From Ohio History Central
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George Brinton McClellan was born into an elite Philadelphia family on December 3, 1826. He attended the University of Pennsylvania but did not graduate. McClellan was admitted into West Point Academy in 1842, before his sixteenth birthday. He graduated in 1846, second in his class. McClellan’s first combat experiences came during the Mexican-American War, in which he was enlisted as a lieutenant of engineers under General Winfield Scott. Described as fearless and gallant under fire, McClellan was awarded brevets to first lieutenant in Contreras-Churubusco, followed by a promotion to Captain at Chapultepec. After the Mexican-American War, McClellan returned to West Point as an assistant instructor until his reassignment to explore the western frontier, including Oregon and the Southwest. In 1855 then Secretary of War Jefferson Davis sent McClellan to travel throughout Europe to study the tactics being utilized in the Crimean War. Upon his return, McClellan released his military report, Armies of Europe, which detailed his analysis of what he saw while traveling. In 1857 McClellan retired from the military and became chief engineer of the Illinois Central Railroad. Following his term as chief engineer he was promoted to President of the Ohio and Mississippi River Railroad, the headquarters of which was located in Cincinnati.
The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 led to McClellan’s return to the military. While he was opposed to the outright abolition of slavery, his allegiance ultimately resided with the preservation of the Union. McClellan accepted the position of commander of the volunteer army of Ohio in 1861. Governor of Ohio William Dennison dispatched McClellan and Jacob Cox to the state arsenal in Columbus to investigate the guns and other supplies that Ohio had on hand to help equip the state's militia units. The two men discovered a
few crates of rusted smoothbore muskets, mildewed harness for horses, and some six-pound cannons that could not be fired. Despite the lack of equipment, Dennison encouraged Ohio communities to revive the militia system and to form units that they would send to Columbus, the state capital. Dennison entrusted McClellan with command of these units and asked him to create a professional force from the volunteers.
The exceptional training regimen McClellan demanded of these new recruits garnered him esteem in Washington and he soon became a Major General in the United States Army. He was placed in charge of the department of Ohio. McClellan’s first course of action was to disperse small units across the Ohio River into western Virginia to fragment Confederate divisions. Due to constant, successful support provided by his troops to the greater Union Army, McClellan was nicknamed ‘the Young Napoleon.’ After the Union defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run, President Abraham Lincoln replaced General Irvin McDowell as commander of the Army of the Potomac with McClellan. McClellan spent the remainder of 1861 recruiting volunteers and training them to be professional soldiers.