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John Sedgwick

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Title: John Sedgwick  
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Subject: Battle of Chancellorsville, Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, Sedgwick County, Colorado, Peninsula Campaign, Sedgwick County, Kansas
Collection: 1813 Births, 1864 Deaths, American Military Personnel of the Mexican–american War, American People of the Seminole Wars, Deaths by Firearm in Virginia, Military People from Connecticut, Military Personnel from Connecticut, People from Cornwall, Connecticut, People of Connecticut in the American Civil War, Sedgwick Family, Union Army Generals, Union Military Personnel Killed in the American Civil War, United States Army Generals, United States Military Academy Alumni
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John Sedgwick

John Sedgwick
Sedgwick in the 1860s
Nickname(s) "Uncle John"
Born (1813-09-13)September 13, 1813
Cornwall, Connecticut, U.S.
Died May 9, 1864(1864-05-09) (aged 50)
Spotsylvania County, Virginia, U.S.

 United States of America


United States Army

Years of service 1837–1864
Rank Major general
Commands held VI Corps
Battles/wars Seminole Wars
Mexican-American War
Utah War
Indian Wars
American Civil War 
Other work Teacher

John Sedgwick (September 13, 1813 – May 9, 1864) was a teacher, a career military officer, and a Union Army general in the American Civil War. He was the highest ranking Union casualty in the Civil War, killed by a sharpshooter at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, and is well-remembered for his ironic last words: "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance."


  • Early life and education 1
  • Career 2
    • American Civil War 2.1
  • Death 3
  • Legacy 4
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • External links 7

Early life and education

Sedgwick was born in the United States Military Academy, graduated in 1837 ranked 24th of 50, and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army's artillery branch. He fought in the Seminole Wars and received two brevet promotions in the Mexican-American War, to captain for Contreras and Churubusco, and to major for Chapultepec. After returning from Mexico he transferred to the cavalry and served in Kansas, in the Utah War, and in the Indian Wars, participating in 1857 in a punitive expedition against the Cheyenne.[2]

In the summer and fall of 1860, Sedgwick commanded an expedition to establish a new fort on the Platte River in what is now Colorado. This was a remote location with no railroads, and all supplies having to be carried long distances by riverboat, wagon train or horseback.[3] Even though many of these supplies failed to arrive, Sedgwick still managed to erect comfortable stone buildings for his men before the cold weather set in.


American Civil War

At the start of the American Civil War, Sedgwick served as a colonel and Assistant Inspector General of the Military Department of Washington. He missed the early action of the war at the First Battle of Bull Run, recovering from cholera. Promoted to brigadier general on August 31, 1861, he commanded the 2nd brigade of Maj. Gen. Samuel P. Heintzelman's division in the Army of the Potomac, then his own division, which was designated the 2nd division of the II Corps for the Peninsula Campaign. In Virginia, he fought at Yorktown and Seven Pines and was wounded in the arm and leg at the Battle of Glendale. He was promoted to major general on July 4, 1862.

General Sedgwick (seated right) with Colonels Albert V. Colburn and Delos B. Sackett in Harrison's Landing, Virginia, during the Peninsula Campaign in 1862.

In the Battle of Antietam, II Corps commander Maj. Gen. Edwin V. Sumner impulsively sent Sedgwick's division in a mass assault without proper reconnaissance. His division was engaged by Confederate forces under Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson from three sides, was routed, and fell back with barely half the men it had started with. Sedgwick himself was hit by three bullets, in the wrist, leg, and shoulder, and was out of action until after the Battle of Fredericksburg.

From December 26, 1862, he briefly led the II Corps and the IX Corps, and then finally the VI Corps of the Army of the Potomac, which he commanded until his death in 1864. During the Battle of Chancellorsville, his corps faced Fredericksburg in an initial holding action while Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker's other four corps maneuvered against Robert E. Lee's left flank. He was slow to take action, but eventually crossed the Rappahannock River and assaulted Maj. Gen. Jubal Early's small force on Marye's Heights. Moving west slowly to join forces with Hooker and trap Lee between the halves of the army, he was stopped by elements of Lee's Second Corps (under Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, following the wounding of Jackson) at the Battle of Salem Church, forcing his eventual retreat back over the Rappahannock.

Alfred Torbert, along with staff officers.

At the Battle of Gettysburg, his corps arrived late on July 2 and as a result only few units were able to take part in the final Union counterattacks in the Wheatfield. In the 1864 Overland Campaign, the VI Corps was on the Union right at the Battle of the Wilderness and defended against assaults by Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell's Second Corps.


Sedgwick fell at the beginning of the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, on May 9, 1864. His corps was probing skirmish lines ahead of the left flank of Confederate defenses and he was directing artillery placements. Confederate sharpshooters were about 1,000 yards (900 m) away and their shots caused members of his staff and artillerymen to duck for cover. Sedgwick strode around in the open and was quoted as saying, "What? Men dodging this way for single bullets? What will you do when they open fire along the whole line?" Although ashamed, his men continued to flinch and he said, "Why are you dodging like this? They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance."[4] Reports that he never finished the sentence are apocryphal, although the line was among his last words.[5] He was shot moments later under the left eye and fell down dead.[Note 1]

Sedgwick was the highest ranking Union death in the Civil War. Although James B. McPherson was in command of an army at the time of his death and Sedgwick of a corps, Sedgwick had the most senior rank by date of all major generals killed. Upon hearing of his death, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, flabbergasted by the news, repeatedly asked, "Is he really dead?"[6]


Monument to commemorate the death of General John Sedgwick, Commander of the Union Army VI Corps in the American Civil War, at Spotsylvania National Military Park, Virginia.

Sedgwick's reputation was that of a solid, dependable, but relatively unaggressive general. He was well liked by his soldiers, who referred to him affectionately as "Uncle John". His death was met by universal sorrow; even Ulysses S. Grant characterized Sedgwick as one who "was never at fault when serious work was to be done" and he told his staff that the loss for him was worse than that of an entire division.

John Sedgwick is buried near his birthplace of Cornwall Hollow, Connecticut. An equestrian statue honors him and the VI Corps at Gettysburg National Military Park.

There is a monument of General Sedgwick at West Point. Academy legend has it that a cadet who spins the rowels of the spurs on boots of the statue at midnight while wearing full parade dress gray over white uniform under arms will have good luck on his or her final exam.

The following were named in his honor:

A major street in the Bronx, in New York City, is named after him. An east-west street in Washington, D.C. near American University is also named in his honor, as is another on Chicago's near north side. Grand Army of the Republic Post #4 in Keene, New Hampshire; Post #12 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Post #17 in Santa Ana, California; and Post #37 in York, Pennsylvania are all named after him. Also, a junior high-school (John Sedgwick Junior High "Home of the Generals") in Port Orchard, Washington, was named after him.

In the 1990 film Dances with Wolves, Lt. John Dunbar (Kevin Costner) stays at a fictional Fort Sedgwick, presumably named after General Sedgwick. The fort in the film may have been inspired by the Fort Sedgwick built in Kansas in 1860.

Farley, his headquarters at the time of the Battle of Brandy Station, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.[13][14]

See also


  1. ^ According to Rhea, the preeminent historian of the Overland Campaign, pp. 93-96, there is no record of the identity or location of the sharpshooter. Union troops from the 6th Vermont claim to have shot an unidentified sharpshooter as they crossed the fields seeking revenge. Ben Powell of the 12th South Carolina claimed credit, although his account has been discounted because the general he shot at with a Whitworth rifled musket was mounted, probably Brig Gen. William H. Morris. Thomas Burgess of the 15th South Carolina has also been cited by some veterans.
  1. ^ "John Sedgwick". Who’s Who In The Civil war. Retrieved September 19, 2012. 
  2. ^ Berthrong, pp. 133-40; Grinnell, pp. 111-21.
  3. ^ A Sedgwick Genealogy: Descendants of Deacon Benjamin Sedgwick
  4. ^ Foote, p. 203.
  5. ^ "The Last Words of John Sedgwick". 
  6. ^ Rhea, p. 95.
  7. ^ "Profile for Sedgwick, Arkansas, AR". ePodunk. Retrieved September 19, 2012. 
  8. ^ "Profile for Sedgwick, Colorado, CO". ePodunk. Retrieved September 19, 2012. 
  9. ^ Kansas State Historical Society (1916). Biennial Report of the Board of Directors of the Kansas State Historical Society. Kansas State Printing Plant. p. 205. 
  10. ^ Kansas State Historical Society (1916). Biennial Report of the Board of Directors of the Kansas State Historical Society. Kansas State Printing Plant. p. 205. 
  11. ^ Fort Hell. The Civil War Siege of Petersburg
  12. ^ Sedgwick County. Center for Colorado and the West at Auraria Library
  13. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places.  
  14. ^ Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission Staff (September 2007). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Farley" (PDF). Virginia Department of Historic Resources. 
  • Berthrong, Donald J. The Southern Cheyenne. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1979. OCLC 254915143
  • Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher. Civil War High Commands. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • Foote, Shelby. The Civil War: A Narrative. vol. 3, Red River to Appomattox. New York: Random House, 1974. ISBN 0-394-74913-8.
  • Grinnell, George Bird. The Fighting Cheyennes. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1956. OCLC 419857. First published 1915 by Charles Scribner's Sons.
  • Jurgen, Robert J., and Allan Keller. Major General John Sedgwick, U.S. Volunteers, 1813-1864. Hartford: Connecticut Civil War Centennial Committee, 1963.
  • Rhea, Gordon C. The Battles for Spotsylvania Court House and the Road to Yellow Tavern May 7–12, 1864. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-8071-2136-3.
  • Sifakis, Stewart. Who Was Who In The Civil War. New York: Facts on File, 1988. ISBN 0-8160-1055-2.
  • Winslow, Richard Elliott. General John Sedgwick: The Story of a Union Corps Commander. Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1982. ISBN 0-89141-030-9.

External links

  • Death of General John Sedgwick
  • Short biographical sketch
  • Another short bio
  • Tribute site
  • "John Sedgwick".  
Preceded by
Darius N. Couch
Commander of the II Corps
December 26, 1862 – January 26, 1863
Succeeded by
Oliver O. Howard
Preceded by
Orlando B. Wilcox
Commander of the IX Corps
January 16, 1863 - February 5, 1863
Succeeded by
William F. Smith
Preceded by
John Newton
James B. Ricketts
Commander of the VI Corps
February 5, 1863 - April 3, 1864
April 13, 1864 - May 9, 1864
Succeeded by
James B. Ricketts
Horatio Wright
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