Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Colorful Cast of Characters: Vicksburg's Division Commanders

During the Vicksburg Campaign, approximately forty men served at some point in command of a division (which in Civil War terms consisted of two or more brigades). While brigade commanders (those in charge of two or more regiments) were the ones most directly engaged in tactical fighting, the failure or success of an army in the 19th century often depended on how well division commanders translated the orders of a corps or army commander to the brigade level. When taken as a group, the division commanders who served in both the Union and Confederate army during the Vicksburg Campaign was definitely a mixed bag as far as experience and ability is concerned, and there were quite a few characters to boot. 

Of the twelve Confederates and twenty eight Federals,* twenty-four were born in northern states, eleven in southern states, and two from the border states of Maryland and Kentucky, while three were of foreign birth. Of the twelve Confederates, two were from northern states: Samuel G. French, who moved to Mississippi before the war, and Martin Luther Smith. A native of New York, Smith (right) was an 1842 graduate of West Point and spent most of his career in the old U.S. Army in the south. A topographical engineer, he mapped the valley of Mexico City during the Mexican War, and then met and married a woman from Athens, Georgia. With secession, despite his northern birth, Smith was compelled by his “associations, feelings and interests” to join the Confederacy. Conversely, none of the Union officers were natives of southern states, but all three foreign-born generals enlisted in the Union Army. Of these, Peter J. Osterhaus was a European revolutionary who sought exile in the U.S. After attending military school in Berlin, Osterhaus served in the 29th Regiment of the Prussian Army. Only one general - Earl Van Dorn of Port Gibson - was a native Mississippian. 

When education is examined, there are some interesting developments. Eight received no formal education (although most studied for the law or were trained as tradesmen). Eighteen attended organized schools and several graduated from prestigious colleges and universities, principally Frank Blair (Princeton), Alvin P. Hovey (Darmouth), John Milton Thayer (Brown) and Dabney Maury (University of Virginia). Of the twelve Confederates, only William W. Loring received no formal education, although he did study for the law. Nine Confederates were graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (or 75%). However, just five of the twenty-nine Union division commanders were West Pointers, comprising only 17% of that group. Of course, formal military education isn’t necessarily an indication of ability on the field and it must be noted that during the Vicksburg Campaign many of the “volunteer generals” performed quite well – so well, in fact, that jealousies frequently erupted over the perceived superiority of West Pointers and the better opportunities they usually had for promotion. For example, of the three corps commanders in the Union army at Vicksburg, the only non-West Point graduate was Maj. Gen. John A. McClernand, who was sent packing by Grant during the siege and replaced by another West Pointer, Edward O.C. Ord. Fifteen of the division commanders were promoted to either corps command or independent command after the Vicksburg Campaign. Of these were seven Confederates: John C. Breckinridge, Samuel French, William W. Loring, Stephen D. Lee, Dabney Maury (who later commanded the defenses at Mobile), Carter Stevenson and W.H.T. Walker. Of the eight Union generals promoted to a higher command, only one – Andrew.J. “Whiskey” Smith – was a West Point graduate. 

While only fourteen graduated from West Point, twenty-three had some military experience prior to the Civil War. At least eleven served in the army during the Mexican War, while others spent time at various posts out west fighting Indians, or, like Samuel Ferguson (who would become a Confederate cavalry commander), in action against the Mormons in Utah. In Mexico, a number of the future generals earned praise for their bravery and had the wounds to show it. William W. Loring, despite his seeming inability to get along with his superiors in the Confederate Army, was brevetted a Lt. Col. after losing an arm at the battle of Chapultepec. After being wounded, Loring reportedly “laid aside a cigar, sat quietly in a chair without opiates to relieve the pain, and allowed the arm to be cut off without a murmur or a groan. The arm was buried on the heights by his men, with the hand pointing towards the City of Mexico.” Meanwhile, future Union General George W. Morgan (above), a West Point drop-out due to “scholastic difficulties,” was wounded twice in Mexico and was a brevet brigadier general for gallantry – the youngest officer to gain that distinction during the war. Morgan Lewis Smith, who was wounded at Chickasaw Bayou, also served in the army before the war, but under an assumed name. Running away from home at age twenty-one, Morgan served in the regular army for five years before signing on as a riverboat man on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. 

While the majority of these generals had some previous military experience and a number chose the army as a profession, there is a great variety of prewar civilian occupations among the group. Eleven were involved at some level in politics, while seven were practicing attorneys. None, perhaps, had a better political pedigree than John C. Breckinridge, who at age thirty-five became the youngest vice president in United States history. A lawyer, Breckingridge (left) won a seat in the Kentucky legislature in 1849, after which he served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. A Democrat, he reluctantly ran on James Buchannan’s ticket in 1856. Nominated for president in the 1860 election, a warrant for Breckinridge’s arrest was ordered by Washington authorities in 1861, despite the fact that he was a sitting U.S. Senator from a still-loyal state. By the battle of Shiloh, he was in command of a Confederate corps and during the Vicksburg Campaign commanded a division in Joseph E. Johnston’s so-called “Army of Relief.” 

Certainly not to be outdone on the political front, however, is John A. Logan of Illinois. Logan attended Louisville University and served in the Mexican War in a volunteer regiment. A Free-Soil Democrat from the southern part of the state, Logan was elected four times to the Illinois legislature and served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. As a supporter of the fugitive slave act, Logan’s loyalty, like Breckinridge’s, was questioned by radical abolitionists, but he enlisted in the Union army and was among the most capable of the division commanders in Grant’s army during the Vicksburg Campaign. Logan was later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his service at Vicksburg. After the war, he reentered politics, this time as a Republican, and served in Congress until his death in 1886. 

While Breckinridge and Logan had stellar political careers, others were not nearly so successful or as publicly-minded. The worst has to be James Madison Tuttle, who commanded a division in Sherman’s XV Corps during the siege. Tuttle, a native of Ohio, moved to Iowa in 1846 and opened a store. Elected sheriff and county treasurer in 1857, he joined the army and was fairly successful as a field commander. Tuttle, however, liked to mix soldiering with politics, and during the Vicksburg Campaign actively promoted his war record in a bid for governor of Iowa. Tuttle lost the race in 1863 but tried again in 1864, this time using the Meridian expedition as a backdrop for his campaign. He lost again. Then, in March, 1864, Tuttle (left) was sent to Natchez as post commander – and his actions there give an indication why he was not elected governor of Iowa. Tuttle basically pillaged the army’s bankroll in Natchez, extorted money from citizens, took bribes, and regularly arrested citizens of Natchez on trumped-up charges and then ransomed them back to their families. Along with a U.S. Treasury official, he also engaged in profiteering. Politicians and other officers, somewhat used to corruption, were nonetheless appalled at Tuttle’s open lack of concern for his crimes. Within two months, Secretary Stanton ordered that he be relieved of command and Tuttle went home to Iowa. In examining the books in Natchez, the army determined that Tuttle should be apprehended and prosecuted, but he never was. After the war, in fact, he was elected the Iowa legislature and invested in meat packing plants and southwestern mines. Tuttle finally died at one of his mines, the Jack Rabbit Mine in Arizona, in 1892. 

Other than soldiering and politics, at least five of these future officers worked as civil engineers, mostly in designing railroads. After the war, more would enter the growing field of railroad design and construction. One of the best railroad men was Grenville Dodge. After graduating from “Captain Partridge’s school” in Norwich, Vermont, Dodge was trained as a surveyor and engineer. During the war, he was frequently called on by his superiors to rebuild railroads in the theatre of operation and after the war, he used this experience to get a lucrative position with the Union Pacific Railroad, becoming the company’s chief engineer in 1866. By 1869, Dodge had sited and laid nearly 1,100 miles of rail (only thirty miles of which had to be upgraded by as late as 1933). In 1873, he formed a partnership with financier Jay Gould, and together they laid another 9,000 miles of track, including a line in Cuba. In 1901, Dodge’s personal fortune was estimated at $25 million. In addition to engineers, the group included an architect, four farmers, one banker, three teachers, a doctor, a jeweler, the owner of an iron works company, a realtor, a clerk and a canal boat owner. 

The architect was Confederate General John Bowen, among the most capable of the division commanders in either army. Bowen was a West Point graduate who, less than two years after receiving his commission as a second lieutenant, resigned from the army and moved to St. Louis where he established an architectural firm. With the coming of war, Bowen was captured with the pro-southern Missouri State militia and upon his release raised the 1st Missouri Infantry, one of the finest combat units in the Confederate army. Bowen (left) fought at Shiloh and in most of the Vicksburg Campaign engagements. In fact, it was Bowen who single-handedly directed the stubborn defense of Port Gibson against John McClernand’s XIII Corps, and his troops were frequently called on in the midst of crisis. Unfortunately, this fine combat officer died from a bout with dysentery just nine days after the fall of Vicksburg. 

Besides Bowen, six others died during the war or shortly thereafter. Of these, five (including Bowen) were Confederates. William Henry Talbot Walker was killed by a sharpshooter during the Atlanta Campaign, John Gregg was similarly killed in action in the defense of Richmond, and Earl Van Dorn was also killed in action, but of a different sort: Van Dorn was murdered in Spring Hill, Tennessee, in 1863, supposedly by a jealous husband named Dr. Peters (the facts are still in dispute). Union General Thomas E.G. Ransom is the only Union division commander to die of wounds during the war. Ransom (right), who before the war worked as an engineer for the Rutland & Burlington Railroad in Vermont, was wounded no less than four times – at Charleston, Missouri, Fort Donelson, Shiloh and Sabine Crossroads in 1864, where he was severely wounded. Still, he managed to recover and lead the XVII Corps (James B. McPherson’s old corps) in pursuit of John Bell Hood through north Georgia and Alabama. After the pursuit ended, Ransom was placed on a stretcher and finally died from his as-yet unhealed wounds in Rome, Georgia. 

Thomas Welsh, another division commander during the Siege of Vicksburg, was killed as a result of the campaign in Mississippi, but not by a bullet. Instead, Welsh contracted a malarial disease while serving at Vicksburg and left active service to recover. He didn’t recover, however, and died on August 14, 1863 in Cincinnati. Before the war, Welsh was a merchant, canal boat owner, lock superintendent and Justice of the Peace in his native state of Pennsylvania. Marcellus M. Crocker (left), another fine combat commander, also succumbed to disease, although his death was slower. A longtime sufferer of tuberculosis, Crocker was relieved of duty and sent to New Mexico in hopes that a better climate might improve his condition. Returning to duty, supposedly improved, he nonetheless died in Washington in August, 1865. Frederick Steele only made it to 1868, when he suffered a somewhat ignominious death, falling out of a buggy while on vacation in California. Others left the scene not because of death but because of resignation or having been relieved of command. Of the Union commanders, seven did not remain in the service through the end of the war. In fact, both Issac Quinby and George Washington Morgan left before the end of the campaign, Morgan supposedly because he was opposed to the use of blacks as soldiers, although he had also been blamed by Sherman for the loss at Chickasaw Bayou. Quinby, a former professor of physics who led the unsuccessful Yazoo Pass Expedition, had been ill for some time and left after the initial assaults before Vicksburg’s defenses. Jacob Lauman was summarily dismissed from the army for the disastrous attack of Issac Pugh’s brigade during the Siege of Jackson by E.O.C. Ord and Grant. It is interesting to note than none of the Confederates resigned or were dismissed from the army following the conclusion of the campaign. 

For those who survived the war, many went on to lead interesting and productive lives. Quite a number entered politics, often using their military exploits to their advantage. Four former generals obtained posts as U.S. consuls to Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, France and Honolulu. William Sooy Smith, who resigned from the army for “health” reasons (curiously just after his resounding defeat at the hands of Nathan Bedford Forrest in the Battle of Okolona in 1864), went on to become a very successful civil engineer, building the first all-steel bridge in the world at Glascow, Missouri, and having a hand in designing and building almost every skyscraper in Chicago until 1910. Eugene Carr, who commanded one of the XIII Corps divisions at Champion Hill, went on to become the nation’s most heralded Indian fighter. After his retirement, Carr (right) was interested in and helped develop the National Geographic Society. Peter J. Osterhaus, the German immigrant, returned to Europe as U.S. consul to France, but also opened a successful wholesale hardware business in St. Louis. Not all were as successful, however. John McArthur, owner of the Excelsior Iron Works in Chicago before the war, returned to Chicago, and, unable to restart his business, became Commissioner of Public Works. Unfortunately for McArthur, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 occurred on his watch and as postmaster of the city he was further embarrassed by the loss of Federal funds in a bank failure in which he was held personally liable. Francis Herron, after serving as U.S. Marshall in Louisiana during Reconstruction, apparently never made a go of it in the business world and died a pauper in New York City in 1902. 

While most Confederates returned to a quieter life than their Union counterparts, Dabney Maury was active in establishing the Southern Historical Society, served as the U.S. diplomat to Colombia and was a nurse in post-war years, while William H. “Red” Jackson built a successful horse-breeding farm at Belle Meade near Nashville, producing several champion racing horses. Perhaps the most interesting post-war career of all, though, was that of William W. Loring. As mentioned earlier, there is no doubt that Loring was a brave officer and at times displayed flashes of military ability, but Loring had real trouble getting along with his superiors during the Civil War. He had a well-publicized spat with Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley in 1862; when Jackson threatened to resign if Loring wasn’t removed, Loring was promptly sent west to Mississippi (and promoted). At the time, Jedediah Hotchkiss, Jackson’s famed mapmaker, noted that Loring struck him as “lacking in nearly all the qualities necessary for command of an army designed to carry on an offensive campaign…[that] he was always hesitating [in] what to do, was always suggesting difficulties in the way of active operations, and worse than all in my mind, he was always filling himself with brandy…” Certainly, Loring’s ability to get along with his superiors did not improve when he came west, as he openly despised Pemberton. Loring’s performance during the Vicksburg Campaign can best be described as inadequate and perhaps even insubordinate. Regardless, Loring survived the war and in 1869, at the recommendation of his old adversary William T. Sherman, accepted a post with the Khedive of Egypt. While not everything there was rosy, Loring (above left) spent the better part of a decade in Egypt and attained the rank of Fareek Pasha (or Major General) in the Egyptian Army. He also managed to visit at least eighteen countries on an extended tour of Europe and the Middle East. After his return to the U.S. in 1879, he published a book called A Confederate Soldier in Egypt in 1884.

In their final moments, most of the division commanders who served in the Vicksburg Campaign died of natural causes. Excluding those who died during the war and in the years immediately following, the average age at death, despite the grievous wounds many suffered as a result of combat, was an impressive 71 years old. Fourteen, in fact, lived long enough to see the 20th Century. Samuel W. Ferguson, who died in the State Hospital in Jackson, and Peter J. Osterhaus, who returned to his native country, both lived long enough to see yet another war break out – and once again, they were on technically on opposite sides, as Germany and the United States went to blows in World War I. 

* Included for consideration are both Earl Van Dorn and John Gregg, who although did not technically have division command were given independent commands during the Vicksburg Campaign. 

(1) M.L. Smith: http://en.wikipedia.com
(2) Osterhaus: http://ozarkscivilwar.org
(3) Morgan: http://kdl.kyvl.org
(4) Breckinridge: http://believeinbristol.org
(5) Logan: http://www.findagrave.com
(6) Tuttle: http://wikipedia.com
(7) Dodge: http://suvcw.org
(8) Bowen: http://ozarkscivilwar.org
(9) Ransom: http://en.wikipedia.org
(10) Crocker: http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu
(11) Carr: http://www.blog4history.com/2006/11/forgotten-leaders-of-the-trans-mississippi-eugene-asa-carr/
(12) Loring: http://en.wikipedia.org


  1. Peter Joseph Osterhaus did not attend military school. He obtained a good classical education, attending his hometown’s Royal Prussian Gymnasium, where he was taught, among other things, in German, French, Latin, Greek, Mathematics, Physics, History and Geography. At age 17, Osterhaus, had to leave school without passing the final exams, which was not unusual for the time, and started to serve a three year apprenticeship as a merchant. To satisfy the mandatory military service as demanded by law, Osterhaus, in the early 1840s, entered the Prussian Army as what was paradoxically called a one year’s volunteer, receiving in a fast track procedure the basic training of a prospective officer, reportedly ending up with a second lieutenant’s commission in the 29th Landwehr Regiment of reserves. After he resigned as consul he became co-manager of a rubber company and manager of a shipping company in Mannheim, Germany. In 1883 he founded his own company, dealing in coal...

    Best from Germany

  2. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.