George Brinton McClellan (1826-1885) was given the nickname “Little Mac” by the soldiers under his command. It was an affectionate term and they also took to calling him “Young Napoleon” due to his prowess as a military leader. McClellan held many careers throughout his life but he is mostly remembered as a major general of the Union Army, one who was very successful but also developed contentious relationships with other Union leaders.
McClellan was born into a prominent Philadelphia family. His father was a surgeon who founded Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and his great-grandfather Samuel McClellan was a general in the Revolutionary War. At age 13, George McClellan enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania and began studying law but after two years he decided to switch to military service. His well-connected father wrote a letter to President John Tyler and he was quickly admitted to the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY.
McClellan’s first military assignment was as an engineer during the Mexican-American War. He saw little warfare and came down with both malaria and dysentery but was still commended and promoted for his efforts. When he was healthy enough to serve, McClellan completed reconnaissance missions, dodging enemy fire along the way, and was very successful. He also developed a new horse saddle that was used all the way until the end of the U.S. horse cavalry in the early 1900s. McClellan’s greatest takeaway from this experience, however, was his newfound understanding of leadership and military strategies, the same techniques that he would use throughout his career.
In 1857, he left the army and took over a few railroad companies but reenlisted at the start of the Civil War. McClellan’s deep understanding of military operations made him a highly desirable leader and he was pursued by the governors of Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York to lead their armies. McClellan joined in with Ohio but stood out from other Union leaders due to his anti-abolitionist stance. He was even pursued by Confederate States but refused to go along with the idea of seceding from the Union.
His Civil War campaign started in western Virginia (now West Virginia) and his army successfully defended the region in multiple battles, launching him to near-celebrity status. These battles also exposed a trait McClellan would become famous for, a reluctance to go forward with attacks. McClellan was put in charge of hundreds of thousands of men and is often credited with organizing the army to a tremendous degree; however, his hesitation to send soldiers into battle became a serious burden on other commanders, including President Abraham Lincoln. Historians continue to debate McClellan’s underlying motivations but it seems likely that his reluctance to send his soldiers into battle was simply because he cared deeply for them and hated seeing them get injured or killed.
In 1861, McClellan was made general-in-chief of all Union armies and soon after was accused of spouting disrespectful words towards Lincoln, possibly even snubbing him on a few occasions. In battle, his management skills were unsurpassed but it seemed that by the time McClellan finally got a plan together to attack Confederate forces, the Confederates often relocated, rendering his entire plan useless. Lincoln eventually removed him from the position and placed him in charge of the Army of the Potomac, and while commanding troops near Richmond, VA his hesitation caused his armies to be attacked multiple times by surprise. For the luck of everyone involved, those Confederate campaigns were not very successful.
In September 1862, Lincoln reluctantly placed McClellan in charge of troops that were to defend Washington, D.C. McClellan took control over the remnants of the Army of Virginia and combined them with the Army of the Potomac, again showing off his masterful organizational skills. As Confederate General Robert E. Lee began to march his 45,000 soldiers into Maryland, McClellan led 87,000 troops to meet him and after stumbling onto a copy of Lee’s battle plans wrapped around some cigars in an abandoned camp, McClellan ordered his men forward and prepared to attack. The meeting of these two armies led to the famous Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, the bloodiest day in American military history, during which McClellan’s army put an end to Lee’s Maryland campaign. The battle, which took place just to the south of Antietam Brewery, resulted in more than 22,000 casualties and about 3,600 deaths. Less than a week later, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, something he had been wanting to do for a while but was uncomfortable with before the battle. Afterwards, once again, rather than continue to pursue Lee’s decimated army, McClellan ordered his men to sit still, ultimately forcing Lincoln to remove him from his position.
McClellan ran for president in 1864 but Lincoln won the election in a landslide with 212 electoral votes to McClellan’s 21. After his military career, McClellan worked as an engineer and spent one term as Governor of New Jersey. He died unexpectedly at age 58 and is remembered by many memorials around the country including a statue in Washington, D.C, through his memoirs titled McClellan’s Own Story, and with a delicious IPA at Antietam Brewery.
From the Brewer: Maj General George “Little Mac” McClellan led his brave soldiers with such care and caution that he disappointed Abe Lincoln and was relived of duty. Adored and respected by his men, he was probably the kind of boss you would drink a beer with! Refreshing, classic American style IPA that owes its aroma to a blend of five unique hops. A sure-fire cool down on the hottest of days. ABV 6.5%, IBU 65
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