Curwen Boyd McLellan was born on April 7, 1829, in Merton Hall, Wigtonshire, Scotland. He immigrated to the United States by 1849, enlisting as a private in Company B, 3rd US Infantry on November 17th of that year.
He progressed from private to corporal to sergeant to first sergeant in Company B before transferring to Company A, 1st US Dragoons. On August 7, 1854, he transferred to Company H, 2nd US Cavalry as a private. He was promoted to sergeant in the same company and served there until June 11, 1861.
He received an appointment as a second lieutenant in Company B of the newly forming 3rd Cavalry on May 14, 1861, and accepted the appointment on June 11th. He joined his company in Bladensburg, Maryland on August 26, 1861, according to the regimental muster rolls. His company commander was one Captain August V. Kautz.
McLellan served as the regimental adjutant from October 1 to November 30, 1861 before a transfer to Company C. He commanded the company from January to February 1862 in the absence of the assigned captain and first lieutenant. He accompanied the regiment when it deployed to the Peninsula campaign in March, temporarily assigned to Company A from March to August 1862. and served there with distinction. He was made a brevet first lieutenant on May 5, 1862 for gallant and meritorious service at the battle of Williamsburg, where he was wounded. He was evacuated to a hospital in New York to recover from his wounds, where he remained until September. He was promoted to first lieutenant in Company L on July 17, 1862, and joined his company in October.
He was assigned to General Pleasonton’s staff in January 1863, returning to his company the following month. In March he was temporarily assigned to command Company C in the absence of all of its assigned officers. He was made a brevet captain on July 3, 1863 for gallant and meritorious service in the Gettysburg campaign, when he was once again on General Pleasonton’s staff through October. He eventually made his way back to the regiment.
McLellan received a brevet promotion to major for gallant and meritorious service at the Battle of Dinwiddie Court House on March 31, 1865. A few days later, during the battle of Sailor’s Creek, he was ordered to seize a strongly held group of log huts in a dismounted charge. Seeing his men hesitate, McLellan faced them and said, “Men, let us die like soldiers.” Every one of the men reportedly charged with him, and the huts were seized with a loss of only three wounded.
Curwen McLellan was promoted to captain in the 6th Cavalry on July 28, 1866. He married Susan E. Carmack in Frederick County, Maryland on Christmas day of the same year. He accompanied his regiment to the frontier, where he served with distinction. The first Mrs. McLellan died their without issue in 1869.
On July 6, 1870, Captain McLellan set out from Fort Richardson, Texas with a troop of 56 men from four companies of the 6th Cavalry. He was dispatched in pursuit of a group of Indians who had attacked a mail stage. On July 12th, he encountered a war party of approximately 250 Kiowas led by Kicking Bird near the north fork of the Little Wichita River. After a brief skirmish, McLellan led his men on a fighting retreat in the direction of the fort. He conducted this defensive engagement so skillfully that he lost only two men, and the Kiowas abandoned their chase of the badly outnumbered column the next day. Thirteen Medals of Honor were eventually issued for heroic conduct during the engagement.
McLellan married a second time in 1872, to Alice Gilbert. They had three children, two girls and a boy, before she died in Arizona in 1879. He was again recognized for an engagement with hostile Indians in the San Andreas mountains of New Mexico on April 7, 1880.
He was promoted to Major of the 10th Cavalry on December 30, 1881. He was made a brevet lieutenant colonel on February 27, 1890 for gallant service in actions against Indians near the Red River, Indian Territory and the aforementioned engagement in New Mexico. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 3rd Cavalry on May 6, 1892, and transferred to the lieutenant colonelcy of the 1st Cavalry three weeks later.
McLellan retired from the army on April 7, 1893, with over 43 years of service. He married a third time, this time to Margaret Kelso, who bore him another son and daughter. He died August 24, 1898 in St. Louis, Missouri, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery next to his wife Margaret.