Tragic Heroes: Gouverneur Warren Part Three

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

On Monday and Tuesday I posted part one of a several part series about the Union Army general, Gouverneur Warren. have been writing about leadership the past couple of days and despite all that is going on in the news I think that I will continue to do so using some parts of my Gettysburg text. I think it is incredibly important to get to know the men and women behind iconic pictures, statues, and biographies that are often not much more than hagiography. In my studies I have encountered people who I find fascinating and not just because of their achievements but also due to their suffering. One of my seminary professors said that you could never come to grips with Jesus until you came to understand suffering.

That is important especially when we deal with men and women who have been traumatized on the battlefield, who when they return from war they come home changed. Many are great leaders and outstanding people whose courage was proven but their lives after the war can only be considered tragic. One of these is Gouverneur Warren, one of the heroes of the Union in the Civil War, and who was instrumental in stopping the Confederate forces at Gettysburg 0n July 2nd 1863. I have written about him before, but I think now is an appropriate time to revisit his life as well as some other men who fought alongside him at Gettysburg. Thia is part three of my series about him.

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

gkwarren_roundtop

Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac and Savior of Little Round Top

In January 1863 Warren was pulled from his brigade duties by Hooker who employed him with good effect to assist his engineering staff, first with mapping and then building the fortifications that stopped the ferocious Confederate storm on the second day of battle. [1] In less than 48 hours Warren’s troops threw up five miles of the most formidable entrenchments yet constructed under battlefield conditions. [2] Edward Alexander, Longstreet’s artillery officer noted that when the Confederates came upon the fortifications after Hooker’s withdraw that “they were amazed at the strength and completeness of the enemys fortifications. [3] Following the battle Warren was appointed as Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac on May 12th 1863 by Hooker.  When Hooker was relieved of command and was replaced by Meade on June 28th 1863, he was kept in that position by his fellow engineer George Gordon Meade.

Warren and Major General Winfield Scott Hancock arrived at Cemetery Hill on the night of July 1st 1863. He surveyed the ground with Hancock and they concurred that “it would be the best place for the army to fight on if the army was attacked.” [4] As George Gordon Meade organized the defenses of his army at Gettysburg, he not only depended on Warren’s advice about the ground, but consulted him constantly at headquarters or sent him off on matters of highest importance. [5] Meade respected Warren and had offered Warren the chance to serve as his Chief of Staff, a position that Warren, like Seth Williams, the Adjutant General declined that offer indicating that he had too much work in their departments to take on the burdens of a new job. [6]

Meade’s opponent, Robert E. Lee, who knew Warren before the war appreciated Warren’s calm, absorbed, and earnest manner, his professional skill and sound judgment. [7] These qualities would serve both men and the army well on July 2nd 1863.

When Sickles moved III Corps forward during the afternoon without permission of Meade, the result was that his Corps was deployed in a vulnerable salient at the Peach Orchard. This left the southern flank of the army in the air and the Round Tops undefended. Meade was aghast and set about to attempt to rectify the situation. Warren was with Meade and based on the reconnaissance that he conducted the previous day and that morning knew the position better than anyone.  He recognized that something was badly awry on Sickles Third Corps front matters there were not all straight.  [8] He had sent an officer to discover to investigate Sickles’ front and that officer reported that the section of Cemetery Ridge assigned to III Corps was not occupied. [9]

Meade and Warren discussed the situation and realized that III Corps “could hardly be said to be in position” [10] and knowing VI Corps was now close at hand order V Corps, at the time his only reserve into the position vacated by Sickles. They went forward and seeing the empty spaces Warren told Meade “here is where our line should be” to which Meade replied: “It’s too late now.” [11] Warren, whose familiarity with the whole of the battlefield gave him concern about Sickles’ corps dispositions suggest that Meade send him to the Federal left, “to examine the condition of affairs.” [12]

Meade concurred with his Warren and in dispatching him he also gave Warren the authority to take charge as needed saying “I wish you would ride over there and if anything serious is going on, attend to it.” [13] Again Meade’s choice of Warren for the task demonstrated the trust that is essential in command.  The two officers worked together seamlessly and as Coddington described their relationship that day: “Meade chose him to act as his alter ego in crucial moments of the battle, and Warren rendered services for which Meade and the country were to be eternally grateful.” [14] Warren would not see Meade again that day “until the attack had spent its force.” [15]

Hunt noted that “The duty could not have been in better hands.” [16] When Warren arrived on Little Round Top he found it unoccupied save for a few signal corps soldiers. Warren immediately recognized the tactical value of Little Round Top and noted that it was “the key of the whole position.”  [17] Warren saw that the Confederates were massing not more than a mile away and that there were no troops on the hill to stop them. He believed that an area “of woods on the near side of the Emmitsburg Road as “an excellent place for the enemy to form out of sight” [18]  which was exactly what Major General John Bell Hood’s division was doing, as Henry Hunt noted “The enemy at the time lay concealed, awaiting signal for the assault…” [19] To test his suspicions Warren sent a messenger to Captain James Smith’s 4th New York artillery battery on Devil’s Den to fire a single shot into the woods. Warren described the situation:

“As the shot went whistling through the air the sound of it reached the enemy’s troops and caused every one to look in the direction of it. This motion revealed to me the glistening gun-barrels and bayonets of the enemy’s line of battle, already formed and far outflanking the position of any of our troops; so that the line of his advance from the right to Little Round Top was unopposed. I have been particular in telling this, as the discovery was intensely thrilling to my feelings, and almost appalling.” [20]

Upon confirming his fears Warren resorted to ruse and action. He order the “signalmen to keep up their wigwag activity, simply as a pretense of alertness, whether they had any real signals to transmit or not…” [21] He also sent messengers to Meade, Sickles and Sykes, the commander of V Corps asking Meade to “Send at least a division to me” [22] instructing the messenger, Lieutenant Randall Mackenzie to tell Meade “that we would at once have to occupy that place very strongly.” [23] Sickles refused on account of how badly stretched his lines were, however George Sykes of V Corps responded sending Captain William Jay to find Barnes commander of his 1st Division. As he waited Warren stood atop a “flat rock on the summit of Little Round Top, eyes fixed to his field glasses…he spent several nervous minutes wondering if his urgent appeals for help would be answered or ignored.” [24]

The messenger could not find Barnes, but instead came across the commander of the division’s 3rd Brigade, Colonel Strong Vincent. Vincent knew that Barnes was self-medicating his “pre-battle anxieties out of a black commissary quart bottle” and was already “hollow from skull to boots” and demanded “What are your orders? Give me your orders.” [25] Upon learning that Sykes wanted a brigade to proceed to Little Round Top Vincent responded immediately to take the initiative and ordered his four regiments up Little Round Top without waiting for permission. Vincent told Sykes messenger “I will take the responsibility myself of taking my brigade there.” [26]

The Attack of Law’s Brigade on Little Round Top July 2nd

Meade’s choice of Warren for the task was confirmed by how Warren continued to act with alacrity and decisiveness throughout the afternoon. “As the Union line began to crumble on Little Round Top, Warren, vested with the authority of Meade’s chief representative, emerged as the right man at the right place at the right time.” [27] Warren did not stop with sending messengers, but seeing the danger building he noted that the northwest face of the hill was still unoccupied and open to attack. Warren forgot “all about a general’s dignity” he “sprinted down the east slope of the hill like a rabbit.” [28]

There Warren found Brigadier General Stephen Weed’s brigade which he had previously commanded. The troops of the brigade, “seeing their former commander, started cheering, but Warren had no time or accolades.” [29] Warren did not see Weed, but instead he found Colonel Patrick O’Rorke of the 140th New York, who had been one of his students at West Point, and ordered him to follow him up the hill, saying “Paddy…give me a regiment.” [30]

When O’Rorke told Warren that Weed expected him to be following him Warren took the responsibility telling O’Rorke “Bring them up on the double quick, and don’t stop for aligning. I’ll take responsibility.” [31] O’Rorke followed with his gallant regiment with the rest of the brigade under Weed following them. The 140th New York entered the battle to the right of the Vincent’s 16th Michigan which was being swarmed by the 4th and 5th Texas and 4th Alabama, who thought that victory was at hand, slamming the Texans and Alabamians and “at once the Confederate assault began to dissolve” [32]

Warren’s actions were fortuitous as the 140th New York and Lieutenant Charles Hazlett’s battery of the 5th Artillery arrived at the crest just in time to repulse the advancing Confederates, as the battery struggled to get into position Warren “took hold of one of the guns and labored with the gun crew to get the piece over the rocks and up the steep wooded hillside.” [33] The battery went into action immediately and soon drew concentrated enemy fire and “Warren narrowly escaped serious injury when a bullet nicked his throat.” [34]

In the ensuing fight the brigade would take fearful casualties. By the end of the day Weed, O’Rorke and Hazlett would all be dead, but together with Vincent’s brigade they held on and saved the Union line.[35]

Warren continued to urge on the Federal troops despite being wounded,  in the words of a reporter who observed him in “a most gallant and heroic manner, riding with utmost confidence over fields swept by the enemy’s fire, seemingly everywhere present, directing, aiding, and cheering the troops.” [36] Once he was assured that Little Round Top was secure he proceeded to rejoin Meade “near the center of the battlefield where another crisis was at hand.” [37]

After Gettysburg Warren was proud of his accomplishments but did not boast of them. He wrote to his in his journal: “There was no merit in my actions except to secure for our army a position if I could, which would prevent our lines from being flanked and this when attacked was given an opportunity for a fair fight to front, and there our opponents did not win.” [38] However his comments belied his accomplishments on Little Round Top that day “for he alone was responsible for recognizing the crisis there, for Vincent’s brigade being sent up the hill, and for commandeering the 140th New York and the rest of Weed’s brigade as reinforcements.” [39]

Notes

[1] Sears, Stephen W. Chancellorsville Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 1996 p.372

[2] Hagerman, Edward. The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare. Midland Book Editions, Indiana University Press. Bloomington IN. 1992 p.91

[3] Alexander, Edward Porter Military Memoirs of a Confederate: A Critical Narrative 1907 republished 2013 by Pickle Partners Publishing, Amazon Kindle Edition location 7007

[4] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.224

[5] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.332

[6] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  pp.129-130

[7] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.332

[8] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.262

[9] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.319

[10] Ibid. Trudeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage,  p.319

[11] Ibid. Trudeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage,  p.320

[12] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.90

[13] Ibid. Trudeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage,  p.320

[14] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.388

[15] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.260

[16] Hunt, Henry. The Second Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p. 307

[17] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.92

[18] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.92

[19] Ibid. Hunt The Second Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. p. 307

[20] Pfanz, Harry F. Gettysburg: The Second Day. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1987 p.206

[21] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.503

[22] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.92

[23] Ibid. Guelzo  Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.261

[24] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.88

[25] Ibid. Guelzo  Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.262

[26] Longacre, Edward Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man Combined Publishing Conshohocken PA 1999 p.127

[27] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.395

[28] Swanberg, W.A. Sickles the Incredible Stan Clark Military Books, Gettysburg PA 1957 p.214

[29] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.93

[30] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.93

[31] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.504

[32] Ibid. LaFantasie, Twilight at Little Round Top p.153

[33] Ibid. LaFantasie, Twilight at Little Round Top p.132

[34] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.281

[35] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren pp. 93-94

[36] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.388

[37] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.396

[38] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.95

[39] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.281

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