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Born Oct. 15, 1818, Columbus, OH.
Military History. — Cadet at the Military Academy, July 1, 1834, to July 1, 1838, when he was graduated and promoted in the Army to
Bvt. Second Lieut., 1st Artillery, July 1, 1838.
Second Lieut., 1st Artillery, July 7, 1838.
Served: on the Northern Frontier, 1838, during Canada Border Disturbances; on the Maine Frontier, at Houlton, 1838‑40, pending the "Disputed Territory" controversy; on Recruiting service, 1840; on Maine Frontier, at Houlton, 1840‑41, pending the "Disputed Territory" controversy; at the Military Academy, 1841‑45, as Asst. Instructor of Infantry
(First Lieut., 1st Artillery, Oct. 7, 1842, to Feb. 22, 1851)
Tactics, Sep. 4 to Nov. 11, 1841, — and as Adjutant, Nov. 11, 1841, to Oct. 8, 1845; as Aide-de‑Camp to Brig.‑General Wool, Oct. 6, 1845, to May 13, 1847; in the War with Mexico, 1846‑48, in mustering in Volunteers, June‑July, 1846, — as Acting Asst. Adjutant-General of the Army commanded by Brig.‑General Wool, on the march for Chihuahua, Aug. 24 to Sep. 12, 1846, and Dec. 24, 1846, to Jan. 29, 1847, being engaged in the Battle of Buena Vista, Feb. 22‑23, 1847, — as Asst. Adjutant-General
(Bvt Capt., Feb. 23, 1847,
to Brig.‑General Wool's division, "Army of Occupation," May 13,
(Bvt. Capt., Staff — Asst. Adjutant-Gen., May 13, 1847)
1847, to Dec. 9, 1847, and of the "Army of Occupation," Dec. 9, 1847, to May 22, 1848, — and in mustering out and discharging troops, June‑July, 1848; as Asst. Adjutant-General at the War Department, July, 1848, to June, 1849, — at the Headquarters of the Army, New York city, June, 1849, to Jan. 8, 1851, — of the 2d Military Department, Jan. 8 to May 17, 1851, — of the 6th Military Department, June 29, 1851, to Mar. 31, 1853, — at the Headquarters of the Army, New York city, May, 1853, to Nov. 1, 1856, — of the Department of Texas, Dec. 11,
(Bvt. Major, Staff — Asst. Adjutant-Gen., Mar. 31, 1856)
1856, to May 27, 1857, — and at the Headquarters of the Army, New York city, June 27, 1857, to Nov. 17, 1858; on leave of absence in Europe, Nov. 17, 1858, to Nov. 14, 1859; as Asst. Adjutant-General, at the Headquarters of the Army in New York city, Nov. 14, 1859, to Jan. 11, 1860, — and of the Department of Texas, Feb. 6 to Apr. 8, 1860; on leave of absence, Apr. 8 to Aug., 1860; on tour of inspection in Minnesota, Missouri, and Kansas, Sep., 1860, to Feb., 1861; and in inspecting troops at Washington, D. C., Feb. to Apr., 1861.
Served during the Rebellion of the Seceding States, 1861‑66; in organizing and mustering D. C. Volunteers into the service at Washington, D. C., and in command of the Capitol, Apr.‑May, 1861; in command of
(Brig.‑General, U. S. Army, May 14, 1861)
The Department of N. E. Virginia, and of the defenses of Washington, south of the Potomac, May 17‑27, 1861, — and of the Army of the Potomac, May 27 to July 25, 1861, being engaged in the Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861; in command of division (Army of the Potomac) in the p712 defenses of Washington, D. C., July 25, 1861, to Mar. 13, 1862, — of the 1st Corps (Army of the Potomac), Mar. 13 to Aug. 12, 1862, — of the
(Major-General, U. S. Volunteers, Mar. 14, 1862)
Department and Army of the Rappahannock, Apr. 4 to Aug. 12, 1862; in command of 3d Corps (army of Virginia), Aug. 12 to Sep. 6, 1862, in the Northern Virginia Campaign, being engaged in the Battle of Cedar Mountain, Aug. 9, 1862, — Action of Rappahannock Station, Aug. 25, 1862, — and Battle of Manassas, Aug. 29‑30, 1862; as President of Court for investigating alleged cotton frauds, May to July, 1863, — and of Board for retiring disabled officers, at Wilmington, Del., July 11, 1863, to May 21, 1864; and in command of the Department of the Pacific,
(Bvt. Maj.‑General, U. S. Army, Mar. 13, 1865,
July 1, 1864, to June 27, 1865, — and of the Department of California, June 27, 1865, to Aug. 12, 1866.
Mustered out of Volunteer Service, Sep. 1, 1866.
Served: in command of the Department of California, Aug. 12, 1866, to Mar. 31, 1868, being on tour of Inspection, Oct. 31, 1867, to June 22, 1868, — of Fourth Military District, June 4 to July 4, 1868, — of Department of the East, July 16, 1868, to Dec., 1872, — of Division and
(Major-General, U. S. Army, Nov. 25, 1872)
Department of the South, Dec. 11, 1872, to June 30, 1876, — of Department of California, July 1 to Aug. 15, 1876, — and of Division of the Pacific, July 1, 1876, to Oct. 15, 1882; and as Member of Prison Board, Dec. 1, 1876, to Oct. 15, 1882.
Retired from Active Service, Oct. 15, 1882, he being 64 Years of Age.
Died, May 4, 1885, at San Francisco, Cal.: Aged 67.
Buried, San Francisco National Cemetery, San Francisco, CA.
Maj.‑General Irvin McDowell terminated his checkered military career, May 4, 1885, at San Francisco, Cal., where he died of pyloric disease of the stomach. He was born, Oct. 15, 1818, at Columbus, Ohio; was of Northern Irish descent; and received his early education at the college of Troyes, in France. At the age of sixteen he entered the United States Military Academy, from which he was graduated July 1, 1838, and promoted to the First Artillery, in which regiment he served, chiefly on the Maine frontier, till 1841, when he was detailed for duty at the Military Academy, of which he was the Adjutant till Oct. 6, 1846, being then appointed Aide-de‑Camp to Brigadier-General John E. Wool.
Soon after the beginning of the Mexican War, McDowell became the Acting Adjutant-General of Wool's column in its march for Chihuahua, and participated in the battle of Buena Vista, Feb. 22‑23, 1847, where, for his "gallant and meritorious conduct," he was brevetted a Captain, and, May 13, 1847, received the same rank in the Adjutant-General's department. He continued with the "Army of Occupation" till nearly the end of the war, when he was detailed to muster out and discharge volunteer troops from service.
From July, 1848, till the outbreak of the Rebellion, he was employed on his appropriate staff duties at Washington, New York, and Texas, having in the meanwhile, Mar. 31, 1856, been promoted to a Majority in the Adjutant-General's department.
When Fort Sumter was fired upon, McDowell was at Washington city, engaged in mustering and inspecting volunteer troops, and while on this duty attracted much attention by his military intelligence and p713 soldierly bearing. Then the cry of "On to Richmond!" from Congress, the press, and the people of the North, was so strong that even the veteran Scott — General-in‑Chief of the Army — could not resist its might. Already a large body of volunteers had been assembled at Washington whose terms of enlistment would soon expire, and, though undisciplined, uninstructed, and ill-equipped for battle, the pressure upon the President to do something, before their discharge, was so great that it was decided to march against the enemy, encamped almost in sight of the capital. For this purpose McDowell was selected to lead our forces, he being made a Brigadier-General of the army, through the instrumentality of Secretary Chase, with whom he was a favorite.
McDowell, then in the ripe vigor and strength of manhood, professionally well informed, ambitious of distinction, and with two years of war experience in Mexico, was willing to undertake, with an army mostly of raw recruits, the serious task of contending for success against an antagonist no better prepared for conflict. McDowell took command of the Army of the Potomac, May 27, 1861, and July 16th opened his campaign against the Confederate army under his classmate at West Point, General Beauregard.
With about thirty thousand men, in four divisions, McDowell moved direct upon Centreville, where he prepared to give battle, July 21st, by turning the left while threatening the front of the enemy, well posted behind Bull Run. The plan of battle was excellent, but unfortunately, the long and fatiguing •twelve miles' march, of our right, by way of Sudley's Ford, brought its weary troops in contact with the enemy fresh and prepared for the terrible conflict which followed. In this morning battle, success attended the Union arms, but in the afternoon the exhausted Federal forces had to renew the battle against the united armies of Johnston and Beauregard, fresh for the fray, and well acquainted with the ground upon which they had to operate. By a fatal error a rebel regiment, marching to the attack of Henry Hill, was mistaken for a support to the Federal advance batteries there posted. Over these batteries a sanguinary conflict ensued till they were lost and won three times. By half-past four all of the Union reserves had been engaged, when fresh Confederate regiments were brought up, thus enabling the enemy, like Napoleon at Marengo, to neutralize its morning disaster and snatch victory from our brave but undisciplined volunteers, faint with hunger, oppressed with midsummer heat, and weary with fourteen hours of continuous marching and fighting.
McDowell, through no fault of his own, had lost his first great battle, but, with the magnanimity of a generous soldier, he assumed the entire responsibility of his defeat, without a word of censure upon his subordinates, or complaint of the character of his troops, which, except a few regulars, were only armed citizens in uniform. He had felt sanguine of success when marching to the front, little dreaming that many of his volunteers would, on the eve of battle, march off the field to the sound of the enemy's guns, or that he was to encounter a second army, coming up like the Prussians at Waterloo, which had not been kept at bay.
After the defeat of Bull Run, McDowell was superseded by General McClellan, the former taking command under the latter of a division of the Army of the Potomac in the defenses of Washington. Upon the reorganization of this army McDowell was assigned, March 13, 1862, to the command of the First Corps, which was to accompany McClellan in his Virginia peninsular campaign. The Federal Government, feeling that Washington was not adequately protected by the Army of the Potomac, detained McDowell's corps and interposed it on the Rappahannock, between the capital and the enemy occupying the peninsula. This corps, April 14, was designated the Army of the Rappahannock, and its forty p714 thousand troops were placed under the independent command of McDowell, then a Major-General of the Volunteers.
This is not the place to discuss the wisdom of the measure, but suffice it to say that the government had the right to decide the question for itself, and it was the duty of every patriot to yield a cheerful obedience to its mandates.
Not only had McDowell been detached from McClellan, but Fremont and Banks had each been assigned to independent commands, the former to that of the Mountain department, and the latter to that of the Shenandoah. Thus four armies were operating upon one theatre of war, and too widely separated from each other for mutual support in sudden emergencies. To increase the errors of this very faulty arrangement, the troops in and about the Shenandoah Valley had been subdivided into four divisions, — Milroy on the Staunton and Parkersburg road, Fremont at Franklin, Banks at Strasburg, and Shields on the east side of the Blue Ridge. The enemy, quickly discovering this strategic blunder, promptly sent Stonewall Jackson to destroy our scattered forces in detail. With consummate skill he suddenly fell upon Milroy and routed him, May 8, 1862; by forced marches turned Banks' position and defeated his corps, capturing many prisoners and much property; gave battle, June 8th, to Fremont at Cross-Keys, remaining master of the field after a long and bloody conflict; and then severely punished Shields, near Port Royal, putting him to flight. Thus, in thirty-five days, Jackson marched •two hundred and forty miles, fought four desperate battles, and had beaten all of the Union forces in the Valley, numbering four times his own gallant division.
The government at Washington, thoroughly alarmed, ordered McDowell to cross the country and intercept the retreat of the bold raider, but Jackson escaped and joined Lee's army in front of Richmond, in time to deal powerful blows against McClellan in his seven days' change of base to the James River.
Thus thirteen thousand men, ably handled, neutralized about one hundred thousand of our troops, scattered over the Shenandoah Valley and upon the Rappahannock, which forces, had they been united to co-operate with McClellan's army, could have crushed the enemy, captured Richmond, and probably have terminated the Rebellion.
McDowell was not responsible for this great fiasco, for he had not sought to retain an independent command, nor to go upon the foolish diversion to the Shenandoah Valley; but, on the contrary, was most anxious to march to McClellan's support, and earnestly protested against undertaking a wild-goose chase in pursuit of Jackson.
After these humiliating failures the government at Washington determined, for the greater security of the capital, to establish a great army on the north of the Rappahannock. McDowell naturally expected to command it, as he still retained the confidence of the administration; but his baleful destiny again interfered, an accident in the saddle having rendered him helpless for ten days, during which time General Pope was appointed to the command of the Army of Virginia, made up from the forces of McDowell, Banks, and Fremont.
While Pope was concentrating and reorganizing his army the military situation of the peninsula had so changed as to render necessary the union of our two armies in Virginia, which were operating upon exterior lines, while the enemy held the interior, ready to mass his powerful forces against each of ours in succession, and possibly to defeat both.
This is not the place to discuss the question of whether the Army of Virginia should have marched to the support of that of the Potomac, or the latter been joined to the former, as directed by the government, to better secure the capital of the nation by interposing all of its northern forces p715 between the enemy and Washington. Before this concentration to form a single army was effected, Stonewall Jackson, with thirty thousand men, was detached from Lee's forces to secure the Confederate communications with the North by the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. To oppose this forward movement of the enemy, who could easily break through McDowell's attenuated line guarding the Rappahannock and Rapidan, Pope directed Banks to take up and hold a strong position near Culpeper C. H., which was the key of the roads leading from the Shenandoah Valley and Manassas Junction. But Banks, instead of maintaining a strong picket line to check the enemy until he could be reinforced, gave battle, August 9, 1862, at Cedar Mountain, against the vastly superior forces of his antagonist, and, consequently, was disastrously defeated, though fighting desperately.
General Lee now directed his whole remaining fifty-five thousand Confederates to advance rapidly from the peninsula, where nothing more was to be apprehended from McClellan, and attack Pope before he could be reinforced. The latter, in his weak condition, judiciously fell back behind the Rappahannock to await the co-operation of the Army of the Potomac. But his active enemy, while threatening the Union forces about Rappahannock Station, was already preparing to make a wide and bold sweep, by Thoroughfare Gap, around the right of the Army of Virginia.
So soon as Pope discovered the enemy's movement he decided to strike the flank of Lee's army in march, separate his two corps, and with the entire Union forces attack Jackson before Longstreet could get through Thoroughfare Gap to his support. This excellent plan was frustrated by the dilatory and blundering movements of subordinates, particularly Sigel. Pope, failing to carry out his design, fell back and concentrated his forces on the west side of Bull Run, where he fought the desperate battle of Manassas, in which McDowell took a very active and most important part. In this engagement Henry Hill, the scene of McDowell's last struggle in his defeat of July 21, 1861, was again the final position tenaciously held by his troops in the well-contested conflict of August 29‑30, 1862.
"Here," says McDowell in his report, "the campaign ended. If it had been short it had been severe. Beginning with the retreat from Cedar Mountain, seldom has our army been asked to undergo more than our men performed. With scarcely a half day's intermission, the Third Corps [McDowell's] was either making forced marches, many times through the night and many times without food, etc., or was engaged in battle." Though worn out with fasting, marching, and fighting, McDowell's men were neither demoralized nor dis rganized, but preserved their discipline to the last.
McDowell was relieved, Sep. 6, 1862, from duty in the field. This he deemed a reflection upon him as a soldier, and, therefore, asked for a court of inquiry to examine into all allegations, professional and personal, against him. The court, after mature deliberation upon all the charges preferred, reported "that the interests of the public service do not require any further investigation into the conduct of Major-General McDowell."
Though acquitted by his peers, a strong prejudice remained against him in the public mind because no further field command was entrusted to him during the Rebellion. From May to July, 1863, he served as president of a court to investigate alleged cotton frauds; and, from July 11, 1863, to May 21, 1864, as president of a retiring board, at Wilmington, Delaware. He took command, July 1, 1864, of the Department of the Pacific, which he held till after all hostilities in the Civil War had ceased. For his "gallant and meritorious services at the Battle of p716 Cedar Mountain," he was brevetted Major-General, United States Army; and, Sep. 1, 1866, was mustered out of the volunteer service.
On the termination of the Rebellion, Major-General Halleck was placed in command of the Division of the Pacific, McDowell retaining, till March 31, 1868, the southern portion of it, designated the Department of California. From July 16, 1868, to Dec. 1872, McDowell commanded the Department of the East, headquarters New York city. After his promotion, Nov. 25, 1872, to be a Major-General in the United States Army, to succeeded Major-General Meade, deceased, he was put in command of the Division of the South till June 30, 1876, when he returned to San Francisco, California, to command the Division of the Pacific, which he held till his retirement, Oct. 15, 1882, after having completed nearly half a century of active service.
While in command on the Pacific, McDowell settled many Indian difficulties with the various tribes roaming over the vast region from northern Alaska to southern Arizona; prevented, when President Lincoln was assassinated, what threatened to be a serious outbreak; made notable improvements to the Presidio reservation, now the fashionable drive to the Golden Gate; with generous hospitalities entertained all distinguished strangers visiting California; and by his munificence and public spirit so endeared himself to the people of San Francisco, that this city became his pleasant home till his death.
To the masses McDowell was chiefly known as our unsuccessful commander at Bull Run, a disaster which did him no discredit as a general, though it was a humiliating check to his ambitious hopes. General Johnston, his antagonist, says of the result of that battle: "The Confederate army was more disorganized by victory than that of the United States by defeat." In the subordinate commands in which McDowell was afterwards placed, he exhibited soldierly fortitude, great zeal and activity, and an unswerving patriotism. He was not popular with the public, for he had no personal magnetism, and possessed little power to call out the enthusiasm of his subordinates, by whom he was considered a martinet; yet his heart was always tender to the private soldier, whose comfort he carefully studied and whose hard lot he tried to alleviate.
Much of his unpopularity was doubtless due to his inability to recall names and faces, and an abstraction of mind when conversing with others, — serious deficiencies that caused him frequent embarrassment, and often led friends to fancy themselves intentionally slighted. But he had genuine kindly feelings, as those best knew who were thrown in close contact with him, particularly at his own liberal table, where he was ever most cordial in manner, engaging in conversation, and instructive to his guests, for he had seen much of the world, mingled with the best society, and his culture was liberal and varied. So appreciative were those who had partaken of his bounty, that, when he relinquished his command on the Pacific, he was complimented with a brilliant reception in testimony of the respect and regard of those associated with him. In San Francisco he was not only looked upon as a social leader, but as one of their most noted and trustworthy citizens. His well-ordered hospitality doubtless did much to make him a favorite, but he had higher claims upon the community, for he was ever ready, though disliking to write, to prepare cogent and clear papers upon important questions of the day, and took a large interest in the improvement of the "Golden City," of which he was one of the Park Commissioners. He had a fondness for landscape gardening, was an amateur architect, and highly enjoyed music, painting, and all the aesthetics of art.
General McDowell's death was a public loss, for his career, even under the frowns of fortune, had been one to be emulated and honored. He bore his reverses with great dignity, and filled many places of high responsibility p717 with conspicuous credit to himself and profit to the government, of which he was always a brave, loyal, obedient, and faithful servant. In private life his character was pure and irreproachable, and in his family was tender, affectionate, and, under the severest trials to a husband and parent, he was a model of patience and fortitude.
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