Confederate General A.P. Hill’s roommate at West Point was future Union General-in-Chief George B. McClellan. While in the U.S. Army the two friends competed for the affections of the woman who later became McClellan’s wife. The affair with “Miss Nelly” (the nickname for Miss Ellen Marcy) began when young George McClellan (who had of course been Hill’s room-mate at West Point as well as a personal friend), then a captain of engineers, tried to win her hand. While he completely and totally won over Major Marcy and Mrs. Marcy, Nelly was less enthusiastic about Mac as a suitor. When he proposed marriage to her, she turned him down. McClellan had little time to nurse his broken heart, for soon after he was sent as an observer to the Crimean War taking place in Russia.
A. P. Hill in 1859
In the meantime, young and dashing Lieutenant A.P. Hill of the artillery stepped in to the picture. Nelly took a liking to Hill and it was soon apparent to a shocked and appalled Major and Mrs. Marcy that their daughter was going to marry a line officer of little financial worth.
When Hill asked for his daughter’s hand, Marcy told his daughter she would be unhappy. When that didn’t deter her, he asked her to at least wait and think about it for six months.
McClellan had since returned to the States. Finding his friend and former room-mate in love with Miss Nelly he of course did the honorable thing and withdrew from any further competition. Mrs. Marcy, however, was determined to have McClellan as her son-in-law. She now undertook to ruin Hill’s name and Hill’s honor –she spread the word about his serious bout of venereal illness while a cadet at West Point. Where she obtained this senstive information is still a mystery. When confronted she tried to pass the buck to McClellan but he insisted that it was a complete lie and there seems little reason to doubt his word for Hill himself apparently did not as the two stayed friends.
Hill was of course outraged and hurt. He wrote a long, 4 page letter to the Major explaining his feelings of hurt and helplessness about the whole matter.
During the war, McClellan’s Army of the Potomac would be attacked many times in the front and on the flank by Hill’s Light Division. McClellan’s men would speculate that these attacks were purely as revenge for losing Ellen. After one of these attacks, one Union soldier remarked, “My God Nelly, why didn’t you marry him?”.