By Mark Pearson
Originally Published on November 25th, 2018.
In our series of streets being named for Civil War Generals, Sedgwick is the next street as you travel north on 10th Avenue. This street is named after one of the highest ranking union generals to lose his life in the Civil War. He was born in a rural area in northwest Connecticut on September 13, 1813. He attended West Point along with several other classmates who would serve as high ranking officers on both sides of the upcoming conflict. He was sent to Florida and participated in the Seminole Wars. Unfortunately, he, by orders originating from General (then President) Jackson, was involved in removing and moving the Cherokee nation from their ancestral home in Georgia to the Oklahoma territory. This event is now infamously known as the “Trail of Tears.”
He was also involved in the Mexican War, as were several other prominent soldiers of that era. He was given the command of a newly formed and commissioned unit called the 1st cavalry, which is still active today. He served in the army of the Potomac from the beginning of the war, and on July 4th, 1862, he was promoted to Major General.
After the dreadful union loss at Fredericksburg, Virginia in December 1862, General Hooker, who was given command of the army of the Potomac, went after Confederate Generals Lee and Jackson again. In April 1863, the union plan was to pretend to go back to Fredericksburg, but actually send the bulk of the army west of Fredericksburg to a place called Chancellorsville, where they were to cross the Rappahannock River and attack Lee in the flank or rear. Lee was quick to determine what was going on and decided to split his forces in the face of a superior enemy. General Sedgwick was tasked to make a diversionary attack at Fredericksburg and was successful in his endeavor. Had he pursued the Confederate forces at that point, who knows? He was only following orders as his commanding officer, General Hooker, had lost his nerve and wasn’t willing to continue the attack. He was just plain out-generaled by Lee and Jackson. Unfortunately, Jackson was killed as a result of being fired on by his own men, causing a great loss for the Confederacy.
His command was held in reserve at Gettysburg, so not much is reported about his service after that except that he was a great field officer and his men loved him. He commanded a whole army corps by this time and was still in command when General Grant took over the army of the Potomac. When he was killed in May 1864, the circumstance surrounding his death is how legends are made. It has been said of Napoleon and others that they were quoted saying that “the bullet that has my name on it has not yet been cast.”
As General Sedgwick was ordering the placement of artillery along the front lines at a place called Spotsylvania, bullets were hitting all around the crew and other soldiers. When he was asked to take cover he rephrased that same bold sentiment with this own statement. “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance. Within the next minute, he was dead and these words became his epitaph. Legend has it that he never finished the word distance but only just said “dis” as his last word, but according to Bruce Catton who has done more research then most writes that he was killed a minute later. It seems that the bullet with his name on it had been cast and was fired at him by a Confederate sharpshooter, otherwise known as a sniper.
General Grant couldn’t believe that he was dead.
Mark E. Pearson was born and raised in Kansas City, Mo. In 1970 he moved to Michigan where he met and married the girl of his dreams, Mary Lou Davis, together they have two sons. He attended Briercrest Bible Institute in Saskatchewan, Canada, and later received his associates degree in business from St. Clair Community College. He was a bookkeeper and worked in retail sales for 30 years and has spent the last fifteen years as a Jeweler at Coughlin’s Jewelers in St Clair, MI. He is a voracious reader of history and as a result of being an avid reader he began to write short stories and articles for editorial columns and magazines on current events and comparing and relating past events to current happenings.
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