A Triangle: Miss Nelly says yes
Where, you may be wondering, was McClellan before and after the marriage of A. P. Hill and his beloved Dolly? McClellan had left the army to take a job as chief engineers of the Illinois Central Railroad. But in March 1858 he was still pining away over Ellen Marcy. Along with the rest of the nation he read in the papers of the courageous winter rescue relief operation from Wyoming to New Mexico led by Capt. Marcy.
He saw this as an opportunity and he penned a letter on impressively embossed official railroad stationery listing him as VP to Ellen. Not only did he praise her father’s heroism but he soothed the daughter’s fears. He let her know in a brotherly fashion that things were going very well for him, but added, “I hate to think of the future now—it seems so blank—no goal to reach, no object to strive for…So life passes —we wish and dream—build castles in the air, grasping at shadows all of our lives.”
Miracle of miracles, she answered his letter and they began corresponding. After four long heart-lonely years McClellan was corresponding directly with the beautiful Ellen. He was getting in subtle hints and all she had to do was read between the lines to know he was her most faithful and persistent admirer.
Another window of opportunity opened in the fall of 1859. Major Marcy was promoted and assigned to Minnesota. Ellen and Mrs. Marcy had decided to spend the winter with him. McClellan immediately fired off an invitation for them to stop over in Chicago as his guests as he had plenty of room in the large house on the lake he shared with Ambrose Burnside.
Major Marcy hadn’t seen McClellan in years but they had maintained a correspondence and he was happy when McClellan left the army, and let his daughter know so.
As Ellen stepped down from the train in Chicago on Oct. 20, she saw a new McClellan, but with the same desire for her burning in his eyes after 5 hopeless years. She had always liked him, but had never loved him. He was more mature, impressively prominent, and he obviously loved her with a doglike fidelity. There was no indication that he had ever loved anyone else.
She was wavering. We have to wonder what was going on in her mind. At 24, she had received 8 marriage proposals and her beloved A.P. Hill was now a happily married man. Did her maturity tell her that her parent’s choice was indeed the right one? Could she be in love with McClellan after all?
Four days later McClellan provided a private rail car and accompanied the family to St. Paul. En route he charged the ramparts again, risked it all, and proposed. This time Miss Nelly said yes.
However, she requested that their engagement be kept a secret until Christmas because she had a bit of tidying up to do. There were two suitors eagerly awaiting her response to their marriage proposals and she had to clear the field before announcing her engagement to McClellan.
After waiting 6 years he was anxious to tie the knot. He began his lifelong practice of writing to her every day they were separated. His wartime letters have given historians a clear and candid picture of his thoughts while commanding the Union Army. He kept nothing from Nelly.
But at this point he’s trying to urge her down the aisle. “Don’t talk to me about going east to prepare for the wedding. I don’t want any preparation, I want you and you alone. I want you just as you are…we don’t need a trousseau. I want Nelly Marcy just as she is.”
However, as you might guess Nelly held out for an impressive wedding in New York City and finally walked down the aisle May 22, 1860. Many dignitaries attended and among the groomsmen was A.P. Hill whose wife would soon deliver their first child.
But oh how different would be the fates of the Hills and the McClellans as the winds of war began to stir across the country. Dolly Hill was widowed at age 30. But Ellen McClellan lived a life of luxury and spent most of her later years in Europe.
*From “The Class of 1846: From West Point to Appomattox” by John Waugh (Highly recommended)