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The Mexican War Diary of George B. McClellan

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
George Brinton McClellan was born in Philadelphia, Pa., on December 3, 1826. He died in Orange, N. J., on October 29, 1885. His life covered barely fifty-nine years, his services of national prominence only eighteen months, but during this time he experienced such extremes of good and ill fortune, of success and of failure, as seldom have fallen to the lot of one man. While still a small boy McClellan entered a school in Philadelphia which was conducted by Mr. Sears Cook Walker, a graduate of Harvard, and remained there for four years. He later was a pupil in the preparatory school of the University of Pennsylvania, under the charge of Dr. Samuel Crawford. McClellan at the same time received private tuition in Greek and Latin from a German teacher named Scheffer and entered the University itself in 1840. He remained there as a student for only two years, for in 1842 he received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. McClellan graduated from West Point second in his class in the summer of 1846 and was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant of engineers. On July 9 Colonel Joseph G. Totten, Chief of Engineers, ordered McClellan to “repair to West Point” for duty with the company of engineers then being organized by Captain A. J. Swift and Lieutenant Gustavus W. Smith. The Mexican War had begun during the preceding May and the young graduate of West Point was filled with delight at the new opportunity for winning reputation and rank in his chosen profession. The company of engineers was ordered to Mexico and left for the front during the month of September. The diary that follows begins with the departure from West Point and continues the narrative of McClellan’s experiences through the battle of Cerro Gordo in April, 1847. It ends at this point, except for a line or two jotted down later on in moments of impatience or ennui. To the student of McClellan’s life this diary presents certain striking contrasts in character between the youthful soldier, not yet twenty years of age, and the general or politician of fifteen or twenty years later. At this time McClellan was by nature happy-go-lucky, joyous, carefree, and almost irresponsible. In after years he became extremely serious, deeply and sincerely religious, sometimes oppressed by a sense of duty. And yet at this early age we can plainly discern many of the traits that stand out so prominently in his mature life. He was in a way one of the worst subordinates and best superiors that ever lived. As a subordinate he was restless, critical, often ill at ease. He seemed to have the proverbial “chip” always on his shoulder and knew that his commanding officers would go out of their way to knock it off; or else he imagined it, which amounted to the same thing. As a commanding officer he always was thoughtful, considerate and deeply sympathetic with his men, and they knew this and loved him for it.