If you have lived in the Scottsdale area very long, you are probably familiar with how many items carry the name “McDowell.” You can observe the McDowell Mountains, gamble at Fort McDowell, visit McDowell Mountain Park or buy a car on McDowell Road. One would think this guy McDowell must have been quite a guy. In his own way, he was.
General Irvin McDowell (1818-1885)
In his early career beginning in the late 1830’s, Irvin McDowell held his own with guys like Ulysses Grant and Robert E. Lee. He graduated from West Point in 1838 at age 20 where he received his commission as a second lieutenant. By 1856, he had fought in the Mexican War and had been promoted to the rank of major.
After his promotion to brigadier general during the Civil War in 1861, he fell into the trap of the Peter Principle as he was routed by Southern troops in the first and second battles of Bull Run in Virginia. After those embarrassments, he was considered an ineffective field general and was assigned to the lesser duty of being commander of the Department of the Pacific. Supposedly, during this duty he became familiar with the West and Arizona. However, some historians claim that he never set foot in Arizona.
Regardless, in 1872 McDowell was promoted to major general in spite of his war record. He had served his country faithfully such as during his service in the West which included building a railroad bridge for the Southern Pacific over the Colorado River at Yuma in 1877. That bridge was important to western expansion.
In 1882, McDowell retired from the Army at age 64 having served for 44 years. He became a park commissioner for San Francisco and remained in that position until he died on May 4, 1885.
There will never be a movement to list General McDowell with guys like Eisenhower, Patton, Grant, and MacArthur as one of our greatest generals but his 44 years of military service are an accomplishment that should be noted. It would be a fitting gesture if some year on November's Veteran's Day, if you live in Arizona and are watching the sun shine on the McDowell Mountains, to give a nod, and maybe even a salute, and say, “Happy Birthday, Irvin and thanks for your 44 years of service to your country.”