Daily Archives: November 28, 2014

Trading Aytches

HancockOn Thanksgiving Day, 1864, Nov. 26, Major General Winfield Scott Hancock resigned from command of the Second Corps of the Army of the Potomac. It was Gen. McClellan who first called Hancock “superb” for the way he commanded his brigade in the Battle of Willamsburg, VA in May, 1862. In September, during the Battle of Antietam, Hancock took command of the First Division of the Second Corps when Maj. Gen. Israel B. Richardson fell mortally wounded near Bloody Lane. Hancock commanded the during the futile assaults at Fredericksburg (December, 1862) and was wounded, though not seriously. He was again wounded at Chancellorsville (May, 1863) while his division covered Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s withdrawal. Maj. Gen. Darius N. Couch, then in command of the Second Corps, resigned from the Army of the Potomac in protest of Hooker’s ineptitude and Hancock assumed command of the Second Corps.

During PIckett’s Charge on July 3, 1863, Gen. Hancock was seriously wounded in the upper right thigh. The wound took a long time to heal, and he did not return to command of the corps until the following spring. The rigors of the Overland Campaign took a heavy toll on Hancock. It was very difficult for him mount a horse and ride in the field of battle. After taking a medical leave, returning to command, and seeing his corps needlessly wasted at Reams Station, and unsupported during the fight at the Boydton Plank Road, he believed the time had come for him to step aside. Gen. Grant wrote of Hancock in his memoirs, “No matter how hard the fight, the Second Corps always felt that their commander was looking after them.”

HumphreysHancock’s successor was Maj. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys, at 54 an older man by Civil War standards. Humphreys had served as McClellan’s chief topographical engineer. His engineering sill was used in planning the defensive ring of forts around Washington. Humphreys was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers in April, 1862 and in September he was given command of the Third Division of the Fifth Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Humphreys earned the reputation as one who led from the front. During the Battle of Fredericksburg, he led his division on horseback from the front to within 50 yards of the Sunken Road, closer to the Confederate line than any other assault. Five of his seven staff were shot from their mounts, and two horses were shot from under him, but he emerged from the battle unscathed.

After the Battle of Chancellorsville, Humphreys was transferred to the Third Corps (under Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles) to command the Second Division. Just prior to the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863), when Maj. Gen. George Meade was placed in command of the army, Meade asked Humphreys to be his chief of staff. Humphreys declined, preferring to remain in field command. However, on July 2, Sickles, without orders, advanced the Third Corps  about half a mile in front of the rest of the Union line along Cemetery ridge. Humphreys division was the most exposed along Emmitsburg Road. Confederate assaults that afternoon virtually destroyed the division at the Peach Orchard, and what was left of Humphrey’s command fell back to Cemetery Ridge.

A few days after the battle, Humphreys was promoted to major general of volunteers and accepted Meade’s offer to be his chief of staff. Humphreys served in this capacity over fourteen months until he was called upon to take command of the Second Corps. Maj. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys would command the corps for the remainder of the war.