On this day in 1862, Union and Confederate forces fought at Williamsburg. As battles go, this one isn’t that interesting, except for the fact that on one side you have George B. McClellan and on the other Ambrose Powell Hill. They were friends at West Point, you see, and after graduation courted the same girl, Miss Mary Ellen Marcy. Hill struck first, proposing marriage in 1856. Her father, an Army officer, disapproved, however, and our entry on Hill notes that his health may have been a contributing factor. According to the historian James I. Robertson Jr., Hill suffered from prostatitis, the result of gonorrhea he had contracted while at West Point. “The summer of 1844 was generally a pleasant time for Hill,” Robertson writes, and so it was for a cadet of “lithe figure and manly bearing.” But such things come with a price. And that price, quite possibly, was Miss Mary Ellen Marcy.
George McClellan, meanwhile, served under her father, Randolph Marcy, who was “encouraged by McClellan’s pursuit of a civil career,” as our McClellan entry puts it. As counter-intuitive as it might seem in retrospect, the Army was no place for social advancement in those days. Robert E. Lee was miserable and always threatening to quit. And McClellan did quit. He joined the railroads, became a vice president, and married the lovely Miss Marcy on May 22, 1860, in New York City.
The aging and eminent Winfield Scott attended, as did future Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston. Even a rival suitor showed up in support of McClellan, but not, as far as I can tell, poor A. P. Hill. Their next meeting would have to wait until Williamsburg, 1862.
PS: File under “Just Because”
IMAGE: General A. P. Hill by Richard Headley