Union Commanders at Gettysburg
General John Buford- The commander of a cavalry division in the Army of the Potomac, John Buford's troops encountered the head of a Confederate column on June 30th near Gettysburg. It was Buford who decided to stay in the area overnight and wait for the Confederates to return the following day. His choice would set the stage for the Battle of Gettysburg that began the following day, July 1, 1863.
General John Reynolds- One of the most highly respected and dynamic Union generals serving in the Army of the Potomac, Reynolds commanded the First Army Corps. Reynolds had reportedly declined an offer to command of the army and recommended fellow Pennsylvanian, George Gordon Meade. Having rushed his infantry to the battlefield on July 1, the general was encouraging his soldiers in a swift counterattack on Confederates in a grove of woods adjacent to the McPherson Farm when he was instantly killed. His loss from was sorely felt throughout the army.
Gen. Abner Doubleday- This New York officer took command of the First Corps after the death of its leader, General Reynolds. He deployed his experienced troops on a line west of Seminary Ridge and held the ground until overwhelming numbers forced his depleted regiments to retreat through Gettysburg. After the war he authored Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, his memoir and history of the two great battles that were his last with the Army of the Potomac.
General Winfield S. Hancock- Inspiring, bold, and daring, Hancock proved to be an outstanding field commander at Gettysburg. Meade sent Hancock as his representative to Gettysburg on July 1, where he took command of the chaotic situation. The general was everywhere the action was on July 2 and played a prominent role in sending troops to threatened areas. He nearly lost his life while directing a counterattack against Pickett's Virginians on July 3rd, an injury that would plague him for the rest of his life.
General Oliver O. Howard- Commanding the Eleventh Corps, this one-armed general took charge of the field after the death of Reynolds and secured Cemetery Hill as the final Union position for which he later received a congressional thanks. Howard later served in the Atlanta Campaign with General Sherman and in 1867 worked to establish a school for African Americans in Washington, DC, known today as Howard University.
General Henry Hunt- In charge of the Union artillery, his disciplined use of Union batteries played a major role in defeating the Confederate battle plans for July 2 and 3. Hunt's obsession with complete control of the army's artillery would conflict with infantry commanders at Gettysburg and elsewhere during the war.
General Daniel E. Sickles- A colorful politician turned general, Sickles led his Thirds Corps to Gettysburg, determined not to allow the Confederates to hold higher ground. His controversial move forward from Cemetery Ridge on July 2nd resulted in the bloodiest day of fighting, costing the general most of his corps and a leg. Awarded the Medal of Honor for his services at Gettysburg, he sponsored the 1895 legislation that made the battlefield a national military park.
Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren- Serving as Meade's Chief of Engineers, Warren was surveying the Union left when he spied Confederate forces moving around the Union left and toward Little Round Top. Realizing its importance, he rushed troops to the hill's defense, which ultimately saved the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. That evening, the exhausted Warren slept through Meade's Council of War. He later commanded the Fifth Corps in the Overland Campaign until a conflict with his superiors caused an abrupt end of his field command in 1865.
Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain- A school teacher by trade, Chamberlain had risen to the rank of colonel of the 20th Maine Infantry by Gettysburg. His battle tested veterans were pitched into a desperate fight with the 15th Alabama Infantry on July 2nd and despite nearly overwhelming odds, won the day at Little Round Top thanks to their colonel's stubborn guidance. By war's end, Chamberlain was a major general and placed in charge of accepting the Confederate surrender parade at Appomattox Court House.
Gen. George A. Custer- Long before he would meet his fate at Little Big Horn, Custer, as a newly appointed brigadier general, commanded a brigade of Michigan cavalry regiments. On July 3, 1863, he displayed his dynamic ability to lead men in battle, leading regiment after regiment in desperate charges that eventually won the day in the cavalry battle east of Gettysburg.
Lt. Alonzo Cushing- This 22 year-old West Pointer commanded Battery A, 4th United States Artillery. His battery was destroyed in the cannonade prior to Pickett's Charge though Cushing chose to remain on the field with his lone surviving cannon, which he served against the Confederate infantry attack until shot dead at his post. "Faithful unto death", his fanactical devotion to duty helped turn the tide at Gettysburg. In 2010, the United States Army approved a request to award him the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Dr. Jonathan Letterman- As Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac, his skills at organization and support were unequaled. The task of treating countless wounded in and around Gettysburg was left up to his undermanned staff that worked diligently to save thousands of wounded Union and Confederate soldiers. Many convalesced at "Camp Letterman", the general field hospital east of Gettysburg, before transfer to permanent hospitals in the North.
Alexander S. Webb- A newly appointed brigadier general, Webb was placed in command of the "Philadelphia Brigade" during the march to Gettysburg. During Pickett's Charge on July 3rd, his troops met and threw back the Confederate breakthrough at the Angle. His dynamic leadership made a difference in the Union defense even though he was so new to command that many of the soldiers in the brigade did not know who he was.
Lt. Frank A. Haskell- A Union staff officer at Gettysburg, Haskell was a model soldier and disciplinarian who was in the center of the Union line on July 2nd and 3rd where he witnessed most of the climactic events of the battle. He described his experiences in a lengthy letter to his brother that to this day is one of the most descriptive and eloquent battle narratives ever written. Unfortunately, Haskell was killed in battle the following year.
The Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg
Last updated: February 26, 2015