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“We Must Fight them More Vindictively” The American Civil War: From Limited War to a People’s War

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Here is another reworked section of my Civil War and Gettysburg text. It deals with how the how the American Civil War changed from being a limited war to a people’s war, driven by a mutual hatred and hostility. It has been a while since I did any real work on the article which is a part of one of my Civil War book drafts.

The American Civil War was the first war which came close to approximating Clausewitz’s definition of total war, and though it was ignored by world military leaders as an aberration over for fifty years, it prefigured the Wold Wars, as well as the civil wars of the 20th Century. It demonstrates that once the genie of war is out of the bottle, and the passionate hatreds of people are unleashed, that policy will adjust itself. Most wars can and should be averted if leaders work to control the fear and passions of their people and not as so often the case stoke the fires of those fears and passions into an uncontrollable rage directed against the intended target. This is especially true in civil wars which are often waged with a ruthlessness unseat in most wars conducted by nation states against other nation states, unless those wars are driven by religion, ideology, or ethnic hatred.

The fact is as Ulysses Grant so well noted: There are no fixed laws of war which are not subject to the conditions of the country, the climate and the habits of the people. The laws of successful war in one generation would ensure the defeat in another.” 

We would be well to heed these lessons today, because they are not contained to civil wars but the same passionate hatreds fuel every people’s war or total war. Don’t make the mistake of so many who don’t believe such things can happen.

So I hope that you find this interesting and informative.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

The Beginning: Limited War

At the beginning of the war President Lincoln attempted a strategy of conciliation in order to attempt to coax seceding states back into the Union and by conciliation to keep those considering seceding from doing so. However, Lincoln’s attempts were met with outright rejection, before, during, and after the secession crisis.

Lincoln spoke directly to the Southern states in his First Inaugural Address, saying “We are not enemies, but friends,” [1] only to be accused of deliberately lying to the South by pledging to maintain control of Federal installations and forts in the South, like Fort Sumter which was now surrounded by massed batteries of Confederate artillery and demands that it surrender. Jefferson Davis wrote, “The Lincoln Administration deliberately lied to us, baiting us with false promises and pacific pledges all the while it was planning for war. Never in history has a government behaved with such malicious deceit and bad faith.” [2]

When the troops of South Carolina opened fire on Fort Sumter the die was cast, and Lincoln chose the path of war in order to restore the Union, “not because he wanted to, but because the South forced his hand.” [3] His proclamation calling for troops to suppress the rebellion described the kind of war that he foresaw, “the utmost care will be observed… to avoid any devastation, any destruction of, or interference with, property, or any disturbance of peaceful citizens in any part of the country.” [4]

Though he pursued the option of war to restore the Union, Lincoln initially adopted a soft-war strategy in which Confederate armies were the target. This was in large part due to the efforts of Secretary of State Henry Seward and General-in-Chief Winfield Scott. Though he adopted a strategy that required the North to conquest the South, initially he did so with the expectation that after battlefield defeats the Confederates would eventually return to the Union. It was a limited war strategy, “based on an assumption that a majority of the southern people were loyal to the Union and that eleven states had been swept into secession by the passions of the moment.” [5] In fact it was hardly a military strategy at all, “but more of a police action to quell a rather large riot.” [6]

After the defeat at First Bull Run, Congress passed a resolution defining Union war aims. It is notable in terms of how soft and its deference to the feelings of Southerners. Introduced by Senator John J. Crittenden of Kentucky, a key border John popethat had not seceded but had declared its neutrality, the resolution stated:

“Resolved by the House of Representatives of the Congress of the United States, That the present deplorable civil war has been forced upon us by the disunionists of the Southern States now in revolt against the constitutional Government and in arms around the capital; that in this national emergency Congress, banishing all feelings of mere passion or resentment, will recollect only its duty to the whole country; that this war is not waged upon our part in any spirit of oppression, nor for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, nor purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights and institutions of those States, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and to preserve the Union, with all the dignity, equality, and rights of the several States unimpaired; and that as soon as these objects are accomplished that the war ought to cease.” [7]

It was an incredibly weak statement of war aims based on the notion that most Southerners were actually Unionists and would come back to the Union. The feeling was increased by some early victories, particularly those of McClellan to secure West Virginia, and Grant and Flag Officer Foote in by the west in their capture of Forts Henry and Donaldson. For a brief time these victories seemed to confirm the validity of such an approach.

Winfield Scott

But the issue was not just with the politicians. Many early Union commanders raised in the niceties of Jominian limited war, and sometimes restrained by their religious upbringings were averse to taking casualties. Winfield Scott believed that only a thin line separated war from murder, and before Bull Run the elderly general noted, “No Christian nation… can be justified in waging war in such a way as shall destroy five hundred and one lives, when the object of the war can be attained at the cost of five hundred. Every man killed beyond the number absolutely required is murdered.” [8]

George McClellan was also casualty averse, he told his soldiers that he would watch over them “as a parent over his children…. It shall be my care, as it ever has been, to gain success with the least possible loss…” [9] But McClellan’s “fixation with avoiding casualties, revealed a deep sensitivity of nature admirable in most of life’s pursuits but crippling in war. Battle evokes the cruelest probing of the general in command: young men will die and be maimed, win or lose; and the hard choice must be made when opportunity offers, which may (or may not) save many more lives in the long run than will be lost in a day.” [10]

Even George Gordon Meade who would command the Army of the Potomac during Gettysburg, which was the bloodiest battle of the war, and who under Grant would be involved in other costly battles “believed that to ensure minimal losses on both sides, the North should prosecute the war “like an afflicted parent who is compelled to chastise his erring child, and who performs the duty with a sad heart.” [11] The lack of resolve of many overly cautious generals, especially in the east to fight a hard war against the Confederates would lead to several bungled opportunities to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia, outside the gates of Richmond, at Antietam, and during the pursuit from Gettysburg.

But after series of defeats in the East in 1862 at the hands of a revitalized Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under the command of General Robert E. Lee served notice on Lincoln that the war would be more difficult than previously imagined, and that a hard war strategy was needed.

War, Statecraft and Strategy 

George McClellan

The strategies and operational methods employed by commanders such as Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and George McClellan embraces the tenants of Henri Jomini, the French military theorist and exponent of limited war, McClellan in his fixation with geographic places, Lee and Jackson in their love of the offensive. Each “failed to grasp the vital relationship between war and statecraft…. They might win victories – Lee won a series of spectacular ones – but they lacked the vision to win a mighty struggle between two societies.” [12] McClellan, told Lincoln “Woe to the general…who trusts in modern inventions, and neglects the principles of strategy.” But modern inventions, the railroad and the rifle, had conspired with mass citizen armies, themselves reflecting the ideologies of democratic society, to undermine the principles he espoused.” [13] McClellan, who had so deeply imbibed of the theories of Jomini, could not see that war had changed and the principles of Jomini could not win the war against the Confederacy, but others in the North would begin to see this.

But public sentiment in the North was beginning to shift, while there were still a good number of politicians willing to either let the South go its own way or to allow it to return with little substantive change, others were beginning to realize that the people of the South were serious about secession and were irreconcilable in their view that the break between them and the North was final. The New York Times which represented the views of moderate Republicans including Lincoln editorialized, “The country is tired of trifling…. We have been afraid of wounding rebel feelings, afraid of injuring rebel property, afraid of using, or under any circumstance, of freeing rebel slaves. Some of our Generals have fought the rebels – if fighting be it called – with their kid gloves on…” [14]

Lincoln was the political leader who first understood the connection, but militarily it was not until the “emergence of Grant and Sherman did Civil War military leadership break free of Jominian shackles to anticipate modern warfare.” [15] British military historian and theorist J.F.C. Fuller likened the change in the war to be a “return to barbarism,” and noted that “the more stubborn and indecisive became the fighting, and the more the outcome of the war was prolonged, the intenser grew the hatred, until frustration awakened a spirit of vengeance in the hearts of the Federals against the entire population of the South.” [16] Of course the hatred of the Confederacy came late as compared to much of the early nearly pathological and religious hatred of the Union by the radical secessionist, fire-eaters in Southern states even before the war began Thus, compared to the South, the hatred came slow, but when it boiled over the people of the South felt the pain of war as much as their armies did in the field.

Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson 

From Limited War to a Modern War 

While those who planned for a limited war like Winfield Scott and his Anaconda plan failed to understand the changing character of war, it did provide “both an education for Lincoln, and a firm foundation for the Union’s strategic thinking.” [17] The hard experience of war would point others in the same direction, including both Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, and it would be these men who along with Lincoln provided developed a grand strategy that would defeat the Confederacy. It was a strategy which was in line with the political goals of the North, and which marshaled the might of the Union military, diplomatic, economic, industrial and informational strengths, against the Confederacy.

In the South one of the few proponents of this new type of warfare was a former Regular Army officer and professor at the Virginia Military Institute, General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. In May of 1861 he moved across the Potomac to occupy the heights that surrounded Harper’s Ferry. Chastised by Lee, then serving as Jefferson Davis’s military adviser, Jackson proposed a strategy of invading the North and “burning Baltimore and Philadelphia and making Northerners understand on a visceral level what the war was going to cost them.” Likewise, he explained to Virginia Governor John Letcher a “black flag” strategy in which meant all Union prisoners of war would be summarily executed. [18]

Later Jackson had the chance to expound on his strategy to another general and suggested that he be given an army to cross the Potomac to “cut of the communications with Washington, force the Federal government to abandon the capital… destroy industrial establishments wherever we found them, break up the lines of interior intercourse, close the coal mines, seize and if necessary, destroy the manufactories of Philadelphia and of other large cities within our reach…. Subsist mainly on the country we traverse, and making unrelenting war amidst their home, force the people of the North to understand what it will cost them to hold the South in the Union at the bayonet’s point.” [19]

The fact that his plan was unrealistic based on the South’s actual military situation and capabilities, as well as opposed by Jefferson Davis as well as Robert E. Lee, takes nothing away from its similarity to the strategy later developed by Grant and Sherman. The problem was as Jefferson Davis wrote in July 1862, “The time and place for invasion has been a question not of will but power,” and then proceeded to recount a conversation with an unnamed Brigadier General the previous fall that appears whose plans did not match the reality of the number of troops available for such an operation. [20] From this meeting Davis got “the not altogether inaccurate idea that Jackson was an offense crazed fanatic.” [21] However, it shows that the desire to take the war to the enemy citizenry was not confined to the North and had the South had the military means that it many have attempted a similar strategy to that later employed by Grant and Sherman.

Grant, who had scored impressive victories at Forts Donaldson and Henry changed his view on how the war should be pursued after being roughly handled in the near disaster at Shiloh. After that battle, Grant gave up on the idea of limited war. He now believed that it was necessary to seize or destroy any property or resources that could be used to sustain the Confederate war effort. Before the Confederate counteroffensive at Shiloh Grant had said that he had been “carful to “protect the property of the citizens whose territory was invaded;” and afterwards his policy became to “consume everything that could be used to support or supply armies.” [22]

Harry Wager Halleck 

Henry Wager Halleck, who had long been a proponent of Jominian limited war in late 1862 under the influence of Francis Lieber. When Halleck heard complaints that General Horatio G. Wright was pursuing too soft of policy toward rebels in Kentucky, Halleck did not intervene, but offered strong advice to Wright. “Domestic traitors, who seek the overthrow of our Government, are not entitled to its protection and should be made to feel its power…. Make them suffer in their persons and property for their crimes and the suffering they have caused to others…. Let them feel that you have an iron hand; that you know how to apply it when necessary. Don’t be influenced by old political grannies.” [23]

Halleck also backed up Grant in August 1862 when Grant was beginning to pursue the hard war policy in the west by ordering Grant to “Take up all active [rebel] sympathizers… and hold them as prisoners or put them beyond our lines. Handle that class without gloves, and take their property for public use…. It is time that they should begin to feel the presence of the war.” [24]

As the war went on it became apparent to many people in the North, and in the armies on the front lines that harder measures were required, especially with the escalation of guerrilla attacks behind Union lines, as well as the involvement of Southern civilians in attacking Union troops in occupied areas of the South. “Senator John Sherman wrote his brother William of a growing sentiment “that we must treat these Rebels as bitter enemies to be subdued – conquered – by confiscation – by the employment of their slaves – by terror – energy – audacity – rather than by conciliation.” [25]

Ulysses S. Grant 

By early 1863 Grant was fully on board with the policy of the Union government, especially emancipation, and the need for the war to be carried through to a conclusion that would completely subjugate the Confederacy. He wrote to one of his generals, “Rebellion has assumed that shape now that it can only be terminated by the complete subjugation of the South or the overthrow of the Government. It is our duty, therefore, to use every means to weaken the enemy, by destroying their means of subsistence, withdrawing their means of cultivating their fields, and in every other way possible.” [26] Some Union military commanders other than Grant became early exponents of a hard and brutal war, among them was Major General John Pope, who as commander of the Army of Virginia issued a “series of orders authorizing his officers to seize Confederate property without compensation, to execute captive guerrillas who had fired on Union troops, and to expel from occupied territory any civilians who had sheltered guerrillas or who had refused to take an oath of allegiance to the United States.” [27] Jackson, who himself had once proposed the “black flag” strategy against the North and its soldiers “considered Pope’s orders “cruel and utterly barbarous.” [28]

Henry Halleck wrote to Grant in April 1863 that “the character of the war has changed very much…. There is now no possible hope of reconciliation with the rebels. The Union party in the South is virtually destroyed. There can be no peace but that which is forced upon it.” In May he wrote another general in Memphis, “We must live upon the enemy’s country as much as possible, and destroy his supplies. This is cruel warfare, but the enemy has brought it on himself by his own conduct.” [29]

As late as 1862 there were some in the North, especially in the Democratic Party fought against any move toward a harder war strategy. One of these was Major General George McClellan who in a brazen attempt to be named General-in-Chief after his failed Peninsular campaign attempted to school President Lincoln in the ways of politics and strategy.

“The time has come when the Government must determine upon a civil and military policy, covering the whole ground of our national trouble…. This rebellion has assumed the character of a war: as such it must be regarded; and should be conducted upon the highest principles known to Christian Civilization. It should not be a War looking to the subjugation of the people of any state, in any event. It should not be, at all, a War upon the population; but against armed forces and political organizations. Neither a confiscation of property, political executions of person, territorial organization of states or forcible abolition of slavery should be contemplated for a moment.” [30]

Strong Vincent 

McClellan’s Judge Advocate General, Colonel Strong Vincent, who would later play an important part in repulsing the Confederate assault on Little Round Top, was of the opposite opinion, Vincent wrote his wife after Chancellorsville:

“We must fight them more vindictively, or we shall be foiled at every step. We must desolate the country as we pass through it, and not leave a trace of a doubtful friend or foe behind us; make them believe that we are in earnest, terribly in earnest; that to break this band in twain is monstrous and impossible; that the life of every man, yea, of every weak woman or child in the entire South, is of no value whatever compared with the integrity of the Union.” [31]

Lincoln read McClellan’s letter in his presence and refused to comment upon it. One historian described Lincoln’s reaction to McClellan’s suggestion, “That policy had been pursued for over a year and Lincoln was convinced that it had failed. He was ready to move on.” [32] Instead of complying with McClellan’s demands Lincoln infuriated McClellan by naming Henry Halleck as General-in-Chief, calling for more troops, and deciding on a strategy in which emancipation would play a key role. Since the leaders of the Confederacy to its dying day refused to countenance emancipation, these decisions would change the character of the war from a limited war to bring about political reunion to a war that would drastically change American politics, economics, and society.

While the nature of war remained unchanged, the American Civil war dramatically changed the character of war, as it had been known for centuries, since the Peace of Westphalia, and the end of the Thirty Years War. In the American Civil War the character of war changed from the emphasis of the limited wars of the 18th Century and the Napoleonic era where opposing armies dueled each other into a war that encompassed the entire population. The changes challenged a generation of military officers who had grown up with Jomini’s principles of war and his emphasis on limited war including McClellan and Lee, but Grant, who had never read Jomini and denied the validity of general principles of war that were valid in all times wrote, “There are no fixed laws of war which are not subject to the conditions of the country, the climate and the habits of the people. The laws of successful war in one generation would ensure the defeat in another.” [33]

The leading catalyst that convinced Lincoln and other Northern leaders of the need to abandon the strategy of limited war was the fact that the Confederates had “blurred the distinction between combatants and non-combatants in the parts of the Confederacy and border states occupied by Union forces. The crops and livestock of Southern civilians were feeding and clothing Confederate armies. Their slaves were the principal labor force in the Confederate War economy. Thousands of Southern civilians became guerrillas who roamed behind Union lines destroying supplies and ambushing unarmed as well as armed Unionists.” [34]

William Tecumseh Sherman

The Union reaction to the Confederate actions would portent a change in the war. And soon, the war bordered on Clausewitz’s definition of absolute or total war, especially in Sherman’s march through Georgia and the Carolinas, and in the actions of Confederate irregulars who used terror against Unionist civilians. The actions of irregular Confederate forces to attack his troops and supply lines caused Sherman, who earlier in the war had taken a conciliatory attitude to Southern civilians, to change his views.

Sherman tried to warn his Southern friends that the war they so fervently sought would lead them to disaster:

“You people speak so lightly of war. You don’t know what you are talking about. . . . You mistake . . . the people of the North. They . . . are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it. . . . The North can make a steam-engine, locomotive or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or shoes can you [the South] make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical and determined people on earth—right at your doors. . . . Only in your spirit and determination are you prepared for war. In all else you are totally unprepared, with a bad cause to start with . . . in the end you will surely fail.” [35]

The Confederates themselves had blurred the lines between combatants and non-combatants. Sherman noted that the Union army must act “on the proper rule that all in the South are enemies of all in the North….. The whole country is full of guerrilla bands…. The entire South, man woman, and child, is against us, armed and determined.” [36]

Notes 

[1] Weigley, Russell F. The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy University of Indiana Press, Bloomington IN, 1973 p.133

[2] Davis, Jefferson in Oates, Stephen B. The Approaching Fury: Voices of the Storm 1820-1861 University of Nebraska Press. Lincoln and London, 1997 p.413

[3] Stoker, Donald The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2010 p.18

[4] Ibid. Weigley The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy p.133

[5] Ibid. McPherson Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution p.75

[6] Ibid. McPherson Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution p.75

[7] U.S. Congress The Crittenden Resolution of July 22, 1861 in The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection edited by William E. Gienapp, W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 2001 p.117

[8] Faust, Drew Gilpin, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York 2008 p.34

[9] Sears, Stephen W. To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 1992 p.21

[10] Sears, Stephen W. Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam Houghton-Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1983 p.32

[11] Ibid. Faust This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War p.34

[12] Gallagher, Gary W. “Upon Their Success Hang Momentous Interests”: Generals in Why the Confederacy Lost edited by Gabor S. Boritt, Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford 1992 p.86

[13] Strachan, Hew European Armies and the Conduct of War George Allen and Unwin Publishers, Ltd. London 1983 p.73

[14] McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief Penguin Books, New York and London 2008 p.105

[15] Ibid. Gallagher “Upon Their Success Hang Momentous Interests” p.86

[16] Fuller, J.F.C. A Military History of the Modern World, Volume Three: From the Seven Days Battle, 1862, to the Battle of Leyte Gulf, 1944 Minerva Press 1956 p.107

[17] Ibid. Stoker The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War p.411

[18] Gwynne, Samuel C. Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson Scribner, a Division of Simon and Schuster New York 2014 p.45

[19] Ibid. Gwynne Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson p.173

[20] Davis, Jefferson, Letter to John Forsyth July 18th 1862 in Major Problems in American Military History edited by John Whiteclay Chambers II and G. Kurt Piehler, Houghton-Mifflin and Company, Boston and New York 1999 pp.159-160

[21] Ibid. Gwynne Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson p.172

[22] McPherson, James M. Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1996 p.76

[23] Marszalek, John F. Commander of All of Lincoln’s Armies: A Life of General Henry W. Halleck The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 2004 p.168

[24] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.79

[25] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief p.103

[26] Catton, Bruce. Grant Moves South Castle Books, New York, 2000, originally published by Little Brown and Company, New York 1960 p.402

[27] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.79

[28] Ibid. Gwynne Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson p.396

[29] Ambrose, Stephen E. Halleck: Lincoln’s Chief of Staff Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge and London 1960 and 1992 p.119

[30] McClellan, George B. Letter to Abraham Lincoln July 7, 1862 in Perman, Michael and Murrell Taylor, Amy editors Major Problems in the Civil War and Reconstruction: Documents and Essays Third Edition Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 p.140

[31] Nevins, James H. and Styple, William B. What Death More Glorious: A Biography of General Strong Vincent Belle Grove Publishing Company, Kearney NJ 1997 p.57

[32] Gallagher, Gary W. The 1862 Richmond Campaign as a Watershed in Major Problems in the Civil War and Reconstruction: Documents and Essays Third Edition Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 p.157

[33] Ibid. Strachan European Armies and the Conduct of War p.73

[34] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters p.35

[35] McDonough, James Lee. William Tecumseh Sherman: In the Service of My Country: A Life, W.W. Norton and Company, New York, 2016, p. 233

[36] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.81

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The Development of Cavalry in the American Civil War

gallonbuyingtime

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today, since I am tired and it looks like I am not get a chance to write anything new before we begin our trip to Germany I am going to  I am post a revised part of one of my Civil War texts.  This one deals with the organization, use, and development of cavalry during the war in the United States Army and the Army of the Confederate States Army.  

Peace

Padre Steve+

Cavalry in the United States in the ante-bellum period and during the war differed from the massive cavalry arms of European armies. In Europe the major armies had two types of cavalry units, light cavalry which was used for scouting, reconnaissance and screening, and heavy cavalry which was designed to be employed at the decisive moment of the battle in order to break enemy infantry formations through the shock of the massed charge. Napoleon always had a number of reserve cavalry corps to fulfill this mission.

The United States had little in the way of a cavalry tradition. Cavalry was considered by many American political leaders to be too aristocratic for America and as a result this arm of service suffered. In its early years the U.S. Army did not have any sizable mounted formations to call upon.

There were a number of other reasons for the cultural and institutional resistance to a strong were trained and armed cavalry service in the United States Army.

First, the nation as a whole distrusted large standing armies and viewed them as a source of potential tyranny and traditional cavalry was the most aristocratic part of European armies. The struggle between Federalists who desired a standing army and a militia that could be organized under central control and Republicans who wanted nothing of the sort was a constant source of friction in the new republic. Anti-Federalists saw standing armies as despotic, as one anti-federalist publication noted “In despotic governments, as well as in all the monarchies of Europe, standing armies are kept to execute the commands of the prince or magistrate…. By establishing an armed force to execute the laws at the point of the bayonet – a government of all others is the most to be dreaded.” [1]

As such, much of the nation’s military spending was focused on the Navy, which was deemed as less of a domestic threat, and even then the limited budgets meant that many times significant numbers of ships were laid up in ordinary. The Regular Army struggled to maintain its existence from 1787 until the War of 1812 in the face of Republican opposition led by Thomas Jefferson. After the War of 1812 the nation soon lost interest in paying for a standing army and in 1821 against the wishes of Secretary of War John C. Calhoun slashed “the Army’s strength by eliminating regiments and reducing the number of officers.” [2] With appropriations cut to the bone there was no effort to create a cavalry arm for the service as cavalry formations were much more expensive to equip and maintain than infantry.

Even though the Regular Army survived, it was tiny in. Its strength ranged from 3,000 to 6,000 men, the bulk were infantry who for the most part formed a frontier constabulary or manned coastal fortifications. However, in 1796 two companies of Dragoons were authorized, but even so the mounted arm remained a poor stepchild. Likewise, “Doctrinal resistance to battle cavalry was also very strong. The ‘American’ tradition had no place for such an animal….” [3]

Finally as the nation expanded westward the army formed the First Dragoon Regiment in 1833. In 1836 the Second Dragoons were organized. The Dragoons were basically mounted infantry formations and these units were scattered about the expanding western frontiers of the nation were employed “guarding the routes of expansion as far west as the Rocky Mountains and as far south as the Red River.” The army also formed Mounted Infantry units, which like the Dragoons were hybrid formations. Though many thought that such units promised “a double return on the government’s investment, but which did not manage to provide either an efficient force of infantry or an efficient battle force of cavalry.” [4]

The First Dragoons would serve with “distinction in numerous engagements in what was to become California and New Mexico.”[5] The regiment fought well in the War with Mexico but suffered heavy casualties in the process. When the war ended it was again dispersed on the frontier when it was used to protect settlers and fight Native American tribes that resisted the advance of the flood of white settlers.

One of the reasons for the heavy losses sustained by the First Dragoons in Mexico was because “West Point cavalry doctrine was based upon a Napoleonic mania for the massed saber charge.” [6] However, one problem with this was that the United States Army never had sufficient numbers of cavalry, not to mention a death of heavy cavalry needed to make such attacks successful, but in Mexico the limited number of cavalry troops available made such tactics untenable. The tactic had often worked well for Napoleon and massed cavalry charges were used to sweep the field of broken enemy infantry formation. However, the suicidal charge of Marshal Ney’s vaunted Cuirassiers against the Duke of Wellington’s highly disciplined infantry squares at Waterloo had shown that such tactics were destined for extinction unless they were part of an all arms assault. Marshal Ney failed because he used his cavalry in unsupported attacks against the allied infantry squares rather advancing artillery to support the attack or bringing infantry up to force the defenders out of their squares.

It was not until the 1850s that the army organized its first two Cavalry regiments for duty on the frontier. The new cavalry regiments were the equivalent of European light cavalry and during the war primarily served in that role, conducting reconnaissance, raids, and screening the army. Even so the tactical doctrine taught at West Point focused continued to “support the continuing predominance of the offense over the defense, of shock over firepower” [7] which was at odds with the cavalry’s actual capabilities.

Cavalry regiments were usually composed of four to six squadrons, each squadron having two companies. Cavalry regiments could range in size from 660 to nearly 1,200 troopers. Both the Union and the Confederacy grouped their cavalry into brigades and later divisions, but the Confederates were first to establish cavalry brigades and divisions. By 1863 both the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac each formed cavalry corps. Cavalry tactics “complemented conventional infantry assault tactics, emphasizing shock and the role of the saber”; unfortunately both the infantry and the cavalry developed their doctrine independently. U.S. Army Cavalry doctrine was prescribed in Philip St. George Cooke’s Cavalry Tactics which was published in 1861 while a corresponding Confederate manual, Joseph Wheeler’s A Revised System of Cavalry Tactics appeared in 1863.

Before the war American cavalry units tended to operate in small numbers with regiments seldom sending into action more than a few companies at once. At the beginning of the war the Federal government decided to form just five mounted regiments, including two of Dragoons and one of Mounted Infantry. It soon decided to add a sixth but the units were hindered by the fact that many of their officers had gone to the Confederacy, and some of those remaining “would jump to volunteer units to secure higher rank, pay, and prestige.”[8] The result was defeat after defeat at the hands of J.E.B. Stuart’s Confederate cavalry.

Eventually large scale programs to train and equip large numbers of volunteers and the Regulars combined with wartime reorganizations and solid leadership would make the Federal cavalry a force that was able to hold its own and then to sweep Confederate cavalry from the field. But it took time to train cavalry, and early Union commanders like McClellan refused to take that time and a “whole year was lost as a result, during which the cavalry was allowed to indoctrinate itself in the notion that it could never make use of European standards.” [9] While McClellan may have done well in organizing and training the infantry and artillery of the Army of the Potomac, he did little in the way of providing the mounted arm with leaders, training or missions that would increase their effectiveness. Unlike Stuart who combined his troopers with effective horse artillery, McClellan “failed to appreciate the advantage of coordinating the tactical strengths of cavalry with those of infantry and artillery.” [10]

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J.E.B. Stuart

While the South did struggle at times with its cavalry arm but did have an advantage in that the vast majority of their cavalry troopers owned their mounts and were experienced horsemen, something that could not be said of the many city dwellers who volunteered for duty in the Union cavalry. But the initial Southern superiority in cavalry was also due to the fact that “the principal of massing regiments into brigades and divisions was pursued earlier than by the Federal.” [11] In contrast McClellan “followed the evil course of reducing mounted regiments to their smallest components for operational use.” Likewise, he “wasted cavalry’s potential and depressed its morale by employing it as couriers, bodyguards for his subordinates, pickets for his encampments, and wagon train escorts, instead of as combat troops.” [12] The result as one would expect was that for the first two years of the war “J.E.B. Stuart and his horsemen were able, literally, to run rings around their opponents.” [13]

One Union writer compared the development of the Confederate and Union cavalry arms during the war:

“The habits of the Southern people facilitated the formation of cavalry corps which were comparatively efficient even without instruction; and accordingly we see Stuart, John Morgan, and Forrest riding around with impunity around the Union armies, and destroying or harassing their communications. Late in the war that agency was reversed. The South was exhausted of horses, while the Northern cavalry increased in numbers and efficiency, and acquired the audacity which had characterized the Southern.” [14]

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John Buford

As such much of the initial improvement in the Union cavalry arm were due to solid commanders like Brigadier General John Buford to teach new recruits as well as discouraged veterans to become effective cavalrymen.

Cavalry remained a fairly small in comparison to the infantry and artillery branches of service. Even during the wartime expansion the amount of cavalry available was miniscule compared to European armies. On the average only about 8% of the Army of the Potomac was composed of cavalry, compared to Napoleon’s 20 to 25%. [15] Part of this was due to the perceived cost of the cavalry arm which many believed was too expensive to maintain on a large scale: “estimates held that every twelve companies mounted and outfitted at public expense would rob the Treasury of over $300,000 a year merely to cover upkeep on animals, remounts, weapons, and equipment….” [16]

The cost of equipping cavalry was high enough that in the South that troopers had to procure their own mounts. Edwin Coddington noted that the Confederate policy “was a wonderful arrangement for keeping the strength of the cavalry below par, much more than enemy bullets, for it encouraged absenteeism.” [17] The Confederate government paid the own for the use of the horse, and a cash reimbursement if it was lost in combat, but if it was lost in any other manner the soldier had to get another horse if he wanted to remain in the service. Since the Confederates never set up a “centralized replacement service” troopers who lost their mount “had to go home to procure a new horse. If he were a Virginian he needed from thirty to sixty days to accomplish his purpose, and a much longer time should he have to come deeper south.” [18]

Despite the doctrinal predilection to the offense and using the cavalry as a shock unit, the U.S. Army formed no heavy cavalry formations on the order of the famous French Cuirassiers, named after their armored breastplates and metal helmets which were the primary type of cavalry used in Europe for such tactics. As such, during the Civil War both Union and Confederate cavalry formations were primarily assigned to reconnaissance and screening missions normally conducted by light cavalry units in Europe. These larger formations began to be used en masse for the purpose of raiding by both sides “but in the hands of J.E.B Stuart and his friends it became little more than a license to roam off into the enemy’s rear areas looking for plunder and glory.”[19] The cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac was used in a similar manner to raid enemy rear areas with often dreadful results which contributed nothing to the overall goal of defeating Lee’s army. A prime example was when Joseph Hooker detached his newly formed Cavalry Corps under George Stoneman to raid Richmond leaving the flank of the army uncovered at Chancellorsville.

Quite often the soldiers assigned to the infantry and artillery had little use for the cavalry who they saw as pampered and contributing little to the war. Many infantrymen held the “cavalry in open contempt. “These cavalry are a positive nuisance,” an officer in the 123rd Illinois wrote. “They won’t fight, and whenever they are around they are always in the way of those who will fight.” [20] Disdainful Confederate infantrymen “greeted their cavaliers with “Here’s your mule!” and “their Federal counterparts would exclaim: “There’d going to be a fight, boy; the cavalry’s running back!” and “Whoever saw a dead cavalryman.”[21]

The lethality of the rifled musket also made the classic Napoleonic cavalry charge against enemy infantry a costly and dangerous enterprise if the enemy infantry still had the means to make organized resistance, and if the cavalry assault was not supported by infantry and cavalry.. An example of this was the ill-fated cavalry attack ordered by Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick against the men of Lafayette McLaws’s well prepared division on the Confederate right after the failure of Pickett’s Change at Gettysburg.

Cavalry tactics began to change during the war. Both sides used their cavalry for raids, sometimes very large ones, and operations against enemy partisans in their rear areas. In each case the cavalry was typically deployed by itself and even when it accompanied the armies into battle cavalry units were typically employed on the periphery of the battle. As such as Griffith wrote, “Civil War doctrine of raiding… was not only a deliberate turn away from the hope of victory on the battlefield, but it actually removed the means by which victory might have been won at the very moment when those means were at last starting to be properly efficient.” [22] The lack of heavy cavalry of the European model sometimes kept commanders from completing victories, one can only imagine what would have happened had George Meade had a division of heavy cavalry at hand to sweep the Confederates from the battlefield after Pickett’s Charge.

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Philip Sheridan

Tactics only began to change when General Philip Sheridan took command of Grant’s cavalry. Sheridan kept the cavalry close to the main body of the arm. Sheridan had replaced Major General Alfred Pleasanton as commander of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac in early 1864. It is quite possible had he not died in December 1863 that the post would have gone to John Buford, but Sheridan had a vision for the cavalry that foreshadowed modern operational art. Sheridan wanted to organize the Cavalry Corps by concentrating it “into a powerful striking arm. He desired to do this, first, to deal with the Confederate cavalry, on the theory that “with a mass of ten thousand mounted men… I could make it so lively for the enemy’s cavalry that… the flanks and rear of the Army of the Potomac would require little or no defense.” [23] Sheridan was making no idle boast as by now his troops “were not only more numerous, but they had better leaders, tactics, and equipment than before,” [24] especially when it came to the Spencer repeating rifle which was now standard issue for the cavalrymen, and which gave them a tremendous advantage in firepower over Stuart’s now ill-equipped troops.

Sheridan first did this at the beginning of the Wilderness campaign when he took his 10,000 strong corps around the Confederate flank. Sheridan had been quarreling with Meade about the latter’s insistence that Sheridan’s horsemen were clogging the roads that his infantry needed to advance upon. In the heated discussion Sheridan came very close to being insubordinate with Meade. Meade reportedly told Sheridan that “Stuart “will do about how he pleases anyhow” to which Sheridan supposedly replied “Damn Stuart, I can trash hell out of him any day.” [25] Furious, Meade went and reported the matter to Grant. Grant listened and replied “Did Sheridan say that?… He usually knows what he is talking about. Let him go ahead and do it.” [26] At Grant’s request Meade provided Sheridan with new orders to concentrate his cavalry, march south and engage Stuart’s cavalry. Unlike previous raids which sought to avoid battle with Stuart’s troops in order to hit prescribed objectives, above all Sheridan wanted to engage and defeat the legendary Confederate cavalier. He “defined the raid as “a challenge to Stuart for a cavalry duel behind Lee’s lines in his own country.” And the more there were of the gray riders when the showdown was at hand, the better he would like it, since that would mean there were more to be smashed up.” [27]

Sheridan’s column totaled nearly 13,000 men and was nearly 13 miles long as he proceeded at a slow pace around Lee’s army and south towards Richmond. In addition to his horsemen he brought all of his horse artillery batteries. He was well around Lee’s flank before he was discovered and during the march his troops burned a depot and over one hundred railroad cars containing “close to a million rations of meat and better than a half million of bread, along with Lee’s entire reserve of medical stores.” [28]

On May 11th Stuart managed to intercept Sheridan’s column at a place called Yellow Tavern, just south of Ashland and the Ana River, but his corps was outnumbered by at least three to one. Three well trained, experienced, equipped, and superbly led Federal cavalry divisions confronted Stuart. With no hopes of fighting an offensive action, Stuart’s troops fought dismounted and were routed by the superior Bluecoats who continued on to cut the railroad between Lee’s army and Richmond. During the battle Stuart, who had cheated death on a number of occasions was mortally wounded. The Confederate cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia would never recover, and to Southerners Stuart’s death was a profound psychological blow, only slightly worse than that of Stonewall Jackson a year before. Robert E. Lee, to who Stuart was like a son took the loss harder than he had taken Jackson’s. “I can scarcely think of him without weeping,” he told one of Stuart’s officers.” [29]

As the armies in the East and West dueled throughout 1864, Sheridan and other Federal cavalry officers transformed the Union cavalry into a striking force which could be the spearhead of the army and use new tactics to overcome the problem of combining fire with rapid maneuver which had never been satisfactory applied by the infantry. There were four components in the new tactical mix: “fast operational mobility on horseback out of contact with the enemy; a willingness to take cover and fight on foot when the enemy was close; new repeating carbines to give enhanced firepower; and a mounted reserve to make the sabre charge when the moment was ripe.” [30] Sheridan would apply these tactics in his later campaigns against Jubal Early in the Shenandoah Valley and during the Appomattox campaign and his cavalry, working with infantry and artillery smashed the beleaguered Confederate armies which tried to oppose them. The reorganized cavalry was not the answer to all of the battlefield problems faced by Civil War commanders but it gave Union commanders an impressive weapon in which the speed and firepower of the cavalry could be readily combined with artillery and infantry to achieve decisive results. On the Confederate side, General Joseph Wheeler who commanded the cavalry in the west, Wheeler usually fought dismounted in “skirmish order using field fortification, whether skirmishing independently or in the line…. In the last major action of the war, he dramatically displayed how cavalry had become tactically integrated with infantry. At Bentonville, while fighting his cavalry dismounted, first on the right, then moving around to the left flank, Wheeler constructed a line of breastworks 1,200 yards long.” [31]

European cavalry officers found little to admire in American use of cavalry. Few paid attention to the importance of fighting dismounted and working as part of a combined arms team. In August 1914 their cavalry formations paid severe price for ignoring the realities of modern war, realities which the Americans, both Union and Confederate learned during the Civil War.

Notes

[1] ____________ Anti-Federalists Fear a Large Military “Brutus I.” “To the Citizens of the State of New York” 1787 in Major Problems in American Military History edited by John Whiteclay Chambers II and G. Kurt Piehler, Houghton-Mifflin and Company, Boston and New York 1999 p. 103

[2] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States p.122

[3] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.181

[4] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.181

[5] Longacre, Edward G. John Buford: A Military Biography Da Capo Press, Perseus Book Group, Cambridge MA p.33

[6] Thomas, Emory M. Bold Dragoon: The Life of J.E.B. Stuart University of Oklahoma Press, Norman OK 1986 and 1999 p.30

[7] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.21

[8] Longacre, Edward G. The Cavalry at Gettysburg: A Tactical Study of Mounted Operations, during the Civil War’s Pivotal Campaign, 9 June- 14 July 1863. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1986 p.44

[9] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.182

[10] Ibid. Longacre The Cavalry at Gettysburg: A Tactical Study of Mounted Operations, during the Civil War’s Pivotal Campaign, 9 June- 14 July 1863 p.45

[11] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.181

[12] Ibid. Longacre The Cavalry at Gettysburg: A Tactical Study of Mounted Operations, during the Civil War’s Pivotal Campaign, 9 June- 14 July 1863 p.45

[13] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.183

[14] Buell, Don Carlos. East Tennessee and the Campaign of Perryville 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.51

[15] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.181

[16] Ibid. Longacre The Cavalry at Gettysburg: A Tactical Study of Mounted Operations, during the Civil War’s Pivotal Campaign, 9 June- 14 July 1863 p.43

[17] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.17

[18] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.17

[19] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.183

[20] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.20

[21] Ibid. Longacre The Cavalry at Gettysburg: A Tactical Study of Mounted Operations, during the Civil War’s Pivotal Campaign, 9 June- 14 July 1863 p.45

[22] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War pp.183-184

[23] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History 1861-1865 p.369

[24] Ibid. Whelan Bloody Spring: Forty Days that Sealed the Confederacy’s Fate p.181

[25] Ibid. Thomas Bold Dragoon: The Life of J.E.B. Stuart p.288

[26] Catton, Bruce Grant Takes Command Little, Brown, and Company, New York, Toronto, London 1968 and 1969 p.216

[27]Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three Red River to Appomattox p.564 p.224

[28] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three Red River to Appomattox p.564 p.225

[29] Ibid. Korda, Clouds of Glory p.626

[30] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.184

[31] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.298

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What a Long Strange Trip it’s Been: This Navy Chaplain’s Work Becomes Part of an Army Operational Manual

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I received word yesterday of something that I think is really cool. I was asked by the Army Combined Arms Directorate at Fort Leavenworth for permission to include an adaptation of a portion of my Gettysburg text as a one page vignette for the new edition of Army Doctrine Publication 5-0, The Operations Process. This will be published in January 2019 and gives the Army permission to use it in this as well as other Army and Joint publications for twenty years.

This is kind of a big thing for me. Now it will not generate any royalties, but it will get my work out to a much larger audience than I have ever reached before. The publication of this vignette in the publication may end up in getting my Gettysburg trilogy in print of other publishers and actually published. The trilogy is very different than most accounts of the battle due to its focus on biography as well as overall operational and tactical decision making within the scope of the battle narrative.

You might wonder what difference of a vignette like this in such a publication makes on the readers who in this case are the current and future leaders of the Army. Let me tell you. When I was a new Army Lieutenant in 1983 the Army published FM 22-100, Military Leadership. For a field manual it was one of the best ever written. In it there was a vignette about Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain at Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg.

The vignette captured my imagination and it was hard to believe that some thirty years later as a Navy Chaplain and historian that I would be leading the Gettysburg Staff Ride at the Joint Forces Staff College. It inspired me to take seriously the human dynamic in war and in history. Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time can attest to how serious I take the human factor whether it be in military history, politics, religion, civil rights, and even baseball.

The new edition of ADP 100-5 will be standard reading for NCOs, as well as junior and senior officers, and operational planners. Because of the Army’s oversize role in producing doctrine for the Joint force it will likely be a part of Marine Corps and Joint planning manuals and courses. For a Navy Chaplain and historian at the end of a 38 year military career which included 17 1/2 years in the Army, National Guard, and Army Reserve this is a big honor. In the words of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead in their classic song Truckin’ “What a long strange trip it’s been.”

The vignette as written will include segments of my text that I published on this blog. According to the Army the vignette will read like this:

Collaboration: Meade’s Council of War

In June 1863, General Robert E. Lee prepared the Army of Northern Virginia for a second invasion of the North. Moving through the Shenandoah Valley and north toward Harrisburg, Lee’s Army made contact with the Army of the Potomac near the town of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. Day one of the battle saw initial Confederate success. By the afternoon of day two, Major General George Meade (who had just recently assumed command of the Army of the Potomac) had moved the bulk of his force into defensive positions on the high ground south of the city. The battlefield was set.   

Late in the afternoon of July 2, Lee launched heavy assaults on both the Union’s left and right flanks. Fierce fighting raged at Little Round Top, the Wheatfield, Devil’s Den, Culp’s Hill, and Cemetery Hill. Despite heavy losses, the Army of the Potomac held their lines. That evening, Meade reported back to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck, “The enemy attacked me about 4 P.M. this day…and after one of the severest contests of the war was repulsed at all points.” Meade ended his message: “I shall remain in my present position to-morrow, but am not prepared to say until better advised of the condition of the army, whether operations will be of an offensive or a defensive character.” Having essentially made his decision, Meade summoned his corps commanders and chief of intelligence to assess the condition of the army and to hear from his commanders on courses of action for the next day.

The meeting began around 9 P.M. in which Brigadier General John Gibbon noted, “was at first very informal and in the shape of a conversation.” The meeting lasted about two hours as General Meade listened intently to his subordinates’ discussion.  The tradition in such meetings or council of war is a discussion and then a vote by the officers on the course of action. Meade’s Chief of Staff Major General Butterfield posed three questions:

 “Under existing circumstances, is it advisable for this army to remain in its present position, or retire to another nearer its base of supplies?

 It being determined to remain in present position, shall the army attack or wait the attack of the enemy?

 If we wait attack, how long?”

Meade’s commanders responded from junior to senior in rank. All wanted to remain on the field another day, but none favored to attack. When the discussion concluded Meade decided that the question was settled and the troops would remain in position.  The two-hour discussion and vote formed consensus of the commanders and improved their confidence, resulting in the outcome Meade was seeking-to stay and fight.

What I have stressed in my text and teaching about Gettysburg is just how George Gordon Meade actively sought the input and collaboration of his Generals while Confederate General Robert E. Lee did nothing of the sort at Gettysburg. I think that at every level of leadership that Union leaders were much more involved and able to adapt to a rapidly changing situation which any leadership failure could had led to an epic battlefield disaster. George Meade, who had just taken command of the Army of the Potomac on June 28th set the tone for his commanders.

Sadly, among many students of the battle and Civil War history buffs, Meade gets little recognition. But without his leadership and active direction of the battle and trust in his subordinates the battle of Gettysburg might likely become a great defeat for the Union. I do not think that it would have led to a Confederate victory in the war, but it would have complicated the Union War effort.

If you are interested in reading more from the articles used in this vignette please go to the following link on this blog.

“A Council of War: Meade and His Generals Decide to Stay and Fight at Gettysburg July 2nd 1863.” Padre Steve’s World. https://padresteve.com/2014/04/25/a-council-of-war-meade-and-his-generals-decide-to-stay-and-fight-at-gettysburg-july-2nd-1863/

Have a great night,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Hero Betrayed: Gouverneur Warren, Little Round Top and Moral Injury

gkwarren

Brigadier General Gouverneur Warren

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is another article from one of my yet unpublished boos on the Battle of Gettysburg. Hopefully my agent will find a home for it. That being said the men who fought that battle were very little different from the men and women that serve in our armed forces today. I find a particular affinity with this man, Gouverneur Warren.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Throughout this study we have been looking at how leaders at various levels in conduct of campaigns as well as battles make decisions. Likewise we examine the lives and character of those leaders as it applies to their actions at critical points of a battle. In this chapter we will examine three officers whose lives, character and actions at Gettysburg, specifically at Little Round Top exemplify two of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Desired Leader Attributes, “to anticipate and adapt to surprise and uncertainty” and the principle of Mission Command, to “operate on intent through trust, empowerment and understanding.” It is from those perspectives that we will look at this part of the battle, but we would be amiss if we did not address the nearly mythical status to which this action has risen.

The actions of three men at the Battle of Little Round Top; Brigadier General Gouverneur Warren, the Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac, Colonel Strong Vincent, commanding Third Brigade, First Division, V Corps and Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, commanding the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment of Vincent’s brigade are very important to the outcome of the battle, but also for what they teach us about leadership and the profession of arms. This chapter focuses on Warren, in particular with his work with the Commander of the Army of the Potomac, George Meade and his actions to secure Little Round Top on July 2nd 1863, the next will deal with Chamberlain and Vincent.

The battle at Little Round Top is an iconic part of American History and in particular for the Army, a key element of how leadership has been studied. It has achieved nearly mythical status due to the actions of Colonel Joshua Chamberlain which have been told many times in history, fiction and in film, particularly Michael Shaara’s classic historical novel The Killer Angels and its film adaptation Gettysburg. While these accounts are certainly inspiring and allow us to experience the emotion and near spiritual quality of what Chamberlain writes, there is much more to learn.

That near spiritual quality and mythic status that we accord Gettysburg is important, for in large part it is why we come to the battlefield, and why we study. Chamberlain said it well many years after Gettysburg at the dedication of the Maine Monuments:

“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.” [1]

So as we endeavor to look at the actions of these leaders on that fateful day it is important to recognize that we cannot totally separate those actions that helped decide the battle from the mythos that surrounds the story. [2] Likewise, it important to acknowledge that we cannot separate their character and the totality of military leaders lives from their actions on a particular battlefield. Unlike Chamberlain Warren does not engender myth, and that is why he is often overlooked by many casual students and observers of the Battle of Gettysburg.

For the purposes of this study it is important to note that Warren was not a commander during this action, he was, like most senior officers today, a staff officer. Many times students of military history and theory are inclined to dismiss the contributions of staff officers because they do not have the overall responsibility of a battle, or the glamour of the limelight of the commanders that they serve under. However, for military professionals, especially those serving on senior staffs who prepare campaign plans, contingency plans and crisis plans the study of officers like Warren is essential.

The Federal Army at Gettysburg, like its Confederate opponent had a wide variety of officers serving in its ranks. Many of its senior officers were graduates of West Point. Many had served together in Mexico and in the various campaigns against Native American tribes. Those who stayed in the Army during the long “peace” between the Mexican War and the outbreak of the Civil War endured the monotony, boredom and often miserable conditions of isolated army posts, long family separations, as well as low pay, slow promotion and often low social status.[3] In light of such conditions, many resigned their commissions to undertake various professional, business or academic pursuits; in fact Samuel Huntington noted that in the years before the Civil War that “West Point produced more railroad presidents than generals.” [4] However, on the outbreak of the war returned to service whether in the service of the Union, or the Confederate States.

When the war began the Army underwent a massive expansion, which it met through and the call of up militia and raising new units from the various states. In the expansion many officers were appointed who had no prior military service, or if they did it was performed years or even decades before the war. Some of these men were simply patriots who rallied to the flag, others due to a sense of righteousness about their cause, while others were political opportunists or appointees. In the north this was a particular problem as “professional officers were pushed aside and passed over in the Union, the higher commissions going, in the first stages of the war at least to officers called back into service or directly appointed from civilian life, many of them “political” appointees.” [5]

At times the lack of experience, training and sometimes the poor character of these men was tragic. However, many of these men performed as well or better than some of their regular army counterparts at various levels of command. At the same time a good number of Regular Army officers were allowed to assist states in the formation and training of these new units, one of whom was Gouverneur Warren. Gettysburg would provide opportunity for the best and worst of all of these types of officers to succeed or fail. In this chapter we will look at one of the regular officers and two of the volunteer whose lives intersected on July 2nd 1863.

Brigadier General Gouverneur Warren was typical of the many professional officers of the old army. An 1850 graduate of West Point, Warren was a bright student who had absorbed the teachings of his professor, Dennis Hart Mahan as the core of his own military thought, both in his senior year in college and through reinforcement as a faculty member. [6] Warren was commissioned as a Brevet Second Lieutenant and because of his high standing in his class was assigned to Corps of Topographical Engineers. He spent his first seven years in a number of assignments which took him throughout much of the country.

Warren’s work involved exploring and mapping for various enterprises including the project to help tame the Mississippi River, and the exploration of the Great Plains and Black Hills where he developed a sympathy for the various Sioux tribes he encountered noting on completion of his mission in 1858, writing that He had never heard a Sioux chief express an opinion in regard to what was due them in which I do not concur and that many of them view the extinction of their race as an inevitable result of the operation of present causes, and do so with all the feelings of despair with which we should contemplate the extinction of our nationality. [7] Following his years in the west he returned as faculty to West Point where he as an Assistant Professor, shared mathematics instructional duties with Oliver O. Howard and resumed his relationship with his former professor Mahan. [8]

On the outbreak of war Warren was granted leave from his duties at West Point to serve as Lieutenant Colonel of Volunteers in the 5th New York Infantry Regiment, also known as Duryee’s Zouaves. Where Duryee was appointed as a Brigadier General, Warren became its Colonel, serving with it during the Peninsula campaign where he was eventually given command of a provisional brigade and promoted to Brigadier General, serving as a Brigade Commander in at Second Manassas, Antietam and Fredericksburg.

At Chancellorsville he 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. [9] In less than 48 hours Warren’s troops threw up five miles of the most formidable entrenchments yet constructed under battlefield conditions. [10] 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. [11] 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 Meade rather than being promoted to a division or being assigned as Meade’s Chief of Staff. As this turned out it was a wise choice.

Warren along with Major General Winfield Scott Hancock arrived at Cemetery Hill on the night of July 1st. As Meade organized his defenses he not only depended on his advice about the ground, but “consulted him constantly at headquarters or sent him off on matters of highest importance.” [12] 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. [13] Lee appreciated Warren’s calm, absorbed, and earnest manner, his professional skill and sound judgment.[14] These qualities would serve both men and the army well on July 2nd.

When Sickles moved III Corps forward during the afternoon without permission moved his Corps forming a vulnerable salient at the Peach Orchard leaving the southern flank in the air, Meade was aghast. Warren who from his reconnaissance of the previous day and the morning knew the position better than anyone recognized that something was badly awry on SicklesThird Corps front  matters there were not all straight. [15] 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.[16]

Meade and Warren discussed the situation and realized that III Corps “could hardly be said to be in position” [17] 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.” [18] 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.” [19]

Meade concurred with his Engineer 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.” [20] 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.” [21]Warren would not see Meade again “until the attack had spent its force.” [22]

little round top map

Hunt noted that “The duty could not have been in better hands.” [23]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.” [24]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” [25] 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…” [26] 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.” [27]

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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…”[28] He also sent messengers to Meade, Sickles and Sykes, the commander of V Corps asking Meade to “Send at least a division to me” [29] instructing the messenger, Lieutenant Randall Mackenzie to tell Meade “that we would at once have to occupy that place very strongly.” [30] 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. 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.” [31] 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.” [32]

Meade’s choice of Warren was demonstrated in 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.” [33] 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.” [34] There he found Brigadier General Stephen Weed’s brigade which he had previously commanded. Since he did not see Weed, but he found Colonel Patrick O’Rorke of the 140th New York and ordered him to follow him up the hill, saying “Paddy…give me a regiment.” [35] When O’Rorke said 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.” [36] O’Rorke followed with his gallant regiment with the rest of the brigade under Weed following. 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. In the fight the brigade would take fearful casualties and by the end of the battle, Weed, O’Rorke and Hazlett would all be dead, but with Vincent’s brigade they held on and saved the Union line.[37]

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.” [38] 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.” [39]

Warren distinguished as a 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 was a professional soldier and 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 destroyed his career.

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 engineeringduty and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1879, but his past always haunted him, even his sleep. He wrote his wife while supervising a major bridge construction project over the Mississippi River in 1867: “I wish I did not dream so much. They make me sometimes to dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish never to experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.” [40]

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 three months before the results were published. Embittered he directed that he be buried in civilian clothes and without military honors. His 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. [41] 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.” [42]

Warren’s actions on that hot and muggy July 2nd exemplified the leadership qualities that we as an institution strive for, and from a leadership perspective 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. But his life also serves to remind us of the ethics of our profession. Loomis Langdon, who served as the official recorder for the board of inquiry wrote of Warren:

“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.” [43]

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…” [44]

Warren

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. I think that this does a great disservice to the men themselves. In time of war gives up something of themselves and sometimes even heroes like Gouverneur Warren are destroyed by the actions of institutions that they serve.

Notes

[1] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence. Chamberlain’s Address at the dedication of the Maine Monuments at Gettysburg, October 3rd 1888 retrieved from http://www.joshualawrencechamberlain.com/maineatgettysburg.php 4 June 2014

[2] Note: My use of the terms myth, mythology or mythos should not be considered negative, and the use of the terms does not mean that there is not some degree of fact or truth in them. The definitions of the term mythos are important to understanding my use of the term here, first it denotes a traditional or recurrent narrative theme or plot structure of a story, and secondly a set of beliefs or assumptions about something. (See the Oxford American Dictionary.)

[3] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His CriticsBrassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 pp.37-38.

[4] Huntington, Samuel P. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1957 p.199

[5] Ibid. Huntington. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations p.213

[6] Jordan, David M. Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana 2001 p.6

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

[8] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.33

[9] Sears, Stephen W. ChancellorsvilleHoughton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 1996 p.372

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

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

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

[13] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 pp.129-130

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

[15] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.262

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

[17] Ibid. Tredeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.319

[18] Ibid. Tredeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.320

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

[20] Ibid. Tredeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.320

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

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

[23] 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[32] Longacre, Edward Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the ManCombined Publishing Conshohocken PA 1999 p.127

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

[34] Swanberg, W.A. Sickles the IncredibleStan Clark Military Books, Gettysburg PA 1957 p.214

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

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

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

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

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

[40] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.249

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

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

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

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

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John Reynolds Gives Battle: Gettysburg Day One

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

This is another section of my text on the Battle of Gettysburg dealing with General John Reynold’s and his decision to give battle as the cavalrymen of John Buford fought a delaying action against the Confederate forces of A.P. Hill and Harry Heth. 

I hope that you enjoy.

Peace

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On the night of June 30th Reynolds was awash in reports, some of them conflicting and even though he was without Meade’s course of action for the next day “concluded that Lee’s army was close by and in force.” [1] He spent the night at his headquarters “studying the military situation with Howard and keeping in touch with army headquarters.” [2] Howard noted Reynolds anxiety and “received the impression that Reynolds was depressed.” [3] After Howard’s departure Reynolds took the opportunity to get a few hours of fitful sleep before arising again at 4 a.m. on July 1st.

When morning came, Reynolds was awakened by his aide Major William Riddle with Meade’s order to “advance the First and Eleventh Corps to Gettysburg.” [4] Reynolds studied the order and though he expected no battle that morning, expecting “only moving up to be in supporting distance to Buford” [5] took the prudent and reasonable precautions that his Confederate opponents A.P. Hill and Harry Heth refused to take as they prepared to move on Gettysburg.

His troops were in fine spirits that morning even though it had been busy. After a breakfast of hardtack, pork and coffee the troops moved out. An officer of the Iron Brigade noted that the soldiers of that brigade were “all in the highest spirits” while Lieutenant Colonel Rufus Dawes of the “placed the fifes and drums at the head of the Sixth Wisconsin and ordered the colors unfurled” as the proud veterans marched forward into the sound of the raging battle to the tune of “The Campbell’s are Coming.” [6]

Though Reynolds was not expecting a fight he organized his march in a manner that ensured if one did happen that he was fully prepared. The precautionary measures that he took were those that any prudent commander having knowledge that strong enemy forces were nearby would take. Reynolds certainly took to heart the words of Napoleon who said “A General should say to himself many times a day: If the hostile army were to make its appearance in front, on my right, or on my left, what should I do?”[7]

This was a question that A.P. Hill and Harry Heth seemed not to consider on that warm and muggy July morning when Heth was committing Lee’s army to battle on his own authority. Reynolds was also about to commit the Army of the Potomac to battle, but unlike Heth who had no authority to do so, Reynolds “had at least been delegated the authority for making such a decision” [8] by his army commander George Meade. Though Meade was unaware of what was transpiring in the hills beyond Gettysburg he implicitly trusted the judgement of Reynolds, and Meade been with the advanced elements of Reynold’s wing he too “probably would have endorsed any decision he made.” [9]

Reynolds placed himself with the lead division, that of Wadsworth, and “directed Doubleday to bring up the other divisions and guns of the First Corps and had ordered Howard’s Eleventh Corps up from Emmitsburg.” [10] Reynold’s also understood the urgency of the situation and “wanted all the fighting troops to be up front, so he instructed Howard not to intermingle his supply wagons with his infantry. Similar instructions had been given to Abner Doubleday; to ensure that the First Corps wagons would wait until the Eleventh Corps foot soldiers had passed.” [11]

Instead operating in the normal fashion of rotating units on the march, Reynolds opted to save time. Since Wadsworth’s First Division was further advanced than his other First Corps divisions, Reynolds instructed it to move out first with Cutler’s brigade in the lead followed by the Iron Brigade under Brigadier General Solomon Meredith. In doing so Reynolds countermanded the order of the acting corps commander Doubleday who had ordered Wadsworth’s division to allow the other divisions of First Corps to pass his before advancing. Reynolds told Wadsworth that Doubleday’s order “was a mistake and that I should move on directly.” [12]

He went forward with Wadsworth’s division and gave Doubleday his orders for the coming engagement. Doubleday later recalled that when Reynolds arrived to discuss the situation that Reynolds:

“read to me the various dispatches he had received from Meade and Buford, and told me that he should go at once forward with the leading division – that of Wadsworth – to aid the cavalry. He then instructed me to draw in my pickets, assemble the artillery and the remainder of the corps and join him as soon as possible. Having given me these orders, he rode off at the head of the column, and I never saw him again.” [13]

Reynolds ordered Howard’s Eleventh Corps to follow First Corps and according to Doubleday directed an aid of Howard to have Howard “bring his corps forward at once and form them on Cemetery Hill as a reserve.” [14]Howard received the order and since his troops were ready to move out “no time was lost in setting them in motion.” [15] While some writers believe that Reynolds directed Oliver Howard to prepare Cemetery Hill as a fallback position [16] there is more evidence that points to Howard selecting the that commanding hill himself. [17] Regardless of which is correct the result was that both Reynolds and Howard recognized the importance of the position and took action to secure it.

Likewise Reynolds ordered Sickles’ III Corps to come up from Emmitsburg where that corps had bivouacked the previous night. [18] Sickles had heard the guns in the distance that morning and sent his senior aide, Major Henry Tremain to find Reynolds. Reynolds told Tremain “Tell General Sickles I think he had better come up” but the order left Sickles in a quandary. He recalled “he spend an anxious hour deciding what to do” [19] for he had “been ordered by Meade to hold his position at Emmitsburg” [20] and Sickles sent another rider to Reynolds and awaited the response of his wing commander instead of immediately advancing to battle on 1 July and it would not be until after 3 P.M. that he would send his lead division to Gettysburg.

According to Doubleday Reynolds’s intention was “to fight the enemy as soon as I could meet him.” [21] Reynolds rode forward with some of his staff into the town as the infantry of the First Corps and the Eleventh Corps moved advanced. As they rode through the town Reynolds and his party were met by “a fleeing, badly frightened civilian, who gasped out the news that the cavalry was in a fight.” [22] When he came to the Lutheran Seminary he came across Buford. It was a defining moment of the Civil War, a moment that shaped the battle to come. It has been recounted many times and immortalized on screen in the movie Gettysburg, a time “when the entire battle would come down to a matter of minutes getting one place to another.” [23]

As the rough and tumble Kentuckian, Buford, and Reynolds, the dashing Pennsylvanian, discussed the situation they had to know that odd that they were facing. With close to 32,000 rebels from the four divisions of Hill’s and Ewell’s corps closing in from the west and the north and with only about 18,000 men of First Corps, Eleventh Corps and Buford’s cavalry division to meet them, the odds were not in his favor, but unlike other battles that the army of the Potomac faced, this time the army and its commanders were determined not to lose the battle and not to retreat and for the first time John Reynolds “led the advance” and for the first time in the war “might have some say about fighting.” [24]

Reynolds and Buford committed their eighteen thousand men against Lee’s thirty-two thousand in a meeting engagement that develop into a battle that would decide the outcome of Lee’s invasion. Likewise it was a battle for the very existence of the Union. Abner Doubleday noted the incontestable and eternal significance of the encounter to which Buford and Reynolds were committing the Army of the Potomac on July 1st 1863:

“The two armies about to contest on the perilous ridges of Gettysburg the possession of the Northern States, and the ultimate triumph of freedom or slavery….” [25]

Even though they understood that they were outmanned and outgunned by the advancing Confederates, both Buford and Reynolds knew that this was where the battle must be waged. It was here on this spot, for the ground gave them an advantage that they would not have elsewhere; but only if they could hold on long enough for the rest of the army to arrive. As Alan Nolan wrote: “this Pennsylvania ground – was defensible, and behind it, through the town, loomed Cemetery Hill, another natural point of defense if the battle at Seminary Ridge went against the Federals.” [26]

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Reynolds vs. Heth July 1st

When John Buford saw Reynolds infantry advancing as the Confederates increased the pressure on his outnumbered cavalry, he remarked to a staff member “now we can hold this place.” [27] Buford was not mistaken, when Reynolds rode up to the scene of the battle on Seminary Ridge he greeted Buford, who was in the cupola of the seminary. He called out “What’s the matter John?” to which Buford replied “The devil’s to pay” before he came down to discuss the tactical situation with Reynolds. [28] Buford explained the situation noting that “I have come upon some regiments of infantry…they are in the woods…and I am unable to dislodge them.” [29]

Reynolds needed no other convincing. He asked Buford if he could hold and quickly sent off a number of messages. One officer wrote: “The Genl ordered Genl Buford to hold the enemy in check as long as possible, to keep them from getting into town and at the same time sent orders to Genl Sickles…& Genl Howard to come as fast as possible.” [30]Additionally, Reynolds sent a message to Meade stating: “The enemy are advancing in strong force. I fear they will get to the heights beyond the own before I can. I will fight them inch by inch, and if driven into the town, I will barricade the streets and hold them back as long as possible.” [31] He directed Major Weld of his staff to take it to Meade with all haste as Weld recalled: “with the greatest speed I could, no matter if I killed my horse.” [32] When Meade received the report he was concerned, but with great confidence in Reynolds’s ability he remarked “Good!…That is just like Reynolds; he will hold on to the bitter end.” [33]

After dictating his instructions and sending off his messengers, Reynolds then did what no senior Confederate commander did during the entirety of the battle, he rode back and took personal charge of the movements of his troops to hurry them forward. Unlike Heth who so badly misjudged the tactical situation, he had taken note of the ground and recognized from Buford’s reports that “the Confederates were marching only on that single road and thus would not be able to push their forces to the front any faster than Reynolds could reach the battlefield with his First Corps divisions.”[34] It was a key observation on his part which again allowed him to make appropriate decisions as to how he shaped the battle.

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Reynolds leadership at this point might be considered reckless by the standards of our day when senior commanders control battles from miles away with the help of real time intelligence and reporting, including live video feeds, or even the standards of the Second World War. But then in the Civil War a commander in combat could only really control the actions of troops that he could see and because of the time that it took to get messages to subordinate commanders, and the real possibility that verbal orders could be badly misinterpreted in the heat of battle.

Reynolds exercised command directing infantry formations into battle and assisting his artillery battery commanders in the placement of their guns. This was far different than the way that most senior Confederate leaders, including Lee, Longstreet, Hill and Ewell directed their units during the battle of Gettysburg. But such action such action was in keeping with Reynolds’s character, especially in the defense of his home state. Reynolds’ philosophy of command regarding volunteer troops was that they “were better led than driven” [35] and as such he led from the front and Abner Doubleday noted that Reynolds was “inflamed by at seeing the devastation of his native state, was most desirous of getting at the enemy as soon as possible.” [36]

iron brigade forward

“For God’s Sake Forward!” McPherson’s Ridge

John Reynolds recognized that time was of the essence if his forces were to hold the ground west of the town selected a shortcut around the town for First Corps. Those forces were directed across the fields near the Condori farm toward the back side of Seminary Ridge, with Reynolds’ staff helping to remove fences to speed the advance. [37] It was not an easy advance as the troops had to move across the farm fields at an oblique and have to “double-quick for a mile and a quarter in the thick humidity just to reach the seminary.” [38]One member of the corps recalled “I never saw men more willing to fight than they were at Gettysburg.” [39]

Recognizing that “after two full hours of fighting, Buford’s troopers”fighting on McPherson’s Ridge, were “at the limits of their endurance,”Reynolds ordered Wadsworth’s brigades “to bolster the cavalry and oppose the rebel infantry coming at them.” [40]

As troops arrived Reynolds directed them into position. He directed the artillery of Captain James Hall’s 2nd Maine Battery to McPherson’s Ridge instructing Hall “I desire you to damage their artillery to the greatest possible extent, and to keep their fire from our infantry until they are deployed….” [41]

The leading infantry of First Corps was Major General James Wadsworth’s understrength division containing just two brigades, just over 3000 soldiers, its losses from Chancellorsville not being made good and as the result of the loss of regiments discharged because their enlistments had expired. [42] Wadsworth was not a professional soldier, but like many generals on both sides was a political general who despite his lack of military experience was a natural leader of men. Wadsworth was “a vigorous white-haired old man who had been a well-to-do gentleman farmer in New York State before the war” [43] and he “had interrupted his service in the war to run for and lose his state’s governorship the preceding fall.” [44] He ran against the anti-war, anti-administration and frequently pro-Southern Copperhead Horatio Seymour, but he did not leave the army in order return to the state to mount a personal campaign “on the ground that it did not befit a soldier.” [45]

“What the gray haired general lacked in experience and skill, he compensated with a fighting spirit.” [46] Oliver Howard of Eleventh Corps said that Wadsworth was “always generous and a natural soldier” [47]and while Wadsworth was no professional but he performed admirably on July 1st 1863. Wadsworth was beloved by his men because he demonstrated true concern and care for their living conditions and training and on that morning Wadsworth was commanding his division leading it into action with “an old Revolutionary War saber in his hand.” [48] The gallant Wadsworth would be mortally wounded ten months later leading a division of Gouverneur Warren’s Fifth Corps in the opening engagements of the Wilderness. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles noted in his diary when Wadsworth died that Wadsworth “should, by right and fair-dealing, have been at this moment Governor of New York…No purer or single-minded patriot than Wadsworth has shown himself in this war. He left home and comforts and wealth to fight the battles of the Union.” [49]

With their gallant commander at their head the division may not have had much in force in the way of numbers, but the units of the division were “good ones,”composed of hardened combat veterans that went into battle with an eye to victory. In the van was Brigadier General Zylander Cutler’s brigade of New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians, the “celebrated Bucktails.” [50] When they were mustered into service the soldiers of the 13th Pennsylvania had adopted a “bucktail” attached to their service caps as a distinctive insignia, a practice that spread to other regiments of the brigade and for which the brigade became known throughout the army.

Cutler had spent much of his early life in Maine working in a number of fields and businesses. He made a fortune several times and lost it, first when his mill burned down, but he rebuilt his businesses and diversified and “as a leading businessman, Cutler was elected to the Maine senate, college trusteeships and a railroad directorship, but he was financially ruined by the panic of 1866 and moved to Milwaukee to start his career over again.” [51] The tough-minded Cutler had some previous military experience fighting Indians as a member of the Maine militia and was made Colonel of the 6th Wisconsin. Cutler was described by one of his soldiers as “being as “rugged as a wolf” and was “a tenacious fighter, a trait that endeared him to the tough-minded Gibbon.” [52] After Antietam Gibbon recommended Cutler for promotion to Brigadier General and command of the Iron Brigade, but Cutler had been wounded at the bloody Battle of Brawner’s Farm and Solomon Meredith gained a promotion and command of that celebrated brigade. However, in on November 29th 1862 having recuperated from his wounds Cutler was promoted to brigadier general and received command of his Bucktails in March of 1863. The brigade saw only minor action at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg would be the fierce brigadier’s first chance since being wounded to command in combat.

This fine brigade was followed by Brigadier General Solomon Meredith’s “Iron Brigade” composed of westerners in their distinctive black “Jefferson Davis” or “Hardie” hats. The brigade had been initially commanded by Major General John Gibbon, now commanding a division in Winfield Scott Hancock’s Second Corps. Gibbon turned the brigade into one of the finest in the army. At the Battle of Turner’s Gap on South Mountain during the Antietam campaign, the brigade earned its name.

After that bloody battle George McClellan exclaimed “They must be made of Iron!” and Hooker replied, “By the Eternal, they are iron! If you had seen them at Bull Run as I did, you would know them to be iron.”[53] In the fierce battle at South Mountain the brigade had lost over a quarter of its strength, but had gained a share of immortality among the ranks of the United States Army. “The Western soldiers immediately seized on this as their title, and the reputation of the brigade and its new name were soon broadcast around Federal campfires.” [54] The regiments of the brigade rivalled many Regular Army units in effectiveness and discipline and “the black hats became their trademark.” [55] Often committed to the fiercest battles the brigade had been decimated, but now along with the Bucktails it advanced up down Seminary Ridge and up the back side of McPherson’s Ridge. A member of an artillery battery who saw the Bucktails and the Iron Brigade advance recalled:

“No one…will ever again see those two brigades of Wadsworth’s Division – Cutler’s and the Iron Brigade – file by as they did that morning. The little creek made a depression in the road, with a gentle ascent on either side, so that from our point of view the column, as it came down the slope and up the other, had the effect of huge blue billows of men topped with a spray of shining steel, and the whole spectacle was calculated to give nerve to a man who never had one before.” [56]

Reynolds directed Cutler’s Bucktails to proceed north of the Cashtown Pike and then “called the Iron Brigade into action on the south side” [57]leading the hearty Westerners himself. Reynolds directed then Wadsworth to take change of the action on the north side of the road while he looked after the left. [58] When Reynolds made that decision he made another. He ordered the 6th Wisconsin of the Iron Brigade into reserve, leaving the Iron Brigade a regiment short but giving him the advantage of having a ready reserve which “permitted them to take full advantage of their interior lines, shift their strength about, and apply it where most needed.” [59]

At about 10:30 the 2nd Wisconsin advanced into the woods Reynolds urged them forward: “Forward men, for God’s sake and drive those fellows out of those woods….” [60] As he looked around toward the seminary to see the progress of reinforcements, Reynolds was struck in the back of the neck by a bullet and fell dead. “Had it come a short time earlier, Reynolds’s death might have thrown the I Corps into fatal confusion.” [61] But Doubleday, who command now fell was up to the task on that sultry July morning.

MenBrooklyn

Cutler’s brigade moved north and engaged Davis’ men near the railroad cut. Here the Cutler’s line was “hardly formed when it was struck by Davis’s Confederate brigade on its front and right flank.” [62] His troops were heavily outnumbered by the advancing Confederates and Davis’ troops initially had the upper hand. In a savage fight they inflicted massive casualties on Cutler’s regiments which outnumbered and being flanked were ordered to withdraw by Wadsworth in order to save them, with the exception of one regiment, the 147th New York nicknamed the Ploughboys which “did not get the order” [63] and though isolated held its ground, “with the support of a fresh six-gun battery whose gunners simply refused to quit.” [64]This was the 2nd Maine Battery under the command of Captain James Hall. Though caught in a cross fire of Rebel artillery and assailed by skirmishers Hall’s artillerymen gamely continued the fight withdrawing by sections, “fighting a close canister range and suffering severely.” [65] The New Yorkers and Hall’s battery battled the Mississippians and the “Ploughboys fell “like autumn leaves; the air was full of lead.” [66]

railroad_cut

The inexperienced Davis and his green troops were buoyed by this “gratifying local success” [67] and attempted to exploit it. At this point the Confederates were fatigued by the long march and the fighting and the troops of the 2ndMississippi and 55th North Carolina “were all jumbled together without regiment or company.” [68] Davis attempted to use the unfinished railroad cut “as cover for getting on the enemy’s flank without exposure.” [69]It was a decision that Davis lived to regret. As his troops his units crowed into it, the two regiments of Cutler’s brigade south of the turnpike, the 14th Brooklyn and the 95th New York turned to meet them and were joined by the reserve regiment of the Iron Brigade, the 6nd Wisconsin under Lieutenant Colonel Rufus Dawes. Dawes ordered an immediate advance and called out to Major Edward Pye of the 95th “Let’s go for them Major.” The 6th Wisconsin and the New Yorkers took the Confederates in the flank with enfilade fire, “it was like shooting fish in a barrel.” [70] Dawes’ men slaughtered many of those unfortunate soldiers, and the battle soon became a hand to hand struggle as North Carolinians and Mississippians struggled with the Wisconsin men and New Yorkers.

fightforthecolors2la

The melee in and around the cut did not last long:

“for the Confederates were unable to resist their attackers….From the brow of the cut Dawes shouted down to the Confederates below him: “Where is the colonel of this regiment?” A Confederate field officer heard him and replied, “Who are you?” Dawes answered, “I command this regiment. Surrender or I will fire.” [71] Dawes’s men took over 200 prisoners, [72] and the battle flag of the 2ndMississippi. [73]

The charge had last but minutes yet had shattered Joe Davis’s brigade. Davis was wholly unprepared for this reverse and signaled his forces to pull back convinced that “a heavy force was…moving rapidly to our right.” [74] However, the cost to the 6th Wisconsin was great, “Dawes estimated that 160 men of the 6th fell, not including the brigade guard, whose casualties he did not know.” [75]

Brigadier General Solomon Meredith’s Iron Brigade, which had been brought forward by Doubleday hit Archer’s brigade in the front in the woods on McPherson’s Ridge. Meredith was an unmarried North Carolina Quaker who had moved to Indiana in 1840 owning little more than the clothes that he was wearing. He became a farmer but found politics more to his liking and was elected as a county sheriff and to the state legislature. When the war came he was serving as the Clerk of Wayne County. Meredith, like so many volunteer officers on both sides owed much of his advancement in the army to his political connections. In Meredith’s case this was to Meredith’s friend Governor Oliver Morton. Critics of Meredith decried his appointment as Colonel of the 19thIndiana as “a damnable swindle.” [76] Yet Meredith commanded the regiment effectively and received command of the brigade in November 1862. John Gibbon, the regular officer who initially commanded the brigade was critical of Meredith’s appointment but the soldiers appreciated their kind, six-foot seven-inch tall commander who they affectionately knew as “Long Sol.”But despite the carping of his political enemies and the opposition of Gibbon, Meredith like so many others like him who, “extroverted and ambitious by nature, accustomed to asserting themselves, these men did the best that they could, for themselves and their responsibilities, and they somehow sufficed” [77] though they had no formal military training or experience.

As the Iron Brigade advanced toward McPherson’s Ridge and engaged the enemy, Doubleday “urged the men…to hold it all hazards.” Doubleday later wrote that the troops of the brigade, “full of enthusiasm and the memory of their past achievements they said to me proudly, “If we can’t hold it, where will you find men who can?” [78]

Animated by the leadership of Reynolds and now Doubleday they “rushed to the charge, struck successive heavy blows, outflanked and turned the enemy’s right, captured General Archer and a large portion of his brigade, and pursued the remainder across Willoughby Run.”[79] The effect was dramatic as the Iron Brigade overwhelmed Archer’s brigade, whose soldiers now realized they were facing “the first team.” Members of the Iron Brigade recalling the voices of Confederate soldiers exclaiming “Here are those damned black-hat fellers again…’Taint no militia-that’s the Army of the Potomac.” [80] As they attempted to withdraw they piled up at a fence near Willoughby Run and were hit in the flank by “a Michigan regiment that had worked its way around through the woods to the south.” [81] Archer’s Confederates were unable to resist the assault of the Iron Brigade, “Some fled; others threw down their arms and trembling asked where they should go, while others simply dropped their rifles and ducked through the Union formations to the Union rear.”[82]

As for their commander, Archer the ignominy only got worse. “A muscular Irish private in the 2nd Wisconsin ran forward and seized General Archer bodily and made a prisoner of him.” [83] Coddington wrote: “It was a bad moment for the Army of Northern Virginia, and Archer gained the unenviable distinction of being the first of its general officers to be captured after Lee took command.” [84] Doubleday, who knew Archer from the old army, wrote of meeting Archer after that very angry general after had been taken prisoner and roughed up by the aforementioned Private Maloney. Doubleday greeted his old comrade saying: “Archer! I’m glad to see you,” and reached out his hand to greet his friend, to which Archer replied “Well, I’m not glad to see you by a damn sight” and refused to shake Doubleday’s hand. [85]

With the Archer’s brigade whipped and Davis’s in flight Solomon Meredith pulled back the brigade and “was reforming his lines when a shell exploded near him.” [86] Meredith’s horse was killed and fell on him and the tall general was struck in the head by a shell fragment which fractured his skull and rendered him hors d ’combat for the rest of the battle.

Contrary to the reports of many of the Confederates involved, stating that they were outnumbered, some of which have achieved nearly mythic status in some accounts of the battle, the forces engaged were relatively evenly matched. [87]Clifford Dowdey says that the Iron Brigade “heavily outnumbered the one brigade they met. Archer’s….” [88] Such accounts are usually based on the reports of Heth and other confederate commanders. Heth in his after action report wrote that “Archer, encountered heavy masses in his front, and his gallant little brigade, after being almost surrounded by overwhelming forces in front and on both flanks, was forced back….” [89]

However, such was not the case. The reason for this repulse was not that the Union forces had “overwhelming forces” or “greatly superior numbers.” Instead the Archer’s brigade and the Iron Brigade were fairly evenly matched with Archer having about 1,130 men and the Iron Brigade 1,400 while Davis outnumbered Cutler nearly two to one having between 2,400 and 2,600 men in the battle to Cutler’s 1,300. [90]

Following the repulse of Archer and Davis’s brigades by Reynolds’s First Corps, Heth withdrew his badly mauled brigades back to Herr’s Ridge in order to reform them and bring up the brigades of Brockenbrough and Pettigrew before he could resume his attack. In his next assault he would also be supported by Pender’s fresh division which was now coming up.

Coddington notes that the outcome of the opening engagement came down to leadership and “the superior tactical skills of the Northern generals,”who “created a reserve force” with one regiment of the Iron Brigade which “permitted them to take full advantage of their interior lines, shift their strength about, and apply it where most needed.” [91] It was a “calculated risk,” for it assumed that the depleted Iron Brigade could handle Archer’s brigade effectively with only four of their five assigned regiments. [92]Again, even with the loss of Reynolds it was a case of Harry Heth being out-generaled, this time by Abner Doubleday. Heth “had not exercised the close field command by means of which Doubleday had won the brief, furious action.” [93]

death of reynolds

The Death of Reynolds

Reynolds was dead, but the series of command decisions reached by Reynolds under the pressure of a meeting engagement “where neither side held an immediate advantage” [94] were critical to the army. Likewise, because he had effectively communicated his intent to his subordinate commanders they were able to continue the fight despite his death, and his superiors and successors were able to effectively continue the battle that he had initiated. When he went into action he had “barely a third of his corps available, and confronting a force of unknown size, he had put himself at the head of his troops to lead them in a vigorous attack.” [95]

Though shaken by Reynolds’ loss, the Union troops fought on at McPherson and Seminary Ridge under the command of Doubleday until the assault of Ewell on their left and the arrival of Pender’s fresh division forced them from their positions. However Reynolds’s death was a major blow for the Federal forces for it “removed from the equation the one person with enough vision and sense of purpose to manage this battle.” [96] Despite this Reynolds, by pushing forward with his troops on McPherson’s Ridge ensured that Howard was able to secure Cemetery Hill and Cemetery Ridge, without which Gettysburg would have been lost.

The contrast between Reynolds and his opponents was marked. Hill was ten miles away from the action. Heth was too far to the rear of his troops to direct their advance when they ran into trouble and did not begin to take control until after the brigades of Davis and Archer had staggered “back up the ravine, with Davis’s temporarily wrecked.” [97] In contrast to Heth, Reynolds “hurried to the front, where he was able to inspirit the defense and throw troops into the decisive zone.” [98] At every point in the brief encounter John Reynolds showed himself superior to his opponents as he directed the battle. “Dedicated to an aggressive forward defense in the vanguard of the entire Army of the Potomac, Reynolds, at the cost of his own life had blunted the Rebel thrust and bought valuable time that permitted the balance of Meade’s army to take possession of the coveted high ground….” [99]

Though he paid for his efforts with his life but his sacrifice was not in vain. Reynolds’s tactics “gave the First Corps room for maneuver in front of Gettysburg and upset General Hill’s timetable.” [100] Harry Hunt noted: “…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.” [101]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.48

[2] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.261

[3] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.48

[4] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.261

[5] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 158

[6] Nolan, Alan T. The Iron Brigade: A Military History Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN, 1961 and 1994 pp.233-234

[7] Napoleon Bonaparte, Military Maxims of Napoleon in Roots of Strategy: The Five Greatest Military Classics of All Time edited by Phillips, Thomas R Stackpole Books Mechanicsburg PA 1985 p.410

[8] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 165

[9] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.49

[10] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.233

[11] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.159

[12] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.156

[13] Doubleday, Abner Chancellorsville and Gettysburg: Campaigns of the Civil War VI Charles Scribner’s Sons, Bew York 1882 pp.70-71

[14] Ibid. Doubleday Chancellorsville and Gettysburg p.71

[15] Carpenter, John A. Sword and Olive Branch: Oliver Otis Howard Fordham University Press, New York 1999 p.51

[16] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.76

[17] Green, A. Wilson. From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p. 70

[18] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 158

[19] Keneally, Thomas American Scoundrel: The Life of the Notorious Civil war General Dan Sickles Anchor Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2003 p.275

[20] Swanberg, W.A. Sickles the Incredible Copyright by the author 1958 and 1984 Stan Clark Military Books, Gettysburg PA 1991 p.202

[21] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.156

[22] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 165

[23] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.142

[24] Ibid. Nichols Toward Gettysburg p.200

[25] Ibid. Doubleday Chancellorsville and Gettysburg p.68

[26] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.235

[27] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.142

[28] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 172

[29] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.143

[30] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.172-173

[31] Schultz, Duane The Most Glorious Fourth: Vicksburg and Gettysburg July 4th 1863. W.W. Norton and Company New York and London, 2002 p.202

[32] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.173

[33] Huntington, Tom Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of GettysburStackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 2013 p.154

[34] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 166

[35] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.277

[36] Doubleday, Abner. Chancellorsville and Gettysburg: Campaigns of the Civil War – VI Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York 1882 p.68

[37] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.75

[38] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.145

[39] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.275

[40] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.469

[41] Gottfried, Bradley The Artillery of Gettysburg Cumberland House Publishing, Nashville TN 2008 pp.28-29

[42] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 34 Sears notes that in between Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, First Division of I Corps had lost a full brigade due to the expiration of enlistments.

[43] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.270

[44] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 34

[45] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.271

[46] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.275

[47] Ibid. Howard Autobiography of Oliver Otis Howard 5995 of 9221

[48] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.271

[49] Girardi, Robert I. The Civil War Generals: Comrades, Peers, Rivals in Their Own Words Zenith Press, MBI Publishing, Minneapolis MN 2013 p.184

[50] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 34

[51] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.16

[52] Tagg, Larry The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America’s Greatest Battle Da Capo Press Cambridge MA 1998 Amazon Kindle Edition p.19

[53] Hebert, Walter H. Fighting Joe Hooker University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1999. Originally published by Bobbs-Merrill, New York 1944 p.137

[54] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.130

[55] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p. 54

[56] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p. 234

[57] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.271

[58] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day pp.75-76

[59] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.275

[60] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.271

[61] Longacre, Edward G. John Buford: A Military Biography Da Capo Press, Perseus Book Group, Cambridge MA p.194

[62] Ibid. Hunt, The First Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts p.277

[63] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.272

[64] Dowdy, CliffordLee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 p.96

[65] Ibid. Hunt, The First Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts p.277

[66] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.86

[67] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.96

[68] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.104

[69] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.96

[70] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.97

[71] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.112

[72] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.153

[73] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 178

[74] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.153

[75] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.109

[76] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.20

[77] Ibid. Nolan The Iron Brigade p.173

[78] Ibid. Doubleday Chancellorsville and Gettysburg p.73

[79] Hunt, Henry. The First 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.277

[80] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.273

[81] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 pp.470-471

[82] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.99

[83] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road p.274

[84] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.271

[85] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.470

[86] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.17

[87] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.469 Even Foote in his account of Archer’s brigade makes the comment “Staggered by the ambush and outnumbered as they were….”

[88] DowdyLee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.95

[89] Luvaas, Jay and Nelson Harold W editors. The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg South Mountain Press, Carlisle PA 1986 p.9

[90] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.274

[91] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.274

[92] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.274

[93] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.97

[94] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg. p. 168

[95] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.277

[96] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.171

[97] Ibid. DowdyLee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.97

[98] Krick, Robert K. Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge: Failures of Brigade Leadership on the First Day of Gettysburg in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.113

[99] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.12

[100] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.277

[101] Ibid. Hunt, The First Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts p.277

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“I Will Live and Die under the Flag of the Union.” John Buford, Hero of Gettysburg

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

As I noted yesterday I am going to be posting about the Battle of Gettysburg for the next few days. All of these articles have appeared on my blog before and are part of my text on the Battle of Gettysburg which my agent is shopping to various publishers. This article is about the Union Cavalry commander, General John Buford who would lead a masterful delaying action against Confederate forces far superior to his small division on July 1st 1863. 

Buford is a fascinating character, played to perfection by Sam Elliott in the movie Gettysburg he was one of the officers whose extraordinary leadership denied Lee a victory at Gettysburg, preserved the Union and led to the defeat of the Confederacy. I hope you enjoy this little piece about a most amazing man. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

buford

“He was decidedly the best cavalry general we had, and was acknowledged as such in the army, though being no friend to newspaper reporters…In many respects he resembled Reynolds, being rough in the exterior, never looking after his own comfort, untiring on the march and in the supervision of all the militia in his command, quiet and unassuming in his manners.” Colonel Charles Wainwright on Buford (Diary of Battle, p.309)

John Buford was born in Kentucky and came from a family with a long military history of military service, including family members who had fought in the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. In fact according to some the family military pedigree reaches back to England’s War of the Roses.

Buford’s family was well off with a spacious plantation near Versailles on which labored forty-five slaves, and his father also established a stage line which carried “passengers and freight between Frankfort and Lexington.”His father divested himself of his property, selling his home, business and slaves and moved to Stephenson Illinois in 1838. [1] The young Buford developed an interest in military life which was enlivened by his half-brother Napoleon Bonaparte Buford who graduated from West Point in 1827, and his brother would be influential in helping John into West Point, which he entered in 1844.

Buford graduated with the class of 1848 which included the distinguished Union artilleryman John Tidball, and the future Confederate brigadier generals “Grumble Jones and “Maryland” Steuart. Among his best friends was Ambrose Burnside of the class of 1847. He did well academically but his conduct marks kept him from graduating in the top quarter of his class.

Upon graduation he was commissioned as a Brevet Second Lieutenant of Dragoons, however too late to serve in Mexico. Instead he was initially assigned to the First United States Dragoons but less than six months after joining was transferred to the Second Dragoons when he was promoted to full Second Lieutenant.

Instead of going to Mexico Buford “spent most of the 1850s tracking and fighting Indians on the Plains.” [2] During this period, the young dragoon served on the Great Plains against the Sioux, where he distinguished himself at the Battle of Ash Creek and on peacekeeping duty in the bitterly divided State of Kansas and in the Utah War of 1858.

His assignments alternated between field and staff assignments and he gained a great deal of tactical and administrative expertise that would serve him well. This was especially true in the realm of the tactics that he would employ so well at Gettysburg and on other battlefields against Confederate infantry and cavalry during the Civil War. Buford took note of the prevailing tactics of the day which still stressed a rigid adherence to outdated Napoleonic tactics which stressed mounted charges and “little cooperation with units of other arms or in the taking and holding of disputed ground.” [3] While he appreciated the shock value of mounted charges against disorganized troops he had no prejudice against “fighting dismounted when the circumstances of the case called for or seemed to justify it.” [4] Buford’s pre-war experience turned him into a modern soldier who appreciated and employed the rapid advances in weaponry, including the repeating rifle with tremendous effect.

Despite moving to Illinois Buford’s family still held Southern sympathies; his father was a Democrat who had opposed Abraham Lincoln. Buford himself was a political moderate and though he had some sympathy for slave owners:

“he despised lawlessness in any form – especially that directed against federal institutions, which he saw as the bulwark of democracy…..He especially abhorred the outspoken belief of some pro-slavery men that the federal government was their sworn enemy.” [5]

After the election of Abraham Lincoln, the officers of Buford’s regiment split on slavery. His regimental commander, Colonel Philip St. George Cooke, a Virginian and the father-in-law of J.E.B. Stewart announced that he would remain loyal to the Union, others like Beverly Robertson who would command a brigade of cavalry during the Gettysburg campaign resigned their commissions.

For many officers, both those who remained loyal to the Union and those who joined the Confederate cause the decision was often difficult, and many anguished over their decisions as they weighed their allegiance to the Union against their loyalty to home and family. Buford was not one of them.

Since Buford’s family had longstanding ties to Kentucky, the pro-secession governor of Kentucky, Beriah Magoffin offered Buford a commission in that states’ militia. At the time Kentucky was still an “undeclared border slave state” and Buford loyal to his oath refused the governor’s offer. He wrote a brief letter to Magoffin and told his comrades that “I sent him word that I was a Captain in the United States Army and I intend to remain one.” [6]Around the same time the new provisional government of the Confederacy “offered Buford a general officer’s commission, which reached him by mail at Fort Crittenden.” [7] According to Buford’s biographer Edward Longacre “a well-known anecdote has him wadding up the letter while angrily announcing that whatever future had in store he would “live and die under the flag of the Union.” [8]

However Buford’s family’s southern ties, and lack of political support from the few remaining loyal Kentucky legislators initially kept him from field command. Instead he received a promotion to Colonel and an assignment to the Inspector General’s Office, although it was not the field assignment that he desired it was of critical importance to the army in those early days of the war as the Union gathered its strength for the war. Buford was assigned to mustering in, and training the new regiments being organized for war. Traveling about the country he evaluated each unit in regard to “unit dress, deportment and discipline, the quality and quantity of weapons, ammunition, equipment, quarters, animals and transportation; the general health of the unit and medical facilities available to it; and the training progress of officers and men.” [9] Buford was a hard and devastatingly honest trainer and evaluator of the new regiments. He was especially so in dealing with commanding officers as well as field and company officers. Additionally he was a stickler regarding supply officers, those he found to be incompetent or less than honest were cashiered.

Buford performed these duties well but desired command. Eventually he got the chance when the politically well-connected but ill-fated Major General John Pope who “could unreservedly vouch for his loyalty wrangled for him command of a brigade of cavalry.” [10] After Pope’s disastrous defeat at Second Bull Run in August 1862 Buford was wounded in the desperate fighting at Second Manassas and returned to staff duties until January 1863 when he was again given a brigade. However, unlike many of the officers who served under Pope, Buford’s reputation as a leader of cavalry and field commander was increased during that campaign.

Buford was given the titular title of “Chief of Cavalry of the Army of the Potomac” by George McClellan, a title which sounded impressive but involved no command during the Antietam campaign. Following that frustrating task he continued in the same position under his old West Point friend Ambrose Burnside during the Fredericksburg campaign. Buford lost confidence in his old friend and was likely “shocked by his friend’s deadly ineptitude, his dogged insistence on turning defeat into nightmare.” [11]

When Burnside was relieved and Fighting Joe Hooker appointed to command the army, Buford’s star began to rise. While he was passed over by Hooker for command of the newly organized First Cavalry division in favor of Alfred Pleasanton who was eleven days his senior, he received command of the elite Reserve Brigade composed of mostly Regular Army cavalry regiments. When Major General George Stoneman was relieved of command following the Chancellorsville campaign, Pleasanton was again promoted over Buford.

In later years Hooker recognized that Buford “would have been a better man for the position of chief” [12] but in retrospect Buford’s pass over was good fortune for the Army of the Potomac on June 30th and July 1st 1863. Despite being passed over for the Cavalry Corps command, Buford, a consummate professional never faltered or became bitter. Despite the Pleasanton’s interference and “lax intelligence-gathering” [13]   During the Gettysburg campaign he led his brigade well at Brandy Station as it battled J.E.B. Stuart’s troopers, after which he was recommended for promotion and given command of the First Cavalry division of the Cavalry Corps. [14]

Following Brandy Station Buford led his troopers aggressively as they battled Stuart’s troopers along the Blue Ridge at the battles of Aldie, Philmont, Middleburg and Upperville. It was at Upperville while fighting a hard action Confederate Brigadier general “Grumble Jones’s brigade that Buford’s troopers provided Hooker with the first visual evidence that Lee’s infantry was moving north into Maryland and Pennsylvania.

burford reynolds monuments

When Hooker was relieved on the night of June 27th and 28th George Meade gave Buford the chance at semi-independent command without Pleasanton looking over his shoulder. Meade appreciated Pleasanton’s administrative and organizational expertise and took him out of direct field command. Meade had his Cavalry Corps commander “pitch his tent next to his own on almost every leg of the trip to Pennsylvania and rarely let him out of sight or earshot.” [15]

One of Meade’s staff officers, Theodore Lyman gave this description of Buford:

“He is one of the best of the officers…and is a singular looking party. Figurez-vous a compactly built man of middle height, with a tawny mustache and a little, triangular gray eye, whose expression is determined, not to say sinister. His ancient corduroys are tucked into a pair of ordinary cowhide boots, his blue blouse is ornamented with holes; from which one pocket thereof peeps a huge pipe, while the other is fat with a tobacco pouch. Notwithstanding this get-up he is a very soldierly looking man. Hype is of a good natured disposition, but is not to be trifled with.” [16]

When he was ordered to screen the army as it moved into Pennsylvania, Buford was confident about his troopers and their ability and he and his men performed their duties admirably. On June 29th Buford’s men skirmished with two of Harry Heth’s regiments near the town of Fairfield, which Buford promptly reported to Meade and John Reynolds after ascertaining their size and composition.

The Battle of Gettysburg would be the zenith of Buford’s career. His masterful delaying action against Harry Heth’s division on July 1st 1863 enabled John Reynold’s wing of the army to arrive in time to keep the Confederates from taking the town and all of the high ground which would have doomed any union assault against them. Following Gettysburg Buford continued to command his cavalry leading his division in a number of engagements. In early November the worn out cavalryman who had been in so many actions over the past year came down with Typhoid. In hopes that he would recover he was told that he would be appointed to command all the cavalry in the West, however his health continued to decline. He was officially promoted to Major General of Volunteers by President Lincoln, over the objection of Secretary of War Stanton who disliked deathbed promotions. “Upon learning of the honor. Buford is supposed to have whispered, “I wish I could have lived now.” [17] He died later that evening, the last words warning his officers “patrol the roads and halt fugitives at the front.” [18]

John Pope wrote of Buford:

“Buford’s coolness, his fine judgment, and his splendid courage were well known of all men who had to do with him… His quiet dignity, covering a fiery spirit and a military sagacity as far reaching as it was accurate made him…one of the best and most trusted officers in the service.” [19]

Sam Elliot as Buford

Buford was buried at West Point and he is immortalized in the monument dedicated to him on McPherson’s Ridge at Gettysburg where he with binoculars in hand looks defiantly west in the direction of the advancing Confederates. The monument is surrounded by the gun tubes of four Union 3” Rifles, three of which were part of Lieutenant John Calef’s Battery which he directed on the fateful morning of July 1st 1863. He was portrayed masterfully portrayed by Sam Elliott in the movie Gettysburg.

Notes

[1] Longacre, Edward G. John Buford: A Military Biography Da Capo Press, Perseus Book Group, Cambridge MA p.17

[2] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.121

[3] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.36

[4] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.36

[5] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.54

[6] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.121

[7] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.70

[8] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.70

[9] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.78

[10] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.121

[11] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.122

[12] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p.44

[13] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.173

[14] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p.64

[15] Longacre, Edward G. The Cavalry at Gettysburg: A Tactical Study of Mounted Operations during the Civil War’s Pivotal Campaign, 9 June-14 July 1863 University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1986 p.168

[16] Girardi, Robert I. The Civil War Generals: Comrades, Peers, Rivals in Their Own Words Zenith Press, MBI Publishing, Minneapolis MN 2013 p.38

[17] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.245

[18] Ibid. Longacre John Buford p.246

[19] Ibid. Girardi The Civil War General p.38

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Controversy and Glory: Dan Sickles Part Six

Daniel_Edgar_Sickles

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am taking a break for the past week or so to read and reflect. As such I am re-posting some articles from my Gettysburg text dealing with a man that I consider one of the most fascinating , salacious, scandalous, heroic, and incredible figures ever to grace and disgrace American history, Congressman, and Civil War General Daniel E. Sickles.

I hope that you enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

LongstreetJ_main

Lieutenant General James Longstreet C.S.A.

President John F. Kennedy paraphrased the words of the Roman Emperor Tacitus after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, Kennedy told a journalist, “victory has 100 fathers and defeat is an orphan.” The problem in doing a proper analysis of Longstreet’s assault is the fact that many of the men involved on both sides made the battle personal, issuing scathing denunciations of one another, fudging the facts to their advantage, and by making the fight political a political football in the South and in the North.

The Confederate attacks had been badly directed and uncoordinated. In the end though McLaws’ and Hood’s divisions had succeeded in thrashing Sickles’ Third Corps in the exposed salient they were unsuccessful at breaking the Federal line. The disjointed nature of their attacks and the lack of active command and control by Lee and Longstreet had much to do with the outcome. Lee’s presence was needed on the south end of the Confederate line, but he left Longstreet to his own devices.

There was much blame to go around on the Confederate side, Longstreet placed much of the blame for the defeat on Lee, which earned him the everlasting enmity of many Confederates. But Lee’s Warhorse also met with criticism, especially for his performance on July 2nd 1863. Some of the most withering came not years later, but in the days following the battle. The harshest came from Lafayette McLaws, his old friend, who had been a favorite of Longstreet. McLaws blamed his corps commander for the defeat, writing his wife, “I think that the attack was unnecessary and the whole plan of battle a very bad one. Genl Longstreet is to blame for not reconnoitering the ground and for persisting in ordering the assault when his errors were discovered. During the engagement he was very excited [,] giving contrary orders to every one, and exceedingly overbearing. I consider him a humbug – a man of small capacity, very obstinate, not at all chivalrous, exceedingly conceited, and totally selfish….” [1]

One of Longstreet’s biographers wrote “Longstreet’s performance during the morning deserves criticism…. Had he attended to the details that were his responsibility and not allowed his disagreement with Lee to affect his judgment and effort, the afternoon assault would have begun sooner, but not several hours earlier.” [2] That historian believes that had Sickles not moved forward that Longstreet’s attack, even if made earlier would have met success, something echoed by Porter Alexander who wrote, “There seems no doubt that Longstreet’s attack on the 2nd been materially sooner, we would have gained a decided victory.” [3]

Casualties were heavy on both sides but the attack had failed and it had failed because of senior leadership of Lee and his corps commanders. Had Lee “duplicated the active role taken by his counterpart, George Meade, the outcome might have been different.” [4] But this too is speculation born of perfect 20/20 hindsight. One of Lee’s biographer’s wrote “Longstreet was disgruntled, Ewell was inept and Hill was unwell.” [5] To make matters worse, throughout the day, Robert E. Lee did not assert himself and even his most devoted biographer Douglas Southall Freeman would write that on July 2nd 1863 “the Army of Northern Virginia was without a commander.” [6]

general-george-meade

Major General George Meade U.S. Army

On the Federal side most of the controversy has to do with Sickles’ decision to move the Third Corps forward from Cemetery Hill to the Peach Orchard and so it is appropriate to close this chapter discussing Dan Sickles. The matter has been a long subject of controversy, especially because of the way that Sickles politicized his actions in the press and in the Congressional hearings that followed. Many generals on both sides blundered at Gettysburg.

One can speculate that had Sickles remained in the position dictated by Meade that the Confederate assault might have gone down to an even more disastrous defeat. That being said the line that Sickles would have occupied with his 10,600 troops was long and he could not have held it in great strength, even Little Round Top would have been lightly occupied, and Meade might not have been forced to reexamine his line. It is fully possible that “had Longstreet attacked there with the same headlong fury, it is possible that the Confederates would have broken through not merely into Sickles’ rear, but into the entire Union rear and that disaster would have been the result.” [7] However, Sickles, even though he thought he was justified, was wrong in not informing Meade of the move, and leaving his army commander ignorant of the position of his left.

Sickles action, though an error, was something that could have been rationally addressed by him and Meade long before the Confederate attack began. Had the two men “worked in tandem – that is had the line taken by the Third Corps been shared by the Fifth, and had command matters been resolved and fallback plans established – Longstreet’s troops would have been hard pressed to achieve any of their goals.” [8] One historian put the matter of Sickles’s decision and the subsequent controversies into perspective:

“The entire episode has been clouded since 1863 by issues of politics and personality that hinder unbiased analysis. It is time to put aside such extraneous issues. When Sickles’s scandalous prewar behavior, postwar bombast, and special pleading are discounted and the case is considered solely on its merits, the results of the Third Corps advance speak for themselves. Dan Sickles was not perfect on July 2, 1862, but neither was he the military buffoon so often portray.” [9]

In his after action report Meade criticized Sickles and did so again before the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War, that latter in regard to comments made by Sickles and his supporters both to the committee and in the press. Meade not only had to deal with the diversions created by Sickles, he also had the real problem of Abraham Lincoln’s disappointment with his failure to catch and destroy the Army of Northern Virginia before it escaped across the Potomac. Dan Sickles did not have to worry about that, and “he could play the role that politicians play best: critic and second guesser.” [10]With the press on his side the former disgraced Congressman was now a one legged war hero, and Sickles attempted to use his redemption and status of a hero “to have Meade removed from command in disgrace.” [11] Many generals on both sides blundered at Gettysburg. Had Sickles taken the high road after the battle rather than attempting to torpedo the name and reputation of George Meade, his action might have provoked less controversy, and “Dan Sickles the historical figure has paid a permanent price for this, overshadowing the laudable work he did as an early force in establishing the Gettysburg National Memorial Park.” [12]

That was most unfortunate, for it has poisoned the discussion of the battle for over 150 years. Unlike Lee, Meade was constantly leading from the front on this long and brutal afternoon. Meade fought a magnificent defensive battle and recovered from the surprise of Sickles movement even as Sickles and his soldiers fought hard greatly impeded the Confederate plan. Sickles was praised in the press and even by long term enemies such as George Templeton Strong, who wrote, “I suppose Sickles… with his one leg, among our best volunteer officers. His recuperative powers are certainly wonderful. Four years ago he was a ruined man in every sense, a pariah whom to know was discreditable.” [13]

“The whole damned field is my memorial”

The Excelsior Brigade Monument at Gettysburg

But the continuing controversy which always seemed to swirl around him prevented him from being honored on the battlefield where he lost his leg. Alone of all the Union Corps commanders at Gettysburg Sickles has no memorial on the battlefield. When asked about the lack of a monument, Sickles, in his typical manner is reported to have said that “The whole damned field is my memorial.” [14]Despite the controversy surrounding his life, and those that swirled in the fighting and refighting of the Battle of Gettysburg, in true fashion Dan Sickles went on to further glory and scandal. Ulysses Grant never allowed him to command troops in the field, Sickles commanded the Military Department of South Carolina, the Department of the Carolinas, and the Department of the South, where was a strong proponent of Reconstruction. Teresa died of tuberculosis in 1866

He was retired as a Major General in the Regular Army in 1869 and went on to serve as Minister to Spain where he carried on an affair with the deposed Queen Isabella, a nymphomaniac who long before she ever Sickles had conducted a myriad of high profile affairs. The affair with the former queen was open and offensive to many people, but neither seemed to mind. In a sense they were kindred spirits. A Paris newspaper dubbed the one-legged General “the Yankee King of Spain.” [15]The affair with Isabella eventually burned itself out and Sickles married Senorita Caroline de Creagh, the daughter of a Spanish Minister, who bore him two children. To do this he converted to Roman Catholicism, something that he had never done when Teresa was alive. After his service in Spain was ended Sickles remained in Paris for four years, where he was widely admired and “received the office of Commander of the Legion of Honor.” [16]

Though a Democrat he supported Republican Presidential candidates Ulysses S. Grant and Rutherford Hayes, the latter against a long time Democratic rival from New York. As he got older Gettysburg became an increasing part of his life and in 1892 he ran for Congress in order to spearhead efforts to preserve the battlefield. He was elected and it was in large part due to his efforts that what we now know as the Gettysburg National Military Park exists. In 1893, Sickles met James Longstreet at a Gathering in Gettysburg, and the two men became lifelong friends. Since the war both men had been refighting the battle and the controversies that hung over their decisions that July 2nd like a pall. Longstreet, for his actions on the battlefield, and his decision to become a Republican and serve in the post-war Reconstruction efforts was a pariah in much of the South. That “unpopularity was painful to him, and he was glad to find a sympathetic ally in Sickles. Each of the two generals agreed that the other had moved with blameless skill that day,” [17] and both would defend the other in the succeeding years. As the continuing battle of Gettysburg was fought in the press and in histories written by various participants, Longstreet wrote of Sickles, “I believe it is now conceded that the advanced position at the peach orchard, taken by your Corps and under your orders, saved that battlefield for the Union cause.” [18]

Sickles was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1897, the citation stating, “Displayed most conspicuous gallantry on the field vigorously contesting the advance of the enemy and continuing to encourage his troops after being himself severely wounded.”

Sickles long to outlived George Meade who died in 1872 and all of the other Corps commanders of the Army of the Potomac, not to mention most of his friends and enemies. His father George Sickles died in 1887 leaving Dan an estate of nearly five million dollars. His daughter by Teresa, Laura, whose life had been so scarred by the events of 1859 died alone and estranged from her father. In 1896, disgusted by the nomination of William Jennings Bryant as the Democratic Presidential nominee, the one-legged Sickles went to work with his old Gettysburg comrade, the one-armed Oliver Otis Howard to campaign for the Republican William McKinley. They were quite a pair, the religious Howard, and the libertine Sickles, but they helped McKinley defeat Bryant, and McKinley remained grateful to them until his death by an assassin’s bullet.

In 1913 he attended the fiftieth anniversary ceremonies at Gettysburg where he watched the white haired survivors of Pickett’s Charge hobble across the wide battlefield into the arms of their former opponents on Cemetery Ridge. Helen Longstreet, James Longstreet’s second wife and widow quoted the words of a poet named Horatio King, for the event for a southern newspaper.

I see him on that famous field,

The bravest of the brave,

Where Longstreet’s legions strove to drive

The Third Corps to its grave

The fight was bloody, fierce and long,

And Sickles’ name shall stay

Forever in the hall of fame

As he who saved the day [19]

While Helen Longstreet’s claim that Sickles was “forever in the hall of fame” is a tad farfetched, there is no doubt that scoundrel had found redemption. When Sickles died in 1914 at the age of 94, his funeral was held at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York and he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, with full military honors, his flag-draped casket carried on an artillery caisson accompanied by a rider-less horse and artillery salutes. His funeral, in a military cemetery among other soldiers was “proof that he was no longer an attorney, politician, or even the murderer of Barton Key,” [20] he was a soldier. His tombstone simply reads:

Daniel E. Sickles

Medal of Honor

Maj. Gen. U.S. Army

May 3 1914

sickles grave

The New York Times made a comment that no one, be they an admirer or enemy could deny. “He was a truly adventurous spirit.” [21]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Oeffinger A Soldier’s General p.197

[2] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.279

[3] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy p.278

[4] Ibid. Wert General James Longstreet p.279

[5] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His CriticsBrassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 p.149

[6] Freeman, Douglas S. R.E. Lee volume 3 Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York 1935 p.150

[7] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.235

[8] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, the Testing of Courage p.421

[9] Robertson, William Glenn The Peach Orchard Revisited: Daniel E. Sickles and the Third Corps on July 2, 1863 in The Second Day at Gettysburg: Essays on Confederate and Union Leadership edited by Gary W. Gallagher, The Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio and London, 1993 p.56

[10] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p. 244

[11] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.235

[12] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p. 401

[13] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg pp.244-245

[14] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.390

[15] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.321

[16] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.339

[17] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.367

[18] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.341

[19] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.353

[20] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p. 385

[21] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.390

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