowell received the assignment of commander for the Department of the Pacific. After that, he was the commander for the Department of California, the Department of the West and the Fourth Military District. In 1872 there was a promotion to the position of permanent major general in the army. McDowell eventually retired from the army to serve as the Park Commissioner for San Francisco, California. He died in 1885 and was laid to rest at the San Francisco National Cemetery in Presidio of San Francisco.


Contents

McDowell was born in Columbus, Ohio, son of Abram Irvin McDowell and Eliza Seldon McDowell. [2] He was a cousin-in-law of John Buford, [3] and his brother, John Adair McDowell, served as the first colonel of the 6th Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. [2] Irvin initially attended the College de Troyes in France before graduating from the United States Military Academy in 1838, where one of his classmates was P. G. T. Beauregard, his future adversary at First Bull Run. He was commissioned a second lieutenant and posted to the 1st U.S. Artillery. McDowell served as a tactics instructor at West Point, before becoming aide-de-camp to General John E. Wool during the Mexican–American War. He was brevetted captain at Buena Vista and served in the Adjutant General's department after the war. While in that department he was promoted to major on May 31, 1856. [3]

Between 1848 and 1861, McDowell generally served as a staff officer to higher-ranking military leaders, and developed experience in logistics and supply. He developed a close friendship with General Winfield Scott while serving on his staff. He also served under future Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston. [4]

McDowell was promoted to brigadier general in the regular army on May 14, 1861, and was given command of the Army of Northeastern Virginia on May 27. The promotion was partly because of the influence of his mentor, Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase. Although McDowell knew that his troops were inexperienced and unready, and protested that he was a supply officer, not a field commander, pressure from the Washington politicians forced him to launch a premature offensive against Confederate forces in Northern Virginia. His strategy during the First Battle of Bull Run was imaginative but ambitiously complex, and his troops were not experienced enough to carry it out effectively, resulting in an embarrassing rout.

After the defeat at Bull Run, Major General George B. McClellan was placed in command of the new Union Army defending Washington, the Army of the Potomac. McDowell became a division commander in the Army of the Potomac. On March 14, 1862, President Lincoln issued an order forming the army into corps and McDowell got command of the I Corps as well as a promotion to major general of volunteers. When the army set off for the Virginia Peninsula in April, McDowell's command was detached for duty in the Rappahannock area out of concern over Stonewall Jackson's activities in the Shenandoah Valley (one division was later sent down to the Peninsula).

Eventually, the three independent commands of Generals McDowell, John C. Frémont, and Nathaniel P. Banks were combined into Major General John Pope's Army of Virginia and McDowell led the III Corps of that army. Because of his actions at Cedar Mountain, McDowell was eventually brevetted major general in the regular army however, he was blamed for the subsequent disaster at Second Bull Run. McDowell was also widely despised by his own troops who believed him to be in cahoots with the enemy. He escaped culpability by testifying against Major General Fitz John Porter, whom Pope court-martialed for alleged insubordination in that battle. Pope and McDowell did not like each other, but McDowell tolerated serving under him with the full knowledge that he himself would remain a general after the war was over while Pope would revert to the rank of colonel. Despite his formal escape, McDowell received no new assignments for the next two years.

In July 1864, McDowell was given command of the Department of the Pacific. He later commanded the Department of California from July 27, 1865 to March 31, 1868, briefly commanded the Fourth Military Department, then commanded the Department of the East from July 16, 1868 – December 16, 1872. On November 25, 1872, he was promoted to major general. On December 16, 1872, McDowell succeeded General George G. Meade as commander of the Military Division of the South, and remained until June 30, 1876. From July 1, 1876, he was commander of the Division of the Pacific. In 1882, Congress imposed a mandatory retirement age of 64 for military officers, and McDowell retired on October 14 of that year.

In 1879, when a board of review commissioned by President Rutherford B. Hayes issued its report recommending a pardon for Fitz John Porter, it attributed much of the loss of the Second Battle of Bull Run to McDowell. In the report, he was depicted as indecisive, uncommunicative, and inept, repeatedly failing to answer Porter's requests for information, failing to forward intelligence of Longstreet's positioning to Pope, and neglecting to take command of the left wing of the Union Army as was his duty under the Articles of War.

Following his retirement from the army, General McDowell exercised his fondness for landscape gardening, serving as Park Commissioner of San Francisco, California until his death from heart attack on May 4, 1885. In this capacity he constructed a park in the neglected reservation of the Presidio, laying out drives that commanded views of the Golden Gate. He is buried in San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio of San Francisco.


Irvin McDowell

General Irvin McDowell served in the Civil War and later commanded the Department of the Pacific. He is buried in the National Cemetary at the Presidio.

National Archives and Records Administration

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Irvin McDowell (1818–1885) initially attended the College de Troyes in France before graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1838. After completing his education, McDowell served as a tactics instructor at the Academy before joining John E. Wool's staff in the Mexican War. By the outbreak of the Civil War, McDowell was a brigadier general and was given command of the Army of Northeastern Virginia despite a complete lack of experience commanding troops in the field.

Troops under McDowell’s command were defeated at the First Battle of Bull Run, resulting in the transfer of the leadership of the new Union army in Virginia, the Army of the Potomac, to General George McClellan. When the Army of the Potomac was divided into corps, McDowell oversaw I Corps, which defended Washington before serving valiantly at Cedar Mountain in 1862, an accomplishment that earned McDowell the regular army brevet of major general in 1865. As fate would have it, McDowell returned to lead his troops at the Second Battle of Bull Run later in 1862 and was held partially responsible for the disastrous Union defeat that ensued. Second Bull Run was the last combat command McDowell held in the Civil War.

In July 1864, following a two-year hiatus, McDowell was chosen to lead the Department of the Pacific. In later years, he commanded the Department of California, the Fourth Military District (the military government for Arkansas and Louisiana during Reconstruction), and the Department of the West. In 1872, McDowell was promoted to permanent major general of Regulars in 1872. Following his retirement from the U.S. Army in 1882, McDowell served as Park Commissioner of San Francisco before his death in 1885. He is buried in the San Francisco National Cemetery at the Presidio.

McDowell is buried in the Officer's Section, Section 1, Grave 1.


Irvin McDowell, 1818-1885 - History

Irvin McDowell
(1818-1885)

Civil War actions at Bull Run twice almost brought the military career of Irvin McDowell to an inglorious end. The Ohio native had been raised and educated in France before returning to the United States to attend West Point where he graduated in 1838 and was posted to the artillery. He spent four years as a tactics instructor before serving on John E. Wool's staff during the Mexican War and being brevetted for Buena Vista. During the interwar years he served in the adjutant general's department.
His Civil War-era assignments included: first lieutenant, lst Artillery (since October 7, 1842) brevet major and assistant adjutant general (since March 31, 1856) brigadier general, USA (May 14, 1862) commanding Army and Department of Northeastern Virginia (May 27 - July 25, 1861) commanding Army and Department of Northeastern Virginia, Division of the Potomac July 25 - August 17, 1861) commanding division, Division of the Potomac (October 3, 1861-March 13, 1862) commanding lst Corps, Army of the Potomac (March 13 - April 4, 1862) major general, USV (March 14, 1862) commanding Department of the Rappahannock (April 4 - June 26, 1862) commanding 3rd Corps, Army of Virginia (June 26 - September 5, 1862) and commanding Department of the Pacific (July 1, 1864 - June 27, 1865).
While serving in Washington he became acquainted with Secretary of the Treasury Chase who proved to be instrumental in obtaining his promotion to regular army brigadier and assignment to command of the troops around the capital. Political pressure made it necessary for McDowell to advance on Manassas before his troops were ready. He sent part of his force against Blackburn's Ford along Bull Run and then a few days later made his main attack. While his plan had merit, it was too much for the raw volunteers to accomplish.
Four days after the rout McClellan was placed over McDowell, who a few months later was relegated to the command of a division. When the Army of the Potomac was organized into corps he became head of the 1st Corps which was left behind to guard the approaches to Washington when McClellan moved to the Peninsula. His command was redesignated the Department of the Rappahannock and was supposed to march overland to join McClellan but the activities of Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley precluded this.
When John Pope was brought east to command the newly constituted Army of Virginia -- the previously independent commands of McDowell, John C. Fremont, and Nathaniel P. Banks -- McDowell was given a corps. Although his actions at Cedar Mountain earned him the regular army brevet of major general in 1865 -- he already had his second star in the volunteer service -- he was blamed in part for the disaster at 2nd Bull Run. Requesting a court of inquiry, he was eventually cleared of culpability, possibly as a reward for his testimony against Fitz-John Porter. Nonetheless he was not given another combat command and it was not until the last year of the war that he was put in charge of the Pacific Coast.
Mustered out of the volunteers on September 1, 1866, he became a major general in the regular establishment six years later and retired in 1882.
Source: "Who Was Who In The Civil War" by Stewart Sifakis

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Irvin McDowell

Irvin McDowell was a nineteenth century American military leader.

Irvin McDowell was born on October 15, 1818, in Franklinton, Ohio. He attended common schools in nearby Columbus. At the suggestion of a French tutor, McDowell attended a private school in France in 1833. He returned to the United States in 1834 and received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. He graduated in 1838 and ranked twenty-third in his class.

McDowell remained in the military for the next forty-four years. His first assignment was as a second lieutenant of artillery along the United States-Canadian border in Maine. In 1841, McDowell returned to West Point as an assistant instructor of military tactics. He joined General John Wool's staff during the Mexican-American War. By the conflict's end, McDowell had become the Assistant Adjutant General for the Army of Occupation. Between 1848 and 1861, McDowell served as a staff officer to higher-ranking military leaders. He developed a close friendship with General Winfield Scott while serving on his staff. He also served under future Confederate general Joseph Johnston.

With the outbreak of the American Civil War, McDowell quickly moved to a position of leadership in the Union army. He entered the war as a major but was promoted to brigadier-general within a few months. He served as a military adviser to Salmon P. Chase, the Governor of Ohio. He assisted Chase in planning Ohio's early defense and the handling of recruits. Chase's successor, William Dennison considered offering McDowell overall command of all Ohio recruits, but at the urging of politicians from Cincinnati, the governor selected George McClellan for that position.

McDowell soon had a role to play in the war effort. General Winfield Scott, the highest-ranking officer in the Union Army, intended to use McDowell's skills in an invasion of the Confederacy. Scott was too old to hold a field command, but he was responsible for planning of the first several months of the war. Scott proposed to assemble an army to defend Washington, DC, the nation's capital. He also planned to use the United States Navy to blockade the Confederate coastline. In early 1862, Scott intended to send an army down the Mississippi River. The general hoped that the army could gain control of the river and succeed in dividing the Confederacy in two. Scott wanted McDowell to have command of this army.

Scott's plans for McDowell fell through. Rather than being in placed in charge of the army in the West, McDowell took command of the army in Washington, DC. Union politicians and civilians expected a quick resolution to the war and demanded that the Union military immediately take the offensive. They were unwilling to wait until 1862 for the Union army to advance. As soon as Virginia seceded from the Union in June 1861, McDowell advanced with his army into northeastern Virginia. His advance quickly stalled because of Winfield Scott's refusal to provide McDowell with adequate men and supplies. Scott still hoped to follow his own plan for the Confederacy's defeat and hoped to hinder the government officials currently directing the war effort.

On July 16, 1861, McDowell finally had the supplies and men that he needed to advance against the Confederates. The Confederates had an army near Bull Run, a small creek in northeastern Virginia. McDowell had a larger army of thirty-five thousand men, divided into four divisions. He planned to have two divisions attack the Confederate flank, a third division attack the center of the Confederate position, and for the fourth division remain in reserve after making a brief feint against the Confederates' other flank.

The Union soldiers were to march into position during the evening of July 20. Colonel Ambrose Burnside encouraged McDowell to let the men rest. He contended that the men could easily march the ten miles to the battlefield early the next morning and still arrive rested. McDowell agreed. On the march to the battlefield on July 21, many of the Union soldiers became lost in the early morning darkness. Other soldiers were exhausted after the early morning march. These were volunteers with limited training and were not seasoned veterans. Unexpected Confederate reinforcements were also arriving on the battlefield from Harper's Ferry. While the Union soldiers enjoyed some initial success, the Confederates eventually drove the Union army from the battlefield. Union officers often were unable to rally their men until they had reached the safety of Washington, DC. President Abraham Lincoln removed McDowell from command of the Army of the Potomac and replaced him with General George McClellan.

Despite the defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run, McDowell remained with the Army of the Potomac as a corps commander. Lincoln repeatedly sought counsel from McDowell and infuriated McClellan. In the spring of 1862, McClellan launched the Peninsula Campaign. He transported by ship a significant portion of the Army of the Potomac to the James River peninsula. McClellan now faced a short march to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond. To protect Washington, DC, President Lincoln insisted that McClellan leave behind a sufficient force to guard the nation's capital. McDowell was placed in command of these troops. As McClellan marched towards Richmond, he requested that Lincoln send McDowell's men overland from Washington to Richmond. Lincoln initially agreed, but then ordered McDowell to march with his command towards the Shenandoah Valley to defeat a Confederate army under Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. Jackson defeated McDowell’s force.

McDowell repeatedly asked government officials to let him send his men against Richmond. Before he could advance on Richmond, his command was assigned to the Army of Virginia, under the command of John Pope. Pope's army met advancing Confederates under Robert E. Lee at the Second Battle of Bull Run (August 28-30, 1862). Following this Union defeat, McDowell requested that Lincoln remove him from command. Lincoln agreed because he believed that Union soldiers did not view McDowell as a competent commander.

A military court of inquiry investigated McDowell's actions at First and Second Bull Run. The court cleared McDowell of all misconduct. Lincoln also still trusted McDowell's abilities, but he realized that many politicians and soldiers did not think that McDowell was an able commander. The general remained unassigned until 1864, when Lincoln placed him in command of the Department of the Pacific. He remained in this position until his retirement from the military in 1882. McDowell then became commissioner of parks in San Francisco. He died in 1885.


Early Life

Irvin McDowell was born in Columbus, Ohio on October 15, 1818. He was the son of Abram Irvin McDowell and Eliza Seldon McDowell. He was the cousin to the Gettysburg hero, John Buford, and brother John Adair McDowell. Irvin came from a military tradition and was surrounded by many with the same aspirations as him. He attended college in France but graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1838 where he would be classmates with many of the future Confederate officers he would see on the battlefield. He was commissioned a second lieutenant and posted to the 1st U.S. Artillery. McDowell served as a tactics instructor at West Point, before becoming aide-de-camp to General John E. Wool during the Mexican-American War. He was brevetted captain at Buena Vista and served in the Adjutant General&rsquos department after the war. While in that department he was promoted to major on May 31, 1856.

Between 1848 and 1861, McDowell generally served as a staff officer to higher-ranking military leaders and developed experience in logistics and supply. He developed a close friendship with General Winfield Scott while serving on his staff. He also served under future Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston.


Irvin McDowell (October 15, 1818–May 4, 1885)

Irvin McDowell was born at Columbus, Ohio on October 15, 1818, the son of Abram Irvin McDowell and Eliza Seldon McDowell. He received his early education at the College de Troyes in France, before entering the United States Military Academy in 1834, at the age of sixteen. McDowell graduated from the Academy in 1838, twenty-third in his class. One of McDowell's classmates at West Point was P.G.T. Beauregard, his future adversary at the First Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861).

After graduating from the academy, McDowell entered the U.S. Army as a brevet second lieutenant with the First Artillery on July 1, 1838. He was promoted to the full rank of second lieutenant six days later and stationed on the Maine frontier. In 1841, McDowell was recalled to West Point, where he served as an assistant instructor of infantry from 1841 to 1845. During his tenure at the academy, McDowell was promoted to first lieutenant on October 7, 1842.

In October 1846, McDowell was appointed as aide-de-camp to Brigadier General John E. Wool. During the Mexican-American War (1846�), McDowell served as acting adjutant-general for Wool's forces in Mexico. He was promoted to brevet captain on February 23, 1847, for gallant and meritorious conduct at the Battle of Buena Vista (February 23, 1847). At the conclusion of the Mexican-American War, McDowell remained in Mexico with the army of occupation until July 1848. Between that date and the outbreak of the American Civil War, he served in various administrative roles in Texas, New York, and Washington, DC. McDowell was promoted to brevet major on May 13, 1847.

When the Civil War began, McDowell was assigned to Washington with the task mustering volunteer soldiers. On May 14, 1861, McDowell was promoted to brigadier general, and he was selected to command the newly created Department of Northeastern Virginia on May 27. As public expectations mounted for the swelling Union forces in the capital to "do something" before the terms of 100-day volunteers expired, northern leaders pressed McDowell to launch an offensive against the Confederates in Northern Virginia with ill-prepared troops. On July 16, 1861, McDowell led about 35,000 untested Union soldiers (commonly, but not officially, known as the Army of Northeastern Virginia) out of Washington to confront the equally untried Confederate Army of the Potomac. The armies met on July 21, along Bull Run, near Manassas, Virginia. The Battle of Bull Run I had a promising beginning for McDowell's army that morning, but when Rebel reinforcements from General Joseph E. Johnston's Army of the Shenandoah arrived by rail during the afternoon, a Federal retreat turned into a rout. Fortunately for McDowell, the Confederates were too disorganized to pursue and possibly capture Washington.

When President Abraham Lincoln turned to Major General George B. McClellan to reorganize Union forces in the East following the disaster at Bull Run, McClellan named Franklin as a division commander in the newly-created Army of the Potomac in September 1861. By the spring of 1862, President Lincoln had drafted his own reorganization plan for the Army of the Potomac. On March 8, he issued War Order No. 2, consolidating the army's divisions into five corps. Lincoln went on to name McDowell, Brigadier General Edwin V. Sumner, Brigadier General S. P. Heintzelman, Brigadier General Erasmus D. Keyes, and Major General Nathaniel P. Banks to command the five corps respectively. Dutifully, on March 13, 1862 a disgruntled McClellan issued General Order No. 101 (Army of the Potomac), confirming the President's selections.

When McClellan embarked on his Peninsula Campaign in March 1862, McDowell's corps was detached from the main army and left behind to guard against possible Confederate threats against the capital. On April 14, McDowell's detached corps was re-designated the independent Army of the Rappahannock. Shortly thereafter, on May 14, McDowell was promoted to major general of volunteers. Three months later, on August 12, McDowell's army was combined with two others to form the Army of Virginia. McDowell expected to lead the new army, but Major General John Pope was selected instead.

On August 28, 1862, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia attacked Pope's new army near Manassas, Virginia. The Second Battle of Bull Run (August 28-20, 1862) was another Union disaster, and once again, McDowell received much of the blame. On September 6, he was relieved of field duty. A military court of inquiry later exonerated McDowell, but he remained unpopular with the public and was never given another field command during the war. Throughout the remainder of the conflict, McDowell filled various administrative posts. Near the conclusion of the war, he was promoted to brevet major general in the regular army on March 13, 1865.

After the Civil War, McDowell was transferred to California, where he commanded the Department of the Pacific and later the Department of California. On September 1, 1866, he was mustered out of volunteer service, but he continued to serve in the regular army in California until 1868. After holding various administrative posts in the East and South, McDowell was promoted to major general on November 25, 1872, and re-deployed to California. McDowell retired from active service in the U.S. Army on October 15, 1882. After retirement, McDowell served as a park commissioner in San Francisco, California.

Irvin McDowell died of pyloric disease of the stomach in San Francisco on May 4, 1885. He was buried in San Francisco National Cemetery, San Francisco, California.


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