The American Civil War Biography Thread


Forum Staff
Oct 2009
I'm creating this thread in the spirit of these earlier threads:

I invite my fellow enthusiasts of the American Civil War to post their own biographies here, of any American who was alive between 1861 and 1865 and influenced history in any way. Feel free to pick politicans, cultural figures, civilians, and generals, officers, or soldiers of any rank.

Posters are free to use their own discretion in terms of the length and detail of their posts. Pictures of their subject and any links to further information would also be welcome.

I will be kicking this thread off momentarily, with a biography of the Union's "Uncle John" Sedgwick.


Forum Staff
Oct 2009
John ('Uncle John') Sedgwick, 1813 - 1864
USMA 1837, 24/50

John Sedgwick (who apparently didn't have a middle name), was born in the Connecticut town of Cornwall, on September 13th, 1813. His grandfather was a Revolutionary general who had served with Washington. In his early twenties Sedgwick found work as a teacher, but secured entry into West Point. He graduated in 1837, and was comissioned in the Artillery with the rank of second lieutenant.

Sedgwick graduated in time to participate in the closing years of the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). His first experience of warfare was brutal and thoroughly unappealing; more American soldiers were killed by disease in Florida than those killed by the arrows and bullets of their wily Indian enemies, whose ranks were swelled by escaped plantation slaves.

Like most Civil War generals, Sedgwick's first and only taste of a 'Western' style war was in Mexico, 1846-1848. Here his courage one him two brevet promotions; to captain and then to major at Chapultepec. After Mexico Sedgwick was transferred to the cavalry. He served in Kansas, on the Utah Expedition, and in an expedition against the Cheyenne in 1857. The crowning achievement of Sedgwick's frontier military career occurred in 1860, when he managed to construct and manage a fort under considerably difficult circumstances along the Platte River.

There were no doubts about John Sedgwick's loyalties as a Union man when the Civil War opened in 1861. In March he was appointed lieutenant colonel of the 2nd US Cavalry, but two weeks later became the colonel of the 1st US Cavalry. Sedgwick's participation in the first campaigns of the War was marred by a case of cholera, which saved him from being present at the debacle of First Bull Run.

Despite his illness, Sedgwick received a promotion the brigadier general in August of 1861, and upon returning to duty in October he was given command of the second brigade of Samuel P. Heintzelman's division in the Army of the Potomac. Sedgwick was regarded as a competent, if not particularly aggressive general for the duration of the War. His kindliness and his paternal affection towards his soldiers, as well as his concern for their well-being and standard of living, earned him the nickname of 'Uncle John'. Even if he failed to be a dominating personality on the battlefield, he was nonetheless a favorite general in the Army.

Sedgwick was busy in the first half of 1862, while serving under George McClellan. He was given command of Heintzelman's division in February, which became the second division of the Second Corps. Sedgwick led his men bravely in the Peninsula, fighting at Yorktown, Fair Oaks, Peach Orchard, Savage's Station, and Glendale. He received two wounds, one in the arm and one in the leg, at the last of these battles. In July he received further promotion to major general.

Sedgwick and his men were faced with near disaster at Antietam, when Edwin Sumner sent them on a poorly-reconnaissanced mass charge in which they were partially surrounded by TJ 'Stonewall' Jackson. Sedgwick was shot three times and 2,200 of his men became casualites.

By the time Sedgwick returned to the Army of the Potomac in December of 1862, it was under the command of Ambrose Burnside. Sedgwick narrowly missed the decable at Fredericksburg, and was placed in command of the Second Corps. He held this command until January of 1863, when he was given command of the Fourth Corps for a month. Finally, in February he settled into command of the Sixth Corps, which was to be his final command before his death.

Sedgwick's Sixth Corps was arrayed against Fredericksburg during the Battle of Chancellorsville, and his men assaulted Jubal Early's command at Maryes Heights. Despite this success, his attempt at sandwiching Lee between his Corps and those of Hooker were tharwted by the Confederate Second Corps, under the command of JEB Stuart after the wounding of Jackson. The Sixth Corps had the worst of the Battle of Salem Church, and Sedgwick retreated across the Rappahannock.

Sedgwick's Corps played only a minor role at Gettysburg, arriving at the battlefield on the second day of the fighting and sending a few regiments to fight in the Wheatfield. Sedgwick remained in command of the Sixth Corps over the winter of 1863-1864, taking part in the Mine Run operation. His reputation was well-established as one of the most amicable generals in the army, and one of the best corps commanders.

Sedgwick commanded his Corps when Ulysses Grant, George Meade, and Ambrose Burnside jointly led the Army of the Potomac and the Ninth Corps across the Rapidan to confront Lee, in what became the Overland Campaign. The Sixth Corps formed the Union right in the Wilderness and fought again with the Confederate Second Corps, now under Richard Ewell.

Tragedy struck the Army of the Potomac on May 9th, 1864, during the opening phases of the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse. Sedgwick was in the process of arraying his artillery against the Confederate left flank, and Rebel sharpshooters were troubling his men. Sedgwick gently mocked his soldiers for ducking at the Confederate bullets, twice telling them he was "ashamed" of them and that they "couldn't hit an elephant at this distance". Within three minutes of making this statement, John Sedgwick slumped to the ground, dead, with a sharpshooter's bullet lodged below his left eye. He was fifty years old.

John Sedgwick's death galvanized the Army of the Potomac. Grant, upon receiving word, stared dumbfoundly before asking "is he really dead?" Sedgwick was the highest-ranking Union casualty of the entire war. With his patriarchal beard, kindly eyes, and soldierly bearing, he was universally recognized as a dependable commander and a general who cared for the well-being of his men.


Forum Staff
Oct 2009
Ambrose Powell ('Little Powell') Hill, 1825 - 1865
USMA 1847, 15/38

Ambrose Powell Hill was born in Culpeper, Virginia, in November of 1825, and was named in honor of his uncle, a Virginian politician. In 1842 he received an appointment to West Point, but missed a year while on medical leave. Hill was sociable, fun-loving, and promiscuous, and had contracted a case of gonorrhea. Among his classmates and friends were future Union generals George McClellan, Ambrose Burnside, and Darius Couch, and future Confederate Henry Heth. He was best known, however, for the personality clashes that took place between himself and his fellow Virginian cadet, Thomas Jonathan Jackson.

Hill graduated in 1847, and despite being given the brevet rank of second lieutenant in the 1st Artillery, he was attached to a cavalry company. While attached to this command Hill had a tour of Mexico before the end of the War, but did not see any major fighting. After Mexico he was given some garrison duties on the Atlantic coast, and was then transferred to Florida in the 1850s. As with the Mexican War, Hill missed the worst of the fighting in the Seminole Wars.

In 1851 Hill was promoted to first lieutenant, and he spent the 1855-1860 period employed in the coastal survey. This period of his life is chiefly notable for his love life. He was engaged to the beautiful Ellen B. Marcy, but parental opposition led Ellen to break off the engagement. Ellen subsequently married Hill's West Point classmate, George B. McClellan, while Hill himself married Kitty Morgan-McClung, the widowed sister of the future Confederate general John Hunt Morgan.

Hill, like many Virginian military men, was no secessionist fanatic, but chose loyalty to his state over loyalty to his country when the Civil War opened. Resigning from the US Army in March of 1861, he was made lieutenant colonel of the 13th Virginia Infantry; this regiment was present at First Bull Run though it did not engage in any fighting.

In February of 1862 Hill was made a brigadier general and was given command of a brigade in the (Confederate) Army of the Potomac, soon to be renamed the Army of Northern Virginia. On May 5th of that year, Hill had his first real chance to distinguish himself on a battlefield, bloodying the nose of a Union assault with his brigade at the Battle of Williamsburg. Later that month he was promoted to major general and given command of a division.

Hill's division performed well during the Peninsular Campaign and he started calling the 'Light Division' for its alleged speed on the march; veterans of Hill's command later joked that they were indeed a light division because equipment shortages limited the burden they had to carry on the march. They fought at all of the Seven Days Battles, but the aftermath of this campaign changed the course of the War for Hill. Hill and his fellow general, James Longstreet, had a ferocious quarrel that resulted in Hill being placed under arrest, and challenging Longstreet to a duel.

Robert E. Lee, now commanding the Army of Northern Virginia after the wounding of Joseph Johnston at Seven Pines, defused the situation by attaching Hill and his division to Thomas Jonathan 'Stonewall' Jackson's command at Gordonsville. Hill was present at all the major battles of 1862 - Cedar Mountain, Second Manassas, Harpers Ferry, Antietam, and Fredericksburg.

Hill's role at Antietam was pivotal in ensuring the survival of the Confederate army, but he proved to be a difficult personality. His personality clash with Jackson, dating back to their days as West Point cadets, resurfaced with a vengeance. During the Maryland Campaign Jackson had Hill arrested, for the second time in his Civil War career, and charged him with eight derelictions of duty. Hill spent much of the Fredericksburg campaign insisting, without success, that Lee convene a court of inquiry to decide between himself and Jackson. Lee disapproved of the friction between his generals, and ignored Hill's requests.

Despite their personal loathing of one another, Jackson and Hill were able to cooperate on the battlefield for the sake of their common cause. When Jackson was wounded by friendly fire from the 18th North Carolina at Chancellorsville, Hill tenderly asked him if he was in any pain, before taking command of the Second Corps in his place. It was the last time the two men saw each other alive; Hill was also wounded that night, but unlike Jackson, he recovered.

Ambrose P. Hill was appointed commander of Lee's newly created Third Corps shortly before the Gettysburg Campaign. Hill's men were heavily involved in the opening combats of the Battle, though he was later criticized for initiating a pitched battle before all of Lee's army was present. Hill's Corps was mauled on the third day of the Battle, when it constituted about two thirds of the Rebels who participated in Pickett's Charge. Hill's other infamous rival, Longstreet, was reluctantly placed in command of this doomed assault.

Hill's Corps also fought hard at the first day of the Wilderness in May of 1864, though the second day he was thrown back and would have been defeated had it not been for the timely intervention of Longstreet. Shortly after, Hill was taken ill (his complaint is unclear) and he missed the Spotsylvania Courthouse battles. Returning to service on the 22nd of May, Hill was criticized for his piecemeal assaults at the North Anna.

Hill performed better at Cold Harbor and during the various battles of the Petersburg Campaign - the last few months of his life were also his finest hour as a general. Nonetheless, his performance over the winter of 1864-1865 was further marred by several more bouts of illness.

Ambrose P. Hill returned from sick leave in Richmond, for the final time on the 1st of April, 1865. By this point the fate of Lee's army was all but sealed. On the 2nd of April, Hill and a single staff officer rashly rode out to examine their lines, only to fall under fire from Yankees belonging to the 138th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment. Corporal John Mauck of that regiment took credit for firing the shot that killed the Confederate general.

Ambrose Powell Hill was one of the War's more controversial generals. He definitely had abilities, but his health was frail and he was also a feisty and difficult subordinate. His men seemed to have held a high opinion of him, and he was considered one of the better-loved generals by the rank and file. He was described as 'genial, approachable and affectionate' in his private life, but 'restless and impetuous' as a commander. His death at Petersburg fulfilled a wish that he had vocalized shortly before - a hope that if the Confederacy should fall, that he would die with it.

As an interesting piece of triva, both Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. Jackson reportedly mentioned A. P. Hill in their delusional, death-bed words.


Ad Honorem
Aug 2010
Gouverneur Kemble Warren, 1830–1882
USMA 1850, 2/44

Gouverneur Kemble Warren was born January 8th, in Putnam County, New York. He was named for a prominent local political figure and industrialist. He entered West Point in 1846, at the age of sixteen. In 1850, he graduated with the very impressive rank of second in his class of 44. He received a assignment as a brevet second lieutenant to the Corps of Topographical Engineers. He worked on the Mississippi River and on transcontinental railroad surveys, and helped map the west, helping to create the first comprehensive map of the United States west of the Mississippi, and surveyed the Minnesota River Valley. He saw his first combat at Ash Hollow in the Nebraska Territory, having been too young to see action in Mexico like many of his future comrades and opponents.

At the start of the Civil War, Warren was a first lieutenant, teaching mathematics at West Point. He helped raise a local regiment, and was appointed lieutenant colonel of the 5th New York Infantry in May 1861. He and his regiment saw action at the first real engagement of the war, Big Bethel, where Warren distinguished himself by at one point leading his men over a ford mounted on a white mule. In September, Warren became the Colonel of the 5th New Tork.
Warren saw more service during the Peninsula Campaign, continuing to lead his regiment while at the same time assisting the Army of the Potomac's chief topographical engineer, Andrew A. Humphreys (A man destined to rise to prominence in the war), map advance routes for the army. By the time of the Seven Days Battles', he was the acting brigade commander, and was wounded in the knee at Gaines' Mill, but refused to be taken from the field. His brigade gave particularly distinguished service at Malvern Hill. At Second Manassas, his brigade made a determined stand near Chinn Ridge against overwhelming forces that bought the Union Army of Virginia more time to assemble a defense on Henry Hill and make preparations to withdraw.

Warren was promoted to brigadier general in September, after Antietam where his brigade saw no action. His men fought in the Battle of Fredericksburg that December of 1862. In February, with Joseph Hooker's reorganization of the Army of the Potomac, Warren was appointed chief engineer of the army, and received commendation for his service at Chancellorsville.

Warren gave Hooker advice on what routes to use for intercepting Lee's army as it moved north in the Gettysburg Campaign. Following George Meade's assumption of command, Meade wanted a new chief of staff to replace Daniel Butterfield, a Hooker crony who was widely loathed in the army's high command. He offered the job to Warren, as well as Andrew Humphreys, but they both declined, forcing Meade to continue with Butterfield for the time being. Warren helped Meade establish the fishhook position at Gettysburg, and on July 2nd, he rode out to survey the Union left. He was not happy when he discovered the undefended Round Tops, realizing the danger this posed to the Union flank, and while sending off a note to Meade, he chose not to wait around, and on his own initiative, commandeered a brigade of the Union Fifth Corps, commanded by Col. Strong Vincent, and rushed it to Little Round Top just in time to halt the Confederate assault. As the right of Vincent's brigade began to give way, Warren once again rode to the rescue with a commandeered regiment, leading the 140th New York in to plug the gap. He suffered a minor neck wound during this action. He attended Meade's council of war, but troubled by his neck wound, ended up sleeping through it.

Warren was promoted to major general following Gettysburg. With three corps commanders killed or wounded, Meade had vacancies in his high command, and it was hardly a surprise when Warren was chosen to fill in for the injured Winfield Scott Hancock and take command of the II Corps. At the Battle of Bristoe Station, his corps gave a larger Confederate force under A.P. Hill a bloody nose, inflicting severe casualties before withdrawing to avoid being flanked by Richard Ewell's forces. When Hill attempted to explain the debacle to Lee, Lee cut him off, stating "Well, well, general, bury these poor men and let us say no more about it." During the Mine Run Campaign, Warren was ordered to attack the Confederate army positioned at Mine Run, but perceiving the strength of the Confederate fortifications, Warren realized it was a trap and wisely declined. Meade was initially angry, but upon surveying the situation himself, concluded Warren was correct. 1863 had been a superb year for G.K. Warren.

1864 on the other hand, would be a year of unfulfilled promise and ambitions for Warren. Following the return of Hancock to his II Corps, Warren assumed command of the Union V Corps. This was a fine unit, doubtlessly not being hurt by absorbing the remnants of the tenacious Union I Corps. Warren, despite his fine 1863 service, was not necessarily popular with his division commanders, who doubtlessly were not impressed that Warren had gotten the corps while skipping the divisional level of command. In particular, Warren's senior division commander, a popular and able man by the name of Charles Griffin, believed he should have gotten the corps, and was a bit resentful of Warren. Warren wasn't unaware of his relative lack of experience, and indeed may have been slightly intimidated by Griffin, who reportedly tended to get his way in staff meetings.

Nevertheless, at the start of the campaign, Warren was very highly regarded in general. Grant later stated that at the start of the campaign, if anything had happened to Meade, he would have given Warren the army. This impression would not last long on Grant's part. Like many Union commanders, Warren was not at his best in the Wilderness. Ordered to push across a clearing called Saunders Field and attack Confederate forces assembling in the woods ahead, Warren brought his careful and deliberate engineer's nature to the fore, taking his time. Thanks to the failure of the Union cavalry, it wasn't known what exactly was opposing Warren, and the Union Sixth Corps hadn't lined up on his northern flank yet. Warren attacked nearly six hours behind schedule, by which time the Confederate II Corps had had time to fortify their position and assemble it's full force, plentiful to stop Warren. Warren's attacks were repulsed, and the annoyed Griffin stormed over to Meade's headquarters to rant about what a poor job Warren was doing. Perhaps partly because of this, Grant and Meade visited Warren's headquarters to inquire as to what had gone wrong, though it's not known exactly what words they exchanged. Later that night, a captain on Warren's staff overheard a conversation between Warren and his surgeon and adjutant generals, where Warren eventually stated it wouldn't do to publish the real casualties that his V Corps took during the battle.

After the Battle of the Wilderness ground to a halt, Warren's V Corps led the Union advance down the Brock Road towards Spotsylvania Court House. After Sheridan's failure at Todd's Tavern, Warren's infantry were forced to clear the way for the Union army, causing the first clash between Warren and Sheridan as the latter officer accused Warren's men of blocking the roads. Warren's men did a fine job of clearing the way to Spotsylvania Court House, where they ran into the Confederate I Corps, as fine a army corps as ever served in the entire war. Warren, eager to redeem himself for his actions in the Wilderness, rushed his attacks, delivering them in a piecemeal and hasty manner. Unsurprisingly, they failed. Warren attempted with only minimal success to rally his men for more attacks. Warren was angry about the course of Union operations around Spotsylvania, and wrote a letter lambasting his fellow corps commanders, even Sedgwick, whom he was friendly with. Upon hearing of Sedgwick's death, Warren demonstrated some rare tact by tucking the letter away where it wasn't found again for over a century.

When Grant and Meade launched the Union II and VI Corps at the Bloody Angle, and the attack eventually ground to a halt, Grant assumed the Confederates must have weakened the Laurel Hill sector in Warren's front, and ordered him to attack. Warren knew for a fact this wasn't true, and was extremely reluctant to commit his men in another bloody frontal assault, stalling as long as he could before delivering a perfunctory assault. Grant and Meade sent Meade's chief of staff, Andrew A. Humphreys, to relieve Warren if necessary. Humphreys, despite his reputation as a hard-ass and one of the Union army's foremost masters of profanity, was sympathetic to Warren's situation, and didn't think he could have done any better, instead doing his best to aid Warren.
Warren's performance improved in the aftermath of Spotsylvania, demonstrating some renewed vigor in some of Grant's operations in the area following the May 12th assault. At the North Anna river, Warren once again gave Hill a bloody nose at Jericho Mills, and avoided falling into Lee's trap at the North Anna by once again declining to attack a powerful position that Lee was hoping he would attack.

By the time the armies got to Petersburg, Warren had thoroughly alienated Meade and Grant. He had a reputation as an alarmist, and his habit of complaining to headquarters and questioning orders didn't make him one of the most popular men. Among others (including even the aggressive Hancock), he didn't move as rapidly as he could have during the early battle for Petersburg. Once the siege was underway however, the set-piece nature of the operations seemed to suit Warren's talents, and he generally performed well, winning limited victories at Globe Tavern and Peebles' Farm. Whatever his flaws, Warren and his V Corps carried their share of the load in the struggle for Petersburg.

In early 1865, moving to end the war in Virginia for good, Grant sent Sheridan's cavalry to destroy Lee's final supply line. Sheridan was stymied by a mixed infantry-cavalry force under the overall command of George Pickett. Sheridan called for infantry support; he wanted the Union Sixth Corps under it's capable leader Horatio Wright. Warren and his Fifth Corps were more conveniently positioned, having just won the Battle of White Oak Road. Grant mollified Sheridan by giving him the authority to remove Warren if necessary. At Five Forks, Warren and his men carried the lion's share of the burden. Inaccurate intelligence provided by Sheridan led to one of Warren's divisions wandering past the Confederate lines to the north. While Sheridan rode to the front to rally and personally lead one of Warren's other two divisions, Warren, after some initial efforts to realign Crawford's errant division failed, took after them himself, reoriented them, and slammed them into the Confederate lines from the north in the move that effectively ended the battle. After this great victory, Warren was handed an order relieving him of command. Warren made an effort to get Sheridan to reconsider his decision, and was rudely rejected. He went to Grant and Meade, and while they were much more polite about it, he was still denied. One of Meade's aides reflected "I am sorry, for I like Warren." Perhaps Meade's virulent dislike of Sheridan had filtered down.

Warren resigned his major general of volunteer's commission in protest, returning to his permanent major's rank in the engineers. He was devastated by the decision he considered to be unjust, and spent the rest of his life fighting to have it overturned. He could have done much as his brother-in-law and former staff officer, W. A. Roebling did, and entered a profitable civilian engineering career. He believed he would not ever get his name cleared if he left the military, however. Warren finally convinced the administration of Rutherford Hayes to hold a board of inquiry, which utterly vindicated Warren. Unfortunately, the hero of Little Round Top did not live to see his name cleared. He died of illness shortly before the decision, bitterly telling his wife to bury him in civilian clothing and without ceremony "I die a disgraced soldier". His last words were "The flag! The flag!"


Forum Staff
Oct 2009
James Hewitt Ledlie, 1832 - 1882

Ledlie was born in Utica, New York, on April 14th of 1832. Very little information is available on his pre-War life, but he was certainly not part of the Civil War's West Point elite. His obituary claimed that he was a graduate from Union College in Schenectady, but the college allegedly has no record of anyone by his name enrolling there. Regardless of his education, his pre-War career was wholly civilian in nature, and saw him working on the Eire Canal and as a railroad engineer.

In May of 1861, Ledlie became a major in the 19th New York Infantry, which shortly thereafter was redesignated the 3rd New York Artillery. He received several promotions that year, receiving the rank of colonel by December. Little information is available on his career in the second year of the fighting, but in December of 1862 he was promoted to brigadier general. He was placed in command of the Artillery Brigade of the Deparment of North Carolina.

Having spent most of the previous year arranging coastal artillery defenses in North Carolina, Ledlie received a chance to take part in active campaigning in the spring of 1864. He was appointed to the Union Ninth Corps, which was commanded by Ambrose Burnside. Burnside's command was attached to the Army of the Potomac during Grant's Overland Campaign in May and June of that year, so Ledlie would have been present at such bloody battles as the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Courthouse, and Cold Harbor.

Right after the Battle of Cold Harbor, on June 9th, Ledlie was placed in command of the First Division of Burnside's Corps. It was an opportunity that the burly, mustached Ledlie was to crudely squander before the defenses of Petersburg.

During the gruelling siege of Petersburg, Pennsylvanian coal-miners belonging to the Ninth Corps concocted a scheme to build a mine under the Confederate lines, and line it with explosives that would subsequently be detonated. Initially Grant and Meade took little interest in this plan, which only survived due to the support of Burnside. On July 30th, however, the mine was detonated, and the Union army was given a priceless chance to exploit the resulting carnage and confusion amongst the enemy.

The original plan was for the Fourth Division of the Ninth Corps to lead the assault into what had become the Petersburg 'Crater'. This division, commanded by the Italian dance instructor Edward Ferrero, was composed predominately of Colored regiments. Grant and Meade, however, were fearful of using black units for this risky assault, expecting that they would be accused of using them as cannon fodder. At the last minute, Burnside was ordered to pick a different division to spearhead the assault.

Burnside left the matter up to chance, and James Ledlie's First Division drew the short straw. The result was a disaster. Ledlie did not brief his troops properly, nor did he make any effort to lead them. The Battle of the Crater resulted in over 5,000 Union casualties. Most galling was Ledlie's gross neglect of his duties. The divisional commander spent the battle hiding in a bunker, 'plying himself with rum borrowed from a brigade surgeon'.

A court of inquiry examined Ledlie's drunken neglect that fall, and Grant remorseless dismissed him from the service, though his commission did not formally end until January of 1865. It was an embarrassing end to an otherwise uneventful military career.

Though his performance as a Civil War general leaves James H. Ledlie looking like a lazy, drunken, and thoroughly repulsive figure, he was a busy and successful man after the War. He was heavily involved in railroad construction in Nevada as well as working the Union Pacific Railroad, and he built the breakwater for Chicago's harbor. Ledlie died on August 15th, 1882, and was buried in his hometown of Utica.


Forum Staff
Oct 2009
Nathaniel Lyon, 1818 - 1861
USMA 1841, 11/52

Lyon was born on a farm in Ashford, Connecticut, on July 14th of 1818. He was a short but energetic redhead who loathed farming and dreamed of military glory. He was nineteen when he finally gained an appointment to West Point, where he did well before graduating in 1841 and being attached to the 2nd US Infantry Regiment. His first posting was in Florida during the closing months of the Second Seminole War (1835-1842).

As with most West Pointers of his generation, Lyon's first experience of 'Western' war came in the 1846-1848 War with Mexico. Like his contemporary Ulysses S Grant, Lyon personally believed the war between America and Mexico to be unbalanced and unjust, but this did not hold him back from fighting with noticeable bravery. At Mexico City he was promoted to first lieutenant for an act of bravery in capturing Mexican artillery. In later fighting he received a wound as well as the brevet rank of captain.

After the Mexican War Nathaniel Lyon served as a lieutenant in the 1st Dragoons, and saw service in California. It was during this period of his career that Lyon experienced Indian warfare in its most tragic and tasteless form. Two white settlers, Andrew Kelsey and Charles Stone, had been cruelly oppressing members of the Pomo tribe in the vicinity of Clear Lake, in the northern part of the state. Eventually the Pomo rebelled, murdering Kelsey and Stone, and the 1st Dragoons were tasked with putting the Indian murderers to justice. Lyon and his command attacked a group of Pomo on an island in Clear Lake, consisting mostly of women and children, and killed upwards of 100 people. It has subsequently been remembered as the 'Bloody Island Massacre'.

Lyon was afterwards stationed at Fort Riley in eastern Kansas, and was caught up in the violence known as the 'Bleeding Kansas' conflict. During this period of his life Lyon took an interest in the political and social issues of his day. He became a commited Republican with radical leanings, and also developed a fiercely anti-slavery stance. During the election of 1860 he was a vocal supporter of Abraham Lincoln, and also voiced the grim conviction that only "the sword" could solve the threat of Southern secession.

In March of 1861, Lyon entered St. Louis, Missouri, to take command of a company of the 2nd Infantry. Missouri was a border state with substantial numbers of both Unionists and secessionists, but the state governor, Claiborne Jackson, was pro-South in his views. The efforts of Lyon and Francis P. Blair were widely credited with saving the state for the Union and negating the influence of its secessionist leaders. At Camp Jackson in May Lyon enforced the surrender of secessionist militiamen, but subsequently fired on a rioting mob, killing 28 and wounding at least 75.

Lyon and his army subsequently pursued Governor Jackson, and his 'Missouri State Guard' across the state, inflicting a defeat on them at Boonville on June 17th. Lyon's vigorous prosecution of war on behalf of the Union in Missouri won him the rank of brigadier general, and by August of 1861 he was commanding an army of 6000 men.

With that army, Nathaniel Lyon faced a Confederate army twice its size at Wilsons Creek, on the morning of August 10th. Lyon was injured twice, but led a charge of the 2nd Kansas Infantry late in the battle. It was then that he was wounded for a third, and fatal time, and the battle proved lost for the Union. Nonetheless, Lyon's efforts have very possibly saved the state of Missouri from joining the Confederate cause.

Nathaniel Lyon was initially buried near Springfield, but was later interred in his home state of Connecticut. All his life Lyon had been an intelligent and energetic personality, and was something of an eccentric bachelor. Legend has it that his will left all his personal possession to the Federal government.


Forum Staff
Oct 2009
Thomas P. 'Boston' Corbett, 1832 - ?

'Boston' Corbett was possibly the most eccentric figure to gain attention during the American Civil War. He owed his proverbial 'thirty seconds of fame' to a fateful encounter with John Wilkes Booth on the night of April 26th, 1865.

Thomas P. Corbett was an Englishman, born in London in 1832 (his birthdate is unknown). At some point in his childhood or youth, his family emigrated to America, initially settling in New York City. As a young man, Corbett was employed as a hatter in Troy. In the 19th Century, hatters were often heavily exposed to mercury fumes, which in some cases seems to have affected their mental health (hence the old saying, 'mad as a hatter'). This likely explains Corbett's eccentricities and disturbingly self-destructive behaviors later in life.

It is known that Corbett married in Troy, but he lost both his wife and infant in a childbirth complication. Seeking a fresh start in life, he moved to Boston, Massachusetts and found religion, becoming a fervent Methodist. Such was his passion for his newfound faith, he renamed himself 'Boston' after the place where he found salvation, and grew out a goatee and long hair in imitation of Jesus Christ.

But 'Boston' Corbett's religious zeal, combined with his questionable sanity, drove him to commit an act of hideous self-mutiliation. Despite his newfound religion and home, Corbett was lonely and still grieving his wife, and took to finding comfort in the arms of prostitutes. Believing that his sexual promiscuity was endangering the fate of his soul, Corbett fought a lengthy inner battle. This conflict culminated in the gruesome events of July, 1858, when Corbett used a pair of scissors to castrate himself. He carried the deed out stoically, almost casually; he ate a meal and cheerfully attended a prayer meeting before finally deciding it would be prudent to seek medical attention. The examining doctors were understandably shocked.

Corbett's colorful Civil War career began in the summer of 1861, when he served in a 'three months' regiment of New York militia. That fall he re-enlisted, joining the 16th New York Cavalry Regiment. He was still in this regiment three years later, when he was captured at Culpeper, Virginia, by Confederate guerillas under the command of John Singleton Mosby. He subsequently spent five months enduring the horrors of the Andersonville Prison Camp in Georiga, before being exchanged. Upon returning to his regiment, he was promoted the rank of sergeant.

In April of 1865, the 16th New York was tasked with hunting down John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Lincoln, and his young accomplice Daivd Herold. The fugitives were cornered on the night of April 26th, in a tobacco barn belonging to Richard Garrett, in Virginia. The Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, had expressedly ordered that Booth be taken alive, but it was not to be. Sergeant Corbett was standing near a crack in the barn's door, and claimed he saw Booth aiming his carbine at him. 'Boston' Corbett fired his Colt revolver faster, and inflicted the wound that caused the paralysis and death of Lincoln's killer.

Though he was arrested for killing Booth, Corbett was not charged, Stanton accepting his claim that he fired in self-defense. He even received over a thousand dollars in reward money, and for a time enjoyed the status of a celebrity. People around the country wrote to Corbett, and he wrote back to every one, telling them that 'Providence' had directed his hand and that they would do well to repent of their sins.

The 16th New York was mustered out of the service in August of 1865, and Boston Corbett returned to work as a Bostonian hatter. He found time to participate in the trial of Henry Wirz, the commander of the Andersonville Prison Camp who was executed for war crimes in October of that year. Otherwise, his military career - and the brief period of national fame it had won him - was over.

After the War, Corbett was an increasingly bizarre and disturbed personality, and was unable to happily settle anywhere. In the late 1860s he moved from Massachusetts to Connecticut to New Jersey, still working as a hatter. In 1875 he attended a veteran's reunion in Caldwell, Ohio, but threatened several fellow veterans with a pistol. It was neither the first nor the last time Corbett used a firearm in a bout of questionable behavior.

In 1878 Corbett moved to Concordia, Kansas, and he seems to have been more content here, becoming a local celebrity for the events on Garett's Farm thirteen years before. In 1887 he was employed as doorkeeper at the Kansas House of Representatives, in Topeka. During a meeting, his religious sensibilities were offended when several Representatives made fun of the sessions's opening prayer. Again, Corbett pulled out his revolver and threatened the irreverent parties, and was promptly arrested and put in an insane asylum for his troubles.

Less than a year after his institutionalization, Corbett escaped. He briefly met with Richard Thatcher, a fellow Union veteran he had met languishing in Andersonville. Before leaving, Corbett told Thatcher that he was planning to move to Mexico. From this point, Boston Corbett fades from recorded history, no one else ever claiming to have seen the man again. In the past it has been theorized that he may have commited suicide not long after leaving Thatcher's house.

Modern historians, however, have suggested that he settled in a forest outside of Hinckley, Minnesota, where he lived in a cabin as a recluse. In 1894 a fire broke out in Hinckley; known as the 'Great Hinckley Fire', estimates for the fatalities range from 400 to 800. On the list of known deaths is an individual who went by the name 'Thomas Corbett'. Whether this was the same Corbett who had escaped from a Kanas asylum seven years before is one of history's mysteries.


Ad Honorem
Aug 2010
John A. "Black Jack" Logan, 1826-1886

John Alexander Logan was born in southern Illinois in 1826, a section of the state populated by immigrants from the South. a Democratic Party stronghold in the state. The region was nicknamed "Egypt" by farmers from northern Illinois who came there to purchase grain following a devastating winter in 1832. His formal schooling consisted of private tutors until he eventually studied law, attending Shiloh Academy, where he earned high marks in oratory, and was also a noted horse racer. When the Mexican-American War came, Logan joined the 1st Illinois Infantry as a second lieutenant. Following this service, Logan returned to civilian life, graduating from Louisville University's Law Department, and practiced law for a time.

Logan was a natural born orator, and his father and uncle were both Democratic politicians, with his father being acquainted with Abraham Lincon, so it's not surprising that he went into politics, as a Douglas Democrat. He served in the State House of Representatives from 1853-1854, and led the crusade to create the state's harsh black codes, earning him the sobriquet "Egypt's spokesman". He was elected into the House of Representatives in 1858, winning reelection in 1860, making quite a name for himself. He was outspokenly anti-abolitionist, but eventually revealed himself as staunchly loyal to the Union. During the First Battle of Manassas, he picked up a rifle and fired at southern troops while observing as a congressman. He returned to southern Illinois to give a famous speech for the Union, which was credited with keeping that part of the state in the Union fold.

Logan volunteered to serve in the Union's army, and Lincoln authorized him to raise the 31st Illinois Volunteer Infantry. He soon obtained the nickname "Black Jack" for his dark hair, eyes. and swarthy complexion. His unit eventually joined the command of Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant, in a brigade commanded by Logan's fellow political soldier, John A. McClernand. The 31st served with Grant at the Battle of Belmont, his first real action as a general. They went on to participate in Grant's bold assault on Fort Donelson; Logan earned great distinction here, suffering three severe bullet wounds but remaining on the field, fighting alone on two fronts for nearly an hour due to the retreat of McClernand's division before withdrawing due to lack of ammunition. The regiment took exactly 50% casualties during the engagement, leading them to be dubbed "Logan's Dirty-First Regiment". Apparently Grant was impressed, as Logan was promoted to brigadier-general. Logan was forced to take some time off to recuperate from his wounds, but rejoined the Army of the Tennessee for the march on Corinth. Logan was eventually given a division to command.

When Grant re-assumed command of the Army of the Tennessee, Logan was assigned to lead a division in James McPherson's XVII Corps. Logan served with great distinction during the Vicksburg Campaign, particularly at Champion Hill. Grant in his memoirs remarked that Logan ended the campaign fit to command an independent army. He was promoted to major general for his service in the campaign.

Logan continued to command his division until after the victory at Chattanooga and the Meridian Campaign, when Sherman assumed overall command in the west. James McPherson assumed command of the Army of the Tennessee, and Logan got command of XV Corps. The XV Corps' badge was a cartridge box with forty rounds. This was brought about by a conversation between some of Logan's men and some of Joe Hooker's that was reported to Logan. The former XII and XI Corps men were bragging about their corps badges, to which a Irish soldier of Logan's remarked that their badge was their cartridge box and forty rounds.

Logan continued providing excellent service through the Atlanta Campaign, particularly distinguishing himself at the Battle of Dallas. One of his greatest moments in the war came in the "Battle of Atlanta" itself, a major attack by Hood against McPherson's Army of the Tennessee. McPherson accidentally rode into the rebel lines and was shot and killed during the battle. Logan took command during the crisis, and reforming his troops, led them forward personally, shouting “McPherson and revenge boys!”, to which his men responded by chanting "Black Jack, Black Jack!" as they advanced forward, throwing Hood's forces back into Atlanta.

Following this engagement, Logan naturally expected to be made permanent commander of the Army of the Tennessee. Sherman however, appointed Oliver O. Howard, a former Army of the Potomac officer with an undistinguished record to the post. Joseph Hooker, furious at the elevation of a junior officer who he blamed for losing Chancellorsville over himself, promptly resigned. Logan made no formal protest but was found by a colleague in tears on the steps of Sherman's headquarters. George Thomas, commander of nearly 2/3rds of Sherman's forces, had claimed he couldn't work with Logan, possibly contributing to the decision.

Logan returned to Illinois for a time during the 1864 elections to perform his role as spokesman for the Union, and returned to his XV Corps for Sherman's Carolinas Campaign. Impatient with what seemed to be Thomas' case of the slows at Nashville, Grant sent Logan with an equivocal order to relieve Thomas if he hadn't fought a battle by the time Logan arrived. Logan stopped at Louisville when he heard Thomas had won a decisive victory at Nashville.

At the end of the war, Logan's men were stationed outside Raleigh, North Carolina. At the news of Lincoln's assassination, some of Logan's men formed an angry mob intent on burning the city. Logan rode out in front of their cannons, and proclaimed they would have to fire through him to do so. The troops promptly dispersed, and Logan was honored by the citizens for saving the city. Perhaps realizing he had made a mistake in not giving Logan the command in the first place, Sherman gave Logan the Army of the Tennessee to lead in the Grand Review in Washington, to the delight of the troops, who loved Black Jack.

Logan returned to Congress as a Republican, having undergone a radical shift of political belief in the Civil War. He later became one of the leaders of the effort to impeach President Andrew Johnson. He also was a key figure in the founding of the Grand Army of the Republic, and is credited with creating Memorial Day. He was elected to the Senate twice, and was James G. Blaine's running mate in 1884 against Grover Cleveland, who won by a very narrow margin. Due to complications from his Donelson wounds, Logan died suddenly in 1886, and was laid in state on the Rotunda of the US Capitol for a day, only the seventh person to be so honored at the time. His funeral service was held in the Senate chambers.


Ad Honorem
Aug 2010
George H. Sharpe, 1828-1900

Born in Kingston, New York, in 1828, George H. Sharpe was a lawyer, Republican politician, soldier, and most importantly, spymaster and intelligence pioneer. He graduated from Rutgers in 1847 at the age of 19, giving the salutary address in Latin. He passed the bar in 1849, but then spent time traveling and studying in Europe for several years, spending some time at U.S. diplomatic posts in Vienna and Rome. He returned in 1854 and spent the next six years practicing law. In 1861, he joined the Union army as a captain in the 1st Regiment of New York Volunteers.

In 1862, he was appointed colonel of the 120th New York Infantry, serving with some distinction in late 1862. In early 1863, he was made a deputy provost marshal general, and assigned to run Joseph Hooker's new creation, the Union Intelligence Bureau; Sharpe soon changed the name to the Bureau of Military Information. In theory, he reported to provost general Marsena Patrick, but in practice, Patrick usually had little specific idea what Sharpe was up to or any real authority over him. Sharpe had a very capable second in John C. Babcock, one of the few intelligence specialists to stay on after Pinkerton's resignation. Unlike Pinkerton, Babcock was capable of accurate intelligence gathering, and particularly specialized in interrogating deserters and prisoners, and he became an expert on the order of battle for Lee's army.

Sharpe was quick to exploit information from Virginia Unionists, exploiting a existing underground of Richmond Unionists, and gave particular weight to reports from Unionists Isaac Silver and Ebenezer McGee, located near Lee's army just across the Rappahannock River. Reports from their network played a great role in formulating Hooker's strategy for the Chancellorsville Campaign. Sharpe also employed many scouts, often called "guides", who penetrated Confederate lines to provide intelligence. Sharpe's new BMI was soon providing extraordinarily accurate reports to Joseph Hooker's headquarters, and based on these, Hooker formulated a brilliant strategy for the Chancellorsville Campaign. Unfortunately, Hooker quickly learned that the BMI could not continue supplying this kind of detail to him during the active campaign, and as Hooker had sent nearly all of his cavalry on a fairly pointless raid, he was handicapped and allowed his imagination to run away with him. The campaign resulted in defeat, and Hooker, previously a pioneer in forming the BMI and gathering intelligence on the enemy's army, began to disregard it's reports, much to the disgust of Sharpe and his erstwhile boss Patrick.

Sharpe's BMI continued to operate with remarkable efficiency for the Gettysburg Campaign, although they didn't get everything right. On May 27th, shortly before the campaign began, Sharpe submitted an incredibly accurate report to Hooker's headquarters reporting the likelihood that the rebel army was about to move, as well as the position of it's units. They continued supplying Hooker with generally correct information on the enemy's movements, although sometimes arriving at the right conclusion for the wrong reasons. When Meade ascended to the command of the Army of the Potomac, he had very good information on the enemy's army from the BMI and his cavalry. Still, following the great victory at Gettysburg, the BMI did not fare particularly well under Meade. Meade took from it it's task of analyzing the intelligence it collected from various sources, and more or less assumed that task himself, a step back in the direction of McClellan-Pinkerton. Meade was a considerably more intelligent man than McClellan when it came to military realities, but undervalued the BMI; Sharpe's boss Patrick was among those who referred to Meade as a "damned old goggle-eyed snapping turtle", and Meade didn't think the BMI offered him much that the cavalry didn't.

When Grant came east, it was his intention to interfere as little as possible with Meade's management of his army. The near-debacle in the Wilderness convinced Grant to take a more active role, making Meade feel like a glorified staff officer at times, but Meade still dealt with most administrative details of the army's operation. Grant was, however, quite acquisitive when it came to talent, and very concerned with intelligence matters; so it isn't surprising that by July, Grant had taken Sharpe onto his own staff, along with his BMI operation, though he still ran reports past Meade to mollify the temperamental general. Sharpe, not exactly running an army himself, had only a limited amount of field agents and had his hands full with Grant's maneuver across the James; consequently, nobody was aware of the departure from Lee of Jubal Early's corps until it defeated Hunter in the Valley. Grant promptly took steps to rectify this shortcoming with Sharpe, expanding Sharpe's operation to the Valley. The BMI played a key role in the Valley campaign by monitoring movements of troops to and from the Valley; Sheridan also employed a service of scouts that supplied info both to Sheridan and Sharpe. The BMI did such a good job that the constant flow of information to the enemy was greatly lamented in Richmond.

Sharpe was brevetted to brigadier-general of volunteers in December 1864, and later to major-general of volunteers in March 1865. His last task for Grant was to parole Lee's army, obtaining oaths from each soldier that he wouldn't take up arms against the United States again; he gallantly offered to skip this step for General Lee, who nevertheless insisted. Sharpe was mustered out in June of that year. He continued to perform intelligence duties for the government, traveling in Europe for the Secretary of State, investigating Americans living there who might have played a role in Lincoln's assassination. He later spent time in Vermont investigating a plot by Irish nationalists to attack Canada. His former chief Grant remembered Sharpe when he became President; Sharpe became U.S. marshal for the southern district of New York, and won fame for battling and taking down the Boss Tweed political machine, jailing two of it's ringleaders. He continued to play a role in state politics, and for nine years before his death, was on the U.S. Board of General Appraisers. He died in January 1900.