Major General Irvin McDowell
Oct 15, 1818 â May 4, 1885
Irvin McDowell was born Thursday October 15, 1818 in Columbus, Ohio. He spent much of his childhood abroad in France before returning to the United States to attend the US Military Academy at West Point. He graduate in 1838 and served his first years of service as a 2nd lieutenant in the 1st artillery on the northern frontier during the Canadian border disputes. In 1841 he returned to West Point as an assistant instructor of infantry tactics.
As an aide-de-camp to General Wood during the Mexican War, Irvin McDowell earned the rank of brevet caption for gallant conduct at the battle of Buena Vista in 1847. After the conflict with Mexico he serviced with the occupying forces and helped discharge troops until 1848. After the Mexican War he served as assistant adjutant general in Washington, New York and elsewhere. On March 31, 1856 he attained the rank of major.
He was the inspector of troops during 1861 and worked to muster in volunteers. May 14, 1861 Irvin McDowell made brigadier general and on May 29, 1861 was given command of the Army of the Potomac made up of about approximately 30,000 men, less than 1000 of these men had any military experience. Public pressure led to General McDowell receiving orders to take immediate action against the Confederate forces stationed Manassas Junction. The forces at Manassas Junction were under the command of General Beauegard, a former classmate from West Point.
McDowell's plan, carefully studied out, was to turn the enemy's left flank while threatening the front, which was well posted behind Bull Run. The battle was going well for McDowell's Union forces until additional Confederate reinforcements arrived to turn the tide of the battle. McDowell's exhausted men could not withstand the fresh Confederate troops and were overrun and retreated to Washington in some confusion. It was the first major battle of the Civil War and it was lost by the Union and strongly hinted that the war would not soon be over.
Soon after his defeat at Bull Run McDowell was removed as commander of the Army of the Potomac and was given command of the 1st Corps of the Army of the Potomac, command of the Army of the Potomac going to General McClellan. He had several different command positions during the years of the war leading to his involvement at the Second Battle of Bull Run in late August 1862. On September 6, 1862 McDowell was removed from field duty due to what many considered his poor performance at the Second Battle of Bull Run. A court of inquiry found no fault with Major General McDowell's performance during the battle but no further field commands were entrusted to him during the remaining course of the Civil War.
McDowell would continue his military service but no longer in a field role. He had several commands that followed his field duty during the Civil War. These included Department of the Pacific, Department of California, and Division of the South. In 1876 he returned to San Francisco to command the Division of the Pacific until his retirement from the army on October 15, 1882.
His post military service included him being the Park Commissioner of San Francisco. Irvin McDowell also like landscape gardening which he put to use developing a park out of the neglected Presidio grounds.
He died of a heart attack on May 4, 1885 in San Francisco, at the age of 67. His burial at the San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio was with full military honors given by the Local Grand Army of the Republic.