Friday, May 10, 2013

John Sedgwickdied May 9, 1864

At the start of the Civil War, John Sedgwick served as a colonel and Assistant Inspector General of the Military Department of Washington. He missed the early action of the war at the First Battle of Bull Run, recovering from cholera.

Promoted to brigadier general on August 31, 1861, he commanded the 2nd brigade of a  division in the Army of the Potomac, then his own division, which was designated the 2nd division of the II Corps for the Peninsula Campaign.  
Sedgwick, on far right, with Generals Colburn and Sacket
during the Peninsula Campaign, 1862
In Virginia, he fought at Yorktown and Seven Pines, and was wounded in the arm and leg at the Battle of Glendale in June 1862.  
Battle of Glendale
He was promoted to major general on July 4, 1862.

Battle of Antietam
In the Battle of Antietam, September 1862, General Edwin Sumner impulsively sent Sedgwick's division in a mass assault without proper reconnaissance. His division was engaged by Confederate forces under General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson from three sides, resulting in 2,200 casualties. Sedgwick himself was wounded in the wrist, leg, and shoulder, and had a horse shot from under him before being carried unconscious from the field.  He was out of action until December.

Dead at Antietam
From December 26, 1862, he briefly led the II Corps and the IX Corps, and then finally the VI Corps of the Army of the Potomac.  During the Battle of Chancellorsville, his corps faced Fredericksburg in an initial holding action while General Joseph Hooker's other four corps maneuvered against Confederate General Robert E. Lee's left flank. He was slow to take action, but eventually crossed the Rappahannock River and assaulted General Jubal Early's  force on Marye's Heights. Moving west slowly to join forces with Hooker and trap Lee between the halves of the army, he was stopped by elements of Lee's Second Corps (under General J.E.B. Stuart, following the wounding of Jackson) at the Battle of Salem Church.   

Wounded at Chancellorsville
At the Battle of Gettysburg, his corps arrived late on July 2, 1863, and as a result only a few units were able to take part in the final Union counterattacks in the Wheatfield.  

Dead Union Soldier in the Wheatfield, Gettysburg
In the 1864 Overland Campaign, the VI Corps was on the Union right at the Battle of the Wilderness and defended against assaults by Confederate General Richard Ewell's Second Corps.
Battle of Spotsylvania Court House
At the beginning of the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House on May 9, 1864, his corps was probing skirmish lines ahead of the left flank of Confederate defenses.  Sedgwick was directing artillery placements. Confederate sharpshooter were about 1,000 yards away, and their shots caused members of his staff and artillerymen to duck for cover. 

Sedgwick strode around in the open and was quoted as saying, "What? Men dodging this way for single bullets? What will you do when they open fire along the whole line?"  Although ashamed, his men continued to flinch and he repeated, "I'm ashamed of you, dodging that way. They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance." 

Seconds later, he fell forward with a bullet hole below his left eye.

Martin McMahon
Martin McMahon, who was present when Sedgwick died, wrote the following:
On May 8th, 1864, the Sixth Corps made a rapid march to the support of Warren, near Spotsylvania, about 5 P.M., and passed the rest of the day in getting into position on Warren's left. After nightfall General Sedgwick rode back into an open field near General Warren's headquarters and, with his staff, lay down on the grass and slept until daylight. Shortly after daylight he moved out upon his line of battle. . . . The general. . . sat down with me upon a hard-tack box, with his back resting against a tree. The men, one hundred feet in front, were just finishing a line of rifle-pits, which ran to the right of a section of artillery that occupied an angle in our line. . . . 
He was an inveterate tease, and I at once suspected that he had some joke on the staff which he was leading up to. He was interrupted in his comments by observing that the troops, who during this time had been filing from the left into the rifle-pits, had come to a halt and were lying down, while the left of the line partly overlapped the position of the section of artillery. He stopped abruptly and said, " That is wrong. Those troops must be moved farther to the right ; I don't wish them to overlap that battery." I started out to execute the order, and he rose at the same moment, and we sauntered out slowly to the gun on the right. 
About an hour before, I had remarked to the general, pointing to the two pieces in a half-jesting manner, which he well understood, " General, do you see that section of artillery? Well, you are not to go near it today." He answered good-naturedly, "McMahon, I would like to know who commands this corps, you or I? " I said, playfully, "Sometimes I am in doubt myself"; but added, " Seriously, General, I beg of you not to go to that angle; every officer who has shown himself there has been hit, both yesterday and to-day." He answered quietly, " Well, I don't know that there is any reason for my going there." ' When afterward we walked out to the position indicated, this conversation had entirely escaped the memory of both.
. . . The enemy opened a sprinkling fire, partly from sharp-shooters. As the bullets whistled by, some of the men dodged. The general said laughingly, " What! what! men, dodging this way for single bullets! What will you do when they open fire along the whole line? I am ashamed of you. They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance." 
A few seconds after, a man who had been separated from his regiment passed directly in front of the general, and at the same moment a sharp-shooter's bullet passed with a long shrill whistle very close, and the soldier, who was then just in front of the general, dodged to the ground. The general touched him gently with his foot, and said, " Why, my man, I am ashamed of you, dodging that way," and repeated the remark, " They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance." The man rose and saluted and said good-naturedly, " General, I dodged a shell once, and if I hadn't, it would have taken my head off. I believe in dodging." 
The general laughed and replied, "All right, my man; go to your place."   For a third time the same shrill whistle, closing with a dull, heavy stroke, interrupted our talk; when, as I was about to resume, the general's face turned slowly to me, the blood spurting from his left cheek under the eye in a steady stream. 
He fell in my direction ; I was so close to him that my effort to support him failed, and I fell with him.  Colonel Charles H. Tompkins, chief of the artillery, standing a few feet away, heard my exclamation as the general fell, and, turning, shouted to his brigade-surgeon, Dr. Ohlenschlager. Major Charles A. Whittier, Major T. W. Hyde; and Lieutenant Colonel Kent, who had been grouped near by, surrounded the general as he lay. 
A smile remained upon his lips but he did not speak. The doctor poured water from a canteen over the general's face. The blood still poured upward in a little fountain. The men in the long line of rifle-pits, retaining their places from force of discipline, were all kneeling with heads raised and faces turned toward the scene ; for the news had already passed along the line.
. . . General Ricketts suggested that I communicate at once with General Meade. . . When I found General Meade he had already heard the sad intelligence. . . Returning I met the ambulance bringing the dead general's body, followed by his sorrowing staff.  The body was taken back to General Meade's headquarters, and not into any house. A bower was built for it of evergreens, where, upon a rustic bier, it lay until nightfall, mourned over by officers and soldiers.
Ulysses Grant
Upon hearing of his death, General Ulysses Grant, flabbergasted by the news, repeatedly asked, "Is he really dead?" 

`Robert E. Lee
His death was met by universal sorrow; even Robert E. Lee expressed his sadness over the fate of an old friend. 
J.E.B. Stuart
J.E.B. Stuart, who would be killed in action within a few days at Yellow Tavern, told a staffer that he would have gladly shared a blanket and his last crust of bread with him.

George Meade
General George Meade wept at the news. Ulysses Grant characterized Sedgwick as one who "was never at fault when serious work was to be done" and he told his staff that the loss for him was worse than that of an entire division.  Sedgwick was the highest ranking Union casualty in the Civil War; he had the most senior rank by date of all major generals killed.  Sedgwick's reputation was that of a solid, dependable, but relatively unaggressive general.  He was well liked by his soldiers, who referred to him affectionately as "Uncle John".

Six days after his death, John Sedgwick was laid to rest in his birthplace of Cornwall Hollow, Connecticut. More than 1,000 of Sedgwick's neighbors and friends, including members of the state legislature and three officers from the general's staff, gathered at the 50-year-old soldier's house and then at the cemetery less than a mile down the road.  One witness called the May 15, 1864 funeral "one of the saddest, and yet one of the more interesting ceremonies I have witnessed since the breaking out of the vile rebellion."

"The ceremonies were simple, orderly and in appropriate taste," the unnamed witness wrote the Hartford Courant. "Two or three eloquent and soul-moving addresses, suited to the occasion, were made by the clergymen present, and then, after the immense throng had been indulged with a look at the manly face of the noble soldier, his remains were borne to their final resting place by a respectable company of gentlemen from among his fellow townspeople without ostentation, and with more sincere sorrow, and sadder hearts, than are often found among the followers of distinguished men. He was a noble soldier, and no country makes such sacrifices in vain."

A public funeral was offered to the Sedgwick family by the state, but they declined. And no volley was fired over his grave, as was customary for a military figure of such stature. "As his body was lowered to its last resting place," a Sedgwick family history noted. "a peal of thunder like the roar of distant artillery reverberated along the heavens, sounding his requiem and the tired soldier rested."

Corn Hollow Cemetery
At 11:30 a.m. on Memorial Day 1900, more than 3,000 people, including the governor, gathered for the dedication of a memorial about 40 yards west of Sedgwick's grave, across the street from the cemetery. Just before the unveiling, a veteran, surely caught up in the moment, briefly laid an amazing Civil War relic in front of the 12-foot granite monument: a large piece of a Confederate flag that once waved over Richmond. A short time later, as a band from nearby Winsted played "The Star-Spangled Banner," Sedgwick's great-niece removed a large U.S. flag from the memorial, revealing a bronze relief plaque of the general.

Sedgwick Memorial
Across the street from cemetery

Monument across the street from Corn Hollow Cemetery
Sedgwick's house --the same house where he recuperated from three wounds suffered at the Battle of Antietam -- still stands just down the road from the cemetery.

Sedgwick Monument at Spotsylvania
Marker at spot where Sedgwick was killed
Sedgwick Statue at Gettysburg National Military Park
An equestrian statue honors him and the VI Corps at Gettysburg National Military Park.

Statue of General Sedgwick at West Point
There is a statue of General Sedgwick at West Point.  Academy legend has it that a cadet who spins the spurs of the statue at midnight while wearing full parade dress gray over white uniform under arms will have good luck on his or her final exam.

No elephants were hit . . .

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