Saturday, September 4, 2021

Booknotes: Searching for Irvin McDowell, Forgotten Civil War General

New Arrival:
Searching for Irvin McDowell, Forgotten Civil War General by Frank P. Simione, Jr. and Gene Schmiel, with E.L. Schneider (Authors, 2021).

Though unquestionably a major figure in the mobilization of the Union war effort in the East as well as a prominent army and corps-level commander during the 1861-62 fighting there in Virginia, Major General Irvin McDowell still lacks a comprehensive biography. There are several reasons for that gap's continued existence, the most salient one being that the general apparently did not leave behind any personal papers that have survived or been found yet if they exist.

From the description: "Irvin McDowell was a major actor in the Civil War for a short, but critical time, and his life history deserves to be told and remembered. Like so many others, he was caught up in that national calamity. He was a dutiful, dependable, and diligent military officer. But perhaps unlike some others, early in the Civil War he was called upon to perform duties which, in retrospect, may have been beyond his capacity and only served both to enhance his peculiarities and shine light on his shortcomings."

Searching for Irvin McDowell, Forgotten Civil War General "is the first attempt to make the journey of searching for Irvin McDowell and trying to understand him and his role in the Civil War era via a full-length biography." The book is a self-published effort, and co-author Gene Schmiel freely admits that it is intentionally limited in scope. The narrative, which runs a bit over 250 pages in length, is at its core an analytical synthesis of information found in published primary and secondary sources (a deep dive into the archives being an undertaking left to others, perhaps by someone inspired in part by reading this book).

With coverage of McDowell's early life and pre-Civil War career contained in the first chapter and a very brief summary of his postwar activities found in the final chapter, the text's overwhelming focus is on examining the general's conduct during the early-war eastern campaigns from First Bull Run through Second Bull Run. Also explored is the general's role as a key witness for the prosecution during the Fitz John Porter trial that followed Pope's defeat. I'm looking forward to reading it. I'll have to tag Harry on this one, too.


  1. Drew: Looks like Harry has put it up and has a forthcoming interview. Since McDowell was at 2BR as well, I might annoy him with another request that he start that "Bull Runnings: The Sequel" blog. :)

    It really is too bad that McDowell left so little in the way of papers. Schmiel did a nice job on Cox, but obviously had a lot more to work with.

  2. I hope this was self-published because of how forgotten McDowell is and not because of the quality of the work.


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