Col. John Lemmon – A Colonel at War with his Men – Conclusion

The War Department order dismissing captains John Ordner, Henry Pratt, Wilkerson Paige and Layton Baldwin, along with lieutenants William Snyder, Aaron Bliss, Luther Barney, Henry Field, John Hart and Theodore Weed came down while the Cavalry Corps, including the 10th New York, was on the Stoneman Raid; the convicted officers did not learn of their dismissal for nearly two weeks.  On May 17, Lieut. Col. William Irvine found a line of disgruntled officers standing outside his tent.  Rising to their support, Irvine took pen in hand to vouch for their character and integrity.  Lieutenant Barney’s case particularly angered Irvine as he had refuted the allegation during a conversation with Judge Turner in March.  Irvine blamed the action on the “malignity and falsehoods of one John C. Lemmon…who stands…a man so wanting in character as not to be entitled to being believed on his oath”

Growing angrier with each letter he wrote, Irvine hit his stride writing on Captain Pratt’s behalf.  Displaying skills he had polished in courtrooms and political debates, Irvine declared, “The blow aimed at [Pratt’s] reputation…has been inflicted by a lying malignant cowardly scoundrel for whom a just punishment would be that he be compelled to associate with himself alone till he should hate himself to death.” [Emphasis added]

With the letters and denials flowing into his office, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton sent the case back to Judge Joseph Holt for review.  Responding on June 2, Holt explained, “Upon an examination of all the papers in the cases it is fully established that all these officers, except Lieutenant Barney, were guilty of the offence charged…Capts. Paige, Pratt and Field…admit that during a portion of the time, covered by their accounts, they did not own the horses used by them – and they claim that their accounts were not framed with the intent to defraud the government, in as much as they were drawn under instructions from…Col. J. C. Lemmon…and it was supposed by these officers that they were honestly entitled to receive the amounts which they claimed.  This plea of ignorance, inadvertence [etc.] is so often made in cases of this kind that it can only be received with grave suspicion…They present no sufficient grounds for a reconsideration of the case as respects themselves.”

The judge then admitted, “The case of Lt. Barney, however, is quite different.  It is proved conclusively that he actually owned the horse & [equipment] during all the period covered by his account, having purchased horse, saddle [etc.] before the date of the commencement of the account.  His name was included…by mistake… There is no doubt injustice has been done this officer…It is therefore advised that so much of [the order] as relates to Lieutenant Barney be revoked.” [Emphasis is Holt’s]

The damage had already been done, however; discipline and morale within the regiment had evaporated, as though the men and remaining officers had launched a silent protest.  On June 3, the day after Judge Holt penned his opinion, General David Gregg rode through the regimental camp.  Furious at the lack of adherence to military regulations within the camp, Gregg told Col. Calvin Douty, in temporary command of the brigade, “The neglect of public property in that camp is inexcusable.  Saddles, bridles, curry combs, cartridge boxes and even arms being found scattered about on the ground in all directions.  There is an entire want of systematic arrangement in the camp…tents are pitched at the pleasure of the occupants…. This neglect of all orders can not longer be permitted.”  Gregg gave Douty explicit instructions to correct the deficiencies, telling him, “Stringent measures must be attempted to secure obedience to orders and attention to duty in that regiment.  Officers who neglect the preservation of public property for which they are responsible must be reported for dismissal from the service.  It is hoped,” Gregg warned Douty, “that hereafter there will not be occasion to call your attention to this matter.”

Five days later, on June 9, the Union Cavalry Corps crossed the Rappahannock River and attacked Jeb Stuart’s horse-soldiers near Brandy Station.  At a key moment in the battle, the 10th New York led Col. Judson Kilpatrick’s brigade [he had just resumed command] in an attack up Fleetwood Hill.  The New Yorkers had little combat experience and had never fought in either a regiment or brigade-size action.

None of the disgraced officers, to include Carpenter and Ordner who had departed well before May 5, had been replaced or reinstated by June 9.  The War Department did not issue the order restoring Lieutenant Barney until June 8 and Barney did not receive the order until several weeks later.    Companies A, B, C, D and E entered the fight missing at least two of three officers each, with each of the five companies probably led by a second lieutenant. In the case of Company C, the command probably fell upon Lieut. John Werrick, who had been ordered before an examination board in February, due to questions concerning his competency.  Junior lieutenants probably led Companies G and H as well.  I believe only four captains rode with the regiment on June 9, and one of those, George Vanderbilt, had been detached with his company, L, to assist one of the infantry contingents.  Of the three majors, only Major Avery is known to have been present.  Neither Kemper or Waters had battle experience, neither appear in the accounts I have seen, and nothing suggests either would have added strong leadership under the stress of combat.

As the New Yorkers crossed the Orange and Alexandria Railroad and began charging up the hill, they met a Confederate counter-charge “which swept down upon us in splendid order,” Lieut. Burton Porter, the regimental adjutant wrote years later.  As adjutant, Porter, of Company L, rode near Lieut. Colonel Irvine, at the right of the lead squadron, rather than with his company.  The Southern attack struck companies B and D, deployed as flankers, and scattered the men, before plowing into and overwhelming Irvine and the remainder of the regiment.  Lieut. William Robb, Company D, had been promoted from sergeant to 1st Lieutenant in February.  Now, as the senior officer in the squadron, Robb led the flanking force and died in the melee.  The New Yorkers had barely entered the battle before events forced Kilpatrick to recall them from the field.

The Confederates captured Irvine, along with Captain David Getman, Company I, and Lieut. John King, Company G.  King, who had been wounded, died in a Southern prison.  The regiment lost at least 69 men killed, wounded, captured or missing.  Early reports counted as many as 82 men lost but two different rosters do not confirm the higher figure.  Companies A, B, C, D and E incurred two-thirds of the casualties, with the majority being captured, missing or wounded and captured.  Lieutenant Werrick’s Company C incurred the highest casualties, 23, followed by Companies B and D with 12 each.  Companies A and E lost 5 men in total.  Of the other companies, F lost 1, G lost 4, H lost 2, I lost 7 and Companies K, L and M lost 2 each.

Exactly what inferences or conclusions, if any, can be drawn from all of this is a matter for another discussion.  Other factors, including poor morale, regimental alignment within the brigade at the beginning of the charge, company alignment within the regiment at the beginning of the charge as well as the “mistaken order” given by an officer in the 2nd New York and the confusion which resulted in both regiments need to be considered but I find it hard to escape the conclusion that Lemmon’s complaint and the sweeping decision of May 5, which wiped out much of the regiment’s company-level leadership, did not adversely impact the regiment’s performance at Brandy Station.  But the story, as well as the questions as to what might have been at Brandy Station, does not end here.

In the coming weeks lieutenants Bliss, Snyder and Weed, asserted their innocence to Stanton, who sent the case to back Holt for another review.  Colonel Lemmon further complicated the situation when he wrote in support of both Bliss and Snyder.  Though Captain Carpenter had implicated Bliss and Weed, Lemmon had charged Snyder, and now he asked Stanton to reinstate Snyder.

Responding to Stanton, Holt wrote, “The Colonel of their regiment is anxious that they should be restored to their positions… The order [dismissing the men] has deprived this regiment of so many officers that it is highly desirable that those to whom injustice may have been done…should be restored to active duty…The innocence of fraudulent intent on their part is quite apparent, as it can hardly be supposed that they would intentionally have sought to defraud the government for the sake of adding two or three dollars to their otherwise just claim.  In view of all the facts, as well as in consideration of the necessities of the regiment, now in active service…it is recommended that so much of [the order] …as relates to [Bliss, Weed and Snyder] be revoked.” [Emphasis added]

One might ask why their innocence, now so apparent, had not been so obvious to Holt when he responded to Stanton on June 2 or if the service might have been better served without the sudden rush to judgement in May?  One might also wonder if Barney, Bliss, Weed and Snyder might have made a difference at Brandy Station?

Four of the nine men had now been cleared but they could not just return to the regiment and resume their positions.  Rather, they had to wait until the governor of New York confirmed that he had not commissioned other men to fill the vacancies.  The men waited months before resuming their commands, and other battles lay ahead as they sought to recover their back pay.

On June 19, the day after Holt cleared Bliss, Weed and Snyder, the regiment fought a short but furious action at Middleburg.  Three more officers, lieutenants Bronson Beardslee, Company K, Horatio Boyd, Company I and Edward Hawes, Company F, fell to Southern bullets.  With Companies F and I missing their captains, command of each fell to the surviving lieutenant.  Capt. Benjamin Lownsbury, Company K, had been wounded at Brandy Station and may have returned to duty early, following Beardslee’s death.  Probably still hobbled by the June 9 wound, Lownsbury received another leg wound on July 2 on Brinkerhoff’s Ridge and fell into Southern hands.  The regiment lost a total of 26 men at Middleburg, scattered between eight companies.  Company I sustained the highest loss (10), followed by Company A (8) and Company F (3).  The other companies lost one man apiece.

Noble Preston’s regimental history includes Major John Kemper’s personal account of the Middleburg fight, and his charge up the turnpike at the head of Companies I and F.  Kemper may have led the squadron as neither captain was present, Paige having been dismissed and Getman captured at Brandy Station.  I relied upon Kemper’s account when I prepared my original chapter on the battle.  Years later I learned that Kemper had submitted his version of the charge in support of an application for a Medal of Honor.

John Kemper entered the service as one of the original majors of the regiment.  He resigned in July 1863 on a surgeon’s certificate of disability but then rejoined the regiment as a captain one year later.  Kemper’s second stint lasted less than two months before he returned to the hospital and resigned a second time.  In December 1864, shortly before Kemper departed, then Lieut. Colonel Avery claimed that Kemper had been “absent sick more than two-thirds of the time and participated in but three engagements.”  Avery then denigrated Kemper’s “conduct in the face of the enemy [as] … discreditable.”

Who to believe; Kemper’s account of gallantry or Avery’s less-glowing evaluation?  Should Avery’s non-specific statement discount Kemper’s personal account of the battle?  Or, for that matter, should Avery’s less than stellar record diminish his opinions of others?

Unwilling to let the medal decision rest on his description of the fight, Kemper added the following: “Now I have been a sometime student of history, ancient and modern, and in all my reading I have failed to find on record anywhere since old father Adam was kicked out of Paradise an equivalent.  50 men charging 1,000, 10 to 1, charging through two regiments causing them to fall back upon their reserves, their battery also to fall back with a loss of 90 percent.  The famous charge of the 600 at Balaklava was neither in number of men charged or their percent of loss as great, their loss being only 68 percent.”  Even with several other letters supporting the application, including one from John Irvin Gregg, the brigade commander, the medal decision may have turned on Kemper’s wildly exaggerated claims.  The War Department denied his request, stating in part, “the records [do not] show any such percentage of loss in said action by Companies F and I, as is alleged in his statement.”  My figures suggest the regiment sustained a loss of about 6% and Kemper’s squadron about 25% if he had 50 men as he claimed.  But then I came upon another interesting account, which I believe may help to answer my original question as to why the regiment did not participate in the fight at Upperville.

Major Avery ran afoul of his superiors and found himself under arrest at least four times during the war.  He faced a court-martial at least twice.  The second trial covered a series of complaints dating back to the previous September and included three allegations of Avery being drunk on duty.  The most recent of the three dated to June 20, 1863, while Avery “was on duty in command of his regiment between Aldie and Middleburg.”  Avery also faced a charge of  Conduct Unbecoming an Officer, in which the court alleged “that Avery did, on or about the 20th of June 1863, between Aldie and Middleburg… while the said regiment was resting in camp or bivouac, violently assault Private Chester G. Wilcox of Company H and run his sabre into the hip of said Wilcox, at the same time saying to said Wilcox, “You damned son of a bitch, what are you lying here for?” or words to that effect; and did immediately thereafter, repeating the language…violently assault and wantonly and cruelly strike said Wilcox with his sabre and thereby inflict upon him a severe and dangerous wound on his right arm, so that said Wilcox was thereby rendered unfit for duty for three months.  This although said Wilcox was committing and had committed no offense and without any provocation whatever.”  The surviving paperwork does not identify the officer or enlisted man who submitted the charges.

Taking the witness chair, Wilcox explained: “On the morning of the [20th] …we had orders to get up and feed our horses.  I got up and fed my horse and then I laid down again …while my horse [ate].  That was about daylight.  As I lay there on the ground Major Avery came to me and run his sabre into my thigh and told me to get up at the same time, made use of an oath… he either God damned me or called me a son of a bitch, or something of that kind, I can’t exactly tell the words, it was something of that kind.  I got up then and asked him what right he had to strike me with his sabre.  Says he “God damn you, you want to know what right I have,” and then he hit me with his sabre… He hit me three times with his sabre – once with the edge.  He then ordered me to go and bridle up my horse and I took my bridle and …when I went to raise my hand up over my horse’s head I found I was wounded and could not do it.  Says he “God damn you, you will do it or else I will cut you in two, or something of that kind.  I put on the bridle with my left hand.  I used my left hand to raise the head stall over the horse’s head.  He left me then.  I went to the doctor and had my wound dressed.  He sent me to the hospital … I was there something like three months…on account of this wound… inflicted by Major Avery with his sabre.”

When asked to describe the severity of the wound in his thigh, Wilcox said simply, “The sabre struck the bone.”  He then described the wound to his right arm as “a cut, just above my elbow.”

The defense called Capt. William Peck, Wilcox’s company commander, to testify.  Peck’s testimony regarding regimental blacksmiths or farriers is noteworthy, but Peck also strikes me as trying to dance a line between defending Avery and supporting Wilcox.  He is evasive, contradicts himself, and I wish someone had pressed him for a straight answer.

“Q – Was Wilcox disobeying orders when the Major first accosted him?

A – Yes sir he undoubtedly was.

Q- Then why did you not as the commanding officer of that squadron require him to obey?

A – The blacksmiths of our regiment were not brought up to that standard of discipline that the others were.  They were not expected to go into [a] fight.  They were allowed to be in the rear.  They carried no carbines, they were not armed as the rest of us.  They were not counted in the ranks; they had more leniency shown them in that respect than any other class of men.  This being before daylight there was nothing for him to do if he had been up.  This is the ground I should take to excuse myself for not being more prompt with him as a soldier.  Blacksmiths have been excused, as a general thing from inspections and roll calls.

Q – Were the blacksmiths always required to stand to horse with the other men of the squadron?

A – I don’t recollect a case of the kind before where it was disobeyed.  They always did it.

Q – Was Wilcox persisting in disobeying orders when the accused struck him…?

A – I should think he was not persisting in disobeying orders.  He did not run to bridle his horse [nor did he stand still] and say he wouldn’t do it.  I think he took no more time to obey that order than any man would just waking up from sleep.”

Several officers, including David Gregg, testified from the field via a set of nine questions or interrogatories related to Avery’s general character and ability.  Gregg described the major as “a brave, intelligent, energetic officer [and] a gentleman.  I know nothing to his disparagement.”  None of the several officers questioned in this manner recalled a single instance of Avery appearing drunk on duty.

Surprisingly, or maybe not, the court exonerated Avery of all charges after conveniently changing or removing most of the wording regarding the assault in the charging documents.  The case went back to the War Department for review and Brig. Gen. Edward Canby rejected the finding, stating, “The facts, as developed by the evidence, show clearly that Major Avery was guilty of an unwarrantable assault, with his saber…without the shadow of a provocation.”  Even then, Avery, who must have had an angel on his shoulder, received only a light reprimand. Though doctors claimed to have found no evidence of a leg wound, Wilcox received a medical discharge resulting from the wound to his arm.

Whether or not Avery had been intoxicated at the time of the assault, his behavior may have solved a problem for General Alfred  Pleasonton.  On the morning of June 21, General Joseph Hooker ordered Pleasonton to send a regiment to assist Maj. Gen. Henry Slocum, guarding the pontoon site at Edward’s Ferry, and Pleasonton sent the 10th New York.  Several discrepancies appear in the court testimony as to the date of the incident between Avery and Wilcox, but the charging documents give the date as June 20, and testimony during the trial as to where the incident took place appears to confirm June 20, rather than other dates mentioned during the trial.  Thus, I may have an answer as to why the regiment did not participate in the fight at Upperville and why Pleasonton selected the 10th New York rather than another regiment to aid Slocum.

Some of you may note that while Preston includes no personal accounts for Upperville, he does place the 10th New York in his narrative, stating, “When the Tenth reached the scene the Confederate line was already broken, but the Regiment united in the chase, and gathered in many prisoners.”  I believe Avery’s conduct on the 20th, combined with the other recent problems of leadership, discipline, morale and poor battlefield conduct, probably led Pleasonton to pull the regiment off the line the following morning.  Then, when he received orders from Hooker to send a regiment to assist Slocum, the New Yorkers became a logical choice.  But the regiment did not reach Slocum for several days.  So, what happened?

If I accept Preston’s statement cited above, and I have no reason not to, then the regiment did not reach the battlefield until the closing minutes of the fight.  Every unit in the brigade suffered casualties at Upperville, except the 10th New York but the regiment did not reach Slocum on the 21st either.  In the absence of evidence to the contrary, I believe Pleasonton sent the 10th New York to Slocum, as ordered.  Then, once the fighting intensified, he recalled the regiment, but time and distance prevented the command from reaching the field in time to participate in the heavy fighting late in the afternoon.

On the morning of June 19, the regiment counted 422 men for duty.  Casualties sustained during the day reduced the number of men and horses in the ranks, but the June 19 morning report counted 536 horses ready for duty, so every available man should have been mounted on the 21st.  Even accounting for losses sustained at Middleburg, the regiment fielded more men than several other regiments in the corps; men who might have made a difference in the last minutes of the desperate fighting around Upperville.  I can only conclude that Pleasonton selected the 10th New York over one of the smaller or more battle-weary regiments due to Avery’s behavior and the continuing regimental turmoil.

Finally – what of the other officers dismissed in April and May?

On July 6, Colonel Lemmon wrote to the Adjutant General asking to have Henry Field, who had been accused by Captain Carpenter, restored to his command.  “The regiment is now actively in the field and [has but six company-grade officers] out of thirty-six left to discharge the duties.”  Captain Paige also pressed to be restored but Judge Holt refused to bend in either case.  President Lincoln intervened in October and still Holt refused.

Captain Ordner petitioned to have his case reconsidered in late-July and again in December.  Unimpressed with Ordner’s first explanation, Holt told Stanton, “Upon this statement of facts this man has the unblushing hardihood to present himself here for reinstatement as an honorable commander, with a certificate of general character from his Lieut. Colonel, and his own weak and damaging allegation that “if any error had been committed he was not aware of it,” leaving himself on one of the horns of this dilemma  – either that he certified and swore to an account which he knew to be fraudulent or to the accuracy and justness of an account of which he knew nothing.  Either one of these alternatives should be as fatal to his reinstatement as the other.

Captain Paige also pressed his case in December, when he employed Lieut. Colonel Irvine, recently released from a Southern prison, to speak on his behalf.  Irvine believed, “The true secret of Lemmon’s actions against these officers is attributable to the fact that last winter he endeavored to secure written certificates from some of these officers that he was a man of truth and integrity, to endeavor to do away with the effect of a record which stands against him in the War Department as a man utterly wanting in truth and character.”  When the officers refused to speak on his behalf, Lemmon leveled the charges against them.

The War Department finally restored both Ordner and Paige to duty in early 1864, though the reason why is unclear.  Then, Ordner submitted his resignation on June 4, stating mysteriously, “Neither my own welfare or the interests of the service will be promoted by my remaining therein.”  The War Department accepted his resignation, but he fell to a Confederate bullet at Trevilian Station before he received notice.  Still, his reason struck Maj. Gen. Phil Sheridan, commanding the Cavalry Corps, and Maj. Gen. George Meade, commanding the army, as “frivolous,” and at their request the War Department changed the deceased officer’s discharge to dishonorable.  Paige fell to a Southern bullet a couple of weeks later at Samaria Church.

Capt. Norris Morey had resigned months before Lemmon and Carpenter filed the charges against him, but unlike Lieutenant Hart, the army left Morey alone.  He eventually accepted a commission in a regiment of United States Colored Infantry.  Lieutenant Theodore Weed had his name cleared in July 1863 and eventually rose to the rank of major in the regiment.  Capt. Henry Pratt finally had his name cleared in 1896, when he received an honorable discharge.  Henry Field and Layton Baldwin never had their names cleared.  In other words, six of the dismissed officers should have been with the regiment at Brandy Station and Middleburg, though we will never know if their presence might have made a difference on either battlefield.

John Lemmon remained a provocateur for the remainder of the war.  On July 16, 1863, now suddenly healthy, Lemmon asked to be mustered back into the army as colonel of his old regiment.  Governor Horatio Seymour of New York complicated the army’s dilemma by restoring Lemmon’s commission.  In the event he could not return to the 10th New York, Lemmon asked President Lincoln to allow him to raise a new regiment.  Four officers, including Major Alvah Waters signed a petition supporting Lemmon’s return to the regiment, but the many complaints filed against him remained open.  Lincoln again turned to Judge Holt for his opinion on the matter.

After a lengthy appraisal of the facts and the many testimonials Lemmon presented, Holt concluded “the Colonel is a man of integrity, and as such can be safely entrusted by the government with a colonel’s command and office.  The fact that the Colonel has been re-commissioned to his former regiment is prima facie evidence that he retains the confidence of the military authorities of the state of New York.  Under these conclusions, it is evident that injustice must be done Col. Lemmon if the representations which have been formerly made to the Department shall be any longer allowed to prevail against him; and it is therefore recommended that his application…to be mustered into the service as Colonel of the 10th New York Cavalry be granted.”  Had Holt simply grown weary of repeatedly reviewing the cases generated by and about Lemmon?  Had he bowed to perceived pressure from Lincoln and Stanton or did he honestly feel Lemmon deserved another chance to lead men in battle?  Whatever Holt’s motive or belief, Lincoln accepted his advice and ordered Lemmon re-commissioned to date from June 10, 1863.

But the War Department found an out; according to Major Avery, who wanted nothing to do with Lemmon returning, the understrength regiment had been re-organized from a full 12 companies to 8 companies during the Gettysburg Campaign.  Under army regulations the regiment no longer warranted a colonel.  Smelling a rat, Lemmon immediately protested to Stanton, telling him, “The major [Avery] in command of the regiment being opposed to my being mustered is not making the proper effort to procure drafted men for the regiment.”  With the matter still pending, Lemmon lost his ranking friend in the regiment when Major Waters resigned in October.  When Lieut. Colonel Irvine returned from a Southern prison he immediately re-opened all the old sores.

Lemmon appealed to Lincoln, telling the President, “I have served you and my country honestly and faithfully.  I have exposed immense frauds upon the government which have saved the nation a very large amount of money… and now to be prejudiced in your mind by men whom I suspect I have defeated in their swindling operations.”  Irvine countered by submitting the doctored petition concocted by Lemmon and Waters.  In time, the matter died.  The sudden lack of paperwork suggests Lemmon either realized the futility of his position or Lincoln, Stanton and Holt began to ignore his pleadings.

While Lemmon might have given up his efforts to return, he continued his quest to root out fraud and corruption, even after the guns fell silent.  He also continued to impress officials in the Judge Advocate General’s Office.  Levi Turner deemed the colonel “a reliable man,” even though “he had made a great deal of difficulty & trouble in the 10th New York Cavalry.”  Turner also saw Delos Carpenter, the former captain who had sworn to several of the complaints against his fellow officers which Holt had overturned, as a “candid, reliable man.”

In September 1862, one of Lemmon’s superiors asked to have an examination board convened to “examine into the capacity, qualifications, propriety of conduct and efficiency of the officers of the 10th N. Y. Cavalry.  There seems to be no other available means of correcting evils which threaten to disorganize a regiment which has the material to fit it for one of the best in the service.”  The officer asked for every officer to be called before the board, but some attention must have focused on Lemmon as the commander of the regiment.  What deficiencies and character flaws had Lemmon’s superiors repeatedly seen, which Holt, Turner and others did not see?

In time, Lemmon slipped from the news.  He died February 2, 1875 after marching in President Grant’s second inaugural parade in “horrible weather.”  In 1887 the Pension Bureau denied his widow’s pension request.

Most of the other officers involved in the cases described above slipped from the record as well, but Aaron Bliss moved to Michigan, became governor and sponsored the publication of the state’s regimental roster books which remain a boon to researchers and historians.

One hundred and fifty-five years later, can any of us separate the heroes from the villains with complete confidence?  Can we divine what might have been had these officers fought the enemy as hard as they fought each other?

The battlefields at Brandy Station and Upperville had barely gone quiet before veterans, North and South, began to recognize the growing supremacy of the Northern cavalry.  Historians have followed suit, citing battlefield prowess during the spring and summer as proof of the improvement, and the formation of the Cavalry Corps as the predominate reason for the improvement.  Lost in the exciting accounts of the many cavalry actions during the summer campaign is any in-depth examination of leadership within the corps; more specifically the rise of the junior officers.  Sure, some of us like to toss out the same old pithy comments denigrating Pleasonton and Kilpatrick while touting Buford and Gregg, but, except for Kilpatrick at Aldie, these generals are largely absent from accounts of the battles in the Loudoun Valley.

At Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville, captains and lieutenants turned the tide of battle more often than colonels or generals.  These men, many barely out of their teens, came from civilian life rather than the antebellum army.  They came with the best of intentions but devoid of experience.  They needed to learn how to be officers, and they needed someone who cared enough to teach them tactics and leadership, both in camp and amidst the chaos and stress of battle.  The speed of mounted combat was more unforgiving than infantry conflicts.  Cavalry officers simply did not have time to consider their options or pause to think back to what they learned on the drill field.  The speed of cavalry combat demanded instant, instinctive decisions.

I believe, although without any hard evidence to support my contention, that many more cavalry officers found themselves ordered before examination boards than infantry officers.  General George McClellan instituted the boards, in part, as a means of retaining only the very best cavalry officers at a time when the War Department was mustering cavalry regiments out of service in the winter of 1861-62.  Rather than facing an examination panel in the quiet calm of a room near camp, infantry officers endured the slaughter-pens on the Peninsula, and at Manassas and Fredericksburg; they learned the best attributes of leadership in the crucible of combat.  Young cavalry officers learned little on routine patrols and endless hours on a picket line; little, if anything, became instinctive.  Rather than becoming proficient dynamic leaders, many young cavalry officers became lackadaisical and indolent.  Maneuvers learned on the drill-field were forgotten on the picket line and discipline often fell apart.

In late-1862, though again without any hard evidence to support my belief, the army began summarily dismissing young officers, especially cavalry officers, for failure to perform as leaders.  Such rush to judgment, in which the men usually had no opportunity to explain their actions or confront their accusers, may have led, in part, to the dismissal of the officers discussed above.  But in time the harsh measures paid dividends.  The officers who survived did so because they finally accepted the need for discipline and had learned to instill discipline.  When finally given a larger role on the battlefield they began to see the practical reasons for the maneuvers they had learned on the drill field but had forgotten on the picket line.  Eventually, in the spring and summer, they became leaders of men when they finally endured their own crucibles of combat.  Once these young men learned to lead, the cavalry began to win on the battlefield.

Compared to other regiments, no contemporary official evidence supports the notion that Colonel Lemmon knew the cavalry drill or tried to instruct his officers and men.  Rather, he sought to root out fraud by cutting open and weighing bales of hay and examining pay-vouchers or, as described above, persecuting his officers and setting them against each other rather than against the enemy.  Rather than learning to lead and survive on the battlefield, Lemmon’s officers fought to survive the internecine conflict he created within his regiment.

When General Gregg wrote the introduction for the regimental history, as quoted in Part 1 of this post, he chose to recall the actions and character of the men and officers after Colonel Lemmon had departed.  Beginning with their stand on Brinkerhoff’s Ridge on July 2, 1863, the men began to erase the taint and stains of the previous months and showed themselves to be the valiant soldiers remembered by David Gregg.

 

With special thanks to Andy German, Jim McLean and Dan Murphy

Sources:

Documents from the National Archives

National Tribune

New York Tribune

Andrew Bledsoe, Citizen-Officers, The Union and Confederate Volunteer Junior Officer Corps in the American Civil War

Noble Preston, History of the Tenth Regiment of Cavalry New York State Volunteers

Edward Tobie, History of the First Maine Cavalry

 

 

 

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