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Volume 36, No. 12 – December 2023

The President’s Message:

At the December 13th meeting I am pleased to have Adam Katz as our speaker.  His lively and very interesting talk will be about a soldier’s “best friend” – the sutler.  They were often helpful and devious at the same time.  Janell Bloodworth will also give a presentation entitled The Song that Brought Union and Confederate Soldiers Together.

In January, Robert Macomber will be making his twenty-first appearance at our Round Table meetings.  I kiddingly tell him that he will keep speaking until he gets it right.  I look forward to his program: The America’s Cup and the Civil War.  The remarkable story of a famous racer turned combat ship.

Gerridine LaRovere

November 8, 2023 Program:

Incompetent Civil War Generals


This presentation, delivered by Janell Bloodworth and Gerridine LaRovere was focused on three famously inept commanders.  One was Confederate, one was a German fighting for the Union, and the last was a pitiful “gentleman from New York.  Janell led it off with one of the most interesting rascals, James H. Ledlie born in Utica, NY.

Ledlie has been described as the Union’s worst general.  Contemporaries considered him a drunkard, a poltroon, and a glory seeker.  Though he combined incompetence with cowardice he rose to the rank of brigadier general, proving that lack of qualifications did not necessarily hamper a Civil War officer with the proper connections and influential friends.

Ledlie was born in Utica, New York.  His obituary in the New York Times claimed he graduatedLedlie from Union College, in Schenectady, New York, but the college has no record of his attendance there.  Ledlie worked as a civil engineer on the Erie Canal and in railroad construction.

Shortly after the start of the Civil War, Ledlie was appointed major of the 19th New York Infantry, which was subsequently renamed the 3rd New York Artillery regiment.  The history of this regiment was marred by a mutiny at the expiration of its original term of service.  Ledlie was promoted to colonel in December 1861, and was promoted to brigadier general in command of the Artillery Brigade of the Department of North Carolina in December 1862.  His appointment expired in March 1863 for lack of Senate confirmation, but he was reappointed in October 1863 and later confirmed.  For the next year and a half, he served primarily in garrison positions with North Carolina coastal artillery emplacements and in the Department of Virginia and North Carolina.

Just after the start of LTG Ulysses S. Grant's Overland Campaign in 1864, Ledlie transferred to the Army of the Potomac, commanding a brigade in Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside's IX Corps.  On June 9th he was put in command of the 1st Division to succeed BG Thomas G. Stevenson, who had been killed a few weeks earlier during the Battle of Spotsylvania.  It was in this command that his brief military career was ruined.

During the Siege of Petersburg, former coal miners in Burnside's corps devised an ingenious plan to lift the deadlock.  Grant wanted to defeat Lee's army without resorting to a lengthy siege.  LTG Henry Pleasants, commanding the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry offered a novel proposal to solve Grant's problem.  Pleasants, a mining engineer from Pennsylvania in civilian life, proposed digging a long mine shaft underneath the Confederate lines and planting explosive charges directly underneath a fort in the middle of the Confederate First Corps line.

On July 30, 1864, they detonated the explosives, creating a crater some 135 feet in diameter that remains visible to this day.  Some 250 to 350 Confederate soldiers were instantly killed in the blast.  The Union plan was to exploit the explosion by sending well-rehearsed African-American troops of Edward Ferrero's division into the gap and driving for critical objectives deep in the Confederate rear area.  These troops were particularly well trained for this operation.

However, MG George Meade, the commander of the Army of the Potomac, ordered a column of white troops to make the lead assault on the crater instead of Ferrero's division of African American troops, who were trained specifically for the task.  The change in battle formation was approved by General Ulysses S. Grant.  In his later testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, Meade claimed that he changed the order because the white troops were more experienced, which was not true, not because he lacked faith in the capabilities of the African American troops.  One of the commanders did not want to send in the black troops because if it turned out badly, they did not want this to be an affront to the black troops.

Burnside, despondent at the change in plans, resorted to a lottery to select a replacement division. Ledlie drew the short straw and disaster resulted.  His division was the smallest and weakest in the IX Corps, and he did not brief his troops beforehand and they entered the crater out of curiosity instead of moving safely around its rim, as Ferrero's division had been trained to do.  Unable to exit the steep sides of the crater, they were slaughtered by Confederates firing down on them.  3,798 Union troops were casualties in the ill-fated battle that achieved none of its objectives.  Most damning for Ledlie's reputation was the fact that he did not lead, or even accompany, his men into battle, and a few weeks earlier, during the attacks on Confederate entrenchments at Cold Harbor, he had run and hid for cover, an event that the enlisted men did not forget, but which managed to escape Burnside's attention.  During the Battle of the Crater, Ledlie and Ferrero were observed behind the lines in a bunker, drinking liquor.  Ledlie was criticized by a court of inquiry into his conduct that September, and in December he was effectively dismissed from the service by MG. Meade, on orders from Gen. Grant.  He formally resigned his commission on January 23, 1865.

Ledlie resumed his career as a railroad civil engineer in the West and South.  He participated in the construction of the transcontinental railroad as an employee of the Union Pacific.  He also worked on constructing the Nevada Central Railroad line from Battle Mountain to Austin, Nevada, racing to get the 92-mile line built in half a year to meet a deadline before a bond issue expired.  His crews got within two miles of the city limits of Austin before the deadline, and at the last-minute town officials quickly extended the city limits to meet the tracks.  Ledlie died at age 50 on Staten Island in 1882, and is buried in Forest Hill Cemetery in Utica.

Gerridine then picked up the discussion with Franz Sigel.  Sigel was born in 1824 in Germany.  HeSigel graduated from Karlsruhe Military Academy in 1843, and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the army of the Grand Duchy of Baden.  He met the revolutionaries and became associated with the revolutionary movement.  He was wounded in a duel in 1847. The same year, he retired from the army to begin law school studies in Heidelberg.  After organizing a revolutionary free corps in Mannheim, he soon became a leader of the Baden revolutionary forces.  In the 1848 Revolution, being one of the few revolutionaries with military command experience.  In April 1848, he led the "Sigel-Zug", recruiting a militia of more than 4,000 volunteers to lead a siege against the city of Freiburg.  His militia was defeated on April 23, 1848 by the troops of the Grand Duchy of Baden.  In 1849, he became Secretary of War and commander-in-chief of the revolutionary republican government of Baden.  Wounded in a skirmish, Sigel had to resign his command but continued to support the revolutionary war effort.  In July, after the defeat of the revolutionaries by Prussian troops Sigel led the retreat of the remaining troops in their flight to Switzerland.  Sigel later went on to England.  Sigel emigrated to the United States in 1852, as did many other German “Forty-Eighters.”

Sigel taught in the New York City public schools and served in the state militia.  He married a daughter of Rudolf Dulon and taught in Dulon's school.  In 1857, he became a professor at the German-American Institute in St. Louis, MO.  He was elected director of the St. Louis public schools in 1860 and was influential in the Missouri immigrant community.  He attracted Germans to the Union and antislavery causes when he openly supported them in 1861.

It is interesting to note that he jumped from career to career to career.  Shortly after the start of the Civil War, Sigel was commissioned colonel of the 3rd Missouri Infantry, a commission dating from 4 May 1861.  He took part in the capture of Camp Jackson in St. Louis by BG Nathaniel Lyon on May 10th.

In the summer of 1861, President Lincoln actively sought the support of antislavery, pro-Unionist immigrants.  Sigel, always popular with the German immigrants, was a good candidate. He was promoted to brigadier general on August 7th by Lincoln.  In June, Sigel led a Federal column to Springfield in southwest Missouri.  He then moved to Carthage, to cut off the retreat of pro-Confederate Missouri State Guard troops.  In the subsequent Battle of Carthage on July 5th  Sigel's outnumbered force was driven back.  Sigel then joined his troops with the army under Lyon, which marched to Springfield to the Battle of Wilson's Creek, on August 10th. He led a flanking column which attacked the rear of the rebel force, but was routed.  After General Lyon was killed, Sigel assumed command of the army, and conducted the retreat.

In early 1862, Sigel was given command of two divisions of the Army of the Southwest under Samuel R. Curtis.  The army moved through Springfield into Arkansas, and met Confederate troops under MG Earl Van Dorn in the Battle of Pea Ridge on March 8th and 9th.  Sigel's finest performance was in this battle.  His troops fought well, and on March 9th he personally directed the Union artillery in the attack which routed the Confederates.  Sigel was promoted to major general on March 21, 1862.  He served as a division commander in the Shenandoah Valley and fought unsuccessfully against MG Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, who outwitted and defeated the larger Union force in a number of small engagements.  He commanded the I Corps in MG John Pope's Army of Virginia at the Second Battle of Bull Run, another Union defeat, where he was wounded in the hand.

Over the winter of 1862–63, Sigel commanded the XI Corps, consisting primarily of German immigrant soldiers.  When Ambrose Burnside assumed command of the Army of the Potomac, he instituted 'grand divisions', consisting of two corps each; Sigel assumed command of the Reserve Grand Division, consisting of the XI and XII Corps.  The Reserve Grand Division saw no action; it stayed in reserve during the Battle of Fredericksburg.  After the battle, and the dissolution of the grand divisions, Sigel returned to command of the XI Corps.  He had developed a reputation as an inept general, but his ability to recruit and motivate German immigrants kept him employed in a politically sensitive position.  Many of these soldiers could speak little English beyond "I'm going to fight mit Sigel", which was their proud slogan and which became one of the favorite songs of the war.

They were quite disgruntled when Sigel left the XI Corps in February 1863, and was replaced by Major-General Oliver O. Howard, who had no immigrant affinities.  The reason for Sigel's relief is unclear.  Some accounts cite failing health; others that he expressed his displeasure at the small size of his corps and asked to be relieved.  Many historians also cite the lack of military prowess and skill.  On multiple occasions, he made terrible military decisions, resulting in deaths of his soldiers.  General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck detested Sigel, and managed to keep him relegated to light duty in eastern Pennsylvania until March 1864.  President Lincoln, for political reasons, directed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to place Sigel in command of the new Department of West Virginia.

In his new command, Sigel opened the Valley Campaigns of 1864, launching an invasion of the Shenandoah Valley.  He was soundly defeated by MG John C. Breckinridge at the Battle of New Market, on May 15, 1864, which was particularly embarrassing due to the prominent role played by young cadets from the Virginia Military Institute.  After the battle, Sigel was replaced by MG David Hunter. In July, Sigel fought LTG Jubal A. Early at Harpers Ferry, but soon afterward was replaced by Albion P. Howe.  Sigel resigned his commission on May 4, 1865.

He worked as editor of the Baltimore Wecker for a short time, and then as a newspaper editor in New York City.  He filled a variety of political positions there, both as a Democrat and a Republican.  In 1869, he ran on the Republican ticket for Secretary of State of New York, losing to the incumbent Democrat Homer Augustus Nelson.  In May 1871 he became the tax collector for the City of New York.  Then in October 1871 he became register of the city.  In 1887, President Grover Cleveland appointed him pension agent for the city of New York.  He also lectured, worked in advertising and published the New York Monthly, a German-American periodical, for some years.  Franz Sigel died in New York in 1902 and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.

Statues of him stand in Riverside Park, corner 106th Street in Manhattan and in Forest Park in St. Louis, Missouri.  There is also a park named for him in the Bronx, just south of the Courthouse near Yankee Stadium.  Siegel Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn was named after him, Sigel Street in Worcester, Massachusetts was also named after him, as well as the village of Sigel, Pennsylvania, founded in 1865, in addition to Sigel, Illinois, which was settled in 1863.  Sigel Township, Minnesota, settled in 1856 and organized in April 1862, was also named for Sigel. There is a street named after him on the western campus of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in St. Louis.

John Buchanan Floyd was born on June 1, 1806, on the Smithfield plantation near Blacksburg, Virginia.  He was the eldest son of the former Laetitia Preston and her husband, Governor John Floyd.  His brother, Benjamin Rush Floyd, served in both houses of the Virginia General Assembly but failed to win the election to the U.S. Congress.  His sister Nicketti married U.S. Senator John Warfield Johnston; his sisters Letitia Preston Floyd Lewis and Eliza Lavallette Floyd Holmes also survived their brothers.  The elder Floyd served as a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1817 to 1829 and as governor of Virginia from 1830 to 1834.

Floyd graduated from South Carolina College in 1826 (by some accounts 1829).  He was a mFloydember of the Euphradian Society, collegiate debating and literary society.  It was also known as Phi Alpha Epsilon (ΦΑΕ), founded in 1806 and was in existence until 1986.  He married his cousin, Sarah (Sally) Buchanan Preston.  They had no children.  Some claimed Floyd had a daughter, Josephine, who married Robert James Harlan in 1852.  Admitted to the Virginia bar in 1828, Floyd practiced law in his native state and at Helena, Arkansas, where he lost a large fortune and health in a cotton-planting venture.  In 1839, Floyd returned to Virginia and settled in Washington County.  Voters elected him to the Abingdon town council in 1843 and the Virginia House of Delegates in 1847, and he won re-election once, then resigned in 1849 upon being elected governor of Virginia.  As governor, Floyd commissioned the monument to President George Washington in Virginia Capitol Square, and laid the cornerstone in the presence of President Zachary Taylor on February 22, 1850.

When he left statewide office in 1852, Washington County voters again elected him to the Virginia House of Delegates.  Floyd also bought the Abington Democrat newspaper, but he did not do well with it as the paper was sold at auction to pay the paper's debts.  Active in Democratic Party politics, the former governor was a presidential elector for James Buchanan.  In March 1857, Floyd became Secretary of War in Buchanan's cabinet, where his lack of administrative ability was soon apparent, including the poor execution of the Utah Expedition.  The Utah War (1857–1858), also known as the Utah Expedition, the Utah Campaign, Buchanan's Blunder, the Mormon War, or the Mormon Rebellion, was an armed confrontation between Mormon settlers in the Utah Territory and the armed forces of the US government led by Albert S. Johnston.  There were 126 killed, most of which were non-Mormon civilians.  The war had no notable military battles.  Although the conflict cost Brigham Young his governorship, full amnesty was granted to all.


Floyd is implicated in the scandal of the "Abstracted Indian Bonds", which broke at the end of 1860 as the Buchanan administration was reaching its end.  His wife's nephew Godard Bailey, who worked in the Interior Department and removed bonds from the Indian Agency safe during 1860, was also implicated.  Among the recipients of the money was Russell, Majors, and Waddell, a government contractor that held, among its contracts, the Pony Express.  In December 1860, on ascertaining that Floyd had honored heavy drafts made by government contractors in anticipation of their earnings, the president requested his resignation.  Several days later, Floyd was indicted for malversation in office, although the indictment was overruled in 1861 on technical grounds.  No proof was found that he profited from these irregular transactions; in fact, he left office financially embarrassed.

Although he had openly opposed secession before the election of Abraham Lincoln, his conduct after the election, especially after his breach with Buchanan, fell under suspicion.  In the press, he was accused of sending large stores of government arms to federal arsenals in the Southern United States in anticipation of the Civil War.  Ulysses Grant, in his postwar Personal Memoirs, wrote: "Floyd, the Secretary of War, scattered the army so that much of it could be captured when hostilities should commence, and distributed the cannon and small arms from Northern arsenals throughout the South so as to be on hand when treason wanted them."  After his resignation, a congressional commission in the summer and fall of 1861 investigated Floyd's actions as Secretary of War.  His records of orders and arms shipments from 1859 to 1860 were examined.  In response to John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, he bolstered the federal arsenals in some Southern states by over 115,000 muskets and rifles in late 1859. He also ordered heavy ordnance to be shipped to the federal forts in Galveston Harbor, Texas, and the new fort on Ship Island off the coast of Mississippi.

His resignation as secretary of war on December 29, 1860, was precipitated by the refusal of Buchanan to order Major Robert Anderson to abandon Fort Sumter, which eventually led to the start of the war.  On January 27, 1861, he was indicted by the District of Columbia grand jury for conspiracy and fraud.  Floyd appeared in criminal court in Washington, DC, on March 7, 1861, to answer the charges against him.  According to Harper's Weekly, the indictments were thrown out; in the words of the paper “squashed.” 

After the secession of Virginia, Floyd was commissioned a major general in the Provisional Army of Virginia, but on May 23, 1861, he was appointed a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army.  He was first employed in some unsuccessful operations in the Kanawha Valley of western Virginia under Robert E. Lee, where he was both defeated and wounded in the arm at the Battle of Carnifex Ferry on September 10th.  General Floyd blamed Brigadier General Henry A. Wise for the Confederate loss at the Battle of Carnifex Ferry, stating that Wise refused to come to his aid.  Virginia Delegate Mason Mathews, whose son Alexander F. Mathews was Wise's aide-de-camp, spent several days in the camps of both Wise and Floyd to seek resolution to an escalating feud between the two generals.  Afterward, he wrote to President Jefferson Davis urging that both men be removed, stating, "I am fully satisfied that each of them would be highly gratified to see the other annihilated."  Davis subsequently removed Wise from his command of the western Virginia region, leaving Floyd as the region's unquestioned superior officer.

In January 1862, he was dispatched to the Western Theater to report to General Albert Sidney Johnston and was given command of a division.  Johnston sent Floyd to reinforce Fort Donelson and assume command of the post there.  Floyd took command of Fort Donelson on February 13th, just two days after the U.S. Army had arrived, becoming the third post commander within a week.  Fort Donelson protected the crucial Cumberland River, and indirectly, the manufacturing city of Nashville and Confederate control of Middle Tennessee.  It was the companion to Fort Henry on the nearby Tennessee River, which, on February 6, 1862, was captured by United States Army Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant and river gunboats.  Floyd was not an appropriate choice to defend such a vital point, having political influence but virtually no military experience.  General Johnston had other experienced, more senior generals (P.G.T. Beauregard and William J. Hardee) available and made a severe error in selecting Floyd.  Floyd had little military influence on the Battle of Fort Donelson itself, deferring to his more experienced subordinates, Brigadier Generals Gideon Johnson Pillow and Simon Bolivar Buckner. As the U.S. forces surrounded the fort and the town of Dover, the Confederates launched an assault on February 15th to open an escape route.  Although successful initially, indecision on General Pillow's part left the Confederates in their trenches, facing growing reinforcements for Grant.

Early in the morning of February 16, at a council of war, the generals and field officers decided to surrender their army.  Floyd, concerned that he would be arrested for treason if captured by the U.S. Army, turned his command over to Pillow, who immediately turned it over to Buckner.  Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest and his entire Tennessee cavalry regiment escaped while Pillow slithered off on a small boat across the Cumberland.  The next morning, Floyd fled by steamboat with the 36th Virginia and 51st Virginia Infantry regiments, two artillery batteries, and elements of the other units from his old command.  He safely reached Nashville, escaping just before Buckner surrendered to Grant in one of the most significant strategic defeats of the Civil War.

Floyd was relieved of his command by Confederate President Davis, without a court of inquiry, on March 11, 1862.  He resumed his commission as a major general of the Virginia Militia.  However, his health soon failed, and he died a year later at Abingdon, Virginia, where he was buried in Sinking Spring Cemetery.


Last changed: 11/30/23