George Brinton McClellan, organizer and first General of the Army of the Potomac and presidential candidate who ran against Abraham Lincoln in 1864, was well known to the people in the Ohio River Valley. McClellan was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania into a life of privilege. Raised to be a gentleman, McClellan entered the University of Pennsylvania at the age of thirteen and later the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1842 at the age of fifteen. McClellan’s military career after his graduation included fighting in the Mexican-American War, navigating the Red River in Arkansas and Oklahoma, trekking across the Northwest in search of mountain passes that could be used by the railroads and as a military observer during the Crimean War.
Upon the outbreak of hostilities that started the Civil War, McClellan was courted by various governors. After much deliberation, McClellan became major general of volunteers for the state of Ohio and took command on April 21, 1861. Quickly, McClellan was named commander of the Department of the Ohio and was responsible for not only Ohio, but for Indiana, Illinois, and later Missouri and the western portions of Pennsylvania and Virginia. On May 14, 1861 he was commissioned as a major general, second only to Lt. Gen Winfield Scott, the general-in-chief. During his time in Ohio, McClellan processed thousands of men and set about reinforcing the works around the Ohio River, especially around the city of Cincinnati. Gen. McClellan was especially concerned with giving his troops the best in equipment and clothing, requesting articles multiple times on behalf of his soldiers. By mid-May, McClellan moved his army into Western Virginia in an effort to occupy that part of the state that wanted to stay in the Union. This would be the first step towards becoming the new general-in-chief and leader of the Army of the Potomac. Although McClellan would not be back to the Ohio River Valley during his time as the leader of the Army of the Potomac, people of this region kept their eyes open to what “Little Mac” was doing.
The Filson Historical Society has many historical items pertaining to George McClellan. The Filson has photographs of both the General and his wife, letters from various members of the Union Army and families in the area detailing their thoughts on what was happening in the war to include Gen. McClellan, speeches by prominent Democrats while McClellan was on the campaign trail and patriotic and popular songs that mention McClellan. George McClellan became a polarizing figure during the Civil War; whether liked or not, he was a figure that will not soon be forgotten.