Symposium Fallout: Is Leading from the Front All that Bad?

This weekend’s symposium gave me a lot to think about on my drive home from the Jackson Shrine on Sunday. The thought bubbles did not stop popping up when I got home either. There was a lot to think about regarding turning points–they come on the battlefield as well as the homefront and in various shapes, sizes, and iterations.

Do we think Jackson’s decision to reconnoiter in front of his lines on the night of May 2, 1863, was a poor decision because it led to his death?

But there was one strain of thought I could not get out of my head, dealing with the important actions (perhaps turning points) of three leaders: Albert Sidney Johnston on April 6, 1862, Stonewall Jackson on the night of May 2, 1863, and John Reynolds on July 1, 1863. All received some criticism over the weekend for not being in their proper places when they were shot. Surely, Johnston was too close to the front lines to direct his army on April 6, Jackson was wrong to ride out in front of his lines on the night of May 2 and Reynolds made a poor decision on the morning of July 1, my fellow conversationalists reasoned. But, with the gift of hindsight, do we view their actions negatively because, in the end, they are mortally wounded or killed?

Examples abound of leaders commanding attacks or rallying troops that we also view as heroic, that are the stuff of battlefield legend. James Longstreet and D.H. Hill after the collapse of the Sunken Road position at Antietam, Stonewall Jackson rallying his troops at Cedar Mountain, William T. Sherman at Shiloh (though he was wounded), and George Meade on Gettysburg’s second day, are just a few examples that come to mind. These actions, which required commanders to put themselves on the front lines and in harm’s way, often come out in a more positive light. Again, none of them resulted in the death of these commanders.

Part of being an effective battlefield leader is not just having a good strategy or knowing tactics well. It’s also about inspiring your troops to carry out one’s tactical prowess, especially in trying times. John Reynolds, a native Pennsylvanian, no doubt sought to inspire his soldiers when he led them into the Herbst Woods on July 1, 1863. There are numerous examples of Albert Sidney Johnston trying to do the same with his green soldiers on April 6.

Winfield Scott Hancock’s famous words on July 3, 1863 sum up this concept best. With Confederate artillery shells sailing over his head and over his troops, an unnerving phenomenon no doubt, Hancock mounted his horse and rode up and down the lines so that his soldiers saw him. His men lay huddled behind a stonewall, some scraping into the ground to create as much cover as possible. An officer soon implored Hancock to dismount and head to the rear for safety. “There are times when a corps commander’s life does not count,” Hancock replied.

Hancock’s July 3 ride has become the stuff of legend. This Dale Gallon painting portrays it and it is heroically shown in the movie “Gettysburg.”

Hancock did not mean that his life did not count. What he meant was at that trying time for his troops, his role as a corps commander was defunct. As a corps commander, he should have been behind the lines, directing the movements of his corps. Instead, Hancock adopted the other part of being an effective battlefield commander, of being a leader and setting an inspiring example, of promising to not send his troops into a place where he would not accompany them and showing that.

Getting shot while out on the front lines does not make an army or corps commander a bad one or necessarily make their decision to ride along the front lines a poor one. With hindsight, we can pick and choose what moments on Civil War battlefields where generals placed themselves at the decisive point of action were a good decision or a bad one based on the known outcome. Regardless, as was discussed multiple times at the symposium, a general inspiring his soldiers to stand firm in stressful situations or one becoming a casualty under fire can be a true turning point on a battlefield.

“The numbers of cannoneers is so small”

Lt. Edward Williston (courtesy of Norwich University)

Lt. Edward Williston commanded Battery D, 2nd United States Artillery at the Battle of Antietam. While at the National Archives, I found this revealing letter about the issues Williston’s battery encountered on the Antietam battlefield due to a shortage of men in the battery. The letter is transcribed as it was written, typos and all.

Edward Williston to Robert [Garvin?], September 21, 1862, Entry 4434, Record Group 393, Part 2, National Archives.

Battery “L” 2nd U.S. Artillery.

Camp in the field near Williamsport Md

Sept 21st 1862.

Lieut. Robt. L. [Garvin?].

Adjutant Light Arty Brigade

Slocums Division, 6th Army Corps

Army of the Potomac


I have the honor most respectfully to call attention to the urgent necessity which exists for immediately increasing the number of men in this company.  Owing to discharge, sickness, death, and to several being on extra duty unavoidably, the number of cannoneers is so small that the officers of the battery were obliged, during the recent engagement at Sharpsburg to assist in the manual of the peice.  Difficulty also occurred in forwarding ammunition, with sufficient promptness.  The largest number of cannoneers serving at any one of the guns was six—the smallest two.

To equalize I was obliged to order up all the drivers of the battery wagon, and forge, leaving them and the teams belonging to them in charge of the artificers, thereby leaving them almost entirely unprotected and thereby incurring great risk.

Many of the men now on duty will be sent to hospital as soon as possible, and several will soon be discharged.  Under these circumstances I consider it my duty to urge to the fullest extent the immediate necessity for increasing the number of men in the company as in case such measures are not taken, it will soon be impossible to bring more than four guns into action.

Your Very Obt. Servt

Edward Williston

1st Lieut 2nd U.S. Arty

Comdg Battery “D” 2nd Arty

McCook and the Czar

100 years ago last night, Czar Nicholas II and his family were killed by the Bolsheviks near Ekaterinburg, Russia. This was the end of the Romanov Dynasty, which had ruled Russia since 1613.

The US representative to Nicholas II’s coronation in 1896 was Alexander McCook, former US Army Major General and corps commander at Perryville, Stones River, and Chickamauga.


Alexander McD. McCook

“To save the further effusion of blood”: Major General John S. Bowen and the Surrender of Vicksburg

John S. Bowen as an officer in the pre-war Missouri Volunteer Militia. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Emerging Civil War welcomes back guest author Kristen M. Pawlak

On July 3, 1863, Major General John S. Bowen and Lieutenant Colonel Louis Montgomery entered the Union siege lines surrounding Vicksburg to deliver a message from Army of Mississippi Lieutenant General John Pemberton and discuss the upcoming surrender of the Army of Mississippi. Himself stricken with dysentery, Bowen commanded a division of Missourians and Arkansans who were slowly dying of starvation and disease within the blockaded river town. Bowen hoped that through his personal connections with Army of the Tennessee commander Major General Ulysses Grant, he could somehow negotiate reasonable terms of surrender to save the army – and his own men.

Though Grant refused to meet with his former St. Louis, Missouri neighbor and friend initially, Bowen at least loosened the tension between the two warring armies positioned in and around the “Gibraltar of the Confederacy.” A veteran of the Camp Jackson affair, Shiloh, Corinth, Iuka, Champion Hill, and the entirety of the campaign to defend Vicksburg, Bowen was considered one of the best division commanders in the Confederacy. His reputation and performance on the battlefield was commended by many of his fellow officers, including General P.G.T. Beauregard, who called him a “meritorious officer.” [1]

After returning to the Confederate lines, Bowen delivered Grant’s message to Pemberton. “The useless effusion of blood you propose stopping by this course can be ended at any time you may choose,” Grant wrote, “by an unconditional surrender of the city and garrison.” Though disappointed with Grant’s stubbornness for an unconditional surrender, Bowen stated that Grant would be willing to meet the defeated Southern general to discuss the terms of surrender. The ball was once again in the Rebels’ court to end the bloodshed.

Around 3:00pm along the Confederate defense works, flags of truce rose and the firing was silenced. Pemberton, Bowen, and Montgomery rode out on horseback towards a swale along the Jackson Road between the siege lines, where Grant, James McPherson, and  A.J. Smith were waiting. After dismounting, the enemies shook hands and reminisced on the fond memories of their Mexican War days before discussing the heavy matter at hand.

Grant and Pemberton discuss the terms of surrender. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Recalling what Bowen told him, Pemberton said to Grant that it was his understanding that the Federal commander wished to interview him regarding Vicksburg’s surrender. Grant, with a puzzled expression, denied that he ever said that to Bowen. Embarrassed, Bowen admitted to making it up in hopes of instigating negotiations. Just like before, Grant refused anything but unconditional surrender. Pemberton thought it was hopeless. “I can assure you, you will bury more of your men before you enter Vicksburg,” he threatened.

To prevent further destruction and death between the two armies, Bowen suggested that Grant and Pemberton leave their four officers to negotiate the terms of surrender. Soon, Bowen, Montgomery, McPherson, and Smith were left to determine the fate of the Confederate garrison at Vicksburg.

At 8:00am on July 4, 1863 – Independence Day – Grant’s victorious troops began to march into Vicksburg. All of Pemberton’s Confederate troops were to be paroled and to march east to a location designated for exchange. Just under 30,000 Rebel troops surrendered. The siege of Vicksburg was finally over.

Bust of John Bowen at Vicksburg National Military Park. Courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Though many Confederate soldiers were exchanged and able to continue their fight in the war, Bowen’s service was about to come to an end, just like the thousands of his fellow Rebels who perished at the hands of disease during the Vicksburg Campaign. The day of the surrender, Bowen’s health took a dark turn. He was cared for in Vicksburg until he could recover. On July 11, 1863, his physician and chaplain decided that he needed better medical care in Raymond and departed that day by ambulance. Bowen’s wife Mary and newborn baby spent the siege in nearby Edwards, Mississippi and they joined the entourage there.

Just six miles outside of Raymond, on July 12, the caravan was forced to stop at the small wooden home of John Walton. The heat and humidity took a tremendous toll on Bowen, and he could not survive the rest of the journey to Raymond. In the morning of July 13, Bowen passed away. Using a coffin built by a local carpenter, the fallen Rebel general was buried in the backyard of the Walton home. Later, Bowen’s body was re-interred with a military headstone at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Vicksburg, where many of his men are buried today.

Though hardly known beyond historians and students of the campaign, Bowen’s role at Vicksburg and its surrender to the Federals was tragic, but quite important. Through his negotiations with the Union high command, he sought peace to end the bloodshed and inglorious deaths suffered on both sides. Bowen’s legacy can be seen at Vicksburg National military, where a bust of him stands today.

Kristen M. Pawlak is the Development Associate for Stewardship at the Civil War Trust. She also sits on the Board of Directors at the Missouri Civil War Museum, and actively volunteers with the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation. She graduated from Gettysburg College in 2014 with a BA in History and Civil War Era Studies, and is currently pursuing her MA in Nonprofit Leadership and Management at Webster University. From St. Louis, Kristen has a fond interest in the Civil War in Missouri, Civil War medicine, and the war experiences of soldiers.


Ballard, Michael. Vicksburg: The Campaign That Opened the Mississippi. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2010.

Shea, William L. & Terrence Winschel. Vicksburg is the Key: The Struggle for the Mississippi River. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2003.

Tucker, Phillip Thomas. The Forgotten “Stonewall of the West”: Major General John Stevens Bowen. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1997.

[1] Report of P.G.T. Beauregard, April 11, 1862, in War of the Rebellion: The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, ser. 1, vol. 10, pt. 1, (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1880), 390.

Artillery: Henry J. Hunt, Chief of Artillery for the Army of the Potomac

From Little Round Top, Henry J. Hunt – Chief of Artillery for the Army of the Potomac – observed the opening shots of the Confederate artillery barrage near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on July 3, 1863. From his vantage point gained during an inspection of the Union lines, this artillery officer peered out into the distance, spotting the Rebel “batteries already in line or going into position”[i] along a line which stretched from the Peach Orchard to the edge of town to the north.

Earlier in the day, General Hunt had ordered his artillery units to wait for the Confederate’s next move, then fire strategically to knock out troublesome enemy batteries. Now, he began to revise his plans after observing hurried activity in the Confederate infantry lines before the opening shots. Convinced an infantry assault was coming somewhere along the Union line, Hunt rode back along the Union position, directing his battery commanders to reserve fire and avoid an artillery duel, which would simply exhaust the ammunition supply prior to the infantry’s appearance. Next, he ordered the last four batteries of the artillery reserve to start moving toward the Union battle line.

Though the storm of shot and shell, Hunt rode the cannon lines along Cemetery Ridge, keeping a close eye on his artillerymen and ordering them to cease firing as they used their ammunition too quickly. Sometime during those blasting hours, General Hunt and General Hancock, who commanded the Union II Corps, conflicted about the role of artillery at that moment. Hancock wanted the big guns firing to protect and hearten his men and used blistering language at Hunt’s artillery commanders who fired back verbally, saying they would obey their chief and conserve the ammunition.

Army of the Potomac Chief of Artillery Henry Jackson Hunt.

Who was this Chief of Artillery, so often mentioned in Gettysburg books, but not often presented with biographical details? Henry Jackson Hunt’s “road to Gettysburg” had been a journey closely linked with artillery and a professional military career. During the Civil War, he organized artillery batteries, used wise tactics, and led with common sense on the battlefields.

Born on September 14, 1819, Hunt grew up in a family that prized military tradition, service, and honor. His grandfather, Captain Thomas Hunt, had commanded batteries in the Revolutionary War and his father, Lieutenant Samuel W. Hunt, served in the 3rd U.S. Infantry. Henry Jackson Hunter continued the family’s military service records, entering West Point in 1835 and graduating four years later, nineteenth in a class of thirty-one.

As a second lieutenant, Hunt served in the 2nd U.S. Artillery, moving between outposts and forts along the Canadian border, eastern post, and New York Harbor defenses. He made first lieutenant on June 18, 1846, just after the Mexican American War began. In that conflict, Hunt was a junior officer with Duncan’s Light Battery and saw action at the Siege of Vera Cruz, Battles of Cerro Gordo, Cherubusco, Molino del Rey, Chapultepec, San Cosme, and the Capture of Mexico City. Twice wounded and twice brevetted, he ended the war as a brevet major who had attracted the attention of commanding officers for his artillery skills. General Worth wrote, “Finally, at five o’clock, both columns had reached their positions, and it then became necessary, at all hazards to advance a piece of artillery to the evacuated battery of the enemy, intermediate between us and the Garita (San Cosme). Lieut. Hunt was ordered to execute this duty, which he did in the highest possible style of gallantry, equally sustained by his veteran troops, with the loss of one killed and four wounded out of nine mine, although the piece moved at full speed over a distance of only one hundred fifty yards; reaching the breastwork he became muzzle to muzzle with the enemy. It has never been my fortune to witness a more brilliant exhibition of courage and conduct.”[ii]

Returning east, Hunt met, courted, and married Emily Caroline DeRussy Hunt; the wedding took place on December 18, 1851, at Fortress Monroe.[iii] Their first daughter arrived in 1852 and a son was born in 1855. The young officer’s life seemed balanced and a promotion to Captain of the 2nd Artillery in 1852 secured him a good position. However, Emily never recovered from complications of her son’s birth and died in 1857. Though his wife’s death was not unexpected, Hunt “was unprepared to accept the anguished realization that her loss had cast him and his motherless children adrift.”[iv]

Captain Hunt headed west, trying to suppress his grief with frontier service for the Utah Expedition (1858) and at Fort Brown, Texas. During this period, he also served as a member of the board which revised light artillery tactics and produced a report eventually published by the War Department as an artillery manual. Returning east, Hunt remarried, finding a kind step-mother for his children. Mary Bethune Craig Hunt[v] had two children, Conway (b. 1861) and John Elliot (b. 1874).

During the winter of 1860-61, Captain Hunt was asked to command the arsenal at Harpers Ferry, a strategic location eyed by Rebels. He also received another important assignment, a secret mission to secure Fort Pickens for the Union in April 1861. Hunt returned to his regular army battery, joining up with them at New York City on July 13 and shipping out to Washington the following day; by the 19th, the battery arrived with the rest of the “green” Union army heading to the fight near Manassas. During the fight, Hunt commanded Company M of the 2nd U.S. Artillery, and at one point, ordered his artillery to reload and fire on quickly advancing enemy soldiers, without pausing to sponge the cannons (a dangerous decision). However, no disasters occurred, and in the Union retreat from the battlefield, Hunt calmly withdrew his cannons from the fight and then helped other officers halt the collapse of the Union’s left wing, winning praise from General Winfield Scott.

Promoted to Major of the 5th Artillery and recognized by the president for the artillery manual, Hunt was appointed Chief of Artillery to oversee Washington City’s defenses to the south of the Potomac River. George McClellan – impressed with Hunt’s skill set – gave him the task of organizing the Army of the Potomac’s artillery reserve and made sure he received a regular army colonel’s commission in September 1861. In addition to his duties, Hunt spent the winter serving as President of the Board to Test Rifled Guns and Projectiles and an active member of the Board for the Armament of Sea-coast Fortifications.

When spring came, McClellan took the new Army of the Potomac to the Virginia Peninsula, and Colonel Hunt went along, commanding the artillery reserve. He was present and overseeing his field guns at Yorktown, Gaines Mill, Garnett’s Farm, Turkey Bend, and Malvern Hill. When General Barry resigned, Hunt received appointment to command all the artillery for the Army of the Potomac in September, a position he held through the end of the conflict; he also received promotion to Brigadier General of Volunteers. General McClellan praised the new Chief of Artillery, saying, “The services of this distinguished officer in reorganizing and refitting the batteries prior to and after the battle of Antietam, and his gallant and skilful[sp] conduct on that field, merit the highest encomiums in my power to bestow.”[vi]

At the Battle of Fredericksburg, Hunt directed the artillery barrage on the town and in the later weeks watched his guns get stuck during Burnside’s Mud March. General Hooker limited Hunt’s duties and role, leading to difficulties with the Union artillery at the Battle of Chancellorsville until the Chief received orders to do whatever was necessary to correct the issues.

General Meade and Staff; General Hunt is standing in the tent doorway

Then, on the fields at Gettysburg, Hunt’s artillery knowledge, determination, and cautious tactics ensured the Union line’s cannons still had ammunition to fire when the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge began on that afternoon of July 3, 1863. Trusted by Meade and forceful enough to inspire his artillerymen to obey his orders rather than the irate Hancock’s, the Union Chief of Artillery played a crucial role in the Union success on Cemetery Ridge.

As the barrage continued, Hunt gave orders which – unknowingly – deceived the Confederates; he directed several batteries to withdraw near the center of the line, causing the Confederates to think the batteries were destroyed. However, Hunt replaced the withdrawn batteries with artillerymen and cannons from the reserve, making sure the artillery line stayed strong along the ridge.[vii]

Hunt watched the gray-clad infantry begin their advance from Freeman McGilvery’s battery position, seeing the destruction caused by the ammunition he had insisted to conserve. Later, when the Confederate infantry broke the Union lines at The Angle and reinforcements rushed forward, Hunt rode directly into the fray, firing away with a pistol at the advancing Rebels until his horse was shot, pinning him to the ground. Some nearby cannoneers rushed to help him, and General Hunt finished that battle day with no serious injuries.[viii]

“For gallant and meritorious services at the battle of Gettysburg,”[ix] Hunt received a promotion to Brevet Col. U.S. Army and the following year another promotion to Brevet Major General of Volunteers. Henry J. Hunt continued his duties as Chief of Artillery for the rest of the war, fighting in the Mine Run and Overland Campaigns. He became an adviser to General Grant who recognized Hunt’s abilities in special orders on June 27, 1864: “In all siege operations about Petersburg, south of the Appomattox, Brig. General H.J. Hunt, Chief of Artillery of the Army of the Potomac, will have general charge and be obeyed and respected accordingly. Col. H.L. Abbot, in charge of the siege trains, will report to Gen. Hunt for orders.”[x]

Henry J. Hunt

At the end of the Civil War, despite the brevets and rank commanding volunteers, Hunt remained a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army. He served in the west, in Reconstruction districts, as President of the Permanent Artillery Board, and as a member of the Board for the Armament of Fortification, continuing to command and influence artillery units. After forty-four years of active military service, Hunt retired on September 14, 1883. In the later years of his life, he moved to Washington and held the position of Governor of the Soldiers’ Home, which had been established for Union veterans. The life-long artilleryman died on February 11, 1889.

In post-war years, George McClellan praised Henry J. Hunt with these words:

“The command he thus exercised was quite equal in importance to that of an army corps, and frequently called for more hard work and far greater administrative ability. His work was not confined to administrative duties, but on every battlefield of any importance he displayed not only the…gallantry of the soldier but the highest military qualities of a general of artillery. My opinion was that he was as good a Chief of Artillery as it was possible to have, and I doubt whether he had his superior in the field in any European army.”[xi]

During the Civil War, Henry Hunt’s artillery knowledge and skill made major impact on many battlefields – Malvern Hill, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and Petersburg, just to name a few. Often overlooked or just briefly mentioned in many military studies, Hunt fought to save the Union and his efforts ensured the success of Union artillery positions and effectiveness on battlefields. In that afternoon barrage at Gettysburg, the image of General Hunt, riding the lines and admonishing his cannoneers to hold fire, gives a glimpse into the leadership, courage, and wisdom so often displayed by the Army of the Potomac’s Chief of Artillery.


[i] Allen C. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion. (New York: Knopf, 2013). Page 402.

[ii] General Worth, report from Sept 16, 1847, quoted in In Memoriam General Henry J. Hunt by David Fitz Gerald; accessed at the The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

[iii] Find A Grave –

[iv] Edward G. Longacre. The Man Behind The Guns. (Old Soldier Books, 1977). Page 69.

[v] Find A Grave –

[vi] In Memoriam General Henry J. Hunt by David Fitz Gerald; accessed at the The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

[vii] Allen C. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion. (New York: Knopf, 2013). Page 406.

[viii] Ibid, Page 420.

[ix] In Memoriam General Henry J. Hunt by David Fitz Gerald; accessed at the The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.