General Irvin McDowell was born in Franklin county, Ohio, on October 15, 1818. He attended for some time a military school in France, graduated at West Point in 1838, and from 1841 to 1845 was employed there in various capacities. In the Mexican War he was brevetted Captain for his conduct at the battle of Buena Vista, and was subsequently Adjutant-General in Wood's division of the Army of Occupation. From 1848 to 1858 he was Assistant Adjutant-General in various departments, and resumed his duties after a year's absence in Europe.
By 1856, he had risen to major, but became a brigadier general when the
War broke out. At the opening of the War Irvin McDowell was stationed at Washington, engaged in organizing troops there. He was appointed Brigadier General of the United States Army May 14, 1861, and was placed in command of the Department of Northeast Virginia, and on May 27th, of the Army of the Potomac. He commanded at the First Battle of Manassas, July 21st, when the Confederate troops 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. |
Subsequently McDowell was replaced by McClellan and had charge of the defense of Washington until March 14, 1862, when he was made Major-General of volunteers, and placed in command of a crops of the Army of the Potomac. He was engaged in operations in northern Virginia and took part in the УpursuitФ of General Jackson in the Valley.
In May, 1862, McDowell joined Major General John Pope, the commander of the Army of Virginia. Pope was instructed to move east to Blue Ridge Mountains towards Charlottesville. It was hoped that this move would help George McClellan by drawing Robert E. Lee away from defending Richmond. Lee's 80,000 troops were now faced with the prospect of fighting two large armies: McClellan (90,000) and Pope (50,000). Joined by Thomas Stonewall Jackson, the Confederate troops constantly attacked George McClellan and on 27th June 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 at the Second Battle of Manassas.. Criticized for his performance, McDowell was relieved on his command. However, he demanded and was ultimately exonerated by a court of inquiry.
In 1863-64 McDowell was President of the Court for investigating cotton frauds and of the board for retiring disabled officers. From July, 1864, to June, 1865, he was in command of the department of the Pacific, and in the latter year was brevetted Major-General of the United States Army. He was mustered out of the volunteer service September 1st, 1866.
In November, 1872, he was promoted to be Major-General U.S.A., and in December of the same year assigned to the command of the Division of the South, where he remained until June 26, 1876. He was then given command of the Division of the Pacific, which position he continued to hold until October 15, 1882. After this he was placed on the retired list, according to the general rule. Irvin McDowell died in 1885.
McDowell was an able staff officer and a brilliant desk general. However, like most of the early Union command choices, he was not suited for the battlefield because of his limited experience. McDowell was a serious, devoted officer, but not very good in actual battle, and prone to make mistakes under pressure.