The Civil War, Day by Day

General George McClellan

Union Forces Secure West Virginia

A pro-Union section of an otherwise Confederate state, the area officially went to the Union the following September in the Battle of Cheat Mountain, and was formally declared West Virginia in 1863. With this victory, the North gained a vital base of operations in the Virginia region - as well as its first Civil War hero, General George Brinton McClellan.

After graduating from the U.S. Military Academy, McClellan distinguished himself in the Mexican War. When the Civil War began, he returned to duty as a Major General in command of the Ohio volunteers. It was in this capacity that he faced Robert Garnett’s Confederate forces in western Virginia in 1861.

Preferring to win “by maneuvering rather than by fighting,” McClellan divided his army between Rich Mountain and Laurel Hill. He then sent Brigadier General William Rosecrans around to strike Garnett’s men on the flank. Rosecrans defeated the Confederate detachment and weakened Garnett’s position on Laurel Hill.

Riding the crest of victory, McClellan looked back proudly at his “brief but brilliant campaign.” He went on to further glory as commander of all Union forces and became one of the most controversial figures of the Civil War.

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All illustrations by Mort Künstler. Text by Michael Aubrecht, Dee Brown, Henry Steele Commager, Rod Gragg, Mort Künstler, Edward Lengel, James McPherson, and James I. Robertson, Jr. - Copyright © 2001-2019. All Rights Reserved. No part of the contents of this web site may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means without written consent of the artist.