Does Dan Sickles Deserve a Statue at Gettysburg?

This coming Monday, one of my students will present his case for the erection of a statue at Gettysburg to Daniel E. Sickles, who commanded the Third Corps of the Army of the Potomac at that battle until he was seriously wounded on July 2. Here is a chance for all of you to weigh in on that question (poll to follow). After all, not every Gettysburg commander commemorated with a statue at Gettysburg proved to be a success there (hello, Francis Barlow). Where would you place said statue?

41 thoughts on “Does Dan Sickles Deserve a Statue at Gettysburg?

  1. Bob Huddleston April 26, 2013 / 2:10 pm

    We snet some money for the Longstreet statue but, in retrospect, it was a mistake. Not because Old Peter did not deserve one, but the great need in CW preservation is not more statues but rather land preservation.

  2. Jerry Desko April 26, 2013 / 2:15 pm

    Whether you agree with his movement forward or not, he was a proactive commander plus most of the derisive comments about him are not from those he commanded. The fact that he was wounded shows he was in the center of the storm not back in a bomb proof.

    E.P. Alexander believed Sickles’s action was a terrific obstacle for the CSA on day 2.

    He was in fact responsible for the federal preservation of that field.

    Most people judge him subjectively, all historians should be OBJECTIVE. Unfortunately for Sickles, he was his own worst enemy by his words and sometimes actions. I believe the scales tilt in his favor.

    He deserves his own memorial statue on the field of a full figured warrior and or equestrian representation.

    Excelsior Historicus!

    • Christopher Jemmett April 29, 2013 / 9:52 pm

      Absolutely Jerry, we should take Dan in the context of what happened during those 3 days and not by previous or subsequent behaviour. Longstreet in his memoirs claimed that Dan foiled his plans, and remember he moved forward without Calvary support, Bufford requested to be stood down and Meade granted it, leaving Dan seriously short. Also remember Berdans sharpshooters would have reported on the terrain between him and Longstreet, and if you are sitting along that original line, that he was supposed to be in, you would not want Longstreet coming out of those trees at you with Alexander bringing up his artillary so close!!! No the man took a stand and met the enemy on ground of his choosing in spite of his shortages and lack of support. And like said before he was there up front and paid the price dearly only to be still thinking of his men and their moral as he was carried off the field. Yes he deserves a statue.

      • M.D. Blough April 29, 2013 / 10:34 pm

        Call me silly, but his claim that he responded to feeling exposed on his flanks by moving forward to a position cut off even further from any support on either flank and, to make really sure he wasn’t supported, he didn’t notify the commander of the corps next to him as to what he was about to do, doesn’t make sense.

        • John Foskett April 30, 2013 / 8:13 am

          Yep. And in his simple-minded quest for “higher” ground he apparently didn’t understand that quality of the ground mattered at least as much. If any of his battery commanders were around today, they’d emphatically agree. He ended up with some horrible turf for the practice of gunnery.

      • Tim Hauser July 1, 2013 / 9:05 am

        I couldn’t agree more wholeheartedly. The man, despite his baggage, is a hero, and deserves such recognition. Tim Hauser

        • John Foskett July 1, 2013 / 3:30 pm

          How on earth was he a “hero”? As opposed to an arrogant, insubordinate fool who had no concern for, or apparent understanding of, the idiocy of his unilateral movement and what it meant for the poor foot soldiers who paid for it with their lives, both in his own corps which he wrecked and in the corps which were forced to try to salvage the debacle he created. His actions at Gettysburg are little different in character from his murder of Key and his embezzlement of money intended by the givers for other uses.

  3. bdhamp April 26, 2013 / 2:25 pm

    See, what should happen is they should tear down the Longstreet monument, then make a new one with Dan and Pete as old men, arm in arm, in a pose that looks as though they are drunkenly stumbling down a dark alley together. Pete will have an earhorn sticking out the side of his head. Dan will have a peg-leg.

    I think I may need counseling.

  4. Michael Lynch April 26, 2013 / 2:37 pm

    I say no, but not because I have a problem with Sickles. I just think modern monuments on battlefields are a little superfluous. Preserve and maintain the ones we have, since they’re artifacts in their own right, but I think money for new statues could better be used elsewhere.

  5. SF Walker April 26, 2013 / 3:50 pm

    I think Dan Sickles should have a statue at the Peach Orchard at Gettysburg. It’s true that his placing of III Corps there, a mile in front of the Union line, was blatantly insubordinate and doomed that corps to destruction. On the other hand, it may have unintentionally served to dilute Longstreet’s attack on the Union left, which might have been turned by a more concentrated Confederate assault using McLaws’ and Hood’s divisions together. Since that didn’t occur, though, it’s hard to say what the outcome would have been for sure.

    But, as Dr. Simpson mentioned, other officers who didn’t perform too well at Gettysburg have been honored, so why not Sickles, whose Medal of Honor was awarded in part for his service there?

    • John Foskett April 28, 2013 / 8:26 am

      The answer as to “why not” is explored thoroughly elsewhere in this thread. With regard to the CMoH, however, I would add that those were a dime a dozen for the ACW and, oddly, virtually none were awarded to those who actually died performing heroic acts. Knowing Sickles and his Tammany ways, I suspect that his in particular was the result of some good old-fashioned lobbying.

    • Gary Dombrowski April 29, 2013 / 8:03 pm

      How many other Corps commander’s actions almost brought about the destruction of their corps?

      • SF Walker April 30, 2013 / 12:43 pm

        John and Gary–I can’t disagree with you fellows on this one–unlike “Dangerous” Dan, I know better than to try to defend a hopeless position!

  6. Al Mackey April 26, 2013 / 3:51 pm

    The whole park is his statue. πŸ™‚

    • Brooks D. Simpson April 27, 2013 / 10:56 am

      There is a relief of Sickles on the New York monument in the national cemetery (his name is also on the New York officers’ monument).

  7. ian duncanson April 26, 2013 / 4:43 pm

    Without Sickles reckless action on July 2nd, there would be no Peach Orchard, Wheatfield, Stoney Hill, Devil’s Den, Slaughter Pen or Little Round Top in the lore of The Battle of Gettysburg. His statue should be placed at his wounding site.

  8. wgdavis April 26, 2013 / 4:56 pm

    No statue…for an act of purely blind dumb luck he forced Longstreet’s attack to redirect, and his men paid the price as did he. Had he remained in place as ordered on Munshower’s Knoll, he would have been in position to roll out behind Hood as Hood went past with his right flank perpendicular to Sickles. The major problem that Sickles created was the difference in having the VIth Corps nearly right behind him in reserve, and being a mile farther out, with both flanks in the air, and gaps in his line that were uncovered. The cost, not just to him and his men, but to those in the Vth and IInd Corps that were sent to plug the gaps, and the disruptions that led to in the main defense of the AoP simply means it was a massive blunder, which he so ably overcame by being the first back to Washington so he could tell anyone who would listen that his stratgem saved Meade’s bacon [in in doing so, he seriously damaged Meade’s reputation and career.]

    Otherwise, a second NO vote due to the rather excessive personal baggage that came with Dangerous Dan Sickles.

  9. Tony April 27, 2013 / 5:14 am

    I would rather see statues to Sherman and McPherson in Vicksburg πŸ™‚

  10. M.D. Blough April 27, 2013 / 7:19 am

    Longstreet’s statue was a step towards correcting a historic injustice. As for Sickles, I think his men and his state had every opportunity to choose to honor Sickles during his very lengthy lifetime. If Sickles himself had wanted one, he was so heavily involved in the creation of the Gettysburg National Military Park that he surely could have managed it. There is a marker noting where he was wounded.

    To add to what wgdavis, there is also the effect that the disruptions in AOP’s intended battle line created by having to respond to Sickles’ actions had on the AOP’s ability to go after Lee after the battle. Even if he was right, which I don’t believe, there is nothing that can justify him moving out without even notifying Hancock, the commander next to him.

    • Joshism April 28, 2013 / 8:28 pm

      Did Sickles say something to the effect of “I don’t want a monument at Gettysburg; the whole battlefield park IS my monument”?

      • M.D. Blough April 28, 2013 / 8:54 pm

        Sickles is reported as having said that at the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the battle. I think he was paraphrasing the famous epitaph of Sir Christopher Wren, who played a critical role in rebuilding London after the great fire, including designing St. Paul’s Cathedral, where he is buried. Wren’s epitaph, translated from Latin to English, is “”Underneath lies buried Christopher Wren, the builder of this church and city; who lived beyond the age of ninety years, not for himself, but for the public good. If you seek his memorial, look about you.””

  11. John Foskett April 27, 2013 / 7:53 am

    I like irony. Erect a statue to a guy who had to leave his position on the New York Mouuments Commission because of embezzlement. In a possibly more relevant vein, I echo the view expressed above that there’s already enough granite cluttering the landscape over there. Moreover, whatever positive impact Sickles had on the Union effort was sheer accident. Given what he knew and the alignment of his supports, the move was stupid and resulted in the virtual destruction of his corps. Add in his unseemly attempts at post-battle justification which were right out of the corrupt Tammany arsenal of devices and I submit a resounding “no”. Note that I haven’t mentioned his historical analogy to the O.J. verdict.

    • SF Walker April 28, 2013 / 9:31 am

      All good points, John–perhaps a more fitting location for a Sickles statue is Lafayette Square, where he shot Key and got away with it. The likeness of an unscrupulous politician would be more harmonious with the atmosphere of D.C., anyway.

      L’Enfant was being truly prophetic when he laid it out as a town that goes around in circles.

      • John Foskett April 28, 2013 / 12:13 pm

        I like that idea. The only thing missing from that escapade was Dan riding away from the courtroom on a white bronco. Edwin Stanton:Johnnie Cochrane as Dan Sickles: [blank]. πŸ™‚

        • SF Walker April 30, 2013 / 12:45 pm

          Good one! Come to think of it, Dan probably rode away from that one WITH his hat and gloves.

  12. Jerry Desko April 27, 2013 / 10:43 am

    “It’s not what we don’t know about history that causes mischief, it’s what we think we know – but really don’t – that leads us astray.” Dr. William Glenn Robertson

    Brooks, I look forward to your student’s paper. Will we be able to access it?

    • Brooks D. Simpson April 27, 2013 / 10:57 am

      It’s an in-class presentation where he has to make the case to a board of students that Sickles deserves a monument.

  13. rcocean April 27, 2013 / 10:48 am

    Of course. He was wounded Corps commander. Yes, he was a back-stabbing, insubordinate, border-line incompetent politico, but he was doing his best and was a fighter.

  14. Kalyn Behnke April 27, 2013 / 12:55 pm

    I know that it seems a tad unfair that Sickles is one of the few Union generals to not get a statue at Gettysburg, but the idea of honoring such a vain and blundering man feels a tad ridiculous.

    • Brooks D. Simpson April 27, 2013 / 1:23 pm

      And yet there is always poor George Sykes … two headquarters markers, but no statue. The forgotten hero of Gettysburg, whose men stopped the Confederates at the Wheatfield and Little Round Top.

      • wgdavis April 29, 2013 / 8:23 am

        But seriously, Meade, of course, and Hancock, and Reynolds, who all distinguished themselves at Gettysburg, certainly deserve to be memorialized, and probably Slocum, but Sedgwick?

        None of the others, beyond Reynolds and Hancock, led from the front like they did. That is truly deserving of monumentization. I don’t see Sykes in the Wheatfield, or on Little Round Top. Sedgwick is in the rear in reserve, Sickles far too controversial [and his wounding was at his HQ, not in front of the troops], and to a somewhat lesser extent so is Howard. Slocum did not lead from the front, but managed a pretty stern defense of a lot of territory, though still from the rear. Newton was not heard from after succeeding the temporary Doubleday. Birney would deserve some consideration for extricating what he could from Sickles mess.

        The survivors of the 1st corps pretty much fought all three days. Same for 11th Corps, but again, I find Howard’s leadership lacking especially on the first day. 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 12th didn’t arrive in time for the first day’s fight but were involved in the last two days. And 6th Corps was in reserve the whole time.

        Buford, Custer and Gregg deserve some consideration too, but certainly not Killcavalry.

        I would like to see a tribute to Custer there. His actions during the campaign were full of audacity, something desperately needed from the Union Cavalry, and he put it to JEB Stuart on 3 days during the campaign.

        Alas, I fear PC/DC politics would prevent that from ever happening.


        • John Foskett April 29, 2013 / 10:41 am

          These are interesting points. I do think that there is something to the notion that once you reach the corps level of command it;’s time to stow away the histrionics and front-line drama. Presumably (and several – Sickles, Howard, Sedgwick – might refute this with their mediocrity), you’ve been picked for high command for reasons that are inconsistent with running around in the front lines. There are plenty of field officers who can “take one for the team”. Of course, my view that front line exposure is not a criterion for a corps commander being saluted with a statue is not the equivalent of an assertion that Sykes, Slocum, or Sedgwick performed brilliantly at Gettysburg. That requires a different analysis.

  15. Jerry Desko April 27, 2013 / 2:57 pm

    If vanity and blundering would exclude consideration for statuary on battlefields, I would guess at least half of the bronze would be available for other purposes.

    Once again, viewed objectively, Sickles actions thwarted the Confederate attack on Day 2.

    He in fact proposed the federal legislation to save and maintain the battlefield.

    And in spite of the missing money, he, under the authority of New York State, did an outstanding job of commemorating the sacrifices of York Staters on several battlefields,

    For those of you who disagree, chill out, this isn’t going to happen, This was only an academic exercise.


    • John Foskett April 28, 2013 / 8:15 am

      Chill out yourself. The fact that we may have made 27 battlefield-cluttering mistakes already isn’t cause to make a 28th. “Sickles’ actions thwarted the Confederate attack on Day 2.” .And I suppose a lane-swerving DUI could collide with a runaway school bus and prevent it from falling over a cliff.You have the right not to understand why it’s objectively reasonable to object to a statue of a guy who (1) disobeyed orders and made a poor tactical decision which resulted in bad artillery positions and ultimately the destruction of his corps; (2) whose remaining bacon on that part of the field was salvaged by elements of two other corps; (3) who spent the rest of the war in the kind of slanderous campaign his corrupt Tammany roots accustomed him to; and (4) who likely stole money dedicated to the erection of the very types of monuments that some would now advocate for him. But I have the right to say that it’s not enough that his own stupidity cost him a leg and that his blundering about the field actually worked out (albeit hardly to the degree some of his apparent supporters posit). There are better uses for the money and for the granite, bronze, or whatever medum might be devoted to memorializing this hack.

        • John Foskett April 29, 2013 / 10:26 am

          How about one for Rowley? Nobody else got arrested in action on Day 1. πŸ™‚

          • Brooks D. Simpson April 29, 2013 / 1:51 pm

            We could have an imagined meeting between Rowley and James Archer, who managed to get himself captured nearby earlier that day.

          • John Foskett April 30, 2013 / 8:17 am

            True – although Archer at least was sober so far as we know. Had Rowley been farther to the north and east we could have had a real first day gold medal round – Rowley against Iverson.

  16. k8jede April 28, 2013 / 5:15 pm

    Well, I agree with the naysayers. Mainly because I don’t think he deserves one despite the other incompetents that have them but more because I agree that if he had really wanted one he would hve embezzled the money & had one built. He has the battlefield. he needs nothing more.

    • John Foskett April 29, 2013 / 10:28 am

      I’m guessing that when it came to deciding whether to spend the purloined coins on (1) cigars, whiskey, and hookers or (2) a statue, Ol’ Dan opted for the former.

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