McCandless, nicknamed "Buck," was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on September 29, 1834. McCandless enlisted in the 2nd Regiment, Pennsylvania Reserves, as a private; but he was promoted to the rank of major in June 1861. He became the regiment's colonel in August 1862. The 2nd Reserves served in the Seven Days Battles in the Army of the Potomac and alter at the Second Battle of Bull Run and the Battle of Antietam. McCandless was wounded at Second Bull Run and missed Antietam. (Captain James N. Byrnes commanded in his absence.)
When William Sinclair was wounded in the Battle of Fredericksburg, McCandless succeeded him in command of the 1st Brigade of the Reserves under George Gordon Meade. The division was, at that time, 3rd Division, I Corps. It had penetrated the Confederate right flank along the line of A. P. Hill’s Light Division. After Fredericksburg, the division was transferred to the defenses of Washington, D. C. to recuperate from its losses on active duty.
In May 1863, the Reserves, then commanded by Samuel Crawford, returned to the Army of the Potomac and became the 3rd Division of the V Corps. McCandless retained command of the 1st Brigade, and was active in the Battle of Gettysburg. On the second day of the battle, McCandless moved to the army’s left and deployed his men in two lines, together with the 93rd Pennsylvania Infantry of Frank Wheaton’s brigade, at the foot of Little Round Top. McCandless’ brigade, under immediate supervision by Crawford, launched a counterattack against the Confederates, mostly from William T. Wofford’s command, across Plum Run Valley and up slope to the edge of the Wheatfield on July 2, 1863. (Wofford had been ordered to withdraw and did not resist as fiercely as he desired.) McCandless’s brigade held its position to the end of the battle. Then it advanced late on July 3, gathering up stragglers from the Confederate withdrawal.
McCandless commanded the division in the Bristoe Campaign in the fall of 1863. He reverted to brigade command and served under Crawford in the Mine Run Campaign. McCandless retained his brigade in the Overland Campaign of Ulysses S. Grant. He was wounded in the Battle of the Wilderness. Grant and Meade offered him promotion to the rank of brigadier general, but he declined. Colonel McCandless was mustered out of the volunteer service with his regiment on June 6, 1864.
He was a member of the Pennsylvania State Senate from 1867 to 1869.
McCandless returned to Philadelphia and resumed his civilian career. He died on June 17, 1884.
- Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher, Civil War High Commands, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001.
- Jorgensen, Jay, Gettysburg’s Bloody Wheatfield, Shippensburg, PA: White Mane Books, 2002.
- Pfanz, Harry W., Gettysburg: the Second Day, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987.
- Rable, George C., Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.
- Sypher, J. R., History of the Pennsylvania Reserve Corps, Lancaster, PA: Elias Barr & Co., 1865.
- McCandless biography
- Cox, Harold. "Senate Members C". Wilkes University Election Statistics Project. Wilkes University. http://staffweb.wilkes.edu/harold.cox/legis/SC.html.
- William McCandless at Find a Grave Retrieved on 2008-10-19