“A Grievous Loss”: John B. McIntosh at Third Winchester

John McIntosh

Today marks the 153rd anniversary of the Battle of Third Winchester. This day long engagement was the beginning of the end of Confederate fortunes in the Shenandoah Valley. One of the highlights of the battle was a massive mounted attack launched by Union cavalry north of the town. It became one of the great moments in the annals of the Federal mounted forces in Virginia. However, it has overshadowed the loss of one of the arm’s most experienced officers, John Baille McIntosh. Born on June 6, 1829 at Fort Brooke in Florida, McIntosh came from a military family. His father, James S. McIntosh eventually rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the 5th U.S. Infantry. During the Mexican War, he was wounded at Resaca de la Palma and Molino del Rey. He succumbed to these wounds in Mexico City on September 26, 1847. His brother, aJames, graduated from West Point in the Class of 1849. He served in the 1st U.S. Cavalry and later became a Brigadier General in the Confederate army. James was killed at the Battle of Pea Ridge in 1862.

Educated in New York, John sought an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point but was denied on account of a War Department policy which stipulated only one family member could attend. Instead, he became a midshipman in the Navy and served briefly on the U.S.S. Saratoga. Following a two year stint, he resigned and to pursue business ventures in New York and New Jersey.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, McIntosh received an officer’s commission in the Second, soon to be re-designated the Fifth United States Cavalry. McIntosh fought with his regiment in the Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days’ Battles in the spring and summer of 1862. Late that fall, McIntosh was appointed Colonel of the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry.

He led the Pennsylvanians for the next three months until Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker organized the mounted forces of the Army of the Potomac into a corps. This restructuring elevated McIntosh to brigade command. McIntosh successfully led his men at the Battle Kelly’s Ford and during the Chancellorsville Campaign. In late June, he was transferred to lead a brigade in Brig. Gen. David M. Gregg’s Second Cavalry Division. Together with Brig. Gen. George A. Custer’s Michigan Cavalry Brigade, McIntosh repulsed Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s offensive east of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863.

While guarding the Orange and Alexandria Railroad that October, McIntosh was injured by a fall from his horse. After his recuperation, he headed the cavalry depot at Giesboro Point but returned to the front in May, 1864. He was assigned to the First Brigade of Brig. Gen. James Wilson’s Third Cavalry Division. McIntosh led his troopers through the Overland Campaign and saw heavy fighting in the Wilderness. That summer, he participated in the nearly disastrous Wilson-Kautz Raid. For his service, McIntosh was promoted to Brigadier General on July 21. A couple weeks later, in response to Lt. General Jubal Early’s offensive in the Shenandoah Valley, Wilson’s division was transferred to Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s newly formed Army of the Shenandoah.

Following weeks of maneuver throughout the lower Valley, Sheridan resolved to attack Early outside Winchester on September 19. McIntosh’s brigade led the Federal advance early morning toward the Berryville Canyon, a gorge east of the town. At the head of the column, the 2nd New York and 5th New York Cavalry crossed Opequon Creek and ran into pickets from Brig. Gen. Bradley Johnson’s cavalry brigade.

The Confederates withdrew to a main line held by the 37th Battalion of Virginia Cavalry but were soon scattered by the Empire Staters. “Passing around a heavy barricade across the pike, the cavalry waited not for the infantry supports, but dashed up the road and charged the enemy’s fortifications,” wrote the Chaplain and chronicler of the 5th New York, Louis Beaudry.

McIntosh continued toward the western end of the canyon where he encountered elements from the 23rd North Carolina Infantry of Brig. Gen. Robert Johnston’s Brigade. The Tarheels steadily gave ground until they reached Johnston’s main line, positioned “in strong force behind breastworks near woods on a crest of hills.” Judiciously, McIntosh brought up the 2nd Ohio, 3rd New Jersey and 18th Pennsylvania to reinforce the New Yorkers.

Several assaults, however, failed to dislodge the Confederates. Fortunately for Johnston, the rest of Bradley Johnson’s command soon arrived on the scene. Johnson launched an attack that briefly checked McIntosh, allowing the Confederate infantry to safely abandon their position. With the canyon secure, Sheridan deployed Wilson’s division to the south below Abraham’s Creek. While the rest of the army engaged Early’s force, Wilson’s troopers were relegated to a secondary role of guarding the Union left flank.

For the remainder of the battle, Wilson engaged in desultory skirmishing with Maj. Gen. Lunsford Lomax’s division.  Late the afternoon, Wilson directed McIntosh to drive the Confederates out of nearby woodlot. “With his accustomed spirit, he led his dismounted skirmishers, driving the enemy back and taking possession of his shelter” Wilson wrote. “In the midst of this success, his leg was shattered below the knee by a bullet, which compelled him to leave the field. Riding by me to the rear with his leg dangling and his face ashen pale, he briefly reported what had happened in order that I might direct the next in command to take his place.”

That night, McIntosh’s left leg was amputated below the knee. “This misfortune closed a brilliant career of field-service” observed the historian of the 5th U.S. Cavalry. “He was always ready and willing, and had made himself a conspicuous figure in every battle in which he had been engaged, and had been frequently named in official reports for energy, coolness, judgement and gallantry in action.”

McIntosh slowly recuperated from his wound. He returned in February, 1865 and was assigned to court martial duty in Paducah, Kentucky. McIntosh was mustered out of the volunteers on April 30, 1866 and in September was appointed Lieutenant Colonel of the 42nd U.S. Infantry. He served with the regiment over the course of the next year until he was appointed the Deputy Governor of the Soldiers’ Home in December 1867. McIntosh later served as the Home’s Governor. Beginning in June, 1869, McIntosh served briefly in California as Superintendent of Indian Affairs. McIntosh retired on July 30, 1870 and returned to New Jersey and the business world. He passed away in Brunswick on June 29, 1888 and rests there in Elmwood Cemetery.


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