Wadsworth Goes Down

Just as Gettysburg hero Alexander Hays was killed on May 5, another Gettysburg Union general was badly wounded on May 6–and again, most of you who have visited the battlefield have seen his statue before:


That’s right: James Wadsworth, whose statue is just north of the unfinished railroad cut.

James Wadsworth was a wealthy New Yorker who had seen little combat before 1863. A Democrat-turned-Republican who had participated in the Washington peace Conference of 1861, he had served as a volunteer aide for Irvin McDowell at First Manassas. In 1862 it would be Wadsworth, in command at Washington, who alerted Lincoln to how vulnerable Geroge B. McClellan left Washington … at least in Wadsworth’s opinion. Later that year he ran (and lost) a race for governor of New York to Democrat Horatio Seymour. Although he participated in the Chancellorsville campaign, his first big battle was at Gettysburg, where on July 1 he struggled to fend off Confederate attacks against the right flank of the First Corps. Later he would assist in the defense of Culp’s Hill, sending several regiments (including the 14th Brooklyn) to help stave off the Confederate attack along George S. Greene’s famed traverse.

Wadsworth once more found himself in the middle of the fighting in the Wilderness as a division commander in the Fifth Corps: among his men were the famed Iron Brigade as well as two other brigades who had served in the First Corps at Gettysburg (although one was now headed by James Rice, who had directed the 44th New York at Gettysburg). On May 6, Wadsworth attempted to rally his men and press forward, only to find himself the victim of a bullet from an Alabama regiment that had just felled Major Henry L. Abbott of the 20th Massachusetts. Badly wounded in the head, he was captured by the advancing Confederates; two days later he died, as the Confederates marveled that such a rich man was in the enemy army.

It’s almost too easy to miss the marker on the Wilderness battlefield where Wadsworth fell. It’s on the north shoulder of the Orange Plank Road, a short distance west of the junction with Brock Road, and nearby one can stop at a wayside where Longstreet was wounded a short time later.

The general’s remains were interred in his hometown of Genesco, New York: nearby one can find the same statue one comes across at Gettysburg.




3 thoughts on “Wadsworth Goes Down

  1. taxsanity May 6, 2014 / 1:46 pm

    Interesting, but I wonder if anyone did a book, or article, on the number of Southern leaders who, before the war, urged war and bragged of war, or took part in the Five Ultimatums, but never got near a battle, much less fought in one. There was a lot of tough talk before the war by Southern leaders, either by claiming the white race would be “exterminated” if slavery was not spread, or other such tantrums.

    How many of those men died in battle?

    • Lyle Smith May 6, 2014 / 11:33 pm

      A couple for sure. About a month from now, 150 years ago, Laurence M. Keitt a fire-eater former congressman from South Carolina will be mortally wounded at the Battle of Cold Harbor. He had been on the floor of the House of Representative the day Charles Sumner was caned by Preston Brooks. Keitt enthusiastically supported Brooks that day going so far as to draw a pistol to keep other Representatives from assisting Representative Sumner.

      William Barksdale had also been a fire-eater congressional Representative. He was of course killed at Gettysburg.

  2. Gary Amundson May 6, 2014 / 4:34 pm

    Yours is one of my favorite blogs.I’ve commented only once or twice, if memory serves, but I read it almost every day. One small point: I think the town where Wadsworth is buried is Geneseo, NY and not Genesco. There is a Geneseo, IL about 30 miles from me and that’s what prompted me to check for sure. I’m really enjoying the Wilderness series of posts and hope many more on the 1864 battles will follow. Thanks!

    Gary Amundson

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