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General George B. McClellan served as Governor of New Jersey from 1878 to 1881. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Veteran: George B. McClellan

By David Wildstein, May 25 2020 12:01 am

Orange resident George B. McClellan served as the Commanding General of the U.S. Army during the Civil War and later served one term as the Governor of New Jersey.

He carried New Jersey as the Democratic nominee for president when Abraham Lincoln sought a second term in 1864.

According to his biography in the 1878 Fitzgerald’s Legislative Manual, McClellan’s “views of the art of war were formed upon a basis of knowledge and experience altogether two broad for him to commit the error of entering upon the coming struggle unprepared.”

“He therefore devoted himself at once to the organization and the improvement of the morale of his troops, dispirited after the painful misfortune of Bull Run,” his profile said.

McClellan entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point at age 15 and served under Major General Winfield Scott (the 1852 Whig Party presidential nominee) during the Mexican-American War.  When Scott retired in 1861, McClellan succeeded him as general-in-chief of the U.S. Army.

Lincoln and McClellan had a falling out after the Battle of Antietam and ordered him to be removed from his command in 1862.  McClellan was sent to Trenton and it was from New Jersey that he launched his bid for the presidency.

Electors for McClellan defeated Lincoln’s Electoral College slate by more than 7,296 votes, a margin of 53%-47%.

Lincoln won the national election with 212 electoral votes, carrying every state but Delaware, Kentucky, and New Jersey.

Thirteen years later in 1877, McClellan was elected governor of New Jersey.  He defeated William Newell, who had served as governor before the Civil War.

Until 1949, New Jersey elected governors for a three-year term and governors were term-limited to one consecutive term.  Democrats were anxious to retain the governorship after six years of control and convinced McClellan, then a resident of West Orange, to run.

McClellan defeated Newell by 12,746 votes, 52%-45%.  He carried Bergen, Burlington, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Monmouth, Morris, Passaic, Salem, Sussex, Union, and Warren counties.  Newell won Ocean County by three votes.

McClellan was one of three governors living in West Orange at the time they took office.  He was followed by Brendan Byrne in 1974 and Richard Codey in 2004.

Source: Fitzgerald’s Manual of the Legislature of the State of New Jersey, 1879.
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