Wednesday, February 27, 2013

It Wasn't the General

Our Society has often stated that one of the people attending the first St. Andrew’s Day celebration in 1845, was Capt. George McClellan. He was allegedly here working on the harbor. J. Seymour Curry in his five volume history entitled “Chicago: Its History and its Builders” published in 1912, says in volume one, page 216 (speaking of the harbor work) “ ...The engineer in charge being Capt. George B. McClellan, afterwards a Maj. Gen. and commander in chief of the Army of the Potomac.” A. T. Andreas, who wrote several volumes about Chicago gave the same information. When we wrote, The Scots of Chicago, we carried forward the same information, and I often used that comment in speeches.

The Society’s annual report for 1889 makes the following statement; “ever since the organization, in 1657, of the Scots Charitable Society of Boston, wherever a few Scotch men are located together, an immediate desire arises to form a charitable or St. Andrew’s Society, for the purpose of relieving their distressed fellow countrymen. In accordance with this national trait of character, the first Scottish residents of Chicago early bestirred themselves to organize the Illinois Saint Andrew Society. A call to meet and celebrate the Anniversary of St. Andrew in 1845 in the Lake house, was heartily responded to by the residents of the city and neighborhood. Among those present were the late General J. A. McDougal, and Capt. afterwards General G. B. McClellan, and other patriotic Scotchmen, who earnestly discussed the propriety and duty of forming a St. Andrew’s Society.”

A few years ago when the History Club, and perhaps the Society, stopped using mail as a means of regular communication, we lost track of some of our older members. (I know it will be difficult for some to understand, but there are people who do not use the computer as a means of communication.) One of those, I believe, was Robert E. McMillan. He was a Life Member, and once a member of the Governing Board. The dining room in the Georgeson Wing is named for his mother who was a resident of the Home. (His mother told me every day that her son was the president of seven railroads!) Bob and I were friends and we both had an interest in history. He was sure of one thing - It was not the General who attended that first meeting in 1845. Here are some of the results of his research.

George McClellan was admitted to West Point on July 1, 1842 at the age of 16. He did not graduate until July 1, 1846, when he was immediately sent to the Mexican War. The military records of McClellan do not support his being in Chicago in 1845. He apparently did not arrive in Chicago until about 1857 when he became the chief engineer of the Illinois central railroad. While our records were destroyed in the great fire of 1871, there is no mention that George McClellan was ever involved with the Illinois Saint Andrew Society and he is only mentioned in connection with the first anniversary dinner, which is probably wrong.

So, if it wasn’t the General who was it? The directory of the City of Chicago, compiled by Robert Fergus in 1843, lists a John McClellan, superintendent of public works on Lake Michigan. The directory in 1845-1846 shows the same information but with John McClellan now living at the Lake house where the first Anniversary Dinner was held. There is no mention of a George McClellan in the city directory.

Who then is John McClellan? He was born in Pennsylvania (date unknown). He entered West Point July 1, 1822 and graduated July 1, 1826. Upon graduation, he served in the garrison of Fort Monroe, Virginia, and was assigned to the first artillery school for practice. He resigned from the Army in 1838 and became a civil engineer. He was reappointed to the Army the same year with the rank of Captain in the Corp. of Topographical Engineers. In 1839, he was in charge of the Harbor and River improvements on the coast of North Carolina and served in the Florida wars until 1842. In 1843-1846 he was “in charge of Lake Michigan harbor improvements and then served in the Mexican war seeing action in most of the major battles. He became a Bvt. Major for gallant and meritorious conduct in the battles of Contreras and Churubusco . . . ” After the war, John McClellan was assigned to the Topographical Bureau and helped survey the boundary between the United States and Mexico. In 1853, he was in charge of the Tennessee River improvements.

In The History of the Mexican War by Cadmus Marcellus Wilcox, page 363, there is the following statement: “before the road was made practicable, half the distance beyond Pena Pobre, at a turn to the left, Twiggs’ (Gen. David E. Twiggs) division drove past Pillows (Gen. Gideon Johnson Pillow) and approached the advanced posts of the enemy. Capt. John McClellan of the Topographical Engineers, and Lieut. George B. McClellan, Engineer Company, rode to the front to reconnoiter, and were fired upon by the Mexican advanced pickets, wounding Lieut. McClellan’s horse.”

Here are both men in the same war, in the same area and with almost identical names. One was in Chicago in 1845 and the other was not.

Captain John McClellan died September 1, 1854 at Knoxville, Tennessee. He was 49 years of age. General George McClellan died October 29, 1885 in Orange Mountain, New Jersey, at the age of 59.  One Internet source reports that one hundred thousand men fought in the Mexican War and there were 25,000 causalities.

Thirteen years later, our Civil War began and the great leaders on both sides had received their training in the Mexican War. Ten Civil War Generals fought in Mexico: Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, Ulysses S. Grant, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, William T. Sherman, George McClellan, P. G. T. Beauregard, Braxton Bragg, and George Meade.

In the near future when The Scots of Chicago is reprinted, we will correct the mistake about the General.  

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois St. Andrew’s Society

March 2, 2013 - You are invited to attend the next meeting of the Scottish-American History Club and hear a presentation by Leslie Goddard. Her presentation will be “Remembering Marshall Field’s.” For more than 150 years, Marshall Field and Co. reigned as Chicago’s leading department store. This illustrated talk traces the store’s history from its beginnings into a world-class trendsetter.

There is no charge but reservations are helpful. Call 708-408-5591.

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