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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

McClellan's Generals of Divisions A Mixed Bag

by Gordon Thorsby

"McClellan's Generals of Divisions." (Library of Congress)

The above picture is not just any group of men. This photo includes many of the most unwanted generals. The good generals may have regretted being there. It is Matthew Brady’s Photograph titled “McClellan’s Generals of Divisions.” The date is unspecified and is up for speculation. The quality of the photo is debatable for a "Brady." Who and why was the photo taken?

The way these generals are standing around, they appear more to be relaxing between criminal lineups or photo shot, take your pick. Library of Congress provides some information of the figures in the photo: Irvin McDowell, George B. McClellan, Charles Griffin, S.P. Heintzelman, and Andrew Porter. It appears McClellan is the superior though McDowell is definitely more corpulent. Could this be 1861, when the two generals were together or could

the timing be the Spring of 1862? With uncertainty it is 1862. In 1861, Charles Griffin was an artillery captain. In May1862, he was promoted to division command. It is believed the officers from left to right were:

Gen. Charles Griffin, Gen. William Franklin, #1 unknown (he moved thus blurring the pic), Col. Andrew Porter (at right), Gen. Irvin McDowell, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, Gen. Erasmus Keyes (?), Gen. Samuel P. Heintzelman, Gen. Dan Butterfield, #2 unknown, and Gen. John Reynolds.

Gen. Charles Griffin- He would have been a new general. He held divisional command from this picture until April,1865 when he replaced Gen. Gouverneur Warren of V Corps. Griffin was a dependable officer, a "pit bull" by "bit of a pill" to superior officers. Grant thought him insubordinate. Just ask them.

Gen. William B. Franklin (right)- Had a division on the Peninsula, one of the most political generals of the time, he made a total wreck of the Red River Campaign in 1864. He had no other commands the rest of the War.

Third from left: #1 Unknown- fuzzy.

Col. Andrew Porter- He led a brigade under McDowell at 1st Manassas in 1861. He was a Provost Marshal under McClellan in 1862.

Gen. Irvin McDowell- Well... he was routed at 1st Bull Run. Stonewall Jackson crushed him in the Shenandoah Valley in 1862. He was part of the debacle at 2nd Bull Run. To avoid getting blamed for the disaster, he testified against Fitz-John Porter. Twenty-five years later, an appeal cleared Porter and the blame thereafter turned to McDowell.

Gen. George B. McClellan-So much to say and so little time… one thing positive is that he liked having his picture taken.

Gen. Erasmus Keyes(?)-Commanded a division on the Peninsula and his division saw a lot of action there. He remained on the Peninsula afterwards. In 1863, when he needed to tie down Confederate troops at Suffolk, he made a mess of it. He tried to clear his name.

Gen. Samuel P. Heintzelman- He had a corps on the Peninsula. Later, his corps suffered heavily at 2nd Bull Run and was he "eased" out of field command.

Gen. Dan Butterfield?- (below right) He performed ably on the Peninsula but got into personal and political shenanigans in 1863 with Meade. Like Hooker, he liked wine and women. After the war, his shenanigans worsened and involving the U.S. Treasury.

Second from Right: #2 Unknown

Gen. John F. Reynolds- It appears to be him because of the heavy beard and how he wears the cap low over his brow like other photos. He was a hard fighter. He lead a brigade on the Peninsula. His potential was unproven and cut short with his death.

If George Stoneman is the #1 unknown, his cavalry leadership was demonstrably bad in 1863, a second disaster occurred in 1864 West Virigina, and only when the South was a hollow shell in1865, did he succeed. Was the purpose military or career rescuing?

If Fitz John Porter is #1 unknown- It is not a short subject. He fought well on the Peninsula… better than McClellan. The problem for Porter was he was linked to McClellan. “When you lay down with dogs…?”

For the most part, many of their records in the war and history has not been kind.The photo says a lot. Almost all of the men were involved at 1st Bull Run. Many were instrumental in the string of Union defeats for two years. Matthew Brady just needed a better background…

Reynolds shown below and to the right of Burnside.

Let me know what you see. The photograph is deserving.


Library of Congress.

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