Tragic Heroes: Gouverneur Warren Part Five

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The last installment of my work on Gouverneur Warren.

Peace

Padre Steve+

warren5-5

A Martyr to no Cause at All: Disgrace and Restoration

Among the people that Warren made enemies with during the campaign was his mentor and friend George Gordon Meade. The issue with Meade was particularly serious as Meade seriously considered relieving Warren due to his insubordinate attitude. Meade wrote a letter which he never sent to Grant’s chief of staff Colonel John Rawlins where he acknowledged Warren’s fine traits but also his problems. Meade wrote:

“No officer in the army exceeds Genl Warren in personal gallantry, in activity, in zeal and in sleepless nights, or in devotion to his duties,” Meade wrote- he suffered from a serious “defect” in which he often questioned orders rather than obey them. Such a serious defect Meade wrote, “strikes at the root of all Military subordination, and is entirely out of question that I can command this Army, if each Corps Commander is to exercise a similar independence of action.” [1]

Another enemy made by Warren was Phillip Sheridan, the new commander of the army’s cavalry. The two men were seemingly destined to clash; they had already clashed at Spotsylvania where Warren complained about Sheridan’s performance.  Sheridan never forgave or ever forgot Warren’s justified criticism of him during that battle, and

But the issue really came down to personality and leadership style. Joshua Chamberlain who testified at his board of inquiry testified at it that “Warren gave the impression of a slow, quiet contemplative sort who could not be rushed into decision making. Whether on the march or in battle, he moved at a deliberate pace, refusing to commit himself or his troops until he had time to analyze the situation.” [2]

Chamberlain observed that to someone who did not know Warren, as Sheridan did not that “General Warren’s temperament is such that he, instead of showing excitement, generally shows an intense concentration in what I call important movements…and those who do not know him might take it for apathy when it is deep, concentrated thought and purpose” [3] much of which was rooted in Warren’s strong desire not to sacrifice his men needlessly taking care “to ensure that they were not thrown in to suicidal situations” and he “looked out for their welfare.” [4]

Warren and Sheridan were different types of people and commanders. Warren was an exceptionally intelligent man, one of the brightest in the army and highly regarded in many ways. He was excellent leader of men and he was beloved by his troops, but that being said the traits that were his strengths hindered him in command. He did command from the front, but “his real interest was in the science of command. Warren believed that leading a corps gave him discretion and leeway in carrying out his duties – which often he performed with the smugness of the righteous. It developed that not everyone would be tolerant of either his manner or his philosophy of command – particularly not U.S. Grant.” [5] Nor did Warren have the kind of single minded vision and killer instinct that made Grant, Sherman and Sheridan such brutally effective battlefield commanders. He was “handicapped by the breadth of his vision,” [6] the trait that made him such an effective staff officer which at Little Round Top served the army so well.

After the war Grant praised Warren’s intelligence, earnestness and perceptiveness, but he found in Warren, what he called a “defect which was beyond his control, that which was very prejudicial to his usefulness…” What was the defect? Grant wrote: “could see every danger at a glance before he encountered it. He would not only make preparations to meet the danger which might occur, but he would inform his commanding officer what others should do while he was executing his move.” [7]

Grant had been apprised of the battlefield by a false report of Warren and his troop’s actual location, news that was hours old “told Sheridan to relieve Warren if he judged the Fifth Corps would “do better” under another commander.” Staff officers of Fifth Corps were shocked, and one wrote “General Grant knew that General Sheridan was not a person to be intrusted with such a weapon and not use it.” [8]

sheridan

Major General Phillip Sheridan

Sheridan did use the power Grant had given. Sheridan was still smarting from a setback incurred the previous day where one of Warren’s infantry divisions had to “extricate Little Phil from difficulties with George Pickett’s Confederates at Dinwiddie Court House on March 31”  [9]  relieved Warren while the latter was in the midst of actual combat. However, neither Sheridan nor Grant wanted to admit was that “Warren did about as well as anyone could have that night getting three divisions of the Fifth Corps to Sheridan’s position.” [10]

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. Sheridan’s actions to relieve Warren at the moment of a great victory “would reverberate for the better part of two decades.” [11] Sheridan’s staff had given Warren wrong information about the positions of the Confederate troops and Warren’s own orders to his division commanders were conflicting. Warren had been working to get Crawford’s division into the fight as it had strayed too far north before turning westward and hit the wrong Confederate units and Warren went to rectify the situation and to get Crawford’s troops into the fight.

Since Sheridan did not see Warren at the front he ordered him relieved of command, even though Warren had personally taken over the direction of one of the brigades, led it into action “and under the setting sun, he snatched up his corps flag, shouted to his men – “Now, boys, follow me, this will be the last fight of the war!” – and rode straight toward the rebel line. His horse was shot and killed, and Colonel Hollon Richardson of the Seventh Wisconsin was wounded as he tried to shield his corps commander when he toppled to the ground….”  [12] Not long after this “official orders relieved Warren of his command.” [13] Sadly, had Warren died that day he might have been eulogized as a hero; instead he suffered terribly at the hands of the leaders of the army that he had served so well.

The relief was brutal, Sheridan wrote that “General Warren did not exert himself to get up his corps as rapidly as he might have done, and his manner gave me the impression that he wished the sun to go down before dispositions for the attack could be completed.” [14] This ruined Warren’s career and even hinted at a possible lack of courage on the part of Warren. This Sheridan refused to reconsider, something that “Chamberlain and the officers and men of the Fifth Corps ever forgave him for what they considered an unjust act made cruel by his refusal to reconsider it.” [15] Many, including men who had little love for Warren and who were often critical of him were appalled at the relief. Colonel Charles Wainwright, the commander of Warren’s corps artillery who once wrote to his wife that Warren was “a very loathsome, profane ungentlemanly & disgusting puppy in power” [16] felt that Warren’s “removal at this time, and after the victory had been won, appears to be wrong and cruel.” [17] Porter Alexander wrote after the war of Warren that “no Federal corps commander had a higher personal reputation for courage, enterprise and good judgment.” [18]

Warren was a professional soldier, but he was not perfect. He “possessed all the attributes of a capable, if not excellent corps commander- intelligence, executive ability, training, and personal bravery. But he was a difficult subordinate, whose arrogance and bouts with depression fueled his temper.” [19] Warren took the relief hard. Unfortunately as a topographic engineer he was an outsider to many in the army and not fully appreciated by Grant or Sheridan, who in their haste at Five Forks not only destroyed his career but did nothing to rectify their decision even after others protested. Despite the problems in their relationship Meade “on two occasions suggested to Grant that he reinstate Warren as commander of the V Corps, Grant did not respond.” [20]

William Henry Powell wrote in his history of Fifth Corps:

“With the flush of victory on his brow, with the end of the struggle so near, with the faint Rays of the dawn of peace already gleaming in the sanguinary sky, this noble warrior was brushed aside like a fly from a map and sent into what was an undeniable, if not apparently dishonorable, seclusion.” [21]

After the war Warren resigned his commission as a Major General of Volunteers and returned to his permanent rank as a Major of Engineers. He served another 17 years doing engineering duty and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1879, but his past always haunted him, even his sleep. The previously noted letter to his wife Emily where Warren stated that “I wish I did not dream so much…” and described symptoms that we might now attribute to some sort of combat stress injury was written during that assignment.

Warren sought a Court of Inquiry to exonerate himself but this was refused until President Grant left office. The Court eventually exonerated him but Warren died three months before the results were published. He reportedly told his wife Emily as he lay dying “Convey me to my grave without pageant or show…I die a disgraced soldier.” [22] His last words reportedly were “The Flag! The Flag!” [23] Embittered by the treatment he had received by the army that he had served so well, Warren was buried “as he directed in his will, in civilian clothes and without military ceremony.” [24] In 1888, veterans of the 5th New York, Duryee Zouaves; Warren’s first command placed a bronze statue of Warren standing on the boulder on Little Round Top, where Warren reportedly stood during the battle.

Warren’s funeral was attended by his friends Winfield Scott Hancock and Samuel Crawford, his oldest army friend and mentor Andrew Humphreys was called away before the service due to the sudden illness of his son. [25] The Washington Post noted that Warren “had gone “where neither the malevolence nor the justice of this world can reach him. He had enough of the former; and denial of the latter not only embittered his closing months of his life, but undoubtedly hastened his end.”  [26]

Despite the later events which ended up in his relief by Sheridan, Warren’s actions on that hot and muggy July 2nd 1863 exemplified the leadership qualities that we as an institution strive to achieve. From a leadership perspective Warren’s actions at Little Round Top demonstrate how the Chairman’s Desired Leader Attributes and the principles of Mission Command: “the ability to operate on intent through trust, empowerment and understanding” should work in a relationship between seniors and subordinates.

However with that being said, during the 1864 campaign in Virginia, Warren was often disconnected from his senior commanders.  During the campaign acted in a manner that did not always contribute to successful mission command, even when events proved him to be correct. During the campaign there were times that his temper, angry outbursts and depression severely hampered his ability to operate on intent, through trust, empowerment and understanding.

In a way the harsh actions of Grant and Sheridan at Five Forks to send a message to the senior leaders of the Army of the Potomac was correct. Unfortunately they directed that action at the wrong man at the wrong time. What Grant and Sheridan did to Warren was without doubt as grave injustice as ever done to any American commander during the prosecution of any war. However, though they were wrong in what they did to Warren “had the same fate been visited upon one or two of the Army of the Potomac’s less-than-stellar corps commanders back in 1862 or 1863, to serve as an indelible lesson to that army’s high command…” [27] much good might have been accomplished and the war in the East brought to an end sooner.  But through their unjust actions General Gouverneur K. Warren “became a martyr to no cause at all.” [28]

Warren’s life also serves to remind us of the ethics of our profession, that it is possible for good officers, even excellent officers and leaders to do things that hinder or even hurt the ability to maintain the sense of trust required by their command or staff position. The conflicting personalities of Warren and Sheridan demonstrate this lack of trust which culminated in Warren’s relief.

Warren was a tragic hero, brilliant, courageous and caring. He was also was likely suffering from psychological wounds of war. It was probably these unseen wounds that caused him to be misunderstood in the moment of perceived crisis by men that neither knew him nor appreciated him. Loomis Langdon, who served as the official recorder for the board of inquiry which exonerated Warren after his death wrote:

“I had never met General Warren till he came before his Court of Inquiry…I learned to value his good opinion – and while I admired him for his great patience, his wonderful energy, habit of concentration, his vast learning and untiring application, I loved him for his tenderness, gentleness and charity, even to those whom he believed had combined to do him a cruel wrong; and I admired him for his nobleness of character and his courage and unselfish patriotism.” [29]

It is easy for military professionals to become totally focused in our profession, especially the details of planning and process to forget the humanity of those that we serve alongside. Warren is one of those complex figures who are not easy to categorize.  His biographer Jordan wrote that:

“Warren was a man with fine intellect, widely read, and of keen sensibilities. He was also an excellent engineer, mapmaker, and scientist. He was a soldier who cared much for the safety and welfare of the men under him, and he was sickened by the appalling carnage of the war in which he took such a prominent part. He was arrogant and proud, and he hesitated hardly at all in putting down those of his colleagues he regarded as inferiors. His mind’s eye took in much beyond what was his immediate concern, but this gift worked against him in the hierarchical realm of military life. Warren was prone to long sieges of depression, and he himself agreed that others found him morose and unsmiling…” [30]

In reading military history is far too easy to isolate and analyze a commander’s actions in battle and ignore the rest of their lives. In the case of Warren where there is so much controversy, this is particularly important. We have to honestly evaluate his strengths and weaknesses and not fall into the trap that many do by isolating a particular event or personality trait, be it good or bad, and using and then using it to turn the person into an icon, or to destroy the subject of our work.

Those that commit this error render a great disservice to the men themselves. In time of war nearly everyone who serves in combat, gives up something of themselves and sometimes the effects last long after the war is over. Sadly there are times when the lives and reputations of heroes like Gouverneur Warren can be destroyed, not only by their personality failings or weaknesses; by the affliction of Combat Stress injuries as well as the actions of people in the institutions that they serve.

This is the challenge for current military leaders, for within the ranks of our military, including those of the officer corps there are men and women who are very much like the troubled hero of Little Round Top, Brigadier General Gouverneur Kemble Warren.

Notes

[1] ibid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.305

[2] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p176

[3] Sears, Stephen W. Controversies and Commanders Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1999 pp.278

[4] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.316

[5] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.257

[6] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.317

[7] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.262

[8] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders pp.275-276

[9] Inid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.328

[10] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.272

[11] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.255

[12] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.232

[13] Nesbitt, Mark Through Blood and Fire: Selected Civil War Paper of Major General Joshua Chamberlain Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 1996 Amazon Kindle edition location 2113 of 2800

[14] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.278

[15] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.175

[16] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York 2005 p.374

[17] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.236

[18] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 p.514

[19] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.402

[20] Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.330

[21] Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.330

[22] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.307

[23] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.244

[24] Foote Shelby The Civil War, a Narrative, Volume Three: Red River to Appomattox Random House, New York 1974 p.874  

[25] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.309

[26] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.308

[27] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.284

[28] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.284

[29] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.309

[30] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren preface pp.x-xi

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2 Comments

Filed under civil war, ethics, History, leadership, Military

2 responses to “Tragic Heroes: Gouverneur Warren Part Five

  1. Scott Stokes

    What did Warren die from… kidney failure, resulting from diabetes? Could his depression during the last year of the war be early symbols of this? Combat Fatigue, lack of sleep, eating habits, PTSD dating all the way back to serving in the Indian Wars before the Civil War, when Warren carried a wounded Indian child in his arms after her village was attacked; may have all contributed to Warren’s “short fused” character.

    And what of George Meade – he initially supported Warren because Warren backed him up during Congressional hearings about Meade’s performance at Gettysburg. But Warren’s messages in response to orders, and his “temper tantrum” with Meade during the battles for Spotsylvania Court house eroded Meade’s support for him. Then Meade “lost it” himself with his won his “temper tantrum” with the news media and Grant’s broken promises of promotion; instead Grant promoted his cronies first (including Sheridan), caused Meade to have to look out for himself.

    Sheridan not only resented Warren criticism to Meade for blocking the way of the 5th Crops with his cavalry, the night of May 7, 1864, but Sheridan, after Five Forks, claimed he won the battle and thus won the war, a claim which displayed his real character. And in Sheridan’s Memoirs he claimed Meade changed his orders the night of May 7, 1864, thus causing the battles for Spotsylvania Court house.

    Poor Warren, in the end, he was his own worst enemy, but was surrounded by ambitious and self-serving leaders who won the war at a terrible cost of life, which Warren can’t help but constantly point out to them, until they disgraced him by removing him from command only days before the war ended.

    • padresteve

      Thank you for your comments. I wrestled with those questions and pretty much agree with you, but in the draft, which this is I left them out for the sake of brevity. But they all do factor in to the tragedy of his life. Since I suffer from PTSD and TBI, and have often felt often felt the same way toward seniors that I thought were incompetent or uncaring, I find a deep kinship with Warren.

      Thank you again for taking the amount of time you did to make this excellent comment.

      Peace

      Steve+

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