General John Gibbon

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General John Gibbon

General John Gibbon
General John Gibbon.jpg
Photo Courtesy National Archives

John Gibbon
(April 20, 1827 – February 6, 1896)

John Gibbon was born near Holmesburg (now part of Philadelphia), Pennsylvania, and subsequently his family relocated to North Carolina. Gibbon graduated the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1847, was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, and served in the Mexican-American War. He later served as an artillery instructor at West Point; where he wrote The Artillerist's Manual in 1859.
When the American Civil War commenced, three of his brothers served the Confederacy. John, however, served the Union. And in 1862, he was appointed brigadier general of volunteers and commanded the brigade of westerners known as the "Black Hat Brigade" (due to their distinctive black Hardee hats that Gibbon had selected). He led the brigade into action against the famous Confederate "Stonewall Brigade" at Brawner's Farm in the Second Battle of Bull Run. He commanded the brigade during its strong uphill charge at the Battle of South Mountain, where Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker exclaimed that the men "fought like iron". Subsequently, the brigade was known as the "Iron Brigade".
After the Battle of Antietam, Gibbon was promoted and transferred to command the 2nd Division, 1st Corps. He was wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg but had recovered for the Battle of Chancellorsville; however, his division was held in reserve and saw little action. At the Battle of Gettysburg, he commanded the 2nd Division, II Corps and he temporarily commanded the entire II Corps, July 1-2, 1863. At the end of the Council of War on the night of July 2, Maj. Gen. George G. Meade conversed with Gibbon and predicted that "if Lee attacks tomorrow, it will be on your front." On July 3, Gibbon was wounded while repulsing Pickett's Charge (General John Gibbon at Gettysburg).
While recovering from his wounds, he commanded a draft depot in Cleveland, Ohio. He commanded the 2nd Division at the battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, and Cold Harbor. During the Siege of Petersburg, Gibbon became disheartened when his troops refused to fight at Ream's Station. He went on sick leave but, his service being too valuable, he returned to command the newly created XXIV Corps in the Army of the James. His troops assisted in the decisive breakthrough at Petersburg, capturing Fort Gregg. He led his troops during the Appomattox Campaign and blocked the Confederate escape route at the Battle of Appomattox Court House. He was appointed one of three commissioners during the Confederate surrender.
After the Civil War, he served as a colonel in the U.S. Army and fought in the Indian wars in the West; he commanded one of the columns that moved against the Sioux in 1876.
Col. John Gibbon, Gen. George Crook, and Lt. Col. George A. Custer were to make a coordinated assault against the Sioux and Cheyenne, but Crook was repulsed at the Battle of the Rosebud, and Gibbon was absent when Custer attacked a very large village on the banks of the Little Bighorn River. The Battle of the Little Bighorn, aka Custer's Last Stand, resulted in the deaths of Custer and 268 men. Gibbon arrived the next day, buried the dead, and then evacuated the wounded.
The following year, Gibbon was in Montana and he received a telegraph from Oliver O. Howard: "Cut off the Nez PercÚ that are camped along the Big Hole River" in western Montana. At the Battle of the Big Hole, Gibbon's forces inflicted heavy losses. Gibbon's troops, however, were pinned down by Indian sniper fire. The next day, General Howard's forces arrived and forced the Indians retreat. Gibbon was promoted to brigadier general in 1885 and commanded the Army of the Pacific Northwest. He also placed Seattle, Washington, under martial law during the anti-Chinese riots of 1886.

The renowned John Gibbon died in Baltimore, Maryland, on February 6, 1896, and is interred at Arlington National Cemetery. In addition to his famous and influential Artillerist's Manual of 1859, he is the author of Personal Recollections of the Civil War (published posthumously in 1928) and Adventures on the Western Frontier (also posthumous, 1994).

(Bibliography listed at bottom of page.)

Recommended Reading: Iron Brigade: A Military History (Indiana University Press). Description: This is a excellent account of the Iron Brigade, the "Black Hat Brigade", the only all western brigade in the Eastern army. This Federal unit fought valiantly at 2nd Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and at the "High Water Mark" at Gettysburg. It is a well-written book and also includes battle narratives and comprehensive--and easy to read--maps. Continued below.
"...This is the definitive history of what I consider the best brigade-sized unit in either army during the Civil War..." "The battle-torn Iron Brigade contains the most stirring description of the 1st day of battle at Gettysburg that I have ever read..."

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Recommended Reading: THOSE DAMNED BLACK HATS!: The Iron Brigade in the Gettysburg Campaign. Description: The Iron Brigade--an all-Western outfit famously branded as The Iron Brigade of the West--served their enlistments entirely in the Eastern Theater. Hardy men were these soldiers from Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan, who waged war beneath their unique black Hardee Hats on many fields, from Brawner's Farm during the Second Bull Run Campaign all the way to Appomattox. In between were memorable combats at South Mountain, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Mine Run, the Overland Campaign, and the grueling fighting around Petersburg. None of these battles compared with the "four long hours" of July 1, 1863, at Gettysburg, where the Iron Brigade was all but wrecked. Lance Herdegen's Those Damned Black Hats! The Iron Brigade in the Gettysburg Campaign is the first book-length account of their remarkable experiences in Pennsylvania during that fateful summer of 1863. Continued below.

Drawing upon a wealth of sources, including dozens of previously unpublished accounts, Herdegen details for the first time the exploits of the 2nd, 6th, 7th Wisconsin, 19th Indiana, and 24th Michigan regiments during the entire campaign. On July 1, the Western troops stood line-to-line and often face-to-face with their Confederate adversaries, who later referred to them as "those damned Black Hats!" With the help of other stalwart comrades, the Hoosiers, Badgers, and Wolverines shed copious amounts of blood to save the Army of the Potomac's defensive position west of town. Their heroics above Willoughby Run, along the Chambersburg Pike, and at the Railroad Cut helped define the opposing lines for the rest of the battle and, perhaps, won the battle that helped preserve the Union. Herdegen's account is much more than a battle study. The story of the fighting at the "Bloody Railroad Cut" is well known, but the attack and defense of McPherson's Ridge, the final stand at Seminary Ridge, the occupation of Culp's Hill, and the final pursuit of the Confederate Army has never been explored in sufficient depth or with such story telling ability. Herdegen completes the journey of the Black Hats with an account of the reconciliation at the 50th Anniversary Reunion and the Iron Brigade's place in Civil War history. "Where has the firmness of the Iron Brigade at Gettysburg been surpassed in history?" asked Rufus Dawes of the 6th Wisconsin. Indeed, it was a fair question. The brigade marched to Gettysburg with 1,883 men in ranks and by nightfall on July 1, only 671 men were counted. It would fight on to the end of the Civil War, and do so without its all-Western composition, but never again was it a major force in battle. Nearly 150 years after the last member of the Iron Brigade laid down his life for his country, the complete story of what the Black Hats did at Gettysburg and how they remembered it is finally available.


Recommended Reading: A Brotherhood Of Valor: The Common Soldiers Of The Stonewall Brigade C.S.A. And The Iron Brigade U.S.A. Description: Confederate General Thomas J. Jackson was arguably the greatest commander of the Civil War. Yet, "Stonewall" Jackson owed much of his success to the troops who served under his command. He eagerly gave them their due: "You cannot praise these men of my brigade too much; they have fought, marched, and endured more than I even thought they would." The Stonewall Brigade, composed mainly of Virginians from the Shenandoah Valley, proved its mettle at First Manassas and never let up--even after its esteemed leader was shot down at Chancellorsville. Their equally elite counterparts in the Army of the Potomac were known as the Iron Brigade, hardy westerners drawn from Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan. By focusing on these two groups, historian Jeffry Wert retells the story of the Civil War's eastern theater as it was experienced by these ordinary men from North and South. Continued below...

His battle descriptions are riveting, especially when he covers Antietam:

Three times the Georgians charged towards the guns, and three times they were repelled. Union infantry west of the battery ripped apart the attacker's flank, and the artillerists unleashed more canister.... Finally, the Georgians could withstand the punishment no longer, and as more Union infantry piled into the Cornfield, Hood's wrecked division retreated towards West Woods and Dunker Church. When asked later where his command was, Hood replied, "Dead on the field."

But the book is perhaps most notable for the way in which it describes the everyday hardships befalling each side. They often lacked food, shoes, blankets, and other military necessities. When the war began, the men believed deeply in their conflicting causes. Before it was over, writes Wert, "the war itself became their common enemy." Wert is slowly but surely gaining a reputation as one of the finest popular historians writing about the Civil War; A Brotherhood of Valor will undoubtedly advance his claim.


Recommended Reading: Commanding the Army of the Potomac (Modern War Studies) (Hardcover). Description: During the Civil War, thirty-six officers in the Army of the Potomac were assigned corps commands of up to 30,000 men. Collectively charged with leading the Union's most significant field army, these leaders proved their courage in countless battlefields from Gettysburg to Antietam to Cold Harbor. Unfortunately, courage alone was not enough. Their often dismal performances played a major role in producing this army's tragic record, one that included more defeats than victories despite its numerical and materiel superiority. Stephen Taaffe takes a close look at this command cadre, examining who was appointed to these positions, why they were appointed, and why so many of them ultimately failed to fulfill their responsibilities. Continued below...

 He demonstrates that ambitious officers such as Gouverneur Warren, John Reynolds, and Winfield Scott Hancock employed all the weapons at their disposal, from personal connections to exaggerated accounts of prowess in combat, to claw their way into these important posts. Once appointed, however, Taaffe reveals that many of these officers failed to navigate the tricky and ever-changing political currents that swirled around the Army of the Potomac. As a result, only three of them managed to retain their commands for more than a year, and their machinations caused considerable turmoil in the army's high command structure. Taaffe also shows that their ability or inability to get along with generals such as George McClellan, Ambrose Burnside, Joseph Hooker, George Meade, and Ulysses Grant played a big role in their professional destinies. In analyzing the Army of the Potomac's corps commanders as a group, Taaffe provides a new way of detailing this army's chronic difficulties-one that, until now, has been largely neglected in the literature of the Civil War.


Recommended Reading: Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders (Hardcover). Description: More than forty years after its original publication, Ezra J. Warner’s Generals in Blue is now available in paperback for the first time. Warner’s classic reference work includes intriguing biographical sketches and a rare collection of photos of all 583 men who attained the rank of general in the Union Army. Here are the West Point graduates and the political appointees; the gifted, the mediocre, and the inexcusably bad; those of impeccable virtue and those who abused their position; the northern-born, the foreign-born, and the southerners who remained loyal to the Union. Continued below...

Warner’s valuable introduction discusses the criteria for appointment and compares the civilian careers of both Union and Confederate generals, revealing striking differences in the two groups. Generals in Blue is that rare book—an essential volume for scholars, a prized item for buffs, and a biographical dictionary that the casual reader will find absorbing.

Recommended Reading: Four Years with the Iron Brigade: The Civil War Journal of William Ray, Seventh Wisconsin Volunteers (Hardcover). Description: The recently discovered journal of William Ray of the Seventh Wisconsin is the most important primary source ever of soldier life in one of the war's most famous fighting units. No other collection of letters or diaries comes close to it. Two days before his regiment left Wisconsin in 1861, the twenty-three-year-old blacksmith began, as he described it, "to keep account" of his life in what became the "Iron Brigade of the West." Continued below...

Ray's journal encompasses all aspects of the enlisted man's life-the battles, the hardships, and the comradeship. And Ray saw most of the war from the front rank. He was wounded at Second Bull Run, again at Gettysburg, and yet a third time in the hell of the Wilderness. He penned something in his journal almost every day-occasionally just a few lines, at other times thousands of words. Ray's candid assessments of officers and strategy, his vivid descriptions of marches and the fighting, and his evocative tales of foraging and daily army life fill a large gap in the historical record and give an unforgettable soldier's-eye view of the Civil War.

Bibliography: Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001; Tagg, Larry, The Generals of Gettysburg, Savas Publishing, 1998; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.

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