Irvin McDowell 1818–1885
Born Columbus, Ohio
Staff officer Irvin McDowell had no experience as a field commander, but thanks to powerful support from General Winfield Scott and Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, he was promoted to brigadier general on May 14, 1861. Shortly thereafter, he received command of the Department of Northeastern Virginia. Faced with the daunting task of assembling, equipping, and training a large fighting force composed principally of inexperienced recruits, McDowell came under heavy political pressure to move swiftly against Confederate forces massing near a critical railway junction at Manassas, Virginia. McDowell’s battle plan may have appeared credible on paper, but the combination of untested troops and poor leadership in the field produced the demoralizing Union defeat at the Battle of First Bull Run in July 1861. Replaced immediately by General George McClellan, McDowell later suffered significant blame for his role in the Union defeat at the Battle of Second Bull Run a year later.