Thursday, May 8, 2014

An Old New Yorker

Union General James Samuel Wadsworth died May 8th 1864 from wounds received two days earlier at the Battle of the Wilderness.

James Samuel Wadsworth was born October 30th 1807, the son of James Wadsworth in Geneseo, Livingston, New York.  He studied law at both Harvard and Yale, and was admitted to the bar.  He didn't set up a practice; instead Wadsworth managed the family’s estate.  He would enter politics as a Democrat, but then became one of the organizers of the Free Soil Party, and finally a Republican.  In 1861 Wadsworth was a member of the Peace Conference.

When the Civil War became inevitable, Wadsworth volunteered his service to the Union.  He served as an aide-de-camp at the First Battle of Bull Run to Union Major General Irvin McDowell.  McDowell recommended Wadsworth for command, and with the rank of Brigadier General on October 3rd 1861 he began commanding the 2nd Brigade of 3rd Division of the 1st Corps.  From March 17th to September 7th 1862 Wadsworth had command of the Military District of Washington, and had a hand in holding troops for its defense against the wishes of Major General George B McClellan.  After having stepped on McClellan’s toes, Wadsworth could see no prospect in McClellan’s army, and so put his name into the running for Governor of New York State.  After McClellan was replaced at the head of the Army of the Potomac, and Wadsworth had lost the election to Democrat Horatio Seymour, he took the command of the First Division in the 1st Corps.  He was well thought of by his men.  As the leader of his new division, they were only marginally involved at the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863.  At the Battle of Gettysburg, his division was the first Union infantry troops to arrive on the field on July 1st 1863, and was heavily engaged, loosing over 50% of their strength that day.  They would also fight on the second day.

When the spring 1864 Campaign began, the Army of the Potomac was reorganized, and Wadsworth became the commander of the 4th Division in the V Corps.  At the Battle of the Wilderness, Wadsworth was the oldest Union divisional command at 56.  On May 5th 1864 his division was ordered to defend the left of the Union line, but lost their way in the thick underbrush, exposing his left flank to an attack.  Then on May 6th 1864 while placing two of his brigades, Wadsworth was shot in the back of head, he fell from his horse and was captured by the Confederates.  Wadsworth would die in a Confederate field hospital two days later on May 8th 1864.  His son-in-law Montgomery Harrison Ritchie would cross line under a flag of truce to retrieve his body.  He is buried in the Temple Hill Cemetery in Geneseo, New York.

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