McClellan’s Wife or Brilliant and Beautiful

ellen maryMcClellan’s Wife, Ellen Mary McClellan, was not only Brilliant and Beautiful, but was definitely the strength and confidence behind an extremely insecure and inept Commanding General during the Civil War. Even photographs of General McClellan and Ellen Mary, are posed, with her sitting and George towering over his diminutive spouse, who in fact was at least 3 inches taller than her self-centered husband. Correspondence and diaries of the era, between the two McClellan’s, are rife with the General’s explanations of his shortcomings, always blaming others for his failures and defeats. Ellen Mary McClellan, always the supportive wife, never verbally agrees with George’s analysis, but suffers in silence, her doubt, embarrassment and humiliation.

Ellen Mary Marcy, was born in 1836, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the strikingly beautiful daughter of Army Regular, Major Randolph Marcy. A strict disciplinarian, Major Marcy knew that his blue-eyed daughter, would be hounded by hordes of suitors and thus kept a tight rein on her social interaction.

ellen mary youngIn 1854 when George McClellan was 27 years old, he met 18-year-old Ellen Mary Marcy, the daughter of his former commander, and it was love at first sight for him. He wrote to Ellen Mary’s mother: “I have not seen a very great deal of the little lady mentioned above, still that little has been sufficient to make me determined to win her if I can.” Major Marcy tried to convince his strong-willed daughter to accept McClellan’s overtures, but she was in love with another.

Ellen Mary told her father that she loved A.P. Hill and was going to marry the southern officer. Major Marcy let his daughter know, in no uncertain terms, that any woman who married into the military was destined to a life of uncertainty, no financial status and extended periods of loneliness and separation. George McClellan was also a soldier, but his intent was to leave the army and with his family wealth and connections, enter private industry and pursue an undoubtedly financially successful future.

Ellen Mary Marcy was to abandon all communication with Lieutenant Hill, and her father continued, “if you do not comply with my wishes in this respect, I cannot tell what my feelings toward you will become. I fear that my ardent affections will turn to hate.” Ellen was stubborn, but she listened to her father, and let the matter rest for nearly a year. In the end, Major Marcy prevailed and Lieutenant A.P. Hill vanished as a Ellen Mary suitor.

In June, McClellan proposed and Ellen Mary promptly rejected him. His pompous and gregarious demeanor didn’t impress the popular, young maiden, who had her choice of eligible bachelors clamoring for her attention. Leaving Washington, McClellan continued to keep in touch with Ellen Mary and the family. Life for Ellen Mary was a social whirl and George McClellan kept his courtship alive by mail. Before the beautiful, blue-eyed beauty reached the age of 25, she had received and rejected nine proposals of marriage.

George McClellan resigned his commission in 1857 and began a successful career as chief engineer and vice president of Illinois Central Railroad and President of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad. In 1859, Major Marcy and family had traveled to Chicago and visited with McClellan. On October 20, George again proposed marriage, and this time Ellen Mary accepted. They were married at Calvary Church, New York City, on May 22, 1860. McClellan was 33 and Ellen was 25. It’s not quite clear why Ellen Mary changed her mind, however, she might have been worried that her advancing age, might limit her diminishing choices in the near future.

ellen mary and georgeDuring the Civil War George B. McClellan was idolized by his troopers. Many of them felt that their commander was so concerned for their welfare, he was reluctant to expose them to the perils of combat. This may have been so, however his total refusal to do battle with the Confederate forces, lent credence to many who felt his fear of failure and the inability to accept constructive criticism was an inevitable sign of his own vulnerability and self-doubt.

General McClellan, in almost daily correspondence with Ellen Mary, glorifies his omnipotent decisions and denigrates not only his military superiors, but most notably President Lincoln. He refers to his Commander-in-Chief as,

“nothing more than a well-meaning baboon”, a “gorilla”, and “ever unworthy of … his high position.”

Upon promotion in July of 1861, General George McClellan wrote Ellen Mary,

“I find myself in a new and strange position here – President, Cabinet, General Scott & all deferring to me – by some strange operation of magic, I seem to have become the power of the land… I almost think that were I to win some small success now, I could become Dictator or anything else that might please me – but nothing of that kind would please me – therefore I won’t be Dictator. Admirable self-denial!”

Ellen Mary embarrassed by her husband’s lack of humility, never let on to the private humiliation these correspondence evidenced. She must have realized that her husband didn’t comprehend his own limitations and hoped that the war would end before his reputation and future were entirely ruined.

George McClellan and Ellen Mary, married for 25 years, would write daily when separated and their legacy were the three children of their union and Ellen Mary’s hauntingly sad eyes, while husband George stands omnipotently by her side, in portraits of the era.

George died in 1885 and Ellen Mary in 1915, buried together at Riverview Cemetery, Trenton, New Jersey.

McClellan’s Wife, Ellen Mary, was Brilliant and Beautiful, her brilliance exemplified by her silence in not defending her husband and denouncing his detractors, especially since they were probably correct in their analysis.


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