Daily Archives: March 3, 2014

“Don’t Give an Inch” The Engineer and the Professors on the Hill, Major General Gouverneur Warren and Colonels Strong Vincent and Joshua Chamberlain


The Confederate Onslaught

“In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.” ― Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

The Federal Army at Gettysburg had a wide variety of officers. Many senior officers were graduates of West Point but in the expansion of the Army and the call of up militia from the various states other officers were political appointments. Many had no prior military service and at times that lack of experience was tragic. However some of the time those volunteers were the men who by their service helped save the Union.

413px-Gettysburg_Battle_Map_Day2Gettysburg Day Two Overview: Map by Hal Jespersen http://www.posix.com/CW 

On July 2nd 1863 the situation at Gettysburg was precarious. Robert E Lee had ordered an attack to seize a hill at the far end of the Federal line, Little Round Top and turn the Union flank. General Meade had ordered III Corps under Major General Dan Sickles to extend it’s line to defend the southern section of his line on Cemetery Ridge. Unfortunately Sickles, without permission moved his Corps several hundred yards west forming a vulnerable salient at the Peach Orchard leaving the southern flank in the air.

gkwarrenMajor General Gouverneur Warren

When Meade saw the developing situation he sent his Chief Engineer, Major General Gouverneur Warren to take charge on the flank. When Warren arrived he found the hill undefended and he dispatched staff officers to get assistance from any units in the area. Major General George Sykes of V Corps responded sending a messenger to the commander of his 1st Division. The messenger encountered the commander of the division’s 3rd Brigade Colonel Strong Vincent who immediately took the initiative and ordered his four regiments up Little Round Top without waiting for permission.

gkwarren_roundtopWarren at Little Round Top

Vincent and his regiments arrived in a nick of time. He deployed his regiments, along the spur running to the south if the top of the hill. The 16th Michigan on the right with the 44th New York, 83rd Pennsylvania at his center and the 20th Maine under the Command of Colonel Joshua Chamberlain on the extreme left of the line. Vincent ordered to Chamberlain to “hold at all costs.” Chamberlain led his regiment skillfully and when nearly out of ammunition led a charge down the slope of Little Round Top which ended the Confederate chances of gaining the hill and turning the flank of Meade’s Army.

little_round_top2Little Round Top-Map by Hal Jespersen http://www.posix.com/CW 

Warren was a West Point graduate and had been a topographical engineer for most of his pre-war career and saw combat against the Sioux at the Battle of Ash Grove in 1855. When the war began Warren was a mathematics instructor at West Point. He helped raise a militia regiment in New York and was appointed to Lieutenant Colonel. As a regimental commander and later brigade commander he saw much combat and was wounded at the Battle of Gaines Mill during the Seven Days.  When the Army was reorganized in February 1863 he was named Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac by Major General Joseph Hooker. When Major General Meade relieved Hooker on June 28th he retained Warren.

colstrong_vincentThe 26 year old Colonel Strong Vincent

Colonel Strong Vincent was a 26 year old Harvard graduate and lawyer from Erie Pennsylvania. He was appointed as a 1st Lieutenant and Adjutant of the Erie Regiment and married his wife Elizabeth the same day.  He wrote her before his death “if I fall, remember you have given your husband to the most righteous cause that ever widowed a woman.”

Vincent was commissioned as a Lieutenant Colonel in the 83rd Pennsylvania September 14th 1861. He assumed command of the regiment when the commander was killed during the Seven Days in June of 1862. He commanded the regiment at Fredericksburg in December 1862 and was promoted to command the 3rd Brigade when its commander was killed at Chancellorsville in May 1863.

joshua_chamberlain_-_brady-handyJoshua Chamberlain

Colonel Joshua Chamberlain was a graduate of Bowdoin College and Bangor Theological Seminary. Chamberlain was fluent in 9 languages other than English. He was Professor of Rhetoric at Bowdoin before seeking an appointment in a Maine Regiment without consulting either the college or his family. He was offered command of the 20th Maine but asked to be appointed as a Lieutenant Colonel which he was in August 1862. He fought at Fredericksburg and was named commander of the regiment when Colonel Adelbert Ames, his commander was promoted following Chancellorsville.

vincentdont-give-an-inch-up-5-smaller“Don’t Give and Inch!”

The battle of Little Round Top is one of the most famous of all Civil War battles. Chamberlain along with Vincent are immortalized in the film Gettysburg which is based on Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Killer Angels. Vincent was mortally wounded while leading the defense of the hill. When killed he was standing on a large boulder with a riding crop ordering the men of the 16th Michigan who were beginning to waiver “don’t give an inch.” Two months later his wife gave birth to a baby girl. The baby would not live a year and was buried next to him

Warren became a distinguished Corps commander until he ran afoul of the fiery General Phillip Sheridan in 1865. Sheridan relieved Warren of command of V Corps following the Battle of Five Forks where Sheridan believed that Warren’s Corps had moved too slowly in the attack. The relief was brutal and ruined his career.  Warren resigned his commission as a Major General after the war and returned to his permanent rank as a Major of Engineers. He served another 17 years doing engineering  duty being promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1879. He sought a Court of Inquiry to exonerate himself but this was refused until President Grant left office. The Court eventually exonerated him but he died before the results were published. Embittered he directed that he be buried in civilian clothes and without military honors.

Chamberlain was awarded the Medal of Honor for his valor at Little Round Top in 1893. He was gravely wounded during the siege of Petersburg in June of 1864 while commanding a brigade and promoted to Brigadier General. He returned to duty later in the year as commander of the 1st Brigade, 1st Division V Corps and was again wounded at Petersburg in a skirmish at Quaker Road and was promoted to Brevet Major General by Abraham Lincoln.

Chamberlain was given the unique honor to receive the surrender of Lee’s decimated Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox. He would go on to serve as a four term Governor of Maine and remained active with the Grand Army of the Republic veteran’s organization. He remained active as an educator and as the President of Bowdoin College. He founded the Maine Institute for the Blind which is now known as the Iris Foundation. He died of complications from his wartime wounds on February 24th 1914.

These three men acted with great courage and alacrity on the afternoon of July 2nd 1863. Warren for his immediate action to call for assistance when he discovered that the hill was undefended and the line exposed, Vincent for his swift taking of responsibility and getting his brigade up the hill before the Confederates could gain the summit and Chamberlain for his dogged refusal to yield against repeated assaults.

DSCN8806Only one of the three, Warren was a professional soldier. Unfortunately as a topographic engineer he was an outsider to many in the army and not fully appreciated by Grant or Sheridan who destroyed his career. The youthful Vincent died of his wounds days after the battle. He was recommended for promotion to Brigadier General by Meade but the promotion was never confirmed by the Senate. Chamberlain is still one of the revered commanders of the Civil War.

It is easy for those enamored with military history to forget the stories behind the men that fought the battles of war. It is easy to isolate and analyze a commander’s actions in battle and ignore the rest of their lives.  I think that this does a great disservice to the men themselves. I say this because everyone who serves in the military has their reasons for serving. Some noble and some base and many a combination of many motives. Likewise everyone who dons the uniform in time of war gives up something of themselves and sometimes even heroes are destroyed by the institutions that they serve. That is a warning to all who serve. Chamberlain wrote:

“It is something great and greatening to cherish an ideal; to act in the light of truth that is far-away and far above; to set aside the near advantage, the momentary pleasure; the snatching of seeming good to self; and to act for remoter ends, for higher good, and for interests other than our own.”

In the hopes that we all will strive to cherish that ideal, that truth and to set aside all that keeps us from it.


Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under civil war, History, leadership, Military

Policies Contrary to Their Own Interests: Putin’s New Cold War


“A phenomenon noticeable throughout history regardless of place or period is the pursuit by government of policies contrary to their own interests.” Barbara Tuchman

Today Russian forces continued their occupation of Crimea in spite of international outrage. Not only did they continue to build up their forces in Ukraine to the point that they operationally control the peninsula, they upped the ante demanding that Ukrainian army and navy units to surrender by Wednesday or face a “military storm.”

praguePrague 1968

It is something that Europe has not seen since the Cold War when the Soviet Union used military force and violence to put down revolts in Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

Polen, Parade vor Adolf HitlerCzechoslovakia 1939

However, I think in political terms it is much closer to Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939 after Britain France and Italy stripped that country of its power by forcing the Czechs to surrender the Sudetenland to Hitler in October of 1938. Up to that moment the European powers bet on the appeasement of the Hitler regime. In a sense over the past decade the West has given Putin free reign to exercise his power over former territories, coercing them and occasionally using economic and even military power to bring them into line.

But now it is Ukraine. a complex region where Asiatic Russia meets Europe. The Ukraine is not Georgia or Chechnya. It is a region that has been a battlefield between Russia, the indigenous peoples as well as Germany, Poland, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Turkey. It is the dividing line between western Catholicism and Russian Orthodoxy. In the 1850s even England and France found themselves intervening in the Crimea.


I believe that Putin under the flimsiest of pretensions has elected to use military force to attempt to coerce the Ukraine back under the thumb of a Russian Hegemon and to frighten the West into not intervening. It is a mistake. Just as in 1938 when Hitler believed that he could continue to steamroll the through Europe without war. In betting on the weakness of the West, Putin is playing the same game. Contrary to the speculation that Putin is doing this as a show of strength it is actually a display of Putin’s domestic insecurity.

Russia is not nearly as economically or militarily strong as Putin acts. There are serious ethnic and social divisions in the country and despite its assertions the Russian economy is much more dependent on the good graces of other nations as it is not. Already following Putin’s move into the Crimea the Russian currency and stock markets are tanking. I suspect that the West will soon impose sanctions that hit Russian economic and banking oligarchs where it hurts which will undercut support for Putin where he needs it most. Likewise I expect that Russia will be expelled from the G-8 and possibly cut off from other international banking and economic organizations.Likewise both the U.S. and the United Kingdom are bound by treaty to protect the territorial integrity of the Ukraine.

140302073009-03-ukraine-0203-horizontal-galleryPutin has had a run of success until now. However his crackdown against dissidents, campaigns against homosexuals and the state supported Russian Orthodox Church assault against other Christian denominations have already undermined his credibility as a world leader.

The invasion of the Ukraine will solidify opposition to Russia abroad, and increase anti-Putin sentiment in Russia. Should the Russian military attempt to invade other parts of Ukraine as they are threatening, Putin will find that he has bit off more than he can chew. His forces are certainly more than a match for the Ukrainian military, but he will not be able to hold or occupy the vast areas of the Ukraine in the face of opposition that will rapidly move toward a protracted insurgency. This insurgency will be supported by nations such as Chechnya which will take the war to the heart of Russia. It will turn out worse for Russia than the invasion of Afghanistan for the Soviet Union.

A new Cold War has already begun, Putin has made sure of that. The world that existed just three weeks ago when athletes from around the world gathered in Sochi for the Winter Olympics no longer exists. The only thing that we can hope is that the new Cold War does not become a hot war.

I am reminded of Barbara Tuchman’s words in The Guns of August: “The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.” 

The world that we knew is now changed.

Let us pray for peace.

Padre Steve+








1 Comment

Filed under Foreign Policy, History, national security, News and current events

“For God’s Sake Forward!” John Reynolds at Gettysburg


Iron Brigade Forward! Battle of Gettysburg, PA – July 1, 1863 by Mark Maritato

“…by his promptitude and gallantry he had determined the decisive field of the war, and he opened brilliantly a battle which required three days of hard fighting to close with a victory.” Major General Harry Hunt, Chief of Artillery, Army of the Potomac on the actions of Major General John F Reynolds at Gettysburg

Major General John Reynolds was one of the finest commanders on either side during the Civil War. He graduated in the middle of his class at West Point in 1841 and served in the artillery. He fought during the war with Mexico and was promoted for bravery twice, to Captain at Monterrey and Major at Buena Vista. Following the war he remained in the army serving in the west and as Commandant of the Corps of Cadets at West Point from 1860 to June of 1861 when he was appointed as Colonel of the 14th U.S. Infantry regiment. However before he could take command of that unit he was promoted to Brigadier General.

Reynolds commanded a brigade of Pennsylvania volunteers on the Peninsula and was captured on June 27th but was released in a prisoner exchange on August 15th. He fought as a Division commander at Second bull Run where his Division held firm as much of the army retreated. He missed Antietam as he was called to train Pennsylvania militia when Lee invaded Maryland. he commanded I Corps at Fredericksburg and again at Chancellorsville.

Reynolds now held command of his troops on his home soil. A native of Lancaster Pennsylvania  Reynolds was the senior Corps commander in the Army of the Potomac. Considered by his peers and superiors to be the best commander in the Army he had been given command of a wing of the Army, his own I Corps, Oliver Howard’s XI Corps and John Sedgewick’s III Corps. He also had John Buford’s 1st Cavalry Division under his command.

Early in June Abraham Lincoln had offered command of the Army of the Potomac to Reynolds. However according to some credible reports Reynolds set a condition which Lincoln in the political climate of the time could not grant. Reynolds insisted he would be free from the political interference which had beset previous Army commanders. Both Reynolds’ request and Lincoln’s response are understandable.

Reynolds was not a fan of Major General Joseph Hooker and opposed Hooker’s decision to retreat at Chancellorsville. When Hooker was relieved of command of the Army by Lincoln, Major General George Meade, commander of V Corps another Pennsylvanian took his place. Reynolds, a friend of Meade supported the decision and Meade, who trusted Reynolds’ judgement and abilities kept him in his key role as commander of the Left Wing.

Reynolds’ wing of three Infantry corps and Buford’s Cavalry division acted as the advance elements of the Army. Late in the afternoon of June 30th Buford’s troops observed Johnston Pettigrew’s brigade of Harry Heth’s division near Gettysburg. Pettigrew on detecting Buford’s cavalry refused to engage. Buford chose to take the good high ground west of Gettysburg and hold it. He sent word to Reynolds that he would hold the ground to give Reynolds time to arrive.


The Death of Reynolds (Waud)

Buford sent messages late in the evening to both Reynolds and the Union Calvary Corps commander, Major General Alfred Pleasanton describing the situation. Reynolds’ units were south of Emmitsburg moving north. Early on the morning of the 1st of July Reynolds brought his troops up as Buford and his cavalry troopers engaged Heth’s division in a very successful delaying action.

Reynolds rode ahead and briefly met Buford at the Lutheran Seminary where Buford ensured Reynolds that his troopers could hold. With that Reynolds ordered his First Corps and the lead division under the command of Abner Doubleday to advance to the action at the double-quick. Reynolds sent a message to Meade through a staff officer stating “Tell the General that we will hold the heights to the south of the town, and that I will barricade the streets of the town if necessary.” Reynolds had an acute eye for the situation and rapidly brought his corps as well as Howard’s XI Corps to the field.

GenJFRenyoldsAs his units arrived into an already raging battle Reynolds directed them to key areas of the battlefield. With Confederate troops moving toward the high ground Reynolds directed the “Iron Brigade” into position in Herr’s (McPherson’s) Woods. Reynolds exhorted the men forward.“Forward! men, forward! for God’s sake, and drive those fellows out of the woods!” As he said these words he was struck by a bullet at the base of his skull and died instantly.

The Federal troops, I Corps under the command of Doubleday and XI under Major General Oliver Howard withdrew through Gettysburg to Cemetery Hill, where Howard had wisely placed two brigades as well as a significant amount of artillery earlier in the day. Reynolds’ old friend Major General Winfield Scott Hancock of II Corps arrived on the field to take command on the order of George Meade.

Hill’s troops entered the town but did not attempt to take the hill, he did not believe that his exhausted and disorganized troops were in a position to combat fresh troops in good defensive positions. Likewise Ewell passed on an opportunity to take nearby Culp’s Hill as his corps was not fully up and the divisions which had been in action were now in disarray and he recognized the strong position occupied by the Federal forces.

DSCN8774Monuments to Buford and Reynolds at McPherson’s Ridge

The first day ended with the Army of the Potomac holding the high ground in an easily defensible position on interior lines. Lee’s Army was spread out and the defense mounted by Buford and Reynolds had disrupted Hill’s Corps causing significant casualties to the Confederates and denying them the opportunity to take the high ground.

Buford is to be given much of the credit for choosing the ground of the battle and fighting a stellar delaying action against superior forces. But had Reynolds not brought his units up in the expeditious manner in which he did and then all of Buford’s efforts might have been in vain. The two men, bound by their professionalism and commitment to duty and their oath helped save the Union on that first day of July 1863.


Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under civil war, History, leadership, Military