Back to top

Irvin McDowell (New York Times)


“Death of Gen. M’Dowell,” New York Times, May 6, 1885, p. 5: 3.



Major-Gen. Irvin McDowell died in San Francisco at 12 o’clock Monday night at the age of 67 years. Three years ago Gen. McDowell resigned his commission after a checkered career of 40 years in the service of the United States. It began with his entrance into the West Point Military Academy in 1834, when he was 16 years old, and included service on the Northern frontier during the Canada border disturbances, on the Maine frontier pending the disputed Territory controversy, in the Mexican war under Gen. Wool, and the civil war. Naturally the present generation would know more of Gen. McDowell in the latter relation, but even when the war broke out he was little known. He had been graduated from the Academy, for which an education in France had fitted him for admission in 1838, as Brevet Second Lieutenant of the First Artillery, and for two years had served on the Northern border. Four years’ service at the Academy as Assistant Instructor of Infantry Tactics brought him to 1845, with the rank of Adjutant. In October of that year he was made aide-de-camp to Gen. Wool, and in 1847 was brevetted Captain for gallant and meritorious conduct in the battle of Buena Vista.
The year 1848 found him Assistance Adjutant-General at the War Department, and for the next three or four years he was stationed in this city. Then for a time he was in the Department of Texas. Until 1860 he alternated between New York and Texas, spending a year in Europe in the meantime. Twenty-four years ago, when Fort Sumter was fired on, Gen. McDowell was a Major on Gen. Scott’s staff. The 1st of June following found him, then 48 years old, in command of an army of volunteers upon which fell the defense of Washington. His rank was that of Brigadier-General. His troops were raw and undisciplined, and Gen. McDowell himself was scarcely fitted by experience for the important duties devolving upon him. Attention was concentrated upon the point held by Gen. McDowell, and his faults and mistakes, arising more from the character of material with which he had to oppose the advance of the Confederates than from incapacity, were the subject of close scrutiny and much indiscriminate criticism. The disastrous battle of Bull Run emphasized what his critics deemed his incompetency, and upon him was laid much of the onus of the defeat. The judgment of time attributes the defeat less to Gen. McDowell’s lack of ability than to the operation of forces which no man of his inexperience and with the army under his control could have overcome.
Gen. McDowell was superseded and McClellan was given the organization of a new army. McDowell was given the command of one of its divisions. In March, 1862 as a Major-General of volunteers he was raised to the head of the First Corps. In August he was assigned to a like position in the Third Corps, Army of Virginia, and during Pope’s campaign in Northern Virginia he was engaged at Cedar Mountain and the second Bull Run. The misfortune and evil fate which had pursued him in his first command remained with him still. He lost his first pitched battle, and the criticisms against him were renewed. While the active part of the Army of the Potomac was driving Magruder back and keeping Johnston and Lee in check McDowell was retained upon the Rappahannock to guard the Federal city. Then, when a chance to see some fighting occurred, and McDowell was pressing toward Porter, he was sent off after Jackson, who was hanging along Banks’s line and causing him a good deal of trouble.
When the Government determined to establish a great army above the Rappahannock an accident rendered McDowell helpless for a week or more, and the command of the army, which would probably have gone to him, was given to Pope. Fortune did not favor him any more when Pope was his superior officer than when he himself opposed Beauregard at Manassas and fled at Bull Run. On Sept. 5, 1862, he was relieved of his command, being severely censured for allowing his troops to become separated from McClellan’s in the seven days’ battle. He asked for and obtained a court inquiry, the result of which was worthless. During the remainder of the war he saw no active service. At its close he was brevetted Major-General for gallant and meritorious services at the battle of Cedar Mountain. He was then in command of the Department of the Pacific, and subsequently held for a year the command of the Department of California. From the time till 1882, when he retired, he was employed in various military and geographical works. He was made a Major-General in the regular army in 1872.
Gen. McDowell was not popular as a public man, but in private life he made a great many friends. A curious fact concerning him was that he was credited with being addicted to the use of liquor through a nervous trouble which caused his face to flush and speech to grow thick when excited. Another characteristic was his inability to remember face and names. He was hospitable and greatly given to entertaining his friends. Although never able to excite great enthusiasm in his subordinates he was always on the alert for their comfort. He was fond of music and painting. His family relations were of the pleasant character and his private life beyond reproach. He bore his misfortunes with dignity and composure. He had been in failing health for some time.


How to Cite This Page: "Irvin McDowell (New York Times)," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,