Major General Irvin McDowell
Army of Northeastern Virginia Commander
Politics gained Irvin McDowell command of the Union forces in the first major battle of the Civil War, and politics ended his tenure as a field commander. He served on the staff of the adjutant general in Washington, D.C. after the Mexican War. He was a close associate of General Winfield Scott, and he was an advisor to Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase. Connection to the Republican Party secured his promotion to brigadier general of volunteers and placement in command of the new army that was to be sent to capture Richmond. Under pressure from politicians, General McDowell took the army into battle before it was properly prepared. It was defeated at the First Battle of Manassas or Bull Run. General McClellan was then placed in charge of the Union Army. General McDowell was given command of a division and then a corps. His assignment was to defend Washington, D.C. while General McClellan engaged in the Peninsular Campaign. General McDowell's independent command was combined into General John Pope's Army of Virginia. When they were defeated at the Second Battle of Manassas or Bull Run, Major General McDowell received much of the blame. A court of inquiry cleared him, but this might have been a reward for his testimony against General Fitz-John Porter. In 1864 General McDowell was sent to command the Department of the Pacific. He retired in 1882 and died on May 4, 1885 in San Francisco.
Irvin McDowell was born in Columbus, Ohio on October 15, 1818. He attended the College de Troyes in France, and he graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1838. Lieutenant McDowell served as an assistant instructor of tactics at West Point for four years. During the Mexican War, he served on General John E. Wool's staff. He received a brevet promotion to captain for gallantry in the Battle of Buena Vista.
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