Lincoln’s Abolitionist Generals

This entry is part 1 of 17 in the series Union General Officers

John C. FremontOne hundred and fifty-one years after the end of the war most Americans believe that the Civil War was all about freeing the slaves. That could not be further from the truth. There were a variety of reasons precipitated the war. For the South the war was about States Rights. Of course, slavery was part of that but the right of each state to govern themselves was their major concern. For the Union the war was about preserving the Union. In both cases diaries, letters and books attest to each reason.

Today, we celebrate Abraham Lincoln as the Great Emancipator but in his letter to Horace Greeley,  editor of the influential New York Tribune, we realize that he was a practical politician:

I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be “the Union as it was.” If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.

Just as Lincoln was ambivalent about slavery so too were his generals. Some were outright opposed to emancipation. Others were lukewarm on the issue. But there was a group who were true abolitionists. Let’s look at four of the abolitionist generals who had an impact on the issue. You’ll note that three of the four were ‘political’ generals. Here are two of the four.

John C. Fremont was known as the Pathfinder who led five expeditions into the West. He explored most of the American West including the Rocky Mountains and all of the way to California. He made a great deal of money in the form of gold. It allowed him to purchase land in northern California. In 1850 California entered the Union and Fremont was selected as one of the two United States Senators. However, he only served for 175 days before being defeated for reelection. He was a Free Soil Democrat and was defeated for reelection largely because of his strong opposition to slavery.

In 1856 Fremont was nominated as the first presidential candidate of the new Republican Party. His slogan was Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Speech, Free Men, and Fremont – John C. Fremont. Unfortunately, he was defeated by the Democrat James Buchanan.

Frémont was promoted to Major General and Commander of the Department of the West on July 1, 1861 by President Abraham Lincoln. Frémont brought with him his skills and great reputation as the Pathfinder, and he was focused on driving the Confederate forces from Missouri. His term as Commander of the Department of the West was controversial, at times successful, and lasted until November 2, 1861, when he was abruptly dismissed by President Lincoln for insubordination and corruption charges in his supply line.

On August 30, 1861, Frémont, without notifying President Lincoln, issued a controversial proclamation putting Missouri under martial law. Frémont made this emancipation proclamation in response to the Confederate tactics of guerrilla warfare and to reduce Confederate sympathies in the stronger slave-holding counties. The edict stipulated that civilians in arms would be subject to court martial and execution, the property of those who aided secessionists would be confiscated, and the slaves of rebels would be emancipated.

President Lincoln, fearing that Frémont’s emancipation order would tip Missouri (and other slave states in Union control) to the southern cause, asked Frémont to revise the order. Frémont refused to do so, and sent his wife to plead the case. President Lincoln reprimanded her husband and told Jessie that Frémont “should never have dragged the Negro into the war.” Lincoln responded by publicly revoking the proclamation and relieving Frémont of command on November 2, 1861, simultaneous to a War Department report detailing Frémont’s iniquities as a major general. Although Lincoln opposed Frémont’s method of emancipation, the episode had a significant influence on Lincoln. It helped shape, his opinions on the appropriate steps towards emancipation and in January 1863, Lincoln issued his own Emancipation Proclamation.

Nathaniel Banks was from Massachusetts and gradually became an abolitionist. He was at first moderate on the expansion of slavery, but recognizing the potency of the burgeoning abolitionistNathaniel P. Banks movement, he became more strongly attached to that cause. In 1850 Banks became Speaker of the Massachusetts House. His role as house speaker and his effectiveness in conducting business raised his status significantly, as did work he did on the side for the state Board of Education.

In 1852 Banks won a seat in the Congress despite losing party support due to his abolitionist leanings. In 1853 he presided over the state Constitutional Convention of 1853. This convention produced a series of proposals for constitutional reform, including a new constitution, all of which were rejected by voters. The failure, which was led by Whigs and conservative anti-abolitionist Democrats, spelled the end of the Democratic-Free Soil coalition.

In Congress Banks sat on the Committee of Military Affairs. He bucked the Democratic party line by voting against the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which overturned the 1820 Missouri Compromise. Supported by his constituents, he then publicly endorsed the abolitionist cause. In 1854 he formally joined the Know Nothing cause, was renominated for Congress by the Democrats and Free Soilers, and won an easy victory in the Know Nothing landslide.

At the opening of the 34th Congress in December 1855, men from several parties opposed to slavery’s spread gradually united in supporting Banks for speaker. After the longest and one of the most bitter speakership contests on record, lasting from December 3, 1855 to February 2, 1856, Banks was chosen on the 133rd ballot. This has been called the first national victory of the Republican party.

He gave antislavery men important posts in Congress for the first time, and cooperated with investigations of both the Kansas conflict and the caning of Senator Charles Sumner. Because of his fairness in dealing with the numerous factions, as well his parliamentary ability, Banks was lauded by others in the body, including former Speaker Howell Cobb, who called him “in all respects the best presiding officer [I] had ever seen.”

In 1857 Banks ran for Governor of Massachusetts against the incumbent Henry Gardner. His nomination by the Republicans was contentious, with opposition coming primarily from radical antislavery interests opposed to his comparatively moderate stand on the issue. After a contentious campaign Banks won a comfortable victory.

As the Civil War became imminent, President Lincoln considered Banks for a cabinet post, and eventually chose him as one of the first major generals of volunteers, appointing him on May 16, 1861. Perceptions that the Massachusetts militia was well organized and armed at the beginning of the Civil War likely played a role in the appointment decision, as Banks had also been considered for quartermaster general.

Banks held a number of positions in the Union Army. His initial command was in the Shenandoah Valley where he met and was defeated by Stonewall Jackson. Banks next received command of the defense forces at Washington. Then he moved South where he was given command of the Army of the Gulf. He commanded the Union forces at the successful siege of Port Hudson, Louisiana. In 1864 he commanded the ill-fated Red River Campaign. On April 22, 1864, Grant wired Chief of Staff Halleck asking for Banks’ removal. He was replaced by Edward Canby, who was promoted to major general.




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.



The Eastern Theater: Graveyard of Generals (Part One)

This entry is part 3 of 17 in the series Union General Officers

Union Generals-The Eastern Theater: Graveyard of Generals (Part One)The Eastern Theater was the graveyard of generals for the Union Army. Initially, it was simply a matter of inexperience with large formations of troops by the field commanders. None of them had ever commanded more than a regiment of 600 to 1,000 men while they now commanded tens of thousands. After the Battle of Seven Pines the gravedigger became Robert E. Lee with Stonewall Jackson and James Longstreet as the principal pallbearers.

The first Union commander of a major Union army was Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell who commanded the Army of Northeastern Virginia. McDowell was an inexperienced officer whose command consisted of 90-day enlistees with even less experience. He was pressured by the Washington politicians and major newspapers who had coined the phrase “On to Richmond.”

With an army of 35,000 men he initially outnumbered the 20,000 Confederates under Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard at Manassas. The second major Confederate force of 12,000 men under Gen. Joseph E. Johnston in the Shenandoah Valley, was to be held in place by Maj. Gen. Robert Patterson with 18,000 men menacing Harpers Ferry, preventing the two Confederate armies from combining against McDowell.

McDowell’s major mistake was to put in place a complex battle plan that his inexperienced field commanders were incapable of executing. Initially, the Union forces had the advantage but Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson stout defense coupled with the timely reinforcements from the Valley turned the tide in the Confederates’ favor. McDowell’s retreat turned into a rout.

McDowell was superseded by Maj. Gen. George McClellan who was summoned to Washington and given command of the newly-formed Army of the Potomac. McDowell was initially given command of a division and later a corps. He would later serve under the equally unsuccessful John Pope at the Second Battle of Manassas. McDowell was shelved for two years after that battle and was eventually given command of the Department of the Pacific.

Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson was the next Confederate general to wreak havoc among the Union high command in the Shenandoah Valley in 1862. Jackson had acquired his famous nickname at the First Battle of Manassas when he held of repeated Union attacks on his lines. In the Valley, he would whip a much larger Union force in a lightning campaign that is still studied at West Point.

After an initial tactical defeat against Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks at the First Battle of Kernstown (March 23, 1862), Jackson turned his force and defeated elements of the Union Mountain Departments of Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky of Maj. Gen. John C. Frémont‘s army in the Battle of McDowell on May 8th.

Both Banks and Frémont were ‘political’ generals. Banks had been the Democratic Governor of Massachusetts while Frémont was a prominent Republican having been their first Presidential candidate.

Jackson joined forces with Maj. Gen. Richard S. Ewell and captured the Federal garrison at Front Royal on May 23, causing Banks to retreat to the north. On May 25, in the First Battle of Winchester, Jackson defeated Banks and pursued him until the Union Army crossed the Potomac River into Maryland.

Bringing in Union reinforcements from eastern Virginia, Brig. Gen. James Shields recaptured Front Royal and planned to link up with Frémont in Strasburg. Jackson was now threatened by three small Union armies. Withdrawing up the Valley from Winchester, Jackson was pursued by Frémont and Shields. On June 8, Ewell defeated Frémont in the Battle of Cross Keys and on the following day, crossed the North River to join forces with Jackson to defeat Shields in the Battle of Port Republic, bringing the campaign to a close.

Jackson had defeated the larger forces of three Union generals. After the subsequent Battle of Cedar Mountain, Banks was criticized for his numerous tactical errors before and during the battle, including poor placement of troops, inadequate reconnaissance, and failing to commit reserve resources when he had a chance to break the Confederate line. He was removed from command an assigned to organize a force of thirty thousand new recruits, drawn from New York and New England.

When the Army of Virginia was created June 26, to include General Frémont’s corps, with John Pope in command, Frémont declined to serve on the grounds that he was senior to Pope and for personal reasons. He then went to New York where he remained throughout the war, expecting a command, but none was given to him.

Brig. Gen. James Shields was yet another ‘political general’. Although he was the only general who defeated Jackson in the campaign, his career did not benefit from his victory. The day after Kernstown, he was promoted to major general, but the promotion was withdrawn, reconsidered, and then finally rejected. His overall performance in the rest of the Valley Campaign was poor enough that he resigned his commission, and his departure was not resisted by the War Department.



The Eastern Theater: Graveyard of Generals (Part Two)

This entry is part 4 of 17 in the series Union General Officers

George B. McClellan in 1861-The Eastern Theater: Graveyard of Generals (Part Two)After Irvin McDowell’s defeat in the First Battle of Manassas, the Lincoln government took several actions. The most important decision in the near-long term was the recall and promotion of Maj. Gen. George McClellan to command the newly forming Army of the Potomac in the Eastern Theater.

McClellan had been trumpeted by the newspaper for several small victories over the Confederates at the Battle of Philippi (which came to be known as the ‘Philippi Races’ after the Confederates fled) and the Battle of Rich Mountain. His opponent at the latter was General Robert E. Lee who had such a lackluster performance that he was relieved of command and transferred to the North Carolina coast to supervise the building of fortifications.

McClellan was the most successful failure as a general ever to serve in the Eastern Theater. He was a superb organizer and trained the new Army of the Potomac its peak yet he was a timid field commander. He was one of a number of generals who believed in conciliation with the Confederates. McClellan had been a Democrat before the war and did not hold the abolitionist of say Maj. Gen. David Hunter who was known as ‘Black Dave’ for his views on abolition.

George McClellan’s other major contribution to the Union war effort was his supervision of the building of Washington’s defenses. When they were  complete the nation’s capital was the most heavily defended city in the world. He created defenses for Washington that were almost impregnable, consisting of 48 forts and strong points, with 480 guns manned by 7,200 artillerists.

McClellan was finally prodded into action in early March 1862. He was relieved of his position as general-in-chief in order to devote his full attentions to the coming Peninsula campaign. Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and a War Board of officers assumed command of the Union armies for the next four months.

McClellan’s huge army landed at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula and immediately spent built up resources for a siege at Yorktown. Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston ordered his forces to withdraw as soon as it became apparent that they would be overwhelmed by the Union Army. The entire month of May was spent in the same fashion with the Confederates grudgingly retreating up the Peninsula.

The two forces finally came to a halt along the Chickahominy River and fought the  Battle of Seven Pines (also known as the Battle of Fair Oaks), fought on May 31 – June 1, 1862. Although the battle was inconclusive two important strategic effects resulted; both were in favor of the Confederacy. General Johnston was severely wounded and replaced by the more aggressive Robert E. Lee.

Second, General McClellan chose to abandon his offensive operations to lay siege and await reinforcements he had requested from President Lincoln; as a consequence, he never regained his strategic momentum. The two armies fought seven battles in seven days from June 25th to July 1st.

The cost to both sides was high. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia suffered almost 20,000 casualties out of a total of over 90,000 soldiers during the Seven Days, McClellan almost 16,000 out of 105,445. The Army of the Potomac’s offensive strength had been blunted by the Confederates and he withdrew to Harrison’s Landing on the James River. Northern morale was crushed while the South reveled in Lee’s successes.

The Union government appointed John Pope to command the newly formed Army of Virginia. Pope had achieved some success in the Western Theater, and Lincoln sought a more aggressive general than McClellan. Pope’s force numbered some 50,000 men amid three corps. Pope’s mission had two objectives: protect Washington and the Shenandoah Valley, and draw Confederate forces away from McClellan by moving in the direction of Gordonsville.

Lee’s Northern Virginia campaign was a triumph with the Army of Northern Virginia defeating the Army of Virginia at the Second Battle of Manassas from August 28th to August 30th. Despite the three corps that had been transferred from McClellan’s Army of the Potomac Pope’s army was crushed by the Confederates. Unlike the First Battle of Manassas, the Union army retreated in somewhat good order.

At the Battle of Chantilly the Union army suffered a grievous loss when two of its generals, Isaac Stevens and Philip Kearny, were killed during the fighting. Pope ordered his army to retreat back to the Washington defenses. Pope was relieved of command on September 13th and his army was merged with McClellan’s Army of the Potomac.  He spent the remainder of the war in the Department of the Northwest in Minnesota.

Brigadier General Alpheus S. Williams, who served briefly under Pope, held the general in particularly low esteem. In a letter to his daughter, he wrote:

“All this is the sequence of Gen. Pope’s high sounding manifestoes. His pompous orders . . . greatly disgusted his army from the first. When a general boasts that he will look only on the backs of his enemies, that he takes no care for lines of retreat or bases of supplies; when, in short, from a snug hotel in Washington he issues after-dinner orders to gratify public taste and his own self-esteem, anyone may confidently look for results such as have followed the bungling management of his last campaign….I dare not trust myself to speak of this commander as I feel and believe. Suffice it to say (for your eye alone) that more insolence, superciliousness, ignorance, and pretentiousness were never combined in one man. It can with truth be said of him that he had not a friend in his command from the smallest drummer boy to the highest general officer. All hated him.”

McClellan was once more perceived as the savior of the nation but Lincoln’s cabinet thought differently. A majority of them signed a petition declaring to the president “our deliberate opinion that, at this time, it is not safe to entrust to Major General McClellan the command of any Army of the United States.”

The president admitted that it was like “curing the bite with the hair of the dog.” But Lincoln told his secretary, John Hay, “We must use what tools we have. There is no man in the Army who can man these fortifications and lick these troops of ours into shape half as well as he. If he can’t fight himself, he excels in making others ready to fight.”

McClellan was immediately thrust into a crisis when Lee moved from Manassas across the Potomac into Maryland. Lee’s goal was to penetrate the major Northern states of Maryland and Pennsylvania and cut off the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad line that supplied Washington. He also needed to supply his army and knew the farms of the North had been untouched by war, unlike those in Virginia.

McClellan organized a pursuit of the smaller Confederate army. Then, he experienced an incredible stroke of luck when Union soldiers discovered Lee’s orders to the commanders of his army. General Order Number 191 indicated that Lee had divided his army, making it possible to be defeated in detail. McClellan waited 18 hours before deciding to take advantage of this intelligence, a delay that almost squandered his opportunity.

On September 14th McClellan’s forces defeated the Confederates at the Battle of South Mountain and pushed through to confront Lee along Antietam Creek. Meanwhile, Lee frantically moved to concentrate his army. The two armies met on September 17th east of Sharpsburg, Maryland in the Battle of Antietam.

The two armies fought the bloodiest single-day engagement of the war along the banks of the creek and in the surrounding farm fields. After twelve hours of inconclusive combat during which over 23,000 casualties were sustained by both armies, the Confederates disengaged and retreated back to Virginia.

McClellan’s performance was criticized on a number of fronts. During the battle, he never took control of his forces. Rather he allowed the field commanders to proceed according to the pre-battle plan. He never sent in his reserves, some say that Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter cautioned him that they were the last reserves of the army. Finally, with Lee’s Army in retreat he did not order any pursuit.

On November 25, 1862, Fitz John Porter was arrested and court-martialed for his actions at Second Bull Run. By this time, McClellan had been relieved by Lincoln and could not provide political cover for his protégé. Porter’s association with the disgraced McClellan and his open criticism of Pope were significant reasons for his conviction at court-martial. Porter was found guilty on January 10, 1863, of disobedience and misconduct, and he was dismissed from the Army on January 21, 1863.

George McClellan was relieved by Abraham Lincoln on November 7th. From September 17 to October 26, despite repeated entreaties from the War Department and the president himself, McClellan declined to pursue Lee across the Potomac, citing shortages of equipment and the fear of overextending his forces.

General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck wrote in his official report, “The long inactivity of so large an army in the face of a defeated foe, and during the most favorable season for rapid movements and a vigorous campaign, was a matter of great disappointment and regret.” He never held another position during the war.



McClellan’s Failed Successors: Ambrose Burnside

This entry is part 5 of 17 in the series Union General Officers

General Ambrose BurnsideMaj. Gen. George B. McClellan was relieved of the command of the Army of the Potomac on November 9, 1862. The main reason for his removal was his failure to us the instrument of war that he created. Commanders love the army but the great commanders must risk the destruction of the thing that they love to achieve victory. George McClellan was not a great commander.

McClellan was succeeded by Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside. A West Point graduate in the class of 1847, Burnside had served in Mexico but by the time that he had arrived hostilities had ceased and he saw only garrison duty. He then served two years on the western frontier under Captain Braxton Bragg. In 1852 he returned east to Rhode Island where he met and married Mary Richmond Bishop of Providence, Rhode Island.

In 1853 Burnside resigned his commission and entered the business world where he devoted his time and energy to the manufacture of the famous firearm that bears his name, the Burnside carbine. He obtained government contracts and invested heavily in manufacturing equipment. But through devious means he lost the contracts and was ruined financially. He then moved west where became treasurer of the Illinois Central Railroad. He worked for, and became friendly with, one of his future commanding officers, George B. McClellan.

At the start of the Civil War Burnside was a brigadier general in the Rhode Island Militia. He raised a regiment, the 1st Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry, and was appointed its colonel on May 2, 1861. Within a month he was given a brigade which he led without distinction at the First Battle of Manassas. He was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers but relegated to training provisional brigades for the Army of the Potomac.

Burnside commanded the Coast Division, or North Carolina Expeditionary Force—three brigades assembled in Annapolis, Maryland, which formed the nucleus for his future IX Corps—and the Department of North Carolina, from September 1861 until July 1862. He conducted a successful amphibious campaign that closed over 80% of the North Carolina sea coast to Confederate shipping for the remainder of the war.

He was promoted to major general of volunteers and his units were assigned to the Army of the Potomac as the IX Corps. After McClellan’s failure on the Peninsula Burnside was offered command of the Army of the Potomac, citing his lack of requisite experience. His corps was detached for service with Maj. Gen. John Pope’s Army of Virginia. After the defeat at Second Manassas, Burnside was again offered the command of the army and again refused due to lack of experience and loyalty to McClellan.

At Antietam Burnside commanded his corps which was placed at the southern end of the Union position. His corps was tasked with crossing the Rohrbach’s Bridge, a three-span, 125-foot (38 m) stone structure that was the southernmost crossing of the Antietam. His four divisions of 12,500 men faced a small Confederate force of 3,000 men and 12 guns. However, the superior Confederate defenses stymied Burnside’s men for critical hours until their eventual breakthrough. The Union casualties  at Burnside’s Bridge amounted to 20% of their strength.

After McClellan’s relief in November Burnside was again offered the command of the army. He reluctantly accepted when he was informed that Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker was the alternative. Disliking Hooker, Burnside accepted command. President immediately began pressuring Burnside to launch an attack on the Confederate capital of Richmond.

Burnside formulated a plan to cross the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg using pontoon bridges. But the plan was poorly executed and Gen. Robert E. Lee was given sufficient time to concentrate his army and repulse the Army of the Potomac. He ordered a series of bloody frontal assaults against Marye’s Heights. The Army of the Potomac suffered 12,653 total casualties while the Confederates sustained only 5,377. Detractors labeled Burnside the “Butcher of Fredericksburg”.

In January 1863, Burnside launched a second offensive against Lee, but it bogged down in winter rains before it accomplished anything and has been derisively called the Mud March. In its wake, he asked that several officers, who were openly insubordinate, be relieved of duty and court-martialed; he also offered to resign. Lincoln chose the latter option on January 26 and replaced him with Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, one of the officers who had conspired against Burnside.

It turned out that Ambrose Burnside was a better corps commander than an army commander. Lincoln refused Burnside’s offer to resign from the army altogether. He was placed back at the head of the IX Corps and sent to command the Department of the Ohio, encompassing the states of Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois. While in command of this department he clashed with the anti-war Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham.

Burnside’s IX Corps was heavily involved during the Knoxville Campaign. He occupied the city of Knoxville unopposed. At the Cumberland Gap he forced the surrender of 2,300 Confederate troops. He then clashed with James LOngstreet’s corps but he was able to outmaneuver him and return to the safety of Knoxville. Tying down Longstreet’s corps at Knoxville contributed to Gen. Braxton Bragg‘s defeat by Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Chattanooga.

Burnside’s corps was returned to the Eastern Theater where it eventually became part of the Army of the Potomac. Burnside fought at the battles of Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House, where he did not perform in a distinguished manner, attacking piecemeal and appearing reluctant to commit his troops to the frontal assaults that characterized these battles. After North Anna and Cold Harbor, he took his place in the siege lines at Petersburg.

Troops under Burnside’s command suggested that they dig a mine under a fort named Elliot’s Salient in the Confederate entrenchments and ignite explosives there to achieve a surprise breakthrough. The fort was destroyed on July 30 in what is known as the Battle of the Crater. Because of interference from Meade, Burnside was ordered, only hours before the infantry attack, not to use his division of black troops, which had been specially trained for this mission. He was forced to use untrained white troops instead.

He could not decide which division to choose as a replacement, so he had his three subordinate commanders draw lots. The division chosen by chance was that commanded by Brig. Gen. James H. Ledlie, who failed to brief the men on what was expected of them and was reported during the battle to be drunk well behind the lines, providing no leadership. Ledlie’s men entered the huge crater instead of going around it, becoming trapped, and were subjected to heavy fire from Confederates around the rim, resulting in high casualties.

Burnside was relieved of command for the final time and was never given another command. A court of inquiry later placed the blame for the Crater fiasco on Burnside and his subordinates. In December, Burnside met with President Lincoln and General Grant about his future. He was contemplating resignation, but Lincoln and Grant requested that he remain in the Army. At the end of the interview, Burnside wrote, “I was not informed of any duty upon which I am to be placed.” He finally resigned his commission on April 15, 1865, after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

The United States Congress Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War later exonerated Burnside, and placed the blame for the Union defeat at the Crater on General Meade for requiring the specially trained USCT (United States Colored Troops) men to be withdrawn.

Despite all of his failures Ambrose Burnside was elected to three one-year terms as Governor of Rhode Island (May 1866 to May 1869).


“Fighting Joe” Hooker

This entry is part 6 of 17 in the series Union General Officers

General Joseph HookerMaj. Gen. Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker was elevated to the command of the Army of the Potomac on January 26, 1863. Up to that point Hooker had a distinguished record of achievement both before and during the Civil War.

Hooker was a graduate of West Point’s class of 1837 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the artillery. His initial assignment was in Florida fighting in the second of the Seminole Wars. He served in the Mexican-American War in staff positions in the campaigns of both Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott.

He received brevet promotions for his staff leadership and gallantry in three battles: Monterrey (to captain),National Bridge (major), and Chapultepec (lieutenant colonel). His future Army reputation as a ladies’ man began in Mexico, where local girls referred to him as the “Handsome Captain”.

Hooker left the army in 1853 after he had testified against General Winfield Scott in defense of Gideon Pillow who had been charged with insubordination. He left the army in California and settled in Sonoma County working as a farmer and land developer. In actuality, he was more devoted to gambling and liquor than to agriculture. In 1858, he asked to be reinstated but nothing came of his request. Instead, he served as a colonel in the California militia.

At the start of the war he again asked for reinstatement but was again rejected perhaps because Winfield Scott, the General-in-Chief, harbored some lingering resentment from the Pillow trial. After the disastrous Battle of First Manassas he wrote directly to President Lincoln offering his services. This time he was reinstated with the rank of brigadier general in August 1861.

He commanded a brigade and then a division in the Army of the Potomac. During the fighting on the Peninsula he distinguished himself while leading the 2nd Division of the III Corps at the Battle of Williamsburg and throughout the Peninsula campaign and the Seven Days Battles. He was promoted to major general on May 5, 1862.

Ever the aggressive commander, he chafed under the cautious leadership of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan. He openly criticized McClellan for his failure to take Richmond. Of his commander, Hooker said, “He is not only not a soldier, but he does not know what soldiership is.” During these campaigns Hooker became known for his devotion to the welfare and morale of his men, and his hard drinking social life, even on the battlefield.

Hooker’s division was transferred to John Pope’s Army of Virginia. He was appointed to the command of the III Corps after the defeat at Second Manassas replacing Samuel P. Heintzelman who was relieved of command and shunted off to  the command of the Washington defenses.

His corps was redesignated I Corps and returned to the Army of the Potomac in early September 1862. They joined the army for the fighting  at South Mountain and Antietam where Hooker and his troops distinguished themselves. At Antietam Hooker’s corps launched the initial assault of the day at the Cornfield against “Stonewall” Jackson’s corps.

Hooker’s men paid heavily in the fighting, suffering 2,500 casualties in the first two hours of the battle. It was estimated that the Cornfield changed hands no fewer than 15 times in the course of the morning.

Major Rufus Dawes who assumed command of the Iron Brigade’s 6th Wisconsin Regiment in comparing the fighting to latter battles said that “the Antietam Turnpike surpassed them all in manifest evidence of slaughter.”  When Confederate Brig. Gen. John Bell Hood was asked by a fellow officer where his division was, replied: “Dead on the field”, having suffered 60% casualties.

Hooker was wounded in the foot during the fighting and carried from the field. He later insisted that if he had not been wounded his attack would have succeeded. General McClellan’s caution had again cost the Union a clear-cut victory and Robert E. Lee had once again succeeded in extricating his smaller force to the safety of Virginia.

President Lincoln apparently agreed because he relieved McClellan of command when he did not pursue the enemy. In his place, Lincoln appointed Ambrose Burnside to the command of the Army of the Potomac. Recovering from his wound Hooker was at first given command of the V Corps and then a “Grand Division” of the of both III and V Corps. Hooker’s Center Grand Division had a total of 6 divisions of infantry and one brigade of cavalry.

Hooker thought that Burnside’s plan of attack was “preposterous”. His Grand Division suffered serious losses after 14 futile, frontal assaults against the Marye’s Heights defenses. After the humiliating Mud March in January Burnside proposed a wholesale purge of his commanders but instead Lincoln relieved him of command and replaced him with Hooker.

During the spring of 1863 Hooker set about reviving the morale of the Army of the Potomac. Among his changes were fixes to the daily diet of the troops, camp sanitary changes, improvements and accountability of the quartermaster system, addition of and monitoring of company cooks, several hospital reforms, and an improved furlough system (one man per company by turn, 10 days each).

Other orders addressed the need to stem rising desertion (one from Lincoln combined with incoming mail review, the ability to shoot deserters, and better camp picket lines), more and better drills, stronger officer training, and for the first time, combining the federal cavalry into a single corps.

Hooker said of his army:

I have the finest army on the planet. I have the finest army the sun ever shone on. … If the enemy does not run, God help them. May God have mercy on General Lee, for I will have none.

Hooker relieved a number of officers who had been McClellan’s favorites and sent Burnside’s old corps to the Virginia Peninsula. His headquarters acquired a reputation as a combination of a “bar-room and a brothel” according to Charles F. Adams, Jr.

Hooker had an elaborate plan for the spring and summer campaign against Lee. He first planned to send his cavalry corps deep into the enemy’s rear, disrupting supply lines and distracting him from the main attack. He would pin down Robert E. Lee’s much smaller army at Fredericksburg, while taking the large bulk of the Army of the Potomac on a flanking march to strike Lee in his rear. Then he would move on Richmond.

However, the execution of his plan required commanders as daring as he was. The cavalry was commanded Brig. Gen. George Stoneman who cautiously moved forward and met none of his objectives. The flanking march started off well but Hooker lost his nerve and pulled back to the small crossroads of Chancellorsville.

While the Army of the Potomac sat immobile and on the defensive, Lee split his army twice and sent “Stonewall” Jackson on a flank attack against the Union right where they routed the XI Corps. In the midst of all this Hooker was knocked unconscious when a cannonball hit the porch where he was standing. He refused to turn over command of the army to his second-in-command, Maj. Gen. Darius N. Couch.

Hooker ordered his army back across the Rappahannock. Meanwhile, Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia set off for their second invasion of the North. Lincoln ordered Hooker to pursue Lee and forego any movement toward Richmond.

When the general got into a dispute with Army headquarters over the status of defensive forces in Harpers Ferry, he impulsively offered his resignation in protest, which was quickly accepted by Lincoln and General-in-chief Henry W. Halleck. On June 28, three days before the climactic Battle of Gettysburg, Hooker was replaced by Maj. Gen. George Meade.

However, Joe Hooker’s career was not over. He returned to combat in November, leading two corps from the Army of the Potomac to help relieve the besieged Union Army at Chattanooga, Tennessee, and achieving an important victory at the Battle of Lookout Mountain during the Chattanooga Campaign. He continued in the Western Theater under Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, but left before the end of the Atlanta Campaign when he was bypassed for a promotion to command the Army of the Tennessee.


The Case of Gouvernour K. Warren

This entry is part 7 of 17 in the series Union General Officers

General Gouverneur K. WarrenMany of the general officers on both sides during the Civil War were simply fired, relieved or shunted aside by their superiors in Washington and Richmond. A few were either charged with dereliction of duty or demanded courts of inquiry. One such officer was Gouvenour K. Warren who was relieved by Philip Sheridan during the Battle of Five Forks and later urgently requested a court of inquiry to exonerate himself from the stigma of his treatment by Sheridan.

Gouvenour K. Warren entered the United States Military Academy at age 16 and graduated second in his class of 44 cadets in 1850. In the decade before the Civil War, Warren worked on engineering projects along the Mississippi River, mapping projects in the Trans-Mississippi region and transcontinental railroad surveys. He saw his first combat in Nebraska in 1855 during the First Sioux War.

The start of the Civil War found Warren at West Point as a first lieutenant and mathematics instructor. It had taken him almost eleven years to rise in rank from second lieutenant to first lieutenant. He would rise to the rank of major general of volunteers in a little over two years.

He helped to raise a local regiment, the 5th New York Infantry, and was named its lieutenant colonel on May 14, 1861. They first saw action at the Battle of Big Bethel in Virginia on June 10th. He was promoted to colonel of the regiment by September 10th.

At the start of the Peninsula Campaign he not only commanded his regiment but assisted the chief topographical engineer of the Army of the Potomac by leading reconnaissance missions and drawing topographical maps for the advance of the army up the Peninsula. He was promoted to brigade command before the Seven Days Battles and was wounded at the Battle of Gaines Mill but refused to leave the field.

At the Battle of Malvern Hill his brigade stopped an attack by a Confederate division. He continued to lead the brigade at the Second Battle of Bull Run, suffering heavy casualties in a heroic stand against an overwhelming enemy assault, and at Antietam, where V Corps was in reserve and saw no combat. On September 28, 1862 he was promoted to brigadier general. He led his brigade at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December.

Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker named Warren his chief topographical engineer and then chief engineer. As chief engineer, Warren was commended for his service in the Battle of Chancellorsville. At the beginning of the Gettysburg Campaign, Warren advised Hooker on the routes that the army should take in their pursuit of the Confederates.

On July 2nd, Warren recognized the importance of Little Round Top as an anchor for the Union Army’s defensive position. He ordered the Gouvernour K. Warren's statue on Little Round Topbrigade of Colonel Strong Vincent to occupy it just minutes before it was attacked. He took a minor neck wound during the battle. After Gettysburg he was promoted to major general of volunteers.

From August 1863 until March 1864, he commanded the II Corps, replacing the gravely wounded Winfield Scott Hancock. He led the corps at the the Battle of Bristoe Station and the Mine Run Campaign. At Mine Run, he refused an order from General Meade when he detected a trap that had been laid for his corps. Initially, Meade was furious but he later acknowledged that Warren had taken the correct action.

In the spring of 1864, Warren assumed command of the V Corps and led it through the Overland Campaign, the Siege of Petersburg, and the Appomattox Campaign. During these Virginia campaigns, Warren had a reputation of bringing his engineering traits of deliberation and caution to the role of infantry corps commander.

He won the Battle of Globe Tavern, August 18 to August 20, 1864, cutting the Weldon Railroad, a vital supply route north to Petersburg. He also won a limited success in the Battle of Peebles’ Farm in September 1864, carrying a part of the Confederate lines protecting supplies moving to Petersburg on the Boydton Plank Road.

Unfortunately, this was the direct opposite of immediate superior, Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan. The mercurial Sheridan was quick to anger at his subordinates and demanded immediate compliance with his every order. Warren came under Sheridan’s command at the beginning of the pursuit of Lee’s army in March 1865.

Sheridan asked for the VI Corps but General Grant gave him Warren’s V Corps instead, insisting that it was better position. At the same time, Grant gave Sheridan written permission to relieve Warren if he felt it was justified “for the good of the service.”

Grant later wrote in his Personal Memoirs:

I was so much dissatisfied with Warren’s dilatory movements in the battle of White Oak Road and in his failure to reach Sheridan in time, that I was very much afraid that at the last moment he would fail Sheridan. He was a man of fine intelligence, great earnestness, quick perception, and could make his dispositions as quickly as any officer, under difficulties where he was forced to act. But I had before discovered a defect which was beyond his control, that was very prejudicial to his usefulness in emergencies like the one just before us. He could see every danger at a glance before he had encountered it. He would not only make preparations to meet the danger which might occur, but he would inform his commanding officer what others should do while he was executing his move.

I had sent a staff officer to General Sheridan to call his attention to these defects, and to say that as much as I liked General Warren, now was not a time when we could let our personal feelings for any one stand in the way of success; and if his removal was necessary to success, not to hesitate. It was upon that authorization that Sheridan removed Warren. I was very sorry that it had been done, and regretted still more that I had not long before taken occasion to assign him to another field of duty.

At Five Forks on April 1, 1865, Sheridan became enraged when Warren didn’t move his corps fast enough to his liking. His corps of 16,000 was needed to close the trap on General George Pickett’s force and get into his rear areas. Despite Sheridan’s continuous prodding, it took Warren’s corps three hours to get into position.

But after all of this time two of his three forward divisions were out of position. It took Sheridan riding into the battle to encourage the lead division of Brig. Gen. Romeyn B. Ayres in the attack. Horace Porter, of Grant’s staff, rode behind Sheridan in the charge, marveling. The little general, he said, was ‘the very incarnation of battle.’ It took Brigadier General Joshua Chamberlain, like Warren a true hero at Gettysburg, to smartly lead his brigade into the breach caused by the misalignment.

The Confederate line disintegrated. Many surrendered and the rest streamed away from the fighting. It was at this point that Sheridan relieved Warren. Next Sheridan sought out Griffin, the senior division commander in the V Corps, and brusquely gave him command of the entire corps.

White-faced and shaken, the hero of Little Round Top asked Sheridan to reconsider his order relieving Warren of command. ‘Reconsider, hell!’ said Sheridan. ‘I don’t reconsider my decisions. Obey the order.’ Sheridan could forgive the occasional blunder by youngsters such as Custer who fought like hell when the time came. But slowness, timidity, or caution, these Sheridan could not excuse.

Warren was reassigned to the Petersburg defenses and then briefly to the command of the Department of Mississippi. On May 27, 1865 Warren resigned his commission as major general of volunteers and reverted to his permanent rank as major in the Corps of Engineers. For the next 17 years he worked on engineering projects in the west. In 1879 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel.

He asked on numerous occasions for a court of inquiry but until Ulysses S. Grant left the presidency he was refused. President Rutherford B. Hayes ordered a court of inquiry that convened in 1879 and, after hearing testimony from dozens of witnesses over 100 days, found that Sheridan’s relief of Warren had been unjustified. Unfortunately for Warren, these results were not published until after his death.

As long as there is Gettysburg National Battlefield, Gouvernour K. Warren will be remembered as the man who saved the Union Army at Little Round Top where his statue stands.



The Political Generals of the Union: Nathaniel Banks

This entry is part 8 of 17 in the series Union General Officers

General Nathaniel BanksWhen Abraham Lincoln realized that he would have to prosecute a war against the Southern states he knew that he would need to gain the allegiance of the Democrat Party. He did not want the Northern war effort to be seen as simply as Republican Party-only. In order to gain the confidence of the Northern Democrats, he would need to appoint a number of them to generalships.

Among these so-called political generals can be found Nathaniel Banks, Benjamin Butler, Franz Siegal and Dan Sickles. Added to this was John Charles Fremont who was the first Republican candidate for President, running in the 1856 election.

Nathaniel Banks was a Democratic politician from Massachusetts. He had served in the state legislature from 1848 until 1856. Within two years he was elected Speaker of the Massachusetts House. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1855 and after a protracted contest was elected Speaker of the House. In 1857, he was elected Governor, a post that he served in until January 1861. By then Banks had moved from the Democrat Party to become a Republican.

Lincoln appointed Banks as the first major general of volunteers on May 16, 1861, giving him seniority over everyone who followed him. Banks may have been a good politician but he was not a good general. He was unschooled in the ways of strategy and tactics. Lincoln’s problem was that Banks could not be fired.

Over the course of his career he failed in a number of theaters. He was whipped by “Stonewall” Jackson in the Valley Campaign of 1862 and at Cedar Mountain in August 1862. At the latter, he was saved by the arrival of Union reinforcements that resulted in a standoff.

In the winter of 1862 he raised a force of 30,000 men from the Northeast who he led to New Orleans where he replaced Maj. Gen. Ben Butler as commander of the Department of the Gulf. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, doubted the wisdom of replacing Butler with Banks.

According to historian John D. Winters, “Welles’s opinion of the military abilities of both men was very low, but he did not question Butler’s skill as a ‘police magistrate’ in charge of civil affairs. Banks, he thought did not have ‘the energy, power or ability of Butler.’ He did have ‘some ready qualities for civil administration,’ but was less reckless and unscrupulous’ and probably would not be able to hold a tight enough rein on the people” once placed under Union control.”

Banks had mixed success in the Gulf. He was ordered to capture the vital Confederate base at Port Hudson, Louisiana on the Mississippi River. With the capture of Vicksburg and Port Hudson the South would be split in two parts, cutting off supplies to their armies east of the river. Banks led an expedition of 12,000 men who attempted to storm the Confederate works on two occasions. Both were dismal failures with each of the two attacks resulting in more than 1,800 Union casualties. The Confederate garrison surrendered after Vicksburg fell.

In March 1864 at the urging of Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, who was still General-in-Chief, Banks embarked on the Red River Campaign. Banks’s army was routed at the Battle of Mansfield by General Richard Taylor (son of former President Zachary Taylor) and retreated 20 miles (32 km) to make a stand the next day at the Battle of Pleasant Hill. Despite winning a tactical victory at Pleasant Hill, Banks continued the retreat to Alexandria, his force rejoined part of the Federal Inland Fleet.

After the campaign, just before General Sherman began his operations against Atlanta, Sherman said of the Red River campaign that it was “One damn blunder from beginning to end.” On April 22, 1864, Grant wired Chief of Staff Halleck asking for Banks’s removal. He was replaced by Edward Canby, who was promoted to major general.

President Lincoln ordered Banks to oversee elections held under the new constitution in September, and then ordered him to return to Washington to lobby Congress for acceptance of Louisiana’s constitution and elected Congressmen. Congress refused to seat Louisiana’s two Congressmen in early 1865.

After six months, Banks returned to Louisiana to resume his military command under Canby. However, he was politically trapped between the civilian government and Canby, and resigned from the army in May 1865 after only one month in New Orleans. He returned to Massachusetts in September 1865.



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.




Daniel Edgar Sickles

This entry is part 10 of 17 in the series Union General Officers

General Daniel E. Sickles

This post was written in the summer of 2013 but he really belongs with this group of generals. At Gettysburg Sickles either helped to win the battle or could have lost it for the Union. It depends on your point of view. We do know that Dan Sickles lost part of his leg. Here, then, is his story.

If the South had a general like Earl Van Dorn who was shot to death by his wife’s lover, the North had Daniel Edgar Sickles who did the reverse and got away with it. Dan Sickles spent his entire life doing things his own way, rather than allowing society to force him to conform.

Sickles was born in New York City on October 20, 1819. His father was a patent attorney and a politician, so he came by his future professions at birth. By 1847 he was practicing law and had been elected to the New York State Legislature.

On September 27, 1852, Sickles married Teresa Bagioli against the wishes of both families, he was 33, she about 15 or 16, although she was sophisticated for her age, speaking five languages.

Meanwhile, Sickles continued his political career as corporation counsel of New York City, a position that he resigned to become secretary of the U.S. legation in London. He returned to America in 1855 after three years. He was elected to the New York State Senate in 1856 and 1857. He was elected as a Democrat to the 35th and 36th United States Congresses, holding office from March 4, 1857, to March 3, 1861.

Sickles had been involved in a number of scandals during his career. He had been censured by the by the New York State Assembly for escorting a known prostitute, Fanny White, into its chambers. It was reported that he took her with him to London and allegedly introduced her to Queen Victoria. All this was done while his pregnant wife remained home in New York City.

It was during this period that Teresa Sickles had an affair with Philip Barton Key II, the son of Francis Scott Key. Key was the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia while Sickles was a Congressman. Sickles had accused his wife of adultery on several occasions but she always denied it to his satisfaction. But on the final occasion she confessed and wrote out a confession at Sickles’ insistence.

When he saw Key sitting outside his house signaling to Teresa. He ran outside of his house on Lafayette Square yelling “Key, you scoundrel, you have dishonored my home; you must die”, and with a pistol repeatedly shot the unarmed Key.

Sickles was arrested for murder but pleaded temporary insanity in one of the most controversial trials of the 19th century. Sickles’ attorney was none other than Edwin Stanton, the future Secretary of War. It was the first time that the temporary insanity defense had been successfully used in a criminal trial in the United States. After the trial Sickles and his wife continued their marriage.

Dan Sickles went on to raise a regiment for Union service. He rose quickly from colonel to general in short order. He credibly led the “Excelsior Brigade” at the Battle of Seven Pines and the Seven Days battles. Promoted to major general and commanding a corps, Sickles marched with the Army of the Potomac into Gettysburg on July 2, 1863.

Sickles’ Corps was positioned on the southern end of Cemetery Ridge, anchored in the north to the II Corps and to the south, the hill known as Little Round Top. Unhappy with his position, he moved his troops one mile forward. This had two effects: it greatly diluted the concentrated defensive posture of his corps by stretching it too thin, and it created a salient that could be bombarded and attacked from multiple sides.

Sickles has been both criticized and praised for his actions. Historian Edwin B. Coddington assigns “much of the blame for the near disaster” in the center of the Union line to Sickles. Stephen W. Sears wrote that “Dan Sickles, in not obeying Meade’s explicit orders, risked both his Third Corps and the army’s defensive plan on July 2.”

However, Sickles’ maneuver has recently been credited by John Keegan with blunting the whole Confederate offensive that was intended to cause the collapse of the Union line. Similarly, James M. McPherson wrote that “Sickles’s unwise move may have unwittingly foiled Lee’s hopes.”

Dan Sickles paid a heavy price for his forward thrust. At the height of the battle, he was hit in the right leg by a cannonball. As he was carried by stretcher to the III Corps hospital on the Taneytown Road, he bravely attempted to raise his soldiers’ spirits by grinning and puffing on a cigar along the way. His leg was amputated that afternoon. He would never lead troops in combat again.

Sickles eventually received the Medal of Honor for his actions, although it took him 34 years to get it. The official citation that accompanied his medal recorded that Sickles “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.” Whether he deserved it or not is up to posterity to decide.