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A triangle: George McClellan, Ellen Marcy, and A. P. Hill

23 August 2010 3 Comments

What happens when two close West Points friends fall in love with the same young lady? This is the first of a series of articles about this fascinating triangle. But as we shall see, McClellan is smitten.

George McClellan entered West Point when he was only 15 yrs. 7 months old. The gifted son of a prominent Philadelphia physician was precocious bordering on genius. He had passed 2 years at the University of Pennsylvania and then graduated 2nd in his West Point class. 

His first-year West Point roommate, A.P. Hill of Culpeper, Virginia, described McClellan as “of gentle nature and high culture.” They quickly became on “terms of great intimacy.” 

Several years after graduation, on March 5, 1852 McClellan reported to West Point graduate Capt. Randolph Marcy to serve as second in command on expedition to discover sources of Red River. Before departing for the expedition, at Fort Smith he met Mrs. Marcy and her younger daughter Fanny and was shown picture of 16-yr old Ellen who was in school at Hartford, Connecticut. He considered her very pretty. 

McClellan was impressed with all the Marcys. While on the trail he wrote his mother, “Randolph Marcy is one of the finest men I ever met with, and never saw one better fitted to conduct such an expedition.” 

Capt. Marcy was also duly impressed with young George McClellan. In fact he named a tributary of the Red River McClellan’s Creek in his honor. He assured his wife, “He is generally regarded as one of the most brilliant men of his rank in the Army and one any young lady might be justly proud of. His family connections are unexceptional and his staff position is such that his wife would always have a good and comfortable home.” 

Randolph Marcy had ambitious plans for his first-born daughter. He doted on Ellen, his “precious child.” By the time she turned 11 she was a stunner and he saw in her the potential for widespread devastation of masculine hearts. He wrote to her, “You can make almost anyone love you if you choose.” 

He wrote her long letters of fatherly advice from his frontier posts in the West. When the time came, he wanted her to marry well and as high up the social scale as possible. He warned her against marrying an army officer of any kind, but especially an officer of the line, who like himself, would be gone to the frontier for months or years on end. Or worse, who would marry her and take her with him. There were few officers who could give Ellen the high social position and comfortable life he so coveted for her. It was also a duty, in Marcy’s way of thinking for a daughter to consult her parents on the important business of picking a husband. 

George McClellan was one of the few exceptions on Capt. Marcy’s short list. He thought that it could be a match made in heaven and that she should meet him. 

In the spring of 1854, McClellan’s mother in Philadelphia thought so too. She had met 18-year-old Ellen several times. When McClellan returned east he received her note which said, “She is beautiful, and she has heard so much from her father that she was just ready to fall in love with you.” 

McClellan was very much open to the idea, and the first week of April, 1854 the handsome twenty-seven year old first lieutenant went to Washington and gained his first vision of this young lass. She had blue eyes, blonde hair, and a gentle sweet smile. Her many suitors called her Miss Nelly. When George McClellan saw her rockets went off. It was love at first sight. He was instantly deranged, but then who wasn’t? But he knew he had an inside track and he also understood protocol.*

Stay tuned for the next issue: “Miss Nelly’s reaction!”

From “The Class of 1846: From West Point to Appomattox: Stonewall Jackson, George McClellan, and Their Brothers ” by John Waugh (highly recommended!”


  • Phyllis said:

    You Tease!

  • Janet said:

    Virginia, can hardly wait to read more. Hope it will be soon. I always learn something from your newsletters. Very interesting.

  • Virginia (author) said:

    Thanks Janet. Stay tuned. This is a great story.

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