Local Notables: Civil War Generals of PHL

It’s been kind of slow over here in Domer/in/DC-land, at least in regards to history-related things. In non-history related things, I’ve learned what the turbo in my car’s engine is, that is, how it’s not good when it leaks oil …

But despite that, I was able to make it to a local historical society’s Monthly Meeting of History Things. This month’s topic was on local Civil War Generals. There are several dozen Civil War Generals buried in a single cemetery outside of Philadelphia, Laurel Hill Cemetery, and there are probably a dozen buried elsewhere in the area. This particular talk covered four specific generals, but there are many, many more to research.

From the event description:

During the Civil War, Philadelphia raised over 50 infantry and cavalry regiments, and its manufacturers made uniforms, weapons and warships for the war effort. The city also hosted the two largest military hospitals in the country to care for the sick and wounded. And Philadelphia sent at least twelve generals off to fight for the Union (and one who chose to fight for the Confederacy!) The most famous of these generals, George Gordon Meade, was given command of the Army of the Potomac on Sunday, June 28, 1863, and three days later led his army to victory in the largest, and most decisive, battle of the war – Gettysburg. Fellow Philadelphia generals Winfield Scott Hancock and John Gibbon turned back Pickett’s Charge during that battle. The other Philadelphia generals served with varying degrees of success. 


Don’t let this egomaniac fool you with his moody good looks.

First: George B. McClellan, the Infamously Infamous

The presenter had an equally dim view of McClellan as pretty much everyone else, ranking him with the likes of Horatio Gates and Ambrose Burnside as the three worst generals in American History. The man even had a copy of General Lee’s Special Order 191, and still failed to capitalize on that information(!). Antietam/Sharpsburg – the result of that Special Order, was the single bloodiest day in American history and was tactically a stalemate even though the Union claimed “victory”. One of the drawbacks of all the wartime leaders knowing each other from either West Point or the Mexican War was that they all knew each other’s habits and foibles. Lee knew McClellan and knew that McClellan was overly cautious. Much is made of Lee’s daring capabilities, but I’m betting he also looked good because McClellan was slow to take action.

A weak defense of McClellan was that he was a great organizer and got the Army of the Potomac trained and fed (and therefore unified), even if he never capitalized on this. He at least laid the foundation of future successes(?). Would I be far off in comparing him to Ty Willingham, the Notre Dame football coach from 20002-2004? His recruits had a strong foundation and his successor, Charlie Weis, had three winning years until Willingham’s recruits all graduated. Which is why the 2007 season was the worst on school record – none of Weis’ recruits had Willingham’s foundation of basic skills. Is comparing McClellan to Willingham too far, Dear Reader(s)?



General McDreamy

Next: Winfield Scott Hancock, aka General McDreamy

I’ve written about Hancock at least once from this blog, most notably here. The presenter himself called Hancock a dreamboat and spoke of his battlefield prowess. Women wanted him and men wanted to be him. I must confess that I probably paid the least amount of attention during this portion of the talk because I was so busy reliving the words from Tucker’s book, which I reviewed in the link above. So many relevant quotes are included. You should go check out that link because, yes, Hancock deserves his own page.



The “damned old goggle-eyed snapping turtle”

Third up: George Gordon Meade, the Underappreciated

I’ve always felt that Meade never got the credit he was due. He is usually overshadowed by Grant. While Meade was the commander of the Army of the Potomac, and Grant the overall commander, Grant traveled with the Army of the Potomac and once Grant moved east, Meade more-or-less disappeared. The presenter seemed to feel the same way and framed the Battle of Gettysburg in an entirely new light – Meade had assumed command of the Army a mere three days before the battle begins and yet was the first Union general to definitely defeat Lee. How on earth did he manage a victory? When framed like that, it is apparent that Meade had a lot of skills, but since he wasn’t a colorful figure (like Grant or Sherman) or a politician (like McClellan), he often gets overlooked. To answer the question – Meade allowed his subordinate generals to act as they thought necessary, exercising moderately independence. Think of all those battles (too numerous to list) where the overall commander pulled his troops back even though individual units had the advantage and could have pressed it, thereby possibly shortening the war by a couple of years. (I’m looking at you, Burnside – does Fredericksburg ring a bell?) And while he receives a lot of criticism for not chasing Lee after Gettysburg, the presenter’s defense was that the Army was completely spent and couldn’t have pursued anyway.

Based on this talk alone, reading a dedicated bio on Meade has jumped several places up my priority list. But I should have followed my instinct – Tucker’s book on Hancock describes how Hancock and Meade could sit and talk for hours, which shows Meade’s quality of character if someone of Hancock’s caliber considered him a close friend.



Can you tell he’s an engineer?

Lastly: Herman Haupt, the – who?

This last general was a new figure for me. His portion of the talk was truncated, as the event was running short on time, but the first line of his wikipedia page is pretty compelling: “Herman Haupt (Philadelphia, March 26, 1817 – Jersey City, December 14, 1905) was an American civil engineer and railroad construction engineer and executive. A Union Army General, he played a key role in the American Civil War, during which he revolutionized U.S. military transportation, particularly the use of railroads.” He was one of those people who was admirably skilled at his job. Apparently the Confederates, who had tried tearing down communication lines and train tracks in the Richmond area eventually gave up because Haupt rebuilt them so fast. His speediness and efficiency with organizing the rail lines helped keep the Union forces so well fed and supplied during the Battle of Gettysburg. So this is a new figure that I can add to my ever-growing To-Research list.



Afterwards, there was a short Q&A session as well as trivia for book rewards. I won a book on the USS Indianapolis by answering a question with the USS Indianapolis as the answer (Go me!) and I met several members of the Historical Society. They seemed interested in my historical exploits, especially the reenacting parts, and agreed that while the Philadelphia area is great for colonial and Revolutionary Era history, it’s sometimes a shame how its contributions to other eras, like the Civil War, often get overshadowed. Coming here certainly renewed my interest in Colonial Era things, but this presentation was a nice way to get back to my Civil War roots again.



Image Source: McClellan



Image Source: Hancock


Image Source: Meade


Image Source: Haupt


Image Source: Haupt Truss Bridge


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