Irvin McDowell — Facts and APUSH Notes

October 15, 1818–May 4, 1885

APUSH Definition — General Irvin McDowell (1818–1885) was an officer in the United States Army during the Civil War.

Irvin McDowell, Portrait

Irvin McDowell was a prominent Union general during the American Civil War and a career army officer. He commanded the Army of Northeastern Virginia during the First Battle of Bull Run. Image Source: National Archives.

Who was Civil War officer Irvin McDowell?

Before the Civil War, Irvin McDowell was serving as an officer in the regular army. When the fighting began, McDowell mustered into service in the volunteer army as a brigadier general in command of the Department of Northeastern Virginia. On July 16, 1861, McDowell led about 35,000 untested Union soldiers (commonly, but not officially, known as the Army of Northeastern Virginia) to defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run, near Manassas, Virginia.

Following the disaster at Bull Run, President Abraham Lincoln turned to Major General George B. McClellan to reorganize Union forces in the East. McClellan created the Army of the Potomac in September 1861 and in the spring of 1862, Lincoln named McDowell one of five corps commanders of McClellan’s army.

When McClellan embarked on his Peninsula Campaign in March 1862, the War Department detached McDowell’s corps from the main army and left it behind to guard against possible Confederate threats against the capital. On April 14, the officials re-designated McDowell’s corps as the independent Army of the Rappahannock. Shortly thereafter, the War Department promoted McDowell to major general of volunteers.

Three months later, on August 12, the War Department merged McDowell’s army with two others to form the Army of Virginia. McDowell expected to lead the new army, but he remained a corps commander when Union officials selected Major General John Pope instead. Two weeks later, Confederate forces defeated Pope’s army at the Second Battle of Bull Run. Pope blamed McDowell, among others, for the Union defeat and relieved him of command in September. Although a military court of inquiry later exonerated McDowell, he remained unpopular with the public and never again commanded troops in the field during the war. Throughout the rest of the conflict, McDowell filled various administrative posts.

After the Civil War, the army transferred McDowell to California, where he commanded the Department of the Pacific and later the Department of California. On September 1, 1866, McDowell mustered out of volunteer service, but he continued to serve in the regular army holding various administrative posts. The army promoted McDowell to major general in 1872. He retired from active service in the U.S. Army ten years later. After retirement, McDowell served as a park commissioner in San Francisco, California.

Irvin McDowell died of pyloric disease of the stomach in San Francisco on May 4, 1885. He was buried in San Francisco National Cemetery, San Francisco, California.

First Battle of Bull Run, Illustration
First Battle of Bull Run. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Irvin McDowell Facts for APUSH

Birth and Early Life

  • Full Name: His full name was Irvin McDowell.
  • Parents: His parents were Abram Irvin and Eliza (Seldon) McDowell.
  • Date of Birth: He was born on October 15, 1818.
  • Birthplace: He was born in Columbus, Ohio.

Family Tree

  • Spouse: His spouse was Helen Burden (1844).

Death

  • Death: He died on May 4, 1885.
  • Place of Death: He died in San Francisco, California.
  • Burial: He is buried at San Francisco National Cemetery, San Francisco, California.

Education

He attended the United States Military Academy and graduated in 1834.

Career

He worked as a Military officer.

Career Summary

He was a Major General (USA) and Major General (USVA), Army of Northeastern Virginia commanding officer.

Nickname

He was known as “Squash McDowell.”

Irvin McDowell — Summary of His Life and Accomplishments for APUSH

  • Irvin McDowell attended the College de Troyes in France.
  • Irvin McDowell entered the United States Military Academy in 1834, at the age of sixteen.
  • Irvin McDowell graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1838, twenty-third in his class.
  • One of Irvin McDowell’s classmates at West Point was P.G.T. Beauregard, his future adversary at First Bull Run.
  • Irvin McDowell entered the U.S. Army as a brevet second lieutenant with the First Artillery on July 1, 1838.
  • After graduating from West Point, Irvin McDowell served on the Maine frontier until 1841.
  • Irvin McDowell was promoted to second lieutenant on July 7, 1838.
  • Irvin McDowell served at the United States Military Academy as an assistant instructor of infantry from 1841 to 1845.
  • Irvin McDowell was promoted to first lieutenant on October 7, 1842.
  • Irvin McDowell married Helen Burden at the Second Presbyterian Church in Troy on November 13, 1844.
  • Irvin McDowell served in the Mexican-American War (1846 – 1848).
  • Irvin McDowell was promoted to brevet captain on February 23, 1847, for gallant and meritorious conduct at the Battle of Buena Vista (February 23, 1847).
  • Irvin McDowell was promoted to brevet major on May 13, 1847.
  • Irvin McDowell was promoted to brigadier general on May 14, 1861.
  • Irvin McDowell commanded the Army of Northeastern Virginia from May 27 – July 25, 1861.
  • Irvin McDowell was the commanding general of the Union defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861).
  • Irvin McDowell was a corps commander in the Army of the Potomac from March 13 – August 12, 1862.
  • Irvin McDowell was promoted to major general of volunteers on May 14, 1862.
  • Irvin McDowell was promoted to brevet major general in the regular army on March 13, 1865.
  • Irvin McDowell was mustered out of volunteer service on September 1, 1866.
  • Irvin McDowell was promoted to major general in the regular army on November 25, 1872.
  • Irvin McDowell retired from active service in the U.S. Army on October 15, 1882.
  • Irvin McDowell died of pyloric disease of the stomach at San Francisco, California on May 4, 1885.
  • Irvin McDowell was buried at San Francisco National Cemetery, San Francisco, California.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Irvin McDowell — Facts and APUSH Notes
  • Date October 15, 1818–May 4, 1885
  • Author
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date February 28, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update January 12, 2024

Irvin McDowell — Facts and APUSH Notes is Part of the Following on AHC