Major General Daniel Sickles led a very colorful life and is one of the more fascinating and flawed figures of the Civil War.
He was born to a well to do family in New York in 1819. Unlike many officers, he did not study at West Point but instead he studied law at the University of the City of New York. In 1847, he was elected to the New York State Assembly. In 1856 he was elected as a Democrat to Congress.
This, so far, seems an ordinary life path. He married Teresa Bagioli in 1853. Both sides of the family disapproved of the marriage, Sickles was 17 years older than his new bride.
His wife began having an affair with Phillip Barton Key II, son of Francis Scott Key. (Full disclosure: Sickles was a serial adulterer). Key was a young prominent lawyer in Washington DC and the district attorney. Sickles found out about the affair and on February 27, 1859, in broad daylight, he confronted Key in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House.
“Key you scoundrel!” Sickles said, “You have dishonored my bed, you must die!” With that he shot Keys twice and killed him.
The trial that followed was deemed the “Trial of the Century”. Sickles was represented by some of the best lawyers in the land and the defense of “temporary insanity” was used for the first time in Sickles’ trial. He was acquitted of the murder of Key.
Sickles received a commission a New York regiment, rising to the rank of major. By the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, Sickles had risen to the rank of Major General serving under General George Meade. On July 2, he enraged his commanding officer by disobeying orders to hold the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. Instead, he moved his troops forward towards a peach orchard. His position was overtaken by the Confederates causing a nearly 50% reduction of his troops. Sickles brash actions may have actually slowed Lee’s advance on Meade’s left flank.
Sickles was sitting on his horse, surveying the action, near the Trostle Barn, when a Confederate 12 pound cannonball hit him on the right leg. He was taken from this horse and a tunicate tightened around his badly mangled leg but Sickles showed his steel as he calmly smoked a cigar and continued to give orders, despite the pain, until he was taken off the battlefield. His right leg was later amputated. This ended Sickles’ field service in the military.
After his wounding, Sickles and his amputated leg, went to Washington. There the general met with Lincoln and his son Tad. Sickles’ leg went to a medical museum where it was put on display. His leg is still on display in what is now called the National Museum of Health and Medicine. Sickles would often visit his leg on the anniversary of his wounding.
Sickles also played a part in helping to preserveCivil War history. As a congressman he sponsored legislation to preserve the Gettysburg Battlefield which formed what is today, the Gettysburg National Military Park. The boundaries of the park where based on a map that General Sickles drew up.
Despite being responsible for creating the Gettysburg National Military Park, you will not find a single monument dedicated to General Sickles. When asked about this absence, Sickles replied, “The entire battlefield is a monument to Dan Sickles!”
On July 3, 1863, the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg, General Lee put a massive force on a frontal assault, across open ground, towards the Union’s line on Cemetery Ridge. This was to be the decisive battle of the campaign. And it’s outcome would dictate the future direction of the Civil War.
The assault first started at 1:00 PM with a massive artillery bombardment towards the Union line. Some 150 Confederate cannons tenderized the heart of the Union position. With all the cannon fire came a lot of smoke, which made aiming at your intended target problematic. Many rebel shells overshot their target, hence the shells that struck General Meade’s headquarters, which was further east from the heart of the Union line, but apparently not further east enough. The artillery assault did not break or severely weaken the Union center but Lee proceeded with the second part of this plan, the infantry charge.
At about 3:00 PM, the assault, which came to be known as Pickett’s Charge, began. The 6,000 Union troops positioned on Cemetery Ridge saw a line of Confederate soldiers appear out of the woods a mile away. The line was almost a mile in length. Pickett’s Charge had begun.
General George Pickett was another interesting figure in the Civil War. His classmates at West Point referred to him as the “goat”. Today that term, when applied to elite athletes, means “Greatest Of All Time” but in Pickett’s time it referred to his academic performance; he was last in his 1846 class at West Point. Pickett cut his teeth during the Mexican War fighting with many of the men he was now fighting against. While the charge now bears his name, Pickett was one of three commanders that led the charge. The charge could have bore any name of those behind it “Longstreet” or “Lee” but for whatever reason, it has gone down in history as “Pickett’s Charge”.
The 12,500 Confederate troops moved over the open ground towards the Emmitsburg Road. They were now open targets for the Union infantry and artillery that waited for them. Union artillery started to blow holes in the rebel line but the charge still moved on as holes in their advancing line was plugged by soldiers marching behind.
One of the Confederate commanders under Pickett was General Lewis Armistead. His story exemplifies the irony of the Civil War as brother fought brother and friend fought friend. Armistead was leading his men to attack one of his dear friends from his US Army days: Major General Winifred Scott Hancock.
Both men became friends while serving in California. In 1861, Armistead resigned from the US Army to join the Confederate Army (Armistead was a native of North Carolina). Hancock’s wife held a going away party for the men who where leaving to fight for the Southern cause and this was the last time that Armistead and Hancock spent together. Before he left, Armistead gave Mrs. Hancock his prayer book. Who know what was going through Armistead’s mind as he advanced toward this good friend with murderous intent. Could he really raise his sword against his friend?
The Confederates continued to move west toward Cemetery Ridge and as they moved closer, their losses grew higher. Still they advanced, filling in the holes caused by death and injury with men at the back. Still they marched towards the Copse of Trees.
The south concentrated there attack on the stone wall the turned in at a 90 degree angle. This location became known as “The Angle” or the “Bloody Angle”. Armistead led his men, his hat on sword point towards The Angle.
The Confederates reached what is know was the High Water Mark, on Cemetery Ridge. The High Water Mark is the farthest the Southern Army ever advanced into the north and it is where they where stopped, dead in their tracks, literally. This was the climax of the Confederate offensive, after this point, the South would be on the defensive for the remainder of the war.
Armistead reached a Union cannon after jumping over the small stone wall that formed The Angle. Armistead and this men were surrounded by Union troops and they were fired upon at point-blank range. The general was mortally wounded and he died without ever seeing his friend Hancock, who was also injured in the battle but he survived his wounds.
Pickett’s Charge had run out of steam and they soon where retreating back to the west. In this failed charge, 6,000 confederate soldiers were killed, wounded, or captured. Half of Pickett’s division was gone. When General Lee saw Pickett, he ordered him to reassemble his division to cover the retreat. General Pickett replied, “General, I have no division.”
One of the most famous speeches in American History was delivered at the dedication ceremony for the new National Cemetery at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863. This was four months after the turning point of the Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg.
This cemetery was created to be a permanent resting place for the Union soldiers that fell at the Battle of Gettysburg. The new cemetery is bordered by the existing Evergreen Cemetery. This cemetery was founded in 1854 and the only civilian killed during the battle, Jennie Wade, is buried at Evergreen. The front gate was the site of fighting on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg.
While the there is a monument to the Gettysburg Address on the grounds of the National Cemetery, featuring a bust of Lincoln, the speakers platform where Lincoln delivered the famous words was actually on the grounds of Evergreen Cemetery.
The most famous 272 words in American history, delivered my Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, November 19, 1863.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Lincoln arrived by train in Gettysburg they day before. While it is untrue that he wrote the speech on the train ride from Washington, he did put the finishing touches on the speech at David Wills house in the center of Gettysburg. Wills was a prominent lawyer who hosted the president during his stay in Gettysburg.
Sketching Note: the featured sketch is made up of the first hand written draft of the Gettysburg Address by President Lincoln. I attempted to imitate Lincoln’s script. The silhouette of Lincoln was sketched in the field, a few blocks from my house in San Francisco. It is a mural on the side of Lincoln High School, where my father was a graduate in 1950.
Three million people visit Gettysburg National Military Park every year, making it one of the most visited battlefields in American History.
People come to this battlefield to look over the landscape, read the carved marble words on monuments, and photograph the bronze statues.
There are 1,400 monuments, statues, markers, and tablets spread across the roughly 25 acres of the former battlefield of Gettysburg. The battle was fought over three days on July 1, 2, and 3 of 1863 in, but mostly around the town of Gettysburg.
So why did the Battle of Gettysburg happen at Gettysburg? General Lee moved the Army of Northern Virginia through Maryland and up into Pennsylvania in an attempt to cause a battle that would force Lincoln into peace talks. Looking at a map of Gettysburg, we see that all roads lead to this town, from all points on the compass. And there was plenty of coveted high ground to the north and south of Gettysburg.
Over the next few posts I will share some of the many sketches I did at Gettysburg (summoning my inner Alfred Waud). I spend three days exploring the rich history of this battlefield and it provided many sketching opportunities.
Before I go one any trip I like to add a title page and a map to my sketchbooks.
For my trip to Civi War battlefields in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania I chose to bring two Stillman and Birn hard cover watercolor journals. One is my new go-to favorite, the panoramic Delta Series journal. And the other is a Beta Series 5.5 ” X 8.5″ sketchbook. I love both of these papers and they are great for sketching on the road with pen and watercolor.
In the Delta journal I created the title page based on the famous image from Ken Burns’ documentary The Civil War, of a silhouetted canon and a glorious sunset in the background. This footage was filmed at Manassas in Virginia. This opening page is the featured sketch.
In my Beta sketchbooks I created a map of the places I would be visiting. All of the locations I would be visiting where within 90 minutes of each other. I distressed the map, covering it in mud and blood. Perhaps I added too much “blood”, but somehow since this is the Civil War it was fitting. It is estimated that about 620,000 Americans lost their lives during the Civil War.
In my Beta, created to spread to synthesize a lot of the information about my trip in a creative way. It is a montage of all the important facts of the trip. Well some of them at any rate. This was a fun page to do and involved a few different sketching techniques.
A few years ago a friend, who is a Civil War enactor, told me about the men who sketched Civil War battles, as they happened! He asked if I wanted to suit up and sketch one of their reenactments.
I didn’t get a chance to go back in time and sketch a “battle” but the idea of a sketcher that followed an army and pulled out a pencil and paper when battle erupted, truly intrigued me.
The age of photography was at least 30 years old by the time of the outbreak of the Civil War. However it was not a good medium for capturing a battle. The reason for this was that the camera had to be on a tripod and subjects had to hold still because of the long exposures necessary to expose an image on a glass plate. That is why many photographs of the Civil War generals or soldiers are of seated and sometimes standing, in rigid, staged poses. The other common photographs are of the dead, after a battle (the dead hold still, really well).
Photography proved to be an unsuitable medium for capturing a battle but a field sketch could be done quickly and then the field sketch would be sent back to New York and turned into an engraving, creating plates for illustrated newspapers.
One of the most notable Civil War Sketchers was Alfred Waud. He was born October 2, 1828 in London. As an art student he studied to be a marine painter. In the end he did not pursue this style but instead he painted theatrical scenery. Waud sailed for New York in 1850 in pursuit of work.
Waud is most well known for following the Army of the Potomac and sketching every battle from the first Bull Run to the Siege of Petersburg in 1965. During this time he worked for the New York Illustrated New and then he 1861, he sketched for Harper’s Weekly.
Waud was only one of two artists to sketch the Battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest battle in the Civil War and the turning point of the conflict. His sketches of Pickett’s Charge, on July 3, 1863, is thought to be the only visual account by an actual eyewitness.
“What we need to remember most of all is that the Civil War is not over until we, today, have done our part in fighting it, as well as understanding what happened when the Civil War generation fought it.” -Barbara Fields.
The Civil War. What a daunting episode in our nation’s history.
It is so daunting that it took me a long time to get around to read about it. And reading about it, takes real time and commitment. For example, Shelby Foote’s account of the war is told across three volumes and over 3,000 pages. The Civil War is the most written about event in American History. The estimate is around 100,000 volumes about out National bloodletting. The President of the Union, Abraham Lincoln, is the most written about historical figure, coming only second to Jesus. About 15,000 books have been written about Honest Abe. Where do you have the time? And where do you even start?
The impetus for me, was my late brother Greg. Greg was an educator of American History and a voracious reader of American nonfiction. One summer we decided to read a book that had been sitting on our book shelves for a while, gathering dust. It was yet another biography of Lincoln. But this one, had been hailed as the latest and greatest history of our 16th, and perhaps our greatest presidents. The book: David Herbert Donald’s Lincoln.
Over the summer we held our unofficial book club over the phone. We discussed Lincoln and his times and the events that shaped his presidency. Greg had to fill me in on many of the details of the Civil War. Now here was a huge void in my understanding of American History. I had avoided delving into the Civil War partly because of it’s overwhelming scope and breath as a subject and also because it seemed to be a blotch on our national character that was uncomfortable to face head on. How could it be that a nation called the “United” States of America be so ununited? (Sounds very contemporary I know!)
I wanted to read more about the Civil War and my brother suggested a very enjoyable read: the narrative and fictionalized historical account of the Battle of Gettysburg: Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels.
After reading the Lincoln biography and Shaarra’s masterpiece (which inspired the film Gettysburg) I asked my brother for a reading recommendation for the best single volume account of the Civil War. I wanted to understand the times and context of the Civil War without taking a lifetime to read about it. Greg’s response was Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson.
I bought Battle Cry of Freedom and like any great or important undertaking, it sat on my bookshelf awaiting the first turn of it’s 909 pages. I thumbed through the pages and looked at the photos but I could not bring myself to take the first step on this long journey of learning.
Then on April 5, 2021, Greg died.
His death was the impetus to finally start reading about our nation’s greatest struggle. I spent the summer reading Battle Cry of Freedom. This masterpiece covers the causes of the Civil War as well as focusing on the people who fought it and it’s battles.
I realized that to really understand the Civil War, you had to visit some of the battlefields. And the the one battlefield that seems to rise above the others is Gettysburg, the battle that became the turning point in the war. (spoiler alert: the North won).
I planned to visit Gettysburg and a few other battlesites in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. And before I take any trip, I do a bit of sketching.
This time I want to sketch the Dramatis personae of the Battle of Gettysburg. Four from the North and four from the South.
By the time of the Civil War, portrait photography was popular and many of the generals, North and South, sat to have their portraits taken. All off my sketches were draw from these portraits.
The North (Left to Right):
Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, head of the Army of the Potomac. Meade became the commander of the Army of the Potomac just three days before the first battle at Gettysburg. Meade’s horse “Old Baldy” was injured during Gettysburg but survived the General to participate in the general’s funeral procession in 1872.
Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds of the First Corps. Reynolds fought in the Mexican War become friends with Winfield Scott Hancock of the North and Lewis Armistead of the South.This Pennsylvanian was killed on the first day of battle on July 1, 1863. He was a friend and had served under General Meade.
Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain of the 20th Maine. He is know as the Fighting Professor and the hero of Little Round Top for his heroic bayonet charge. Chamberlin taught at Bowdoin College where he was not aloud to enlist, but went on a leave of absence and enlisted anyway. He is one of the key figures in Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels. Chamberlain suffered six wounds during the Civil War, eventually dying of them in 1914. He is said to be the final casualty of the Civil War.
Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock of the Second Corps, was fighting in his home state of Pennsylvania. During the fighting in the Peninsula Campaign, he received the nickname, “Hancock, the Superb”. He was wounded on the final day of the Battle while defending Cemetery Ridge against Pickett’s Charge.
The South (left to right):
Gen. Robert E. Lee, Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee was born in Virginia in 1807. In 1829, he graduated from the US Military Academy, second in his class. He married Mary Anne Curtis and he moved into her family estate home in Arlington, Virginia, later to become Arlington National Cemetery, first opened to bury the Civil War dead. In 1861, Lincoln offered Lee the command of the U.S. Army, he refused and on April 20, 1861, resigned his commission and fought for the South. Lee was a brilliant strategist in the Civil War but the Battle of Gettysburg proved to be his Waterloo.
Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, Commander of the First Corps. Nicknamed “Old Pete” Longstreet served in the Mexican War with many of the men he would be fighting against during the Civil War. Longstreet disagreed with Lee’s tactic on the third day at Gettysburg. He was reluctant to send men forward in what became known as “Pickett’s Charge” because he believed it would fail, which was ultimately the case.Longstreet became a critic of Lee after the war.
Maj. Gen. George E Pickett, head of Pickett’s division in the First Corps. Ranked last in his class at West Point, Pickett served in the Mexican War with Longstreet. The flamboyant Pickett lead the charged on the Northern position on Cemetery Ridge loosing almost his entire division in the process. On their retreat from the charge, Pickett encounter Lee and the General asked Pickett to rally his division for defense, to which Pickett replied, “General Lee, I have no division.”
Brig. Gen. Lewis A. Armistead, came from a military family. He was a West Point drop out that learned his trade during the Mexican War. During the last day of Battle of Gettysburg, Armistead led his Brigade, hat on sword, and made the deepest advance on the Northern lines, becoming mortally wounded in the process. The wounded General was misidentified as Longstreet and under a truce flag on July Fourth, a Northern messenger encountered the very much living Longstreet letting him know that the General “would be taken care of”. Old Pete “told the messenger he believed he could take care of himself quite well”.