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Volume 31, No. 10 – October 2018
Website:
www.CivilWarRoundTablePalmBeach.org

The President’s Message:

I am so pleased to announce that the Civil War Round Table of the Palm Beaches has a new location for our meetings.  Harold Teltser has worked very hard to secure a wonderful new meeting place.  His efforts are greatly are appreciated.

Starting Wednesday, October 10th at 7:00 PM the Round Table will meet at the Atlantis Council Chambers, 160 Orange Tree Drive, Atlantis 33462.

Directions from I-95 and Lantana Road:

1.      Exit on Lantana Road and go west on Lantana Road for 1.5 miles.

2.      Turn right onto South Congress Avenue 0.4 mile.

3.      Turn left onto Clubhouse Blvd. 0.3 mile.

4.      There is a guardhouse. However, you do not need to show identification. Simply wave and the guard will open the gate. If you do need further directions for the Council Chamber, please ask the guard.

5.      Turn right on Orange Tree Drive. Destination is the white building immediately on corner. Pull into parking lot.

 

Directions from US441 and Lantana Road:

1.      Go east on Lantana Road 6.9 miles.

2.      Turn left onto South Congress Avenue 0.4 mile

3.      Turn left onto Clubhouse Blvd. 0.3 mile.

4.      There is a guardhouse. However, you do not need to show identification. Simply wave and the guard will open the gate. If you do need further directions for the Council Chamber, please ask the guard.

5.      Turn right on Orange Tree Drive. Destination is the white building immediately on corner. Pull into parking lot.

 

 Atlantis Map

October 10, 2018 Program:

Is the name Mudd still a dirty word?  Janell Bloodworth will talk about Dr. Samuel A. Mudd.   The second half of the program Gerridine LaRovere will discuss Anna Elizabeth Dickinson, the highest paid female orator on the political circuit.  Her spoken words assured a Republican victory in Connecticut in 1863.

August 8, 2018 Program:

Marshall Krolick gave us a presentation titled The Boy Generals: The Promotion of Custer, Merritt, and Farnsworth. 

During the early morning hours of June 28, 1863 Joseph Hooker was relieved as commander of the Army of the Potomac and George Gordon Meade was appointed to replace him. This occurred while the army was at Fredericksburg, Maryland during a critical stage in the campaign which would culminate at Gettysburg. Less than twelve hours later, also on June 28, 1863, Meade sent the following telegram to General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck:

"To                                                                                                                         June 28, 1963

Halleck, Major General

To organize with efficiency the cavalry force now with this army, I require three Brigadier Generals. General Pleasonton nominates Captain Farnsworth, 8th Illinois Cavalry, Captain (sic) George A. Custer, 5th U.S. Cavalry, Captain Wesley Merritt, 2nd U.S. Cavalry. Can these officers be appointed?

Meade

Major General Commanding"

Without waiting for a response, Meade issued the following order on that same day:

 

"SPECIAL ORDERS,) HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,

No. 175. ) Frederick, MD., June 28, 1863

The following-named general officers are assigned to duty with the Cavalry Corps, and will report to Major-General Pleasonton: Brigadier-General Farnsworth, U.S. Volunteers; Brig. Gen. George A. Custer, U.S. Volunteers; Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt, U.S. Volunteers………

By command of Major-General Meade:

S. WILLIAMS,
Assistant Adjutant-General."

In fact, the Commissions sought were granted on June 29, 1863.

 

So the lives and fates of three young officers, two captains and a first lieutenant, were unalterably changed by one of the most unusual promotions in the history of the United States Army. These promotions can be readily understood if they had been made for cause, such as for great deeds, for battlefield bravery, for exhibited qualities of leadership, or for brilliant strategic and tactical ability. To determine if that was the case here, the lives and careers of the promoted officers up to June, 1863 must be examined.

MerrittCaptain Wesley Merritt was born on June 16, 1836 in New York City, but spent most of his early life in Illinois. Appointed to West Point, he graduated twenty-second out of forty-one in the class of 1860 and was commissioned a lieutenant in the 2nd Dragoons. Subsequently, Merritt served in Utah where one of his superiors was then Captain Alfred Pleasonton. After the outbreak of the Civil War, he marched back east with his regiment and, by February of 1862, Merritt was serving as aide-de-camp to Philip St. George Cooke, the commander of the Federal cavalry during the Peninsula Campaign. For the balance of that year he served as a staff officer in the Washington defenses. In the Spring of 1863, just prior to the Chancellorsville Campaign, he became an aide-de-camp to George Stoneman. At one point during the fiasco that has come to be known as Stoneman's Raid, Merritt commanded a detachment which was successful in burning bridges over the South Anna River and destroying railroad facilities. In late May, he renewed his relationship with Alfred Pleasonton by becoming an aide-de-camp on the latter's staff. However, early June found Merritt back with his old regiment, now known as the 2nd U.S. Cavalry, which he commanded at the Battle of Brandy Station. A contemporary described Merritt at this time as reticent, almost shy, but an old army type in that he was a tough disciplinarian, almost a martinet.

FarnsworthCapt. Elon J. Farnsworth was born July 30, 1837 in Green Oak, Michigan. His early life was spent in Michigan and then in Rockton, Illinois. In 1855 Farnsworth enrolled at the University of Michigan, but in 1858 he and several others were expelled for what was described as a "drunken escapade". Almost immediately he joined Albert Sidney Johnston's Mormon Campaign as a civilian forage master. After the Civil War began, he returned to Illinois to become a first lieutenant and adjutant in the 8th Illinois Cavalry, a regiment raised in the summer of 1861 by his uncle, John Farnsworth, a former Republican congressman. In December he was promoted to captain of Company K. Mule the regiment was quartered in Alexandria, Virginia in the winter of 1861-1862 Elon is reported to have physically pulled from the pulpit an Episcopal rector who had omitted from his service the normal prayer for the President of the United States. In the spring of 1863, Farnsworth joined the staff of Alfred Pleasonton. A description of Elon Farnsworth at this time by James Kidd, future colonel of the 6th Michigan Cavalry, pictured him as proud, ambitious and fiery, yet poised and discreet, a man true as steel to his country and to his convictions of duty and manhood.

CusterFirst Lieutenant George Armstrong Custer was born on December 5, 1839 in Ohio and spent his early years in Monroe, Michigan. At West Point he was ranked last in the class of 1861, a standing achieved partly because of the excessive time he spent under detention because of rules violations. His first assignments during the Civil War were as an aide on the staffs of Winfield Scott and George B. McClellan. By May 15, 1863 he had been appointed to the staff of Alfred Pleasonton, the new commander of the cavalry corps of the Army of the Potomac. In this capacity he rode with John Buford at the Battle of Brandy Station and there helped to rally the brigade of Grimes Davis after the latter's death early in the battle. A description of Custer is certainly unnecessary, but among the words which come automatically to mind are impetuous, flamboyant, brave, and vain.

Thus, as the armies rested after Chancellorsville, an evaluation of Merritt, Farnsworth and Custer would cite to jobs well done, but certainly not to careers of great distinction. Their performance, while commendable, was not any different from that of hundreds of other officers. In fact, such veteran colonels of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac as John McIntoch, William Gamble, George Chapman, Henry Davies and others could certainly expect promotion before junior grade staff and line officers. Yet, on June 28, 1863 these three young men were jumped from captain and first lieutenant to brigadier general and thus the obvious question is "why?" The answer clearly was not based on accomplishment or proven ability. That fact was confirmed by Custer himself. In a confidential letter written July 26, 1863 to his close friend and patron, Judge Christiancy of Monroe, Michigan, Custer expressed surprise.

Rather, the reasons for these unprecedented promotions are to be found in the deeds and minds of others, as a result of ambition, desire for power, bigotry and political intrigue. In fact, the three promoted officers were but pawns in a much larger game. To examine those circumstances two other individuals must be introduced to the cast of characters.

John FarnsworthThe first is John Farnsworth, uncle of Elon. Born in Quebec, Canada on March 27, 1820, he spent his early life in Ann Arbor, Michigan as a surveyor. In 1842 he relocated to St. Charles, Illinois and opened a law practice. Ten years later, in 1852, he moved his office to Chicago where he became a friend of Abraham Lincoln and quickly established a reputation as a virulent Lovejoy abolitionist. On that platform, and as a Republican, he was elected to Congress from Chicago in 1856 and again in 1858. However, by 1860 the political climate had moderated in his district as people of reason sought a less strident representative in an effort to avoid war. Thus John Farnsworth was defeated that year for renomination and he returned to his law practice in Chicago.

As did many politicians and men of prominence during the summer of 1861, in response to President Lincoln's call for troops John Farnsworth raised a regiment, the 8th Illinois Cavalry. He became its colonel and his nephew Elon was appointed a lieutenant. When the regiment moved to Washington in September, 1861, it was personally reviewed by the President, who referred to it as "Farnsworth's big abolition regiment". During the first year of the war, the 8th Illinois and its colonel performed adequately, if unspectacularly. However, by Antietam Uncle John was in command of a cavalry brigade in the division led by Alfred Pleasonton. On November 29, 1862, John Farnsworth was commissioned a brigadier general of volunteers, but that same month he had been re-elected to Congress. On April 4, 1863 he took his seat, resigning his army commission that same day. The fifth and final piece of the puzzle is in fact the prime mover of the entire scenario. He is a man whose name has already been associated with each of the other members of our cast of characters. That man, referred to by historian Edward Long acre as "The Knight of Romance" is, of course, Alfred Pleasonton. He was born in Washington, D.C. on July 7, 1824 and graduated from West Point in 1844, ranking seventh out of twenty-five. He saw service in the Mexican War, on the frontier, and in the campaign against the Seminoles. By 1860, Pleasonton was a captain in the 2nd United States Dragoons, serving in Utah where Wesley Merritt was a lieutenant and Elon Farnsworth was a civilian forage master. In the fall of 1861 he was ordered to march the regiment back to Washington and he served with it that winter in the Washington defenses. Promoted to major on February 15, 1862, he saw action during the Peninsula Campaign. On July 16, 1862, Pleasonton was appointed a brigadier general of volunteers and during the Antietam and Chancellorsville Campaigns he commanded a cavalry division. At Antietam one of his brigades was led by John Farnsworth. In early June, 1863, Pleasonton replaced George Stoneman as commander of the cavalry corps of the Army of the Potomac and was in command of all Federal troops on the field at the Battle of Brandy Station on June 9th.

PleasontonDescriptions of Alfred Pleasonton in the writings of his contemporaries often include such favorable terms as professionally competent, self-confident, and an able strategist and battlefield tactician. However, these are more than offset by the negative references, which include ambitious, desirous of power, vain, swaggering, overly concerned with his reputation and, most damning of all, an unprincipled liar, as witness his report of Brandy Station. In dress, he was a dandy, affecting fancy uniforms, a jaunty mustache, gauntlets, and a riding whip. To complete the picture, his relationship with the three young officers must be reviewed. At least two, his then current staff officers, Custer and Elon Farnsworth, regarded Pleasonton as a father figure, even to emulating his manner of dress.

That Custer returned this affection is evidenced by his gift to Alfred Pleasonton, in the spring of 1863, of a magnificent horse captured from a Confederate officer. As for Wesley Merritt, he had served directly under Pleasonton several times, including a short stint as aide-de-camp. Both Custer and Merritt had been previously recommended for promotion by Pleasonton. Last, but certainly not least, Elon Farnsworth was John Farnsworth's nephew and by June, 1863 John Farnsworth had become a most important man in Alfred Pleasonton's life. It was through the elder Farnsworth that Pleasonton hoped to accomplish what he wanted most in life at this time. These goals were: (1) promotion to major general; (2) an increase in the size of the Cavalry Corps, thereby making his command more important; (3) the appointment of subordinate commanders personally loyal to him so as to solidify his power base; and (4) elimination of foreigners from his command.

The last of these desires resulted from the fact that Alfred Pleasonton was a bigot, prejudiced against anyone not a native born American. He regarded all foreigners as inept mercenaries. To illustrate this, among his writings of this period can be found statements such as "In every instance foreigners have injured our cause". When Alfred Pleasonton assumed command of the Cavalry Corps, Europeans such as Sir Percy Wyndham, Luigi Di Cesnola and Alfred Duffie held important commands. In every instance, by the end of the Gettysburg campaign they were gone. In several cases these removals were for unjust cause fostered by Pleasonton.

However, in June of 1863, those gentlemen were not Pleasonton's prime target among the foreign born. That distinction belonged to an unfortunate Hungarian, Brigadier General Julius Stahel. This poor soul not only was a foreigner, but had the misfortune to be in command of a cavalry division, containing thirty-six hundred troopers, attached to the defenses of Washington. Alfred Pleasonton not only instinctively disliked Stahel because of the latter's foreign birth, but he also coveted Stahel's division as an addition to his cavalry corps. Thus communiques began to descend on Washington from Pleasonton's headquarters criticizing Stahel's performance and cooperation, although in fact at this time Stahel's troopers were providing better intelligence of Confederate movements than was Pleasonton.

 

To support his desire to populate the command structure of the cavalry corps with his own people, Alfred Pleasonton also resorted in June, 1863 to his always prolific, if not always truthful, pen. For example, his report of the Battle of Upperville, fought on June 21, stated: "Give me good commanders and I will give you good results".

However, above all, Alfred Pleasonton was a realist and a veteran observer of the politics of Washington. He knew letters alone would not accomplish his four goals. He needed a friend in court, a powerful political voice with the ear of Lincoln and the Radical Republican leadership of Congress. Fortunately, Pleasonton knew just where to turn, to his good friend and former subordinate, the Radical Republican congressman, the friend of Lincoln, John Farnsworth. Already Pleasonton had cemented their relationship by appointing Elon Farnsworth to his staff. In addition, Pleasonton and John Farnsworth had become regular correspondents since John Farnsworth left the army. Now Alfred Pleasonton peppered his letters to John Farnsworth with criticisms of Stahel, suggestions that the latter's division belonged with the Army of the Potomac, pleas that Pleasonton should be allowed to appoint his own officers, and queries why he as a corps commander was not a major general.

The schemes of Alfred Pleasonton reached their finest hour on June 23, 1863 when he wrote a letter, marked "private", to John Farnsworth.  It was full of venom directed at Stahel.

Not content with his own words, Alfred Pleasonton added the coup-de-gras. Enclosed with the letter to John was a note from nephew Elon:  "Pleasonton is still not a Major General. While Pleasonton has fought thru 3 severe battles, all this time Stahel has four or five thousand cavalry in and about Washington just doing nothing at all. Trains passing between here and Fairfax C.H. are burned by Bushwhackers, our dispatches intercepted and yet Stahel does nothing. Now if you can do anything to get the cavalry consolidated and Stahel left out, for Gods sake do it. You hardly know or can imagine the bitter feeling that exists among the officers of the cavalry towards Stahel and those who are trying to set him and other Dutchmen up, Duffie has failed on two occasions. The Gen'l. speaks of you can do are commending me for Brig. I do not know that I ought to mention it for fear that you will call me an aspiring youth. I am satisfied to serve through this war in the line in my Reg't as a Capt. or on Gen'l Pleasonton's staff. But if I can do any good anywhere else of course 'small favors and etc.' now try and talk all this into the President and do an immense good...

 

"Since these letters were written from the area of Aldie, only fifty miles from Washington, it can certainly be assumed that they reached John Farnsworth by the 25th, if not on the 24th. In determining the result of this and the other Pleasonton correspondence, an examination of the events of the next few days proves very interesting. On June 24, 1863, Alfred Pleasonton was nominated to the Senate for confirmation as a Major General. On June 28, Custer, Merritt and Farnsworth, Pleasonton's personal choices, were promoted to brigadier general. On that same day Julius Stahel was relieved from the command of his division. Also on June 28, Stahel's former division was added to the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac, giving Alfred Pleasonton a total force of over twelve thousand men. Thus, four goals had been set and four goals had been achieved.

The reaction of the three promoted officers was clearly revealed by how they handled the change of uniform in the midst of a volatile campaign. Merritt, quiet and understated, simply continued to wear what he had until he could obtain a proper general's uniform. Elon Farnsworth, fiery and dashing, borrowed a general's trappings from Alfred Pleasonton, whose dress he already was copying. And then there was George A. Custer. It is perhaps best to let Major James Kidd of the 6th Michigan Cavalry describe Custer's self-designed new attire when the latter arrived to assume his new command:

"my eyes were instantly riveted upon a figure only a few feet distant, whose appearance amazed if it did not for the moment amuse me. . . He was clad in a suit of black velvet, elaborately trimmed with gold lace, which ran down the outer seams of his trousers, and almost covered the sleeves of his cavalry jacket. The wide collar of a blue navy shirt was turned down over the collar of his velvet jacket, and a necktie of brilliant crimson was tied in a graceful knot at the throat, the long ends falling carelessly in front. The double rows of buttons on his breast were arranged in groups of twos, indicating the rank of brigadier general…"  It went on from there.  Another contemporary description, perhaps a touch more critical, stated that Custer's attire made him look like "a circus rider gone mad." "Three dashing and brilliant young officers, who have been appointed in violation of red tape and regardless of political influence because of their rare fitness to lead cavalry."

In any event, the promotions were made and duly confirmed. The three officers, regardless of the style of uniform they adopted, reported to their new commands. For Merritt, it was back to his old command, as he took over the Reserve Brigade, officially the Third Brigade of Buford's First Division. This division was assigned to lead the left front of the Federal advance into Maryland and Pennsylvania. Stahel's former division was designated as a new Third Division and divided into two brigades. The first was given to Elon Farnsworth and the second to George Custer. The latter brigade, consisting of the 1st, 5th, 6th, and 7th Michigan Cavalry regiments, would become famous under Custer's leadership as the "Michigan Brigade". The new commander of this third division was Judson Kilpatrick. Rash, foolish and reckless, without tactical or strategic ability, he would quickly earn his nickname, "Kill Cavalry". Unfortunately the "cavalry" referred to was usually his own, not the enemy's.  On July 3rd at Gettysburg, on the eastern edge of the town, Gregg's Second Division, aided materially by Custer's brigade, dueled Stuart as the latter attempted to gain the Federal rear. The key moment in this too often neglected action was the mounted charge of the 1st Michigan, personally led by George Custer, against the advance of the troops of Wade Hampton and Fitz Lee. This, of course, was the famous "C'mon you Wolverines" incident and it, and the way Custer handled his brigade generally, played an important role in Stuart's defeat.

Later that same afternoon, as the remnants of the divisions of Pickett, Pettigrew and Trimble were streaming back to Seminary Ridge, another cavalry charge was mounted, this time on the southern edge of the field and with tragically different results. The idiotic Judson Kilpatrick had decided that the Army of Northern Virginia was demoralized after its repulse. Thus he ordered Elon Farnsworth to make a mounted charge against the Confederate right, the divisions of Hood and McLaws, posted in the south end of the Devil's Den area, west of Big Round Top. This was an area of woods, fences, huge boulders, and broken ground, certainly no place for a cavalry attack. Upon Kilpatrick's orders for this suicidal charge, a Federal officer heard the following exchange between Kilpatrick and Elon Farnsworth:

"Farnsworth: "General, do you mean it? Shall I throw my handful of men over rough ground, through timber, against a brigade of infantry? The First Brigade has already been fought half to pieces; these are too good men to kill." Kilpatrick countered with the age-old charge: "Do you refuse to obey my orders? If you are afraid to lead this charge I will lead it." "Take that back!", Farnsworth shouted as he rose in his stirrups, his wrath blazing out of control. As Kilpatrick apologized the quarrel died down and Farnsworth said: "General, if you order the charge I will lead it, but you must take the responsibility."

When the attack began, Farnsworth and his men soon found themselves riding a gauntlet between two Confederate lines. As the troopers desperately sought an escape route, Elon Farnsworth was killed, his body pierced by five bullets. The reaction of Alfred Pleasonton when he heard of Farnsworth's death was to say "Nature made him a general". One can only wonder at the reaction of John Farnsworth, whose machinations with Alfred Pleasonton, not nature, had resulted in the promotion and subsequent death of his nephew.

As for Wesley Merritt, his assigned role on the Army's far left flank resulted in two other clashes on July 3rd. Badly outnumbered, one of his regiments, the 6th U.S., fought unsuccessfully at Fairfield against the cavalry guarding the Confederate trains. Later that day, just prior to Farnsworth's charge the remainder of Merritt's brigade battled Confederate infantry in an inconclusive action along the Emmitsburg Road.

So the Gettysburg Campaign ended and the actors on our stage went on to play out the roles in life that fate, and Alfred Pleasonton, had dealt them. For Alfred Pleasonton himself it was not to be a happy road, certainly not the one he had envisioned. By the spring of 1864, Meade had had enough of him. Pleasonton's testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War had supported Hooker, Butterfield, and Birney in their attacks against Meade. Also, Pleasonton's lies were catching up with him. Thus, when Grant brought Sheridan east with him, Meade was more than happy to let Alfred Pleasonton go. He was relieved from command of the Cavalry Corps on March 25, 1864. Banished to Missouri, he performed extremely well during Price's Raid and the balance of the war, but it was an arena without an audience. On the reorganization of the army in 1866 he declined an infantry command. However, his regular army rank was still only major of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry. Incensed that this left him subordinate in the regiment to those he had ranked during the war, he resigned. For thirty years he lived out a lonely life in Washington, holding minor government jobs for his livelihood. Alfred Pleasonton died on February 17, 1997. His bitter memories of his career in the army are best reflected by the fact that no reference to his military service appears on his tombstone.

As for the three young men whose careers Pleasonton's ambition had so profoundly affected, Elon Farnsworth of course was dead, forgotten today except for a restaurant in Gettysburg bearing his name and a monument over his grave in Rockton, Illinois. Custer's career needs no retelling here, except to emphasize that in 1864 and 1865 he performed brilliantly as a cavalry leader. Quiet, unassuming Wesley Merritt went on to enjoy one of the most distinguished careers in the history of the United States Army. His regular army promotions included colonel in 1876, brigadier general in 1887 and major general in 1895. For a period of time he served as Superintendent of West Point, and later commanded the forces in Philippines during the Spanish American War. Retiring in 1900, Merritt died in 1910 and was buried at West Point, near the grave of Custer.

So as a result of the ambition and conniving of Alfred Pleasonton, the lives of these three young men touch such diverse places as the foot of Big Round Top at Gettysburg, the Little Big Horn in Montana, and Manilla in the Philippines. One can only wonder where Elon Farnsworth, Wesley Merritt and George Custer would have gone and how different their lives might have been if they had not been pawns in the manipulations of Alfred Pleasonton.

Last Changed:  09/21/18