About Me

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I am a lifelong student of military history with particular interest in the Battle of Antietam. I work for the federal government in Washington DC and have two young adult children who I love very much. I currently volunteer at Antietam and devote much time to the study of this battle and the Maryland Campaign. I enjoy collecting notable contemporary quotations by and about the men of Antietam. Since 2013 I have been conducting in depth research on the regular artillery companies of the Union Army and their leaders. I hope to turn this into a book on this subject in the future. My perspective comes from a 28-year career in the U.S. Army. Travels took me to World War II battlefields in Europe and the Pacific where American valor ended the tyranny of Nazism and Empire. But our country faced its own greatest challenge 80 years earlier during the Civil War. And it was the critical late summer of 1862, when Robert E. Lee launched the Maryland Campaign. It is an incredible story of drama, carnage, bravery, and missed opportunities that culminated around the fields and woodlots of peaceful Sharpsburg MD. So join me as I make this journey South from the North Woods.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

“I am a damned sight better General than you, Sir, had on that field.” ANTIETAM's UNION LEADERS AT BULL RUN

There were a fair number of Antietam’s Union commanders who were also present at First Bull Run. But George McClellan was not one of them. On July 21, 1861, McClellan was at Beverly Virginia. As the second ranking Major General in the United States Regular Army, McClellan commanded the Department of Ohio and the Army of Occupation (of Western Virginia). McClellan’s troops had just defeated Confederate forces at Rich Mountain, and then again at Corrick’s Ford on the Cheat River. McClellan was not present at either battle but got the credit for the victory. On July 22, 1861 a telegram from Secretary of War Simon Cameron in Washington was handed to McClellan. It said, “Circumstances make your presence here necessary. Charge Rosecrans or some other general with your resent department and come hither without delay.” McClellan would soon be on his way to Washington and arrive on the afternoon of July 26 to take command of the newly created Division of the Potomac.

Before going any further, let us consider Colonel Dixon Miles (picture at left). Miles commanded the Fifth Division of the Army of Northeastern Virginia and was therefore the senior officer from First Bull Run to play a role in the Maryland Campaign. Mile’s division included Captain John Tidball’s Battery A, 2nd U.S. Artillery, and four New York Regiments (the 16th, 18th, 31st, and 32nd) that fought at Antietam. Miles did poorly at First Bull Run. Charged by Israel Richardson among others with intoxication, a Court of Inquiry cleared him but enough of a cloud remained over his head that he was essentially exiled to command the Railroad Brigade at distant Harpers Ferry. Miles surrender of the Union garrison two days before the Battle of Antietam was the largest surrender of U.S. military forces until the Japanese conquest of the Philippine Islands in World War Two. It was an important factor in Lee’s decision to fight at Sharpsburg. Fortunately for Miles, he avoided another Court of Inquiry by being killed by a final Confederate artillery round fired just as the surrender was commencing.


Of McClellan’s six Antietam corps commanders, two served as brigade commanders in McDowell’s army. Sixth Corps’ commander William Franklin, (picture at right) commanded the 1st Brigade of Samuel Heintzelman’s Second Division at Bull Run. Franklin’s brigade included Willis Gorman’s First Minnesota Regiment and also Battery I, 1st U.S. Infantry commanded by Captain James Ricketts. Ricketts would be wounded and captured at Bull Run. He would be exchanged and accept a commission as a brigadier general and command the 2nd Division of the First Corps at Antietam. Rickett’s old battery would also be at Antietam, part of Sedgwick’s Second Corps division. Gorman would also be promoted to brigadier and command the 1st Brigade of Sedgwick’s division. His old regiment, the 1st Minnesota Infantry would be part of his brigade as it advanced into the West Woods on September 17th, 1862. Ninth Corps’ commander Ambrose Burnside (picture at left) also led a brigade at Bull Run. It was the 2nd Brigade of David Hunter’s Second Division. This brigade included his former command the 1st Rhode Island Infantry. Rhode Island’s other regiment in McDowell’s army was the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry and was also part of Burnside’s brigade. In command of Company E was Captain Isaac P. Rodman, who would eventually serve Burnside in North Carolina and as a division commander in the Ninth Corps at Antietam where he would fall mortally wounded. One other Antietam corps commander was on the field, but not in a military capacity. Joseph Hooker recently arrived from San Francisco and frustrated at not being able to secure a general officer’s commission viewed the battle as a civilian observer. Hooker way back in 1848 made the mistake of testifying at a court of inquiry in favor of political general Gideon Pillow against General Winfield Scott. Scott would remember this slight thirteen years later when Hooker sought a commission. A few days after the battle, Hooker had the opportunity to meet President Lincoln in a receiving line at the White House. As the President turned away after shaking his hand, Hooker uttered the memorable sentence that endeared him to Lincoln and finally secured his commission: “And while I am at it, Mr. President, I want to say one thing more and that is, that I was at the battle of Bull Run the other day, and it is neither vanity or boasting in me to declare that I am a damned sight better General than you, Sir, had on that field.” By the end of the July, Hooker’s name along with those of William Franklin and Ambrose Burnside would be sent to the Senate as nominees for commissions as brigadier general in the Unites States Volunteers. Two other future corps commanders were not far from Bull Run. Colonel Joseph Mansfield commanded the District of Washington and had been responsible for forwarding new troops to McDowell’s army. Some think that Scott preferred Mansfield for the command of the Army of Northeastern Virginia. In the Shenandoah Valley, Colonel Fitz-John Porter served as an Assistant Adjutant General in Robert Patterson’s Department of the Shenandoah. The last corps commander was Brigadier General Edwin V. Sumner. Commanding the Department of the Pacific in San Francisco Sumner was one of the senior general officers in the Army and the farthest from the action. At the time of his promotion on March 16, 1861 and appointment to the Pacific command, he was one of only three brigadier generals in the entire Army.


Of the sixteen Antietam division commanders, six commanded troops at Bull Run and one served as a primary staff officer for McDowell. Of the troop commanders, there were two brigade commanders, and one each regimental, battalion, battery and company commander. Israel Richardson (photo at left) of Sunken Road fame, commanded the 4th Brigade of Brigadier General Tyler’s 1st Division. Richardson was in command of the 2nd Michigan Infantry Regiment when he arrived in Washington but was quickly elevated to brigade command. His brigade included the 12th New York Infantry Regiment that was part of the Fifth Corps at Antietam. He also had two regular artillery batteries that both fought at Antietam. Acting Major Henry Hunt commanded Battery M, 2nd U.S. Artillery at Bull Run. Hunt would be administratively in charge of the artillery at Antietam but did not exercise operational command. Battery M would be part of the artillery assigned to Pleasanton’s cavalry division. Battery G, 1st U.S. Artillery also fought under Richardson at Bull Run and was part of the Fifth Corps artillery at Antietam. The other brigade commander was Ninth Corps division commander Orlando Willcox (picture below at left) who lead the final assault on Sharpsburg. Willcox commanded the 2nd Brigade of Heintzelman’s 3rd Division at Bull Run. Like Richardson, he brought a Michigan Infantry Regiment (the First) to Washington and was subsequently elevated to brigade command. McDowell sought West Pointers like Richardson, Willcox, Burnside and Howard for brigade commands whenever he could avoid taking political generals as he organized his army in July 1861. Wilcox’s brigade contained the 4th Michigan Infantry Regiment, and Battery D, 2nd U.S. Artillery which both fought at Antietam. One of McDowell’s regimental commanders was another West Pointer who later commanded a Sixth Corps division at Antietam. Henry Slocum, like Richardson and Willcox, left the regular army but returned to duty as the Civil War began. Slocum commanded the 27th New York Infantry Regiment at Bull Run. Recruited out of the Syracuse area, Slocum’s regiment was assigned to Colonel Andrew Porter’s First Brigade of David Hunter’s Second Division. The 27th New York included in its ranks Major Joseph Bartlett. Later as a brigade commander in Slocum’s division, Bartlett was instrumental in the successful attack against the Confederate line at Crampton’s Gap. It appears that Slocum and Bartlett kept an eye on their old regiment for participating in that attack would be the 27th New York. Major George Sykes association with regular army troops began at Bull Run where he led a composite battalion of infantrymen from the 2nd, 3rd, and 8th U.S. Infantry. He would similarly command a division, again of regulars in the Fifth Corps at Antietam. Despite popular conceptions that the Fifth Corps was idle at Antietam, Sykes’ regulars were engaged against the center of Lee’s line advancing over the Middle Bridge toward Sharpsburg at various times during September 17th 1862. James Ricketts as we already discussed was a battery commander at Bull Run and commanded the 2nd Division of the First Corp at Antietam. The last Antietam division commander at Bull Run and only non West Pointer was Isaac Rodman. As mentioned, Rodman at Bull Run was a captain in the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry in Burnside’s brigade. Also with McDowell’s Army of Northeast Virginia was Colonel George Morell who served on the Quartermaster staff. Morell commanded the Second Division, Fifth Corps at Antietam. Though Morell was assigned to McDowell’s department, I have not been able to determine if he was actually present on the battlefield. What of the other nine division commanders? Of the remaining West Pointers who would later commander divisions at Antietam, in this group, five were still serving in their regular army assignments, one had already secured a volunteer regiment and the last one was still a civilian. Of the officers still with the regular army, the most senior officer among them was Colonel John Sedgwick commanding the First United States Cavalry. Sedgwick was in Washington but was recovering from a bout with cholera at the time of the battle. Had he been well enough, he would no doubt have accompanied the army. Major Abner Doubleday commanded artillery in Patterson’s Army of the Shenandoah. Farther afield was Major Samuel Sturgis with part of the 1st Cavalry Regiment in Missouri, Captain George Meade impatiently seeking a senior billet while located at Detroit in charge of the Great Lakes Survey, and Captain William French at Fort Taylor, Florida. William F. “Baldy” Smith commanding a Sixth Corps division at Antietam had already secured a colonel’s commission in the U.S. Volunteers. He had just assumed command of the 3rd Vermont Infantry and was enroute to Washington DC as the battle raged. The sole West Pointer not yet returned to the Army was George Sears Greene, a prominent engineer in New York City. At the advanced age of 61 there may have been some concerns about Greene’s ability to actively serve in the field. Greene did not receive a command until January of 1862 when he became colonel of the 60th New York Infantry. That leaves only two other division commanders not at Bull Run. Brigadier General Jacob Cox commanded the Kanawha Brigade and was in the field with George McClellan in western Virginia at the time of the battle. While George Meade was hoping to wrap up his affairs in Detroit, Alpheus Williams had been commissioned a brigadier general of Michigan troops and was conducting a school of military instruction at Fort Wayne. He would soon receive a brigadier general’s commission and be sent to command a brigade in Nathaniel Banks division in western Maryland.


Of the 45 infantry brigade commanders at Antietam, six saw service at First Bull Run. We have already mentioned Willis Gorman with the 1st Minnesota Infantry Regiment, and Joseph Bartlett, major of the 27th New York Infantry. The brigade commander holding the highest command at Bull Run was Oliver Otis Howard (pictured at left). At Bull Run, Howard commanded the 3rd Brigade in Heintzelman’s division. Howard, from the West Point Class of 1854 brought the 3rd Maine Infantry Regiment to Washington. Like his other three Antietam colleagues, he was quickly elevated to brigade command. Within his brigade were the 5th Maine Infantry Regiment and the 2nd Vermont Infantry Regiment, both Antietam units. Unlike his Antietam colleagues at brigade command at Bull Run, Howard still remained at that command level fourteen months later. No doubt part of the reason was that he was seriously wounded at Fair Oaks during the Seven Days Battles. However despite this slow start, Howard was the only commander at Antietam besides Burnside, Hooker, and Meade who would command an Army during the Civil War. Howard in May of 1864 to the utter disgust of Joseph Hooker would be selected by Grant and Sherman to replace the fallen James McPherson as commander of the Army of the Tennessee instead of Joseph Hooker. Hooker would immediately resign his command as a result of this humiliation. There were x other brigade commanders who saw action at Antietam. Thomas Meagher was acting major of the 69th New York Militia. A predominantly Irish organization the 69th New York Militia after mustering out would largely fill the ranks of the new 69th New York Infantry. The regiment contained other men who would later figure prominently in the Irish Brigade. James Kelly who would lead the 63rd New York Infantry at Antietam commanded Company H and Patrick Kelley who commanded Company E would command the 88th New York Infantry at Antietam. Charles Griffin at Bull Run commanded Battery D “The West Point Battery”, 5th U.S. Artillery at Bull Run. Like Ricketts, Griffin would suffer the capture of his battery during the height of the Bull Run fighting. The last Antietam brigade commander who fought at Bull Run was Edward Harland, commander of Company D “Norwich Rifles” of the 3rd Connecticut Infantry Regiment, a 3-month regiment assigned to Keyes’s First Brigade of Tyler’s First Division. When the regiment mustered out, Harland would then be commissioned a colonel and take command of the 8th Connecticut Infantry.

I didn’t mention the cavalry. None of the senior cavalry leadership present at Antietam was at Bull Run. That is probably explained by the fact that there was only one small composite cavalry battalion composed of U.S. Regulars at the battle. On July 21, 1861, Captain Alfred Pleasanton was with the 2nd U.S. Dragoons at Fort Crittenden, Utah. There were two regular army cavalry, and three volunteer cavalry brigades at Antietam. For the regulars, Captain Charles Whiting was with the 5th U.S. Cavalry and probably stationed at Carlisle Barracks. First Lieutenant Benjamin F. “Grimes” Davis was still with the 1st U.S. Dragoons in New Mexico or California. The three volunteer cavalry brigade commanders were still civilians. All three men were taking steps to organize cavalry regiments in July of 1862. John Farnsworth at Chicago Illinois was organizing the 8th Illinois Cavalry Regiment. Andrew T. McReynolds was similarly organizing the 1st New York Cavalry Regiment in New York City. In Philadelphia, Richard Rush was unsuccessfully attempting to be placed in command of the state of Pennsylvania’s artillery units. Rush was a West Point graduate who served in the artillery previously. Denied this position by Governor Curtin, Rush would instead organize the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment known as the Rush Lancers.

I could go on an on. Antietam veterans Adelbert Ames, George Custer, Henry Kingsbury, David Morrison, and John Tidball were at Bull Run and deserve mention. It was the leavening of these men and countless other Bull Run veterans from 1861 that would give the Army of the Potomac the resilience that it needed in the summer of 1862 to incorporate thousands of rookie soldiers and be a formidable fighting force that could take on Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia on the banks of the Antietam, just east of Sharpsburg.

Next: Antietam’s Army of Northern Virginia at First Bull Run


  1. I always had a great deal of respect for Edwin V. Sumner. He was quite old when the war began, but a very determined individual. His mindset reminds me a little of Grant.

  2. I agree Tim. I dont think he gets the credit he deserves. Vince Armstrong's book on the Second Corps is a balanced account of his service at Antietam.