General Irvin McDowell
Original Author: Brady-Handy Photograph Collection
Created: ca. 1855–1865
Medium: Wet collodion glass-plate negative
Publisher: Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division

General Irvin McDowell

Union general Irvin McDowell sits stiffly for a glass-plate negative portrait that is part of the Brady-Handy photograph collection at the Library of Congress. Born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1818, McDowell was educated in France and at West Point, where he was a classmate of G. T. Beauregard, the future Confederate general. An officer on the staff of General Winfield Scott before the Civil War, McDowell was promoted to brigadier general in May 1861 and given command of 35,000 Union troops in northern Virginia. During the First Battle of Manassas on July 21, 1861, McDowell was up against his old classmate Beauregard. The battle turned into a Union rout, due in large part to the inexperience of McDowell's troops. U.S. president Abraham Lincoln relieved McDowell of his command and replaced him with George B. McClellan. McDowell than served under McClellan, though he took no part in McClellan's Peninsula campaign of 1862. Instead, McDowell remained behind defending Washington, D.C. He fought at the Second Battle of Manassas in August 1862, and took a large portion of the blame for that Union defeat, too. McDowell spent the rest of the war away from active duty. In 1868 he became Commander of the Department of the West where he rose to the rank of major general. After several other commands he retired from the military in 1882 and died in San Francisco three years later.