Border State Cadets at West Point

This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series Military Academies of the United States

Henry du PontThe cadets that had the most difficult decisions to make were those who came from the Border States. Their states took a great deal of time to make up their minds on the question of secession.

One of the most well-known Border Staters was Henry du Pont of Delaware. Today, we might not think of Delaware as a Border State but in 1860 it was a slave state. The number of slaves in the state had been 8,887 in 1790 but by 1860 it had diminished to 1,798.

DuPont was a scion of the E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, a company founded by his grandfather, Eleuthère Irénée du Pont. Henry initially attended the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He then attended West Point and graduated first in his class in 1861.

Shortly before his graduation, du Pont received a letter from his uncle Samuel who was a naval officer. Cadets from the class of May 1861 had petitioned the government to allow them to graduate early. In the letter Samuel du Pont wrote: “…your country which has educated you is in danger…don’t let a du Pont be wanting in this hour of trial.”

He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant of Engineers upon his graduation on May 6, 1861. Soon after he was promoted to First Lieutenant in the 5th Regiment, U.S. Artillery on May 14, 1861. During the war he was an officer in the light artillery rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Henry du Pont was initially assigned to the defenses of Washington and New York Harbor. From July 6, 1861 to March 24, 1864, he served as regimental adjutant (administrative officer) until he was promoted to captain. He subsequently became chief of artillery in the Army of West Virginia. At the Battle of New Market du Pont successfully covered the retreat of the Union forces by skillful use of his artillery batteries.

Du Pont was part of General Philip Sheridan’s army in the Shenandoah Valley of northern Virginia. He received the Medal of Honor for his handling of a retreat at the Battle of Cedar Creek, allowing Sheridan to win a victory in the battle.

During the war, du Pont received two brevets (honorary promotions). The first was to the rank of major, dated September 19, 1864, for gallant service in the battles of Opequon and Fisher’s Hill. The second brevet was to the rank of lieutenant colonel, dated October 19, 1864, for distinguished service at the Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia.

There were a number of Border State cadets who ultimately fought for the Confederacy. Charles Carroll Campbell of Missouri graduated with his class in May 1861, was commissioned  as a lieutenant of the First U.S. Cavalry but was dismissed on June 6, 1861 when he tendered his resignation.

He was second in command of the First Missouri Infantry at Shiloh. He later was in command of the Confederate arsenal at Atlanta and finally he was chief of ordnance on the staff of General Joseph Wheeler. In a turnabout Campbell served in the U. S. Corps of Engineers.

Olin E. Rice of Kentucky graduated with his class in May 1861, was commissioned  as a lieutenant of the Ninth U.S. Infantry but was dismissed on June 6, 1861 when he tendered his resignation. He was a captain of the First Missouri Infantry at Shiloh. He then served on the staff of General Simon Bolivar Buckner and was a colonel by the end of the war.

Mathias Winston Henry of Kentucky graduated with his class in May 1861, was commissioned  as a lieutenant of the Union’s Mounted Rifles but was resigned on August 19, 1861 and joined the Confederate Army. He became chief of artillery for Hood’s Division.

William Watkins Dunlap of Kentucky was dismissed from the Union Army when he refused to take the oath of allegiance. He eventually became a lieutenant colonel in the Confederate Army.

James Parker Porter of Kentucky was Custer’s roommate and contested the last in the class with him. He later became lieutenant colonel of the First Mississippi Artillery.

George Owen Watts of Kentucky graduated with his class in May 1861, was commissioned  as a lieutenant of the Union’s Mounted Rifles but was resigned on August 10, 1861 and joined the Confederate Army. As an engineer officer on the staff of General Simon Bolivar Buckner, he built the works at Fort Donelson, Fort Pillow and Nashville.

As you can see the vast majority of Border State cadets sided with the Confederacy.


West Point Cadets who fought for the Union: Custer, Upton

This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series Military Academies of the United States

George Armstrong CusterJohn Pelham and Tom Rosser had many Northern friends among their West Point classmates. Two of them were George Custer and Emory Upton. One was a famous cavalry leader,  the other was a tactical genius who revolutionized infantry warfare.

George Armstrong Custer was born in 1839 and raised in Michigan and Ohio. He was admitted to West Point in 1858, where he graduated last in his class. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Custer was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Union Army.

Custer developed a strong reputation during the Civil War. He fought in the first major engagement, the First Battle of Bull Run. Initially, he served as a staff officer but he soon became a line officer. Three days prior to the Battle of Gettysburg, General Alfred Pleasonton promoted Custer from captain to brigadier general of volunteers. Despite having no direct command experience, he became one of the youngest generals in the Union Army at age 23.

Custer established a reputation as an aggressive cavalry brigade commander willing to take personal risks by leading his Michigan Brigade into battle, such as the mounted charges at Hunterstown and East Cavalry Field at the Battle of Gettysburg.

At East Cavalry Field, hours of charges and hand-to-hand combat ensued. Custer led a mounted charge of the 1st Michigan Cavalry, breaking the back of the Confederate assault. Custer’s brigade lost 257 men at Gettysburg, the highest loss of any Union cavalry brigade. “I challenge the annals of warfare to produce a more brilliant or successful charge of cavalry”, Custer wrote in his report

Custer was eventually promoted to the temporary rank (brevet) of major general and promoted major general of Volunteers. (At war’s end, he reverted to his permanent rank of captain.) At the conclusion of the Appomattox Campaign, in which he and his troops played a decisive role, Custer was present at General Robert E. Lee’s surrender.

Of course, we all know about Custer’s Last Stand. He led his regiment into the valley of the Little Bighorn River. Cuter divided his regiment into three battalions: one led by himself, one led by Major Marcus Reno, and one by Captain Frederick Benteen. Captain Thomas M. McDougall and Company B were with the pack train.

Benteen was sent south and west, to cut off any attempted escape by the Indians, Reno was sent north to charge the southern end of the encampment, and Custer rode north, hidden to the east of the encampment by bluffs, and planning to circle around and attack from the north.

Unfortunately for the cavalry they were heavily outnumbered and forced to retreat with heavy casualties. In the opening action of the attack Reno lost a quarter of his command. Initially, Custer had 208 officers and men under his command, with an additional 142 under Reno, just over 100 under Benteen, 50 soldiers with Captain McDougall’s rearguard, and 84 soldiers under 1st Lieutenant Edward Gustave Mathey with the pack train. The Lakota-Cheyenne coalition may have fielded over 1800 warriors.

Eventually, Custer’s remaining troopers were surrounded and killed. All of the men under his immediate command were killed. Their bodies were stripped and desecrated. Eventually, Custer’s body was returned to West Point for final interment.

The other Northerner who distinguished himself was Emory Upton. He was born on a farm near Batavia, New York. Upton entered West Point in 1856. Upton soon became a dedicated abolitionist who fought a dual with fellow Cadet Wade Hampton Gibbes of South Carolina over some offensive remarks about Upton’s alleged relationships with African-American girls at Oberlin College.

Upton was commissioned a second lieutenant of artillery at the start of the war. In the First Battle of Bull Run, July Emory Upton21, 1861, he was wounded in the arm and left side during the action at Blackburn’s Ford, although he did not leave the field.

He commanded his battery in the VI Corps Artillery Reserve through the 1862 Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days Battles. In the Maryland Campaign, including the battles at Crampton’s Gap at South Mountain and the Battle of Antietam, he commanded the artillery brigade for the 1st Division, VI Corps.

Upton was appointed colonel of the 121st New York on October 23, 1862. He led the regiment at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December and commanded the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, of the VI Corps, starting at the Battle of Gettysburg. In the Bristoe Campaign, Upton was cited for gallant service at Rappahannock Station in November 1863 and was given a brevet promotion to major in the regular army.

Emory Upton greatest contribution to Union tactical warfare took place at the Mule Shoe Salient during the Battle of Spotsylvania. Upton devised a tactic wherein columns of massed infantry would swiftly assault a small part of the enemy line, without pausing to trade fire, and in doing so attempt to overwhelm the defenders and achieve a breakthrough.

The standard infantry assault employed a wide battle line advancing more slowly, firing at the enemy as it moved forward. On May 10, 1864, Upton led twelve regiments in such an assault against the salient. His tactics worked and his command penetrated to the center of the Mule Shoe, but they were left unsupported and forced to withdraw in the face of enemy artillery and mounting reinforcements. Upton was wounded in the attack, but was promoted to brigadier general on May 12.

The VI Corps, of which Upton’s brigade was part, was detached from the Army of the Potomac and sent to deal with Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early’s threat to Washington and in the subsequent Valley Campaigns of 1864. At the Third Battle of Winchester, he assumed command of the 1st Division, VI Corps, when its commander fell mortally wounded. Upton himself was severely wounded in the thigh soon after, but refused to be removed from the field until the battle was over. He was carried on a stretcher for the duration of the battle, directing his troops.

After returning from medical leave, Upton finished the war as a cavalry commander, completing his mastery of all three combat arms. Under the command of Maj. Gen. James H. Wilson, he led the 4th Division of the Cavalry Corps of the Military Division of the Mississippi.The division saw action during Wilson’s Raid and the Battle of Selma.

On April 16, 1865, the division made a night assault upon the Confederate works in the Battle of Columbus, Georgia, capturing a large amount of arms, ammunition, stores, and 1,500 prisoners, and burning the “cottonclad” ramming ship, CSS Muscogee. This occurred a week after the surrender of Robert E. Lee’s army in Virginia, and was the last large-scale engagement during the war.

A few weeks later, in May 1865, Upton was ordered to arrest Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy, and a little later Jefferson Davis was placed in his custody. He was given a brevet promotion to brigadier general in the regular army for his actions at Selma and major general in the regular army, both on March 13, 1865.

After the conclusion of the war Upton to West Point where he eventually became the commandant of cadets at the United States Military Academy. He also taught infantry, artillery, and cavalry tactics.

In 1881, Upton, having returned to the rank of colonel in 1880, was in command of 4th U.S. Artillery at the Presidio of San Francisco. He suffered greatly from headaches, possibly caused by a brain tumor, and committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. He is buried in Fort Hill Cemetery, Auburn, New York

Emory Upton is considered one of the most influential young reformers of the United States Army in the 19th century, arguably in U.S. history. He has been called the U.S. Army’s counterpart to United States Navy reformer and strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan. Although his books on tactics and on Asian and European armies were considered influential, his greatest impact was a work he called The Military Policy of the United States from 1775. He worked for years on the paper, but it was incomplete at the time of his death in 1881.



Marsena R. Patrick, Provost Marshal General

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series The Provost Marshal System

General Marsena R. PatrickMarsena Rudolph Patrick was the provost marshal for the Army of the Potomac and later held the same position for the armies of the Eastern Theater under General Ulysses S. Grant.

Patrick was born in Jefferson County, New York on March 15, 1811. He worked on the Erie Canal and briefly taught school before his appointment to West Point. He graduated in 1835 and was commissioned in the infantry. In 1839 he served in the Seminole Wars. He served in the Mexican War where he was promoted to captain in 1847. Promoted to major in 1849, nevertheless he resigned his commission a year later.

Initially, he was president of the Sackett’s Harbor and Ellisburg Railroad. He later became an expert farmer, studying and using the latest farming practices. In 1859, he was appointed president of the the New York State Agricultural College, serving in that role for two years before the outbreak of the Civil War.

At the onset of the war Patrick enlisted in the New York State Militia as its inspector general. By March 1862 he was appointed a brigadier general of volunteers and given command of a brigade. His unit was part of  a division commanded Brig. Gen. Rufus King. They were part of Irvin McDowell’s Army in the Shenandoah Valley. It was here that they battled the Confederate Army of the Shenandoah led by Gen. Thomas J. Jackson who had become the famous ‘Stonewall’ at the First Battle of Bull Run (or Manassas).

Patrick was almost immediately appointed military governor of Fredericksburg, Virginia, in April 1862. Transferred later in the year to the Army of the Potomac under Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, he commanded the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, I Corps in the defenses of Washington, D.C..

Patrick’s brigade (renumbered as the 3rd Brigade) suffered hundreds of casualties in the Maryland Campaign, seeing action at the battles of South Mountain and Antietam. At Antietam Patrick’s Brigade was part of the assaults on the West Woods on the morning of the battle.

Following the Battle of Antietam, the Army of the Potomac’s command structure was reorganized with the removal of McClellan and his replacement by Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside. Patrick was named provost marshal of the Army of the Potomac on October 6, 1862 and given the equivalent of a brigade of troops to carry out his duties. At times this formation included the following units:

His unit was responsible for a variety of tasks including maintaining military discipline behind the lines. In November of 1862 the were unable to stop the sacking and looting of Fredericksburg, Virginia from vengeful Union troops. This incident was to dog Patrick for some time as political leaders blamed him for the actions of the out-of-control soldiers.

“The Soldiery were sacking the town!” Patrick wrote, uncharacteristically using an exclamation mark in his diary. “Men with all sorts of utensils & furniture, all sorts of eatables & drinkables & wearables, were carried off. I found the town in a most deplorable state of things. Libraries, pictures, furniture, every thing destroyed & the brutal Soldiery still carrying on the work.”

Patrick described his efforts to restore order with near-melancholy: “Couch sent over for me to clear the town. This was impossible although I put in my Cavalry & 4 companies of Infy.”

In 1863, new army commander Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker had Patrick create the Bureau of Military Information, a network of intelligence agents. Patrick assigned his deputy provost marshal, Colonel George H. Sharpe, to the task. Sharpe was assisted by John C. Babcock, a civilian and former employee of Allan Pinkerton.

His unit was also responsible for processing captured Confederate troops from the battlefield and into captivity. They policed the area behind the battlefields and behind the marching army for deserters and stragglers. In general, it was their job to main order and discipline for the Army of the Potomac.

Patrick’s job as provost marshal began with a marching army. Whether in advance or retreat, a force the size of the Army of the Potomac had to contend with clogged roads, narrow bridges, mud, swift rivers and a host of other situations bound to slow progress. Patrick had to keep the army moving while rounding up stragglers, looters or worse.

Artillery, Packs, Ambulances, Servants, Orderlies & detached commands, with Stragglers of all kinds, began to pour in” as the army approached a narrow bridge, Patrick wrote in his diary. “I was at the Bridge & thereabouts, whip in hand, using it freely & directing the movement successfully, until every wheel & hoof had crossed the bridges.”

As battle neared, Patrick’s job evolved into helping concentrate the army. He had to round up drunks, skedaddlers, looters, stragglers and other unsavory men who were supposed to be in line against the enemy. On June 30, 1863, as the army approached Gettysburg, Patrick wrote, “I was called into town and sent for two Squadrons of Cavalry to go back to Frederick & clean out that town, which was reported full of drunken men & Stragglers.”

During battle, Patrick performed the thankless job of turning around or corralling the men who ran from the battle. He also had to deal with prisoners. During Pickett’s Charge, Patrick and his men were behind the main Federal line. “I had my hands full with those that broke to the rear, but we succeeded in checking the disorder & organized a guard of Stragglers to keep nearly 2000 Prisoners all safe.”

After the battle, Patrick saw to the dead and the mountains of government equipment left on the field. On July 6, 1863, Patrick wrote, “I was soon ordered by Gen. Meade to go into the town & make arrangements with responsible parties for the burial of the dead & Securing of the property on the battle field.”

When Ulysses S, Grant became General-in-Chief in March of 1864, He appointed Patrick as provost marshal for the combined forces operating against Richmond, Virginia. He carried out the same duties as he had previously but on a larger scale. After the surrender of Robert E. Lee, he was appointed as provost of the District of Henrico in the Department of Virginia.

Although appointed a brevet major general in the volunteer army, Patrick resigned from the Army a second time on June 12, 1865, preferring to return to civilian life rather than accept a role in the smaller postbellum regular army. In 1865, he ran on the Democratic ticket for New York State Treasurer but was defeated by Republican Joseph Howland.

Patrick moved to Manlius, NY, and from 1867 through 1868, Patrick served as president of the New York State Agricultural Society, then spent the next two years as a state commissioner, a role he again held from 1879 through 1880. He became a widely known public speaker, particularly on topics related to technological advances in agriculture.

Interested in the care of former soldiers, Patrick moved to Ohio and became the governor of the central branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. Marsena Patrick died in Dayton, Ohio, and was buried in the Dayton National Cemetery. His diary, frequently critical of the Army’s commanders, wasn’t published until 1964.




Failed Union Civil War Generals

This entry is part 2 of 17 in the series Union General Officers

Civil War GeneralsThe American Civil War probably had the greatest number of failed general officers in the history of the United States. In fact, both sides saw more general officers who were either relieved of command or later investigated by various Congressional committees.

In the defense of general officers on both sides, none of them had commanded any formation larger than a regiment. Most had commanded companies, battalions or batteries. A number of these officers had been at West Point most recently.

The antebellum United States Army had about 16,000 officers and men scattered across the United States at isolated posts and forts. Many of the West Pointers, like Robert E. Lee, spent the majority of their non-Mexican War service as engineering officers building coastal defenses or supervising the maintenance of harbors and waterways.

Imagine their shock when they were assigned to command formations with thousands of soldiers. At the Battle of First Manassas the combined number of troops engaged was 36,000. The combined armies had between 60,000 and 69,000 men. In the early fighting the armies were really armed mobs. It wasn’t until 1863 that the troops and their officers became hardened veterans.

In this series we’ll start by looking at failed general officers in the Union Army. The most notable, of course, was Maj. Gen. George McClellan, General-in-chief and commander of the Army of the Potomac. He was followed by Maj. Gens. Joseph Hooker and Ambrose Burnside.

There were a number of general officers throughout the history of the Army of the Potomac and other Eastern commands who were relieved of command. Perhaps the most notable was Maj. Gen. Gouvernour K. Warren who spent the rest of his life trying to clear his name.

In the Western Theater, there were Maj. Gens. Don Carlos Buell and William S. Rosecrans. Both of them were relieved of command. Rosecrans carried on a feud with his commanding officer, Ulysses S. Grant, until his dying day.

Many of the Union Army’s failed general officers were so-called ‘political generals’ like Nathaniel Banks, Benjamin Butler and Franz Siegal. Many of them were Democrats whose support Abraham Lincoln saw as critical to the war effort. He did not want the war to be a Republican one but rather wanted it to be a Union effort.

However, some of the ‘political generals’ were not schooled in any type of military training or if they were their experience dated from the Mexican War of 1846-1848 when they were junior officers. These officers tended to make a hash of their battle assignments.

One successful ‘political general’ was Ben Butler who precipitated the ‘contraband’ rules that the Union government adopted when he was the commander of Fortress Monroe. He was also successful when he was the military commander of occupied New Orleans. However, he was never very successful as a battle commander.



Political Generals of the Union: Ben Butler

This entry is part 9 of 17 in the series Union General Officers

Political Generals of the Union: Ben ButlerBenjamin Butler of Massachusetts was among the worst of generals yet in certain circumstances he made a dramatic impact on the Union war effort. He was politician and shrewd businessman who never ceased to be both even though who wore the uniform of a major general of volunteers.

Butler had served in a variety of militia positions in his state, rising to the rank of brigadier general of the militia. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, a fellow Democrat, appointed him to the Board of Visitors of West Point. Despite this, these positions did not give him any significant military experience.

Butler was a Democrat who was opposed to abolition was defeated for the governorship by Democrat-turned-Republican Nathaniel Bank. He was generally active in Democrat state politics having served one term in the state legislature. He was a lawyer whose success allowed him to buy into the Massachusetts clothing mill industry.

At the start of the war Butler sought and eventually received a commission as brigadier general of the Massachusetts forces that were raised from Lincoln’s initial call for volunteers. As a mill owner he was able to take advantage of the mobilization to secure the contract for the heavy cloth that the militia would need for uniforms. Military contracts became a significant source of profits for mill.

Butler commanded the two regiments that were involved in the riots in Baltimore when they attempted to march through the city from one train station to the other. Secessionists mobs attacked the first regiment and Butler who landed at Annapolis with the second regiment was able to restore order with several not so subtle threats to the governor.  He also threatened Maryland legislators with arrest if they voted in favor of secession, and eventually seized the Great Seal of Maryland.

He was ordered to occupy Baltimore by the General-in-Chief Winfield Scott. However, even though he successful in keeping open the vital rail link from the North to Washington, Scott criticized him. Despite this criticism, Butler received one of the early appointments as a major general of volunteers.

His next assignment was the command of Fort Monroe at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula. He sailed there and took command of the formidable fortification in May 1861. He also sent a force to occupy Newport News which gave the U.S. Navy an excellent anchorage.

The Confederates saw the occupation of Fort Monroe and the immediate area as a significant threat to Richmond. Robert E. Lee, then commander of all Virginia’s forces, sent Brig. Gen. John Magruder to secure a forward post at Big Bethel hoping to lure Butler into premature action. Butler took the bait and his forces suffered an embarrassing at the Battle of Big Bethel on June 10.

Butler did not personally lead the force and was later criticized for that action. His plan was much too complex for untrained and undertrained subordinates and troops to execute. In addition, there was a friendly fire incident. The Union troops advanced without scouting the enemy positions or knowing the strength of their opponent.

Butler was also involved in a significant policy decision when he refused to return three runaway slaves to their master. His reasoning was pure legal brilliance. When the owner appeared at the fort in a Confederate officer’s uniform, Butler refused to return the slaves because the Fugitive Slaw Law did not apply as the South was no longer part of the United States. He declared them contraband of war, a decision that President Lincoln officially approved.

Later in 1861, Butler commanded an expeditionary force that, in conjunction with the United States Navy, took Forts Hatteras and Clark in North Carolina. He directed the first Union expedition to Ship Island, off the Mississippi Gulf Coast, in December 1861. In May 1862, he commanded the force that conducted the capture of New Orleans after its occupation by the Navy after the Battle of Forts Jackson and St. Philip.

In the administration of that city he showed great firmness and political subtlety. He devised a plan for poor relief, demanded oaths of allegiance from anyone who sought any privilege from government, and confiscated weapons. Union officials noted that Butler the politician was successful as an administrator even though he was not a very good commander.

However, many of his acts while in command at New Orleans were controversial. Most notorious was Butler’s General Order No. 28 of May 15, 1862, that if any woman should insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States, she shall be regarded and shall be held liable to be treated as a “woman of the town plying her avocation”, i.e., a prostitute. This was in response to women in the town who were pouring buckets of their own urine on Union soldiers, and who at the time could get away with anything as respectable women.

The uproar was heard all of the way to Washington, London and Paris. He was nicknamed “‘Beast’ Butler” or alternatively “‘Spoons’ Butler,” the latter nickname derived from an incident in which a woman was arrested for smuggling and the silverware she was carrying was confiscated.

There were also suspicions of corruption, although not proven, that he knew about the activities of hos brother Andrew who was also in the army stationed in New Orleans. Upon arriving in the city Butler immediately began attempts to participate in the lucrative inter-belligerent trade.

He used a Federal warship to send $60,000 in sugar to Boston where he expected to sell it for $160,000. His use of the government ship was reported and instead of earning a profit, military authorities permitted him to recover only his $60,000 plus expenses. Thereafter, his brother Andrew officially represented the family in such activities. Everyone in New Orleans believed that Andrew accumulated a profit of $1–$2 million while in Louisiana. Upon inquiry from Treasury Secretary Chase in October 1862, Butler responded that his brother actually cleared less than $200,000.

The Second Confiscation Act gave the Butler brothers a golden opportunity to profit from the seizures of Confederate cotton and other materials. First, Butler conducted a census during which 4,000 respondents refused to take a loyalty oath. He then banished them and had their property seized. It was then sold at very low auction prices where Andrew Butler was often the buyer.

Next the general sent expeditions into the countryside with no military purpose other than to confiscate cotton from residents assumed to be disloyal. Once brought into New Orleans the cotton would be similarly sold in rigged auctions. To maintain correct appearances, auction proceeds were dutifully held for the benefit of “just claimants”, but the Butler consortium still ended-up owning the cotton at bargain prices.

Butler also conducted censorship of the newspaper, jailing one editor for three months and confiscating his press. Butler also ran afoul of the foreign consuls residing in New Orleans. Although his actions were popular in the North, they made the Union government uneasy and President Lincoln authorized his recall and replacement by Nathaniel Banks in December 1862.

Lincoln finally in November 1863 Butler was given command of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina. In May 1864 the forces under his command were designated as the Army of the James. General Ulysses Grant, now General-in-Chief, assigned Butler the task of attacking Petersburg from the east.

Butler’s offensive bogged down at the Bermuda Hundred, immobilized by the greatly inferior force of Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard, and he was unable to accomplish any of his assigned objectives. But it was his mismanagement of the expedition against Fort Fisher, North Carolina, that finally led to his recall by General Grant.

Butler’s importance to the reelection of Abraham Lincoln precluded his removal before the November 1864 election. Butler who by now was a Radical Republican was considered as a possible opponent to Lincoln. After the election Grant appealed directly to Lincoln for Butler’s relief, noting “there is a lack of confidence felt in [Butler’s] military ability”. Lincoln agreed and Grant relieved Butler of the command of the Army of the James on January 8, 1865.

Butler was retained by the army until November 1865 with the idea that he might act as military prosecutor of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. But that opportunity never came and he returned to Massachusetts where after serving 10 years as a member of the House he was elected as Governor in 1882.

Ben Butler never ceased to be politician even though he was nominally a soldier. He was not very good as a military man but he did have value as an administrator. His decision to name escaped slaves as contraband of war was a major step to the eventual emancipation of slaves.




Classes Divided: The West Point Classes of 1860 and 1861

This entry is part 16 of 21 in the series A Soldier's Life

West PointJust as the American Civil War divided the country so too did it divide the United States Military Academy at West Point. The military academy had the unusual occurrence of having three graduating classes in two years.

The Class of 1860 had a total of 41 members who represented states both North and South. Among the graduates were young officers who would lead brigades, divisions and corps for both sides in the coming conflict.

The following year the academy graduated 45 young officers in May, only one of which was a Southerner from Tennessee. There were two Kentuckians, a border state. One month later another 35 young officers graduated. By then all of the Southerners had gone home to enlist in the nascent Confederate States Army. Many had resigned several months before their graduations.

The graduates of the three classes can roughly be divided among the classes of service that they served in during the war. A number of them served in several different branches during the four years of war.

The Artillerymen

The ‘Gallant’ John Pelham should have graduated in the class of 1861 but he resigned just a few weeks before his planned graduation, in order to accept a commission in the militia of his home state of Alabama. Pelham soon caught the eye of J.E.B. Stuart who provided his battery with horses and transformed his battery into “horse artillery”.

Pelham and his artillery were involved in every major military engagement of Stuart’s cavalry from the First Battle of Bull Run to Kelly’s Ford, more than 60 encounters. He particularly distinguished himself as the Chief of Stuart’s Artillery in the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) and Battle of Fredericksburg.

At Kelly’s Ford on March 17, 1863, Pelham participated in a cavalry charge, his artillery not being engaged. Standing up in his stirrups, he urged his men to “Press forward, press forward to glory and victory!” Not long afterward, he was struck in the head by a fragment of an exploding Federal artillery shell. He was carried six miles (10 km) from the battlefield to Culpeper Courthouse, and died the following morning without having regained consciousness. He was 24 years old.

Henry Du Pont graduated first in his class from the academy in May 1861. He served throughout the war as an artillery officer in the Union Army. At the Battle of New Market, Du Pont defended the Union rear with his artillery as his comrades withdrew. After the Battle of Cedar Creek, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the initial Union withdrawal. He was also promoted to the brevet rank of lieutenant colonel.

Finally, here’s a cadet that was instrumental in the Union victory on the third day at Gettysburg, Alonzo H. Cushing. He graduated from the academy in June of 1861 and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the artillery. He was brevetted major following the Battle of Chancellorsville.

 Cushing commanded Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery at Gettysburg, and was hailed by contemporaries as heroic in his actions on the third day of the battle. He was wounded three times. First, a shell fragment went straight through his shoulder. He was then grievously wounded by a shell fragment which tore into his abdomen and groin. This wound exposed Cushing’s intestines, which he held in place with his hand as he continued to command his battery.

After these injuries a higher-ranking officer said, “Cushing, go to the rear.” Cushing, due to the limited number of men left, refused to fall back. The severity of his wounds left him unable to yell his orders above the sounds of battle. Thus, he was held aloft by his 1st Sergeant Frederick Füger, who faithfully passed on Cushing’s commands. Cushing was killed when a bullet entered his mouth and exited through the back of his skull. He died on the field at the height of the assault. He was 22 at the time of his death.

Currently, the recommendation for the long belated award of the Medal of Honor is awaiting a review by the Defense Department and approval by the President.

The Cavalrymen

James H. Wilson graduated in the class of 1860 and was assigned to the engineers. He spent the first years of his service as a topographical engineer but in 1864 he transferred to the cavalry where he would eventually become a top cavalry commander.

His daring cavalry raids destroyed vital Southern infrastructure in both the Eastern Theater and the Western Theater but his men with a sense of discipline that usually prevented looting and other collateral damage to civilian property. His repulse of a flanking attack by Maj. Gen.Nathan Bedford Forrest was instrumental in saving the Union Army at the Battle of Franklin. He was one of only a few Union officers to best the legendary Southern cavalryman. 

Wesley Merritt graduated in the class of 1860 and was immediately posted to the 2nd U.S. Dragoons (heavy cavalry) under John Buford. He served in a number of cavalry actions during the first two years of the war, most notably Stoneman’s Raid and Brandy Station. He was promoted from captain to brigadier general after Brandy Station for his “gallant and meritorious service”.

His brigade was engaged on the third day at Gettysburg, following Pickett’s Charge. Merritt took over command of the 1st Division of the Cavalry Corps following the death by typhoid fever of its commander, John Buford, in December 1863. He commanded that unit during Philip Sheridan’s Valley Campaign. 

Arriving at the opportune moment, his division routed the Confederate forces at the Third Battle of Winchester, a deed for which he received a brevet promotion to major general. He was second-in-command to Sheridan during the Appomattox Campaign and was one of several commissioners for the surrender at Appomattox Court House. He was brevetted major general in the regular army, in April 1865, for bravery at the Battle of Five Forks and the Appomattox Campaign.

Judson Kilpatrick was a May 1861 graduate who started his Civil War service in the artillery. Three days later he was transferred to the infantry. He was the first Union officer to be wounded. He was struck in the thigh at Big Bethel in June 1861. By September he was lieutenant colonel of the 2nd N.Y. Cavalry, a unit that he helped to raise.

Nicknamed Kill-Cavalry by his detractors, Kilpatrick was known for his daring tactics. He had a bad reputation with others in the Army. His camps were poorly maintained and frequented by prostitutes, often visiting Kilpatrick himself. He was jailed in 1862 on charges of corruption, accused of selling captured Confederate goods for personal gain. He was jailed again for a drunken spree in Washington, D.C., and for allegedly accepting bribes in the procurement of horses for his command.

The next post will cover the Infantrymen and the Engineers.



Our Best Men: James B. McPherson

This entry is part 15 of 17 in the series Union General Officers

General James McPhersonThe American Civil War is filled with tragic stories. Excellent leaders who were cut down in the prime of their lives. Wasted human potential on the bloody battlefields of the war. Young men whose death were a painful loss for the country. Here are the stories of two such men. One wore blue and one were gray and both men’s deaths were a loss. (I will relate Stephen Ramseur’s story in my next post)

James Birdseye McPherson has been memorialized in many places across America. A fort, three counties, a national cemetery, an elementary school and a highway in his hometown all serve to keep his memory alive. In our nation’s capital there is an equestrian statue in the appropriately named McPherson Square. The statue was paid for by McPherson’s former comrades in the Society of the Army of the Tennessee.

But James McPherson was more than a bronze statue. When the Confederates who mortally wounded him his grief-stricken aide said: “You’ve killed our best man.” McPherson’s brief meteoric career left an imprint on many of those that he served with and commanded.

Born on November 14, 1828 near Hamer’s Corners, Ohio, James McPherson graduated number one in his class from West Point. He was immediately assigned to the Corps of Engineers where he served in New York, Delaware and California working on coastal defenses. 

At the onset of the war he asked for a transfer to the East thinking that being in the center of the action would advance his career. He was almost immediately assigned to the staff of Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck in St. Louis, Missouri. It was here that he met the man who would change his life, Ulysses S. Grant. Grant needed a chief engineer and McPherson fit the bill.

He was at Fort Henry, Fort Donelson and Shiloh. After the latter battle he was promoted to brigadier general. Grant could see McPherson’s leadership qualities and by October 1862 he was promoted to major general and soon after was given command of the XVII Corps in Grant’s Army of the Tennessee. He would lead the corps through the long Vicksburg Campaign.

On March 12, 1864, he was given command of the Army of the Tennessee, after its former commander, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, was promoted to command of all armies in the West. His army was the right wing of Sherman’s triad of armies which included  the Army of the Cumberland and the Army of the Ohio.

On May 5, 1864 Sherman in coordination with the other Union armies began the Atlanta Campaign. McPherson’s army bore the brunt of the early fighting Sherman criticized him for being “slow”. It appears that faulty planning on Sherman’s part allowed the Confederates to escape the Union trap at Dalton, Georgia.

McPherson drove his troops hard chasing the Confederates “vigorously”. They drove the enemy out of Dallas, Georgia. After the Union disaster at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, McPherson tried a flanking maneuver at the Battle of Marietta, but that failed as well.

Meanwhile, Jefferson Davis grew frustrated with General Joseph E. Johnston and replaced him with Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood, McPherson’s classmate and friend. When Hood’s cavalry reported that the left flank of McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee, east of Atlanta, was unprotected, he planned a flank attack reminiscent of Stonewall Jackson’s at Chancellorsville.

Sherman believed that the Confederates were beaten and were withdrawing but McPherson thought otherwise, feeling that Hood would attack his left and rear. Almost immediately, four divisions under Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee flanked Maj. Gen. Grenville Dodge‘s XVI Corps.

While McPherson was riding his horse toward his old XVII Corps, a line of Confederate skirmishers appeared, yelling “Halt!”. McPherson raised his hand to his head as if to remove his hat, but suddenly wheeled his horse, attempting to escape. The Confederates opened fire and mortally wounded McPherson.

His adversary, John Bell Hood, wrote,

I will record the death of my classmate and boyhood friend, General James B. McPherson, the announcement of which caused me sincere sorrow. Since we had graduated in 1853, and had each been ordered off on duty in different directions, it has not been our fortune to meet. Neither the years nor the difference of sentiment that had led us to range ourselves on opposite sides in the war had lessened my friendship; indeed the attachment formed in early youth was strengthened by my admiration and gratitude for his conduct toward our people in the vicinity of Vicksburg. His considerate and kind treatment of them stood in bright contrast to the course pursued by many Federal officers.



Grant’s Role in the Eastern Theater

This entry is part 7 of 7 in the series 1864: the Year of the Three Generals

General George Gordon MeadeUlysses S. Grant was appointed as the Union Army’s General-in-Chief on March 9, 1864. Over the following two months he spent his time planning his offensive strategy of coordination. He also visited those commanders who were nearby, Gens. George Gordon Meade and Ben Butler.

Some historians have said that he misjudged both of these men and should have replaced both army commanders. In the case of Butler they are probably correct. In a previous post, we pointed out that Butler who was a Radical Republican was important to Lincoln on the political side. The continuation of his command of the Army of the James meant that the Radical Republican faction in the Congress would continue to support Lincoln’s initiatives there.

Grant retained Meade due to his unselfishness in offering to resign from command and serve wherever Grant thought that it would be most beneficial to the Union war effort. Grant would come to regret his decision about Meade.

George Gordon Meade was a West Point-trained engineer. Like many engineers he was thorough and painstaking. He tended to look at a problem from all angles until he made a final decision. Grant had a somewhat decision-making process. He would changes plans on the fly and continue moving forward against the enemy.

Meade often proceeded slowly. After the victory at Gettysburg, Meade only sent part of his cavalry in pursuit of the defeated Confederates. His infantry didn’t move south with any speed. Meade did not pursue Lee’s army aggressively enough to destroy it before it crossed back over the Potomac River to safety in the South.

An excellent resource for this phase of the Gettysburg Campaign is One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, July 4 – 14, 1863 by by Eric WittenbergJ. David PetruzziMichael F. Nugent

Based upon their divergent theories of the offensive, this was not a marriage that would go smoothly. On top of this, Grant decided to travel with the Army of the Potomac. Meade felt that Grant was looking over his shoulder.

Grant told his staff that his job was to give each of his army commanders an offensive plan. It was their job to select the best tactics and then carry out the plan through to success.

Sherman was the only army commander who carried out Grant’s plans with the least interference from the General-in-Chief and the most success. Sigel in the Shenandoah Valley was replaced with David Hunter after the defeat at New Market. Hunter was replaced by Philip Sheridan who handled his command the most like Sheridan.

Butler was tentative and required constant prodding from Grant. He was finally replaced in January 1865 when Lincoln no longer needed the support of the Radical Republicans in the Congress.

When it came to the Army of the Potomac Grant knew that he could not afford their slowness. The army had a history of withdrawing to regroup, rest and resupply as they had fought a battle. His planned campaign was to be one of moving forward after each engagement in order to maintain maximum pressure on Lee’s Army of North Virginia.

Grant felt that they only way that he could accomplish this was to be at Meade’s elbow. He needed to assure that the Army of the Potomac maintained the pace that he knew was necessary.

Meade was publicly supportive and courteous but in private he bridled at Grant’s proximity, his treatment by the press and amongst political circles. He wrote to his wife that he was deeply disappointed and resentful that Grant was traveling with his army.

Meade was something of a Philadelphia elitist who may have seen Grant as a rough westerner. However, after his initial meeting with Grant he wrote that the General-in-Chief “showed more capacity and character than I expected.”

The questions that arose revolved around Meade’s actual role and how far Grant would go in directing the Army of the Potomac. Even though Grant defined his role as the provider of broad directives, he told his staff something different.

Horace Porter, a member of Grant’s staff, wrote that Grant told his staff that he would take a more direct approach. He directed his staff to “critical points of the line to keep me promptly advised of what is taking place.”  When emergencies arose, he wanted them to communicate his “views to commanders, and urge immediate action” without waiting for orders from himself.

Finally, he told his staff that his headquarters would be near Meade’s and he would “communicate his instructions through that officer (Meade).” It would therefore seem that Grant saw himself as someone who would give overall direction but also specific commands during battles or campaigns.



Grant’s Final Strategy

This entry is part 6 of 7 in the series 1864: the Year of the Three Generals

Grant in full uniformAfter being turned down by the high Command and the President, Grant revisited his strategic plan. Washington was a risk-averse town and the military and civilian leaders of the Union government were the most risk-averse of all. Grant’s initial plans for the campaigns across the South were extremely radical.

His proposal to drive across North Carolina in order to cut off Lee’s supply lines was, in their view, the riskiest of all. Moving troops from northern Virginia would uncover the nation’s capital would risk raids by the Confederates. What if Lee didn’t take the bait and drove right up Pennsylvania Avenue? No, that just wouldn’t do.

Grant’s pincer attack from Mobile to Montgomery was rejected because Abraham Lincoln was fixated on a show of strength for the French in Mexico. He felt that the Union government needed to send a message by sending an expedition up the Red River. It was as if he was saying that we can protect all of our territory. So, it was back to the drawing board for General Grant.

Grant now proposed a new strategy. Grant had seen the war from a Western Theater point of view. In the Eastern Theater the war was mostly confined to Virginia with two confederate invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania. In the Western Theater the view was very different.

The war in the Western Theater exposed Grant to a war against the entirety of Southern society. He understood that the Southerners were unrepentant, their armies were resilient and the war zone was expansive.

In Virginia, the war was a one-on-one conflict between the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia. In the Western Theater, the war had to carried out against all of the elements: the population, the Confederate Army and Southern society. Therefore, Grant tailored his strategy based on these principles.

When asked about his opinion on Baron Antoine-Henri Jomini’s book on strategy, Grant was said to have replied:

I have never read it carefully; the art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can, and keep moving on. 

Seems simple enough.

Grant’s first element of his strategy was the destruction of the Confederate field armies. His plan called for placing as much pressure as possible on Robert E. Lee’ Army of Northern Virginia and Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee. His plan was to draw them out into the open field and destroy them by a series of major engagements.

In order to successfully carry out these objective, Grant planned to coordinate all of the Union armies. By doing this the Confederates would not be able to shift their forces across theater lines, as they had done when General James Longstreet’s Second Corps had been sent to the Western Theater. This would eliminate the Confederacy’s advantage of interior lines of supply.

Grant estimated that if he couldn’t annihilate his enemies in battle, he would be able to exhaust them logistically, economically and psychologically. It has been characterized by historians either as a annihilation or attrition or both.

Grant and his disciples, the foremost being William T. Sherman, saw war as brutal and unpleasant. They believed in the “hard war” or total war that would be necessary in order to bring the Civil War to swift and successful conclusion.

In order to carry out his strategy, Grant would need commanders that agreed with his belief in “hard war” but here he ran into the political realities of the war.

Sherman was a logical choice as commander of the Army of the Tennessee and eventually overall commander of the Western Theater. Today, he is best remembered for his pronouncement: “All war is hell” but in a letter to the mayor and city council of Atlanta he wrote:

You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to secure peace.

Sherman was an easy position to fill but the others were not so easy. General Nathaniel Banks was in command of the Army of the Gulf. He was a former Massachusetts Congressman and Governor with very little military experience. His Red River Expedition was defeated before the campaigns in Virginia and Georgia could even begin. This gave Grant the opportunity to replace him with General Edward Canby. By then Grant lamented that the Red River Expedition had eliminated the use of 40,000 troops for the Sherman’s campaign and the attack on Mobile.

The commander in the Shenandoah Valley was General Franz Sigel, a German immigrant. So far, Sigel was a best inept and at worst incompetent. He had been appointed to his position by Lincoln who hoped to secure German immigrant support for the Republican Party. Sigel failed miserably at the Battle of New Market on May 15th and retreated North to safety. Grant was furious and replaced him with General David Hunter.

Grant’s plan called for the movement of the Army of the James to threaten Richmond from the East. The commander of the Army of the James was another Massachusetts politician, General Ben Butler. Butler was a former Democrat turned Radical Republican. Lincoln needed the support of that wing of his party so Butler’s appointment was a foregone conclusion.

Initially, Grant was favorably impressed with Butler when they met at Fortress Monroe in April. Grant’s initial judgment of Ben Butler was a serious mistake. He was indecisive and needed constant supervision. Grant constantly needed to prod him to take action. He was unable to break through the Confederate lines at Bermuda Hundred even though he outnumbered General P.G.T. Beauregard 33,000 to 18,000. This allowed Lee to move troops from this line.

Finally, Grant kept George Gordon Meade as the commander of the Army of the Potomac even though he offered to resign. Grant was impressed by Grant’s willingness to step aside for the welfare of the nation. Grant kept him on but decided to travel with the Army of the Potomac where he could guide his chief weapon.


You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out.

You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out.


Grant’s Original Strategy

This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series 1864: the Year of the Three Generals

Grant as a Lieutenant GeneralIn the late summer of 1863, Ulysses S. Grant was asked by then-General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck to outline his plans on a broader strategy against the South. After all, Grant was the most successful commander that the Union Army had. He had led the Western armies in an almost unbroken series of victories against his nation’s foe. Why wouldn’t the high command in Washington wish to know his thinking?

Halleck had been Grant’s direct commander in the West and based on they way that he treated him thought little of his intellect and military knowledge. Either Halleck realized that his earlier judgments of Grant were wrong or he realized that change was in the air. He better begin to find out Grant’s thinking before he became the boss.

Grant responded with two letters to Halleck. In them he outlined a bold campaign scheme. Grant had called for the consolidation of the Western armies under one consolidated command. Grant was widely viewed by the Easterners as a plodding butcher who achieved his victories by sheer overwhelming force. However, his views on strategy both in the Western Theater and in the overall war changed that dismissive attitude.

It turned out the Ulysses S. Grant was a strategic thinker of considerable ability and sophistication. Earlier, Grant had called for the consolidation of the Western armies under one consolidated command.

He put forward a plan that called for his own Army of the Tennessee and Nathaniel Banks’ Army of the Gulf to start at Mobile and drive north to capture Montgomery, Alabama.

Meanwhile, General William S. Rosecrans was to advance overland from Chattanooga to Atlanta. All military resources in the area were to be destroyed, depriving the Confederacy of vital supplies.

Grant ran in to Lincoln’s desire to send Banks up the Red River to ‘show the flag.’ The French had installed  Maximillian, the archduke of Austria, as emperor in Mexico, a clear violation of the Monroe Doctrine. Lincoln wanted to make it clear that the United States would defend its territory despite the Civil War. Grant’s military plans fell victim to Lincoln’s political plans.

In October 1863, all of the armies in the West, except Banks’ Army of the Gulf, were consolidated under Grant’s command. In November Grant was victorious at Chattanooga and he wasted little time in putting forward his strategic plan for the Western Theater. Grant once again proposed his Mobile to Montgomery campaign and once again Lincoln pointed out the needs of Union diplomacy with regards to Mexico.

Grant was encouraged by Washington to expand his plans to include the entire war zone. In his second letter Grant proposed what must have seemed like heresy to Eastern-centric high command. Grant proposed flanking Lee by moving deep into North Carolina and cutting off his supply lines from the South.

He proposed a starting point of Suffolk in southeastern Virginia and Raleigh, North Carolina as the objective point. He proposed to use New Bern as his supply base until the strategic port of Wilmington, North Carolina could be captured. He proposed using a force of 60,000 men to carry out the destruction of the rail lines south of Richmond. Should Lee move South to counter this force, a large force would not be required on the Potomac.

Grant saw this line of attack as most productive. It would destroy key lines of communication and supply. It would also increase desertion rates among North Carolina troops who would be eager to defend their homes. Slaves would be encouraged to leave their plantations, further diminishing the Confederate supply base. Finally Grant felt that it would “virtually force an evacuation of Virginia and indirectly of East Tennessee.”

In summation, Grant felt that there would no longer be the need for an attack on Richmond since it would be necessary for the Confederate government to abandon their capital. Once Lee would find it necessary to move South, Richmond would cease to be important to the enemy.

In putting forward his radical plan, Grant was making the point that the destruction of the Confederate armies were the objection rather than capturing cities and towns. Grant’s plans also emphasized the use of the offensive by the Union armies would deny the offensive to Lee who many in both armies viewed as an offensive genius.

Henry W. Halleck was conservative to the core and he viewed Grant’s plan both in the East and the West as too risky. Removing so many troops from northern Virginia would leave the capital defenseless in his view. Grant’s Western strategy would never be approved by Lincoln. The President had a continued desire to control more parts of Louisiana and the Tran-Mississippi Region. The troops that Grant had designated for the Mobile Campaign were sent to Banks for his ill-advised Red River Campaign.

In the next post we’ll look at how Grant’s strategy evolved in light of the risk-averse thinking in the Washington high command.

If you’re interested in reading about Nathaniel Banks’ Red River Campaign, here is the link to the first post in the five-part series.