Question of the Week: 10/5-10/11/20

What if General John Sedgwick had not been killed at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House?

6 Responses to Question of the Week: 10/5-10/11/20

  1. The short answer is that the VI Corps on May 10 and 12 would have been handled better, likely with more benefit to the Union.

    Beyond that, it is difficult to say. He had been sounded out on promotion to higher command before, but had rebuffed the idea. He probably would have ended the war as a corps or wing commander.

  2. One soldier that participated in Upton’s charge against the salient on May 10th said, “This would not have happened if Uncle John had not been killed.” (From my understanding) Upton’s charge really failed because Mott didn’t get the memo about the delayed assault and he wasn’t there to support Upton during the breakthrough. Would Sedgwick’s leadership have helped with this? I don’t know. There was a lot of miscommunication going around during that battle from what I’ve read. But I think Wright didn’t properly handle Cutler’s division when it was sent to him on the late afternoon of May 12th. Would Sedgwick have utilized them better? Probably. But at that point in the battle, it might have been a pointless effort to make any more assaults on the west angle of the salient like Grant intended that evening.
    I think things would have definitely played out differently, but I don’t know if Sedgwick would have made a huge difference in the grand scheme of things. I don’t know enough about Sedgwick’s resume prior to the Overland Campaign to form a well-versed opinion. I look forward to reading what everyone else has to say :).

    1. The “flip side” regarding Wright is that it appears he may have been involved in coming up with the formation used by Upton in his May 10 attack (Upton added the innovation of assigning specific tasks to each of the four “waves”) – I’m skeptical that Sedgwick was much of an innovator. I also don’t find much in his performance as a corps commander that suggests his absence played a meaningful and adverse role. He hardly distinguished himself in executing his assignment during Chancellorsville and he didn’t do much “heavy lifting” at Gettysburg or during the Fall 1863 maneuvering. Likewise, there was nothing exceptional about his performance at the Wilderness, although that was not necessarily his fault. My own inexpert opinion is that the primary adverse effect of his loss may have been VI Corps morale.

  3. He would not have a statue on the Plain at West Point & deficient cadets would have no spurs to spin at midnight to pass the upcoming final exam.

  4. In that case, his name simply would have been added to the other AoP corps commanders, who stumbled, led and were mislead (bad maps), argued, and vomited their way to the James that painful spring.

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