Thursday, September 6, 2007

John Sedgwick: A Forgotten Union Hero

Union General John Sedgwick was born in Cornwall Hollow, Connecticut on Sept 13, 1813. He was well educated and graduated from West Point in 1837 and ranked 24th in his class. He served faithfully in the Seminole Indian War in Florida and served with distinction in the war with Mexico. He along with future Confederate Generals James Longsreet and George Pickett helped defeat the Mexicans at the Battle of Chapultepec.Before the Civil War started he was promoted twice to replace Robert E. Lee. The second promotion came when Lee resigned from the U.S. Army.

Sedgwick rose from the rank of Lt. Colonel to lead a corps during the Civil War and he was among the small number of men from either side to do so. On July 4, 1862 he was awarded the rank of major general becoming one of the few men in American military history to rise so fast and so far. His command was the Union Sixth Corps and it was a position that he would maintain until his untimely death. In September of 1862 he was wounded three times during the Battle of Antietam and missed three weeks of the war to recover from these wounds. Until his death this would be the only war time that John Sedgewick would miss.After serving in the heavy fighting at Fredricksburg and Chancellorsville. During the Second Battle of Fredricksburg, Sedgwick led the forces that pushed the Confederates off of Mayre's Heights. After Hooker was whipped by Lee at Chancellorsville, President Lincoln offered the command of the Army of the Potomac to General Sedgwick. Both he and fellow corps commander John F. Reynolds refused to take command and opted to remain in command of their corps. Another corps commander named George Meade took the offer and the rest is history. Sedgwick furthered his legend by his timely arrival at Gettysburg during the wars bloodiest battle. His corps was held in reserve but his troops were in position to prevent any penetration by the Army of Northern Virginia.After the Gettysburg campaign, Sedgwick's Corps marched with a new commander named U.S. Grant.

After leading his men during the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1864 his corps marched south to engage the Confederates at Spotsylvania Court House. While he placed his men into position a Confederate sharpshooter shot him dead. Just moments before Sedgwick was warned by his troops to take cover but he stated that "they couldn't hit a elephant at his distance". Well John must have grown a trunk because the rebel bullet wounded him just under his left eye. He died within minutes. The general was buried in his home town.The love that Sedgwicks men had for him was evident at Spotsylvania when many of them wept when they learned of his death. After the war several momuments and memorials were created in his honor including one at West Point. Also, Sedgwick is honored with statues at Spotsylvania near where he fell and on the battleground at Gettysburg. Today, General John Sedgwick remains virtually unknown to the average American.

He served in three wars and postive things always seemed to surround him. He was loved and respected by the troops under his command and his superior officers. So why don't more people know about John Sedgwich? Perhaps it is because he was a guy who just got the job done, didn't flaunt himself and since he didn't outlive the war he didn't make himself larger than life within his writings. Without a doubt, General Sedgwick deserves to be remembered as a great general and a great man. Its a shame that he isn't as revered as Sherman, Lee, Grant and Jackson.

Further Reading:

Winslow, Richard Elliott. General John Sedgwick, the Story of a Union Corps Commander. Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1982.

Sedgwick, John, George William Curtis, and Gary W. Gallagher. Correspondence of John Sedgwick, Major-General. Army of the Potomac series, v. 24. Baltimore, MD: Butternut and Blue, 1999.

Connecticut, and Dwight C. Kilbourn. Dedication of the Equestrian Statue of Major-General John Sedgwick. Hartford: Pub. by the state, 1913.

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