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Irvin McDowell
Photo of Irvin McDowell taken during the American Civil War
Born (1818-10-15)October 15, 1818
Columbus, Ohio
Died May 4, 1885(1885-05-04) (aged 66)
San Francisco, California
Place of burial San Francisco National Cemetery, Presidio of San Francisco
Allegiance United States of America
Union
Service/branch United States Army
Union Army
Years of service 1838–1882

Irvin McDowell (October 15, 1818 – May 4, 1885) was a career American army officer. He is best known for his defeat in the First Battle of Bull Run, the first large-scale battle of the American Civil War. In 1862, he was given command of the I Corps of the Army of the Potomac. He fought unsuccessfully against Stonewall Jackson's troops during the Valley Campaign of 1862, and was blamed for contributing to the defeat of United States troops at the Second Battle of Bull Run in August.

Civil War

McDowell was promoted to brigadier general in the regular army on May 14, 1861, and given command of the Army of Northeastern Virginia. The promotion was partly because of the influence of his mentor, Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase. Although McDowell knew that his troops were inexperienced and unready, and protested that he was a supply officer, not a field commander, pressure from the Washington politicians forced him to launch a premature offensive against Confederate forces in Northern Virginia. His strategy during the First Battle of Bull Run was imaginative but ambitiously complex, and his troops were not experienced enough to carry it out effectively, resulting in an embarrassing rout.

In 1879, when a board of review commissioned by President Rutherford B. Hayes issued its report recommending a pardon for Fitz John Porter, it attributed much of the loss of the Second Battle of Bull Run to McDowell. In the report, he was depicted as indecisive, uncommunicative, and inept, repeatedly failing to answer Porter's requests for information, failing to forward intelligence of Longstreet's positioning to Pope, and neglecting to take command of the left wing of the Union Army as was his duty under the Articles of War.

Following his retirement from the army, General McDowell exercised his fondness for landscape gardening, serving as Park Commissioner of San Francisco, California until his death from gastric cancer on May 4, 1885. In this capacity he constructed a park in the neglected reservation of the Presidio, laying out drives that commanded views of the Golden Gate. He is buried in San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio of San Francisco.


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