Irvin McDowell (1818-1885)

Irvin McDowell was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1818. He studied at the College de Troyes, in France, and graduated from West Point in 1838, 23rd in his class of 45. He was commissioned a second lieutenant and posted to the 1st U.S. Artillery. During the border dispute with Canada he was stationed on the Niagara and Maine frontiers.

In 1841 he served at West Point as assistant instructor in tactics, becoming adjutant in 1845. During the Mexican War he went to Mexico as aide-de-camp to General John E. Wool and for gallant conduct at Buena Vista in 1847 was promoted to brevet captain. After the war, he served in the Adjutant General's department and received a brevet promotion to major in 1856. Shortly afterward he was given the rank of assistant adjutant general.

Following the Mexican War McDowell was stationed at the War Department in Washington. A close associate of General Winfield Scott, he became an adviser to several Republican Party politicians including Abraham Lincoln and Salmon Chase.

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. On the outbreak of the American Civil War McDowell he was given command of the Union Army south of the Potomac. He was promoted to brigadier general on May 14, 1861, and given command of the Army of Northeastern Virginia, despite never having commanded troops in combat. The promotion was due in large part to the influence of his mentor, Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase. Although McDowell knew that his troops were inexperienced and unready, pressure from the Washington politicians forced him to launch a premature offensive against Confederate forces in northern Virginia. In July Abraham Lincoln sent McDowell to take Richmond, the new base the Confederate government. On 21st July McDowell engaged the Confederate Army at Bull Run. The Confederate troops led by Joseph E. Johnson, Thomas Stonewall Jackson, James Jeb Stuart, Jubal Early and Pierre T. Beauregard, easily defeated the inexperienced Union Army. The South had won the first great battle of the war and the Northern casualties totaled 1,492 with another 1,216 missing.

Four days after the defeat at Bull Run, Major General George B. McClellan was placed in command of the new Union army in Virginia, the Army of the Potomac, 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 nervous politicians who feared that General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's Valley Campaign would eventually attack Washington kept McDowell's 40,000 soldiers behind.

Joined by Thomas Stonewall Jackson, the Confederate troops constantly attacked George McClellan and on June 27, 1862 they broke through at Gaines Mill. Convinced he was outnumbered, McClellan retreated to James River. Abraham Lincoln, frustrated by McClellan's lack of success, sent in McDowell and John Pope, but they were easily beaten back by Jackson.

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 of Regulars in 1865; however, he was blamed for the subsequent disaster at Second Bull Run. Criticised for his performance, McDowell was relieved on his command. However, he demanded and was ultimately exonerated by a court of inquiry. He escaped culpability by testifying against Major General Fitz-John Porter, whom General McClellan court-martialed for the defeats of the Peninsula Campaign. (In 1879, when Porter's conviction was overturned, McDowell's reputation was soiled by accusations of perjury in his self-serving testimony.) Despite his formal escape, McDowell spent the following two years in effective exile from the leadership of the Army.

In July 1864, McDowell was given command of the Department of the Pacific. He later commanded the Department of California, the Fourth Military District (the military government for Arkansas and Louisiana during Reconstruction), and the Department of the West. He was promoted to permanent major general of Regulars in 1872, and retired from the U.S. Army in 1882. He served as Park Commissioner of San Francisco, California, before dying in 1885. He is buried in San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio of San Francisco.