Friday, May 9, 2014

John Sedgwick's Brief Stay in Washington After Spotsylvania

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the death of Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick during the Battle of Spotsylvania. Sedgwick, commander of the Army of the Potomac's VI Corps, was placing artillery and organizing his lines within range of Confederate sharpshooters when he noticed Union soldiers ducking for cover from enemy fire. Admonishing his men, Sedgwick exclaimed, "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance." Shortly afterwards, the general was felled by a Confederate bullet. Sedgwick was the highest-ranking Union casualty of the Civil War.

Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick (courtesy of Wikipedia). The beloved general earned the affectionate nickname, "Uncle John."
So what happened to Sedgwick post-mortem? The Washington Evening Star ran an article on May 12, 1864 describing the events that followed the unfortunate episode in Spotsylvania:
The body of Major General John Sedgwick, commanding the Sixth Corps of the Army of the Potomac, who was killed on Monday, was embalmed yesterday at the establishment of Dr. Holmes, Pennsylvania avenue, near Third Street, and was visited during the day by a large number of persons, among whom were many ladies and soldiers, and as some of the latter gazed on the placid features of one who had almost the universal respect of the army, and who was idolized by his men, they shed tears freely.
The corpse was attired in his uniform, and a few moments before the coffin was closed a magnificent bouquet was placed on the breast. A lady exhibited a singular pertinacity in the endeavor to procure a memento of the fallen by clipping two buttons from his coat. A guard of four Volunteer Reserves was stationed at the door and on either side of the corpse. The coffin was of rosewood, lined with white satin, and, in compliance with the wishes of his staff, was made without ornamentation of any sort.
In obedience to a call a number of officers of the Army of the Potomac assembled yesterday afternoon at the National Hotel and resolved to escort the remains to the cars. . .. [A]fter the remains had been escorted the cars the officers assembled again at the hotel where they passed resolutions of respect to the memory of the deceased.
A few minutes [sic] 7 o'clock the officers proceeded to Dr. Holmes', where the coffin was boxed up, and escorted to the cars, leaving at 7.50, the remains being accompanied by Maj. Whittier, Captains Beaumont and Halsted of the staff of the deceased, Maj. W.P. Jones, late of Gen. Wool's staff, Hon. C.B. Sedgwick of N.Y., and several members of the Connecticut delegation. The remains were placed on a special car tendered by A.W. Morkley, of the Camden and Amboy railroad, which was to have proceeded through to New York, from whence the remains would be transported to Cornwall, Litchfield county, Connecticut.
Sedgwick was laid to rest in the cemetery in Cornwall Hollow on May 15, 1864. Fellow blogger John Banks visited the grave a few years ago and describes the funeral here.


Chris Barry said...

Nice post--will be ending a 38 mile march this summer at his statue at Gettysburg following the 65th NY's steps. Hope to visit his grave in Cornwall Hollow this summer as well.

Ron Baumgarten said...

Thanks, Chris. Sounds like an interesting march! And check out the grave link in my post. Looks like a place where time stood still!

Todd Berkoff said...

Hi Ron. Sedgwick's aide, Charles Whittier, who accompanied the general's remains back to Connecticut, recalled in his memoirs that both Sedgwick's casket and the casket containing Colonel Henry L. Abbott of the 20th Mass (killed at the Wilderness on May 6th) were carried together in the New York Train Station. Whittier and Abbott were both Boston Brahmin and friends from before the War.

Ron Baumgarten said...


Thanks for the comment. Interesting anecdote, and another piece of the death to grave story of Sedgwick!