Things I learned on the way to Atlanta – The Mysterious Case of Alivn P. Hovey

In the spring of 1864, Brig. Gen. Alvin P. Hovey joined the Army of the Ohio (the XXIII Corps) for the spring campaign against Atlanta. He brought with him six brand new regiments of Indiana troops, plus two batteries, and assumed command of the newly-created First Division. 5,000 strong, Hovey’s raw Hoosiers amounted to nearly half of the entire XXIII Corps’ infantry strength – 12,000.

Barely a week into the campaign, according to Schofield, General Hovey was unfit for the command he now held. Schofield begged Sherman to relieve Hovey, who was “utterly inefficient and worthless,” which Schofield attributed to “some sort of mental disease. I do not dare to trust him in the handling of troops. He seems incapable of comprehending an order or having any definite idea of what is transpiring around him.” This was clearly not the same officer who inspired confidence at Shiloh, ably commanded the District of Eastern Arkansas in 1862, or led his division valiantly at Champion Hill; but the record remains silent as to what had changed. Politics might have been part of it. In January 1863, some of Hovey’s officers circulated a petition calling on the President to promote Hovey to two-star rank. Over the subsequent months he also won the support of senior officers, including Generals Lorenzo Thomas, Samuel R. Curtis, and Ulysses S. Grant. After Vicksburg, Hovey went home to Indiana, ostensibly to recruit a “Legion” of ten new regiments, five each of infantry and cavalry. He also needed to minister to his desperately ill wife. When she died in November, he immediately asked Grant for another field command. Instead, Grant instructed him to continue to recruit the legion, promising him a plum position later that spring. Hovey’s desire was granted at the end of March. He and his men were to head south and join the XXIII Corps. He reached Nashville on April 2.

All the while Hovey continued to press his suit for a second star, soliciting sympathetic politicians and fellow officers for their support. He grew increasingly frustrated as he saw others he viewed as less worthy awarded major general commissions. He was further frustrated when the mounted half of his “Legion” (five cavalry regiments who were supposed to form part of his command) was detached and sent to Kentucky, reducing his division by half. Upon arrival at Chattanooga, his division was promptly nicknamed “Hovey’s Babies,” due to the youth of so many of the recruits. Fellow division commander and sometimes corps commander Jacob Cox recollected that friction arose between Schofield and Hovey because the latter “intimated that he had reason to expect [a] promotion that had not been given to him.” Depression over the loss of his wife, disillusionment over his promotion prospects, and the abrupt loss of half of his division all seemed to weigh heavily on Alvin Hovey, to the point where Schofield now wanted him gone. Sherman agreed with the tactical decision to swap Schofield’s corps for Howard’s much larger command, bolstered by both McCook’s and Stoneman’s cavalry, but declined to remove Hovey. “I cannot,” Sherman replied, “for I know Grant esteems him and gave him the promise of this division.”

On June 9, a month into the campaign, Hovey requested leave, and departed the army. His division was broken up and reassigned to the rest of the corps. He never returned to the field, though he was brevetted to major general at the end of the war. He remarried, only to lose his second wife three years later. He served as a congressman and later, governor of Indiana. He died in office, in 1891. If Hovey suffered from any mental disease—possibly depression?—in 1864, his postwar career did not reflect it.

1 Response to Things I learned on the way to Atlanta – The Mysterious Case of Alivn P. Hovey

  1. Many do not realize the number (and severity) of “personality conflicts” that occurred among senior leaders during the Civil War. Although most have heard of the gunning down of BGen William “Bull” Nelson by BGen Jefferson C. Davis; and the shooting of MGen Earl Van Dorn by an aggrieved Doctor in Tennessee, there were a number of other serious conflicts and rivalries/ jealousies that cost careers: Edward O.C. Ord ended Jacob Lauman’s productive service (and Ord was involved in the replacement of McClernand and Benjamin Butler on behalf of U.S. Grant.) As mentioned in the article above, John Schofield had an issue with Alvin Hovey… and Hovey “went away.” Schofield also had an issue with George H. Thomas that dated from their time at West Point, and so hounded General Thomas with “spurious claims against Thomas’s war performance after the war” that many believe Schofield’s sniping led to General Thomas’s death in 1870. But probably the most prolific “terminator” (although President Jefferson Davis ranked a close second) was Ulysses S. Grant. During the course of the war Grant derailed the promising career of his rival, Benjamin Prentiss; sent Lew Wallace away on leave (leave that Grant supposed would be permanent, and promptly busted up Wallace’s Third Division… and put Alvin Hovey in charge of the bit that remained.) Grant removed onetime friend, John McClernand, during Vicksburg; and another onetime friend, William Rosecrans, was removed after Chickamauga. Gordon Granger (disliked by Grant since their time together at West Point) was removed from command of IV Corps in April 1864, just prior to the Atlanta Campaign (replaced by Howard.) Benjamin Butler was removed late in the war following disappointment at Fort Fisher (replaced by Ord.) And George H. Thomas was “almost” relieved by Grant at Nashville in December 1864. (Much to his credit, John A. Logan did not replace Thomas, although Grant gave him the authority to do so.)
    A footnote as regards Alvin Hovey: being “returned to Indiana on leave” allowed him to uncover the treasonous pro-South organization, Knights of the Golden Circle, and disrupt its activities (designed to impact the 1864 Presidential Election). “To every dark cloud there is a silver lining…”

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