04 January 2015 by Published in: Union Cavalry 8 comments

I apologize for not having posted much recently. I’m deeply immersed in writing mode, working on my latest book project, which addresses the first day of the Battle of Chickamauga, September 18, 1863, with a particular focus on the covering force actions conducted by Col. Robert H. G. Minty’s Saber Brigade at Reed’s Bridge, and Col. John T. Wilder’s Lightning Brigade at Alexander’s Bridge. I’ve written about 120 pages so far, and it’s coming right along. But it’s been pretty much all-consuming.

Elon_John_FarnsworthEven in this age of easy access to digital research, you can’t get everything. Things get digitized too late to be of use. Or they don’t turn up in keyword searches. Or sometimes, you just plain miss things.

Chief Judge Edmund A. Sargus, Jr. of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio is not only a member of the Federal bench, he’s also very interested in the life and career of Capt. Thomas Drummond of the 5th U.S. Cavalry, a former U.S. Senator from Iowa, who was killed in action at the April 1, 1865 Battle of Five Forks. Judge Sargus brought a source to my attention that escaped me during both rounds of research for both editions of Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions, and which I really wish I had had when doing them. Since I didn’t have them, but because they are so interesting, I want to share them with you here.

440px-Alfred_PleasontonFirst is a letter by Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, the commander of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps, to Congressman (and former Brigadier General) John F. Farnsworth, the uncle of fallen Brig. Gen. Elon J. Farnsworth. Pleasonton’s toadying with John Farnsworth was largely responsible for the removal of Maj. Gen. Julius Stahel from command of the cavalry division that became the Army of the Potomac’s Third Cavalry Division not long before the Battle of Gettysburg (Stahel outranked Pleasonton and would have been entitled to corps command by virtue of that seniority). That toadying was also largely responsible for Elon Farnsworth’s promotion from obscure captain to brigadier general. After Elon Farnsworth fell leading the eponymous charge, Pleasonton sent this letter to John Farnsworth, who appears in the photograph below:

farnsworthj190

Headqrs. Cav. Corps Army of the Potomac
July 6th, 1863

Gen. J. F. Farnsworth:

Dear General:

I deeply regret to announce to you the death of Brig. Gen. Farnsworth, late Captain 8th Illinois Cavalry. He was killed while leading a charge of his brigade against the enemy’s infantry in the recent battle of Gettysburg. His death was glorious. He made the first grand charge against the enemy’s infantry–broke them–when found, his body was pierced with five bullets, nearly a mile in rear of the enemy’s line.

He has been buried in the [Evergreen] Cemetery in Gettysburg, and the grave is properly marked. The enemy stripped the body to the undershirt–an unheard of piece of vandalism, as the General was in his proper dress.

Accept my warmest sympathy. You know my estimate of our late friend and companion in arms. We have, however, a consolation in his brilliant deeds in the grandest battle of the war.

Very truly yours,

A. Pleasonton

Pleasonton could afford to be gracious–the Army of the Potomac had won a major battle, and his cavalry had done well. And he owed a large debt to John Farnsworth.

Elon Farnsworth was wearing a brigadier general’s shell jacket lent to him by Pleasonton when he fell. Pleasonton was correct in saying that Farnsworth was “in his proper dress” when he fell.

The second letter was written by Capt. Thomas Drummond, which is why it caught Judge Sargus’ attention.

Gen. J. F. Farnsworth:

Gen.:

You have already heard of the death of your nephew, Gen. E. J. F., killed in the action on the 3rd. I was with him not five minutes before he fell, gallantly charging the the enemy’s infantry at the head of two of his regiments. His body was brought in last night, and at 3 a.m. of the day, I buried him with one of his captains, each in a good, rough box, in the Gettysburg Cemetery. He was shot through the pelvis, and had two balls through the left leg, one of which shattered his ankle.

Farnsworth’s loss is mourned by all. He had just got his star, and fell in a gallant endeavor to prove to his new men his right to wear it. While by the light of a single lantern I dug his grave, instinctively the lines of Sir John Moore’s burial at Corunna came in my mind.

“We buried him darkly at dead of night,
The sods with our bayonets turning,
By the moonbeam’s misty struggling light,
And our lanterns dimly burning.

Slowly and sadly we laid him down,
From the field of his fame fresh and gory;
We carved not a line, we raised not a stone,
But we left him alone in his glory.”

T. Drummond
Capt. and Prov. Marshal Cavalry Corps

g12c000000000000000d81a68ee1edfa94520e546e7e3425b7dfc35fe2eJohn Farnsworth came to Gettysburg later that month to retrieve the remains of his nephew and to take them home to Rockton, Illinois, where they were buried in Rockton Cemetery. The photo to the left is the monument on Elon Farnsworth’s grave. You can see a larger version of this image by clicking on it.

Prior to seeing this source, I had never seen anything that said that Farnsworth had been shot through the pelvis, or that his ankle had been shattered by a ball. Given that he was mounted when shot by infantry, who had to aim high to hit him, it makes sense that these wounds would have been sustained in the bottom half of his body, and and that there would have been no evidence of him having shot himself in the head, as some claimed.

I’ve always claimed that Elon Farnsworth was the ONLY Union general to fall behind enemy lines while leading an attack during the entire Civil War, and Pleasonton bears out what I’ve always said. It really is a shame that the monument that the veterans of Farnsworth’s brigade had wanted to erect to him was not put up, as he is the only Union general officer to fall on the field at Gettysburg who does not have a monument of some sort to him on the battlefield.

Thanks to Judge Sargus for bringing this fascinating material to my attention. I only regret that I didn’t have it to include in my book.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. RA McDonald
    Sun 04th Jan 2015 at 10:05 pm

    Wow. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Sun 04th Jan 2015 at 10:07 pm

    I figured that you, of all people, would find this as interesting as I did, Rae-Ann. I’m glad you appreciated it.

  3. Sal Prezioso
    Mon 05th Jan 2015 at 1:21 am

    Nice find Eric – thanks for putting it out there.

  4. Ron Zanoni
    Mon 05th Jan 2015 at 8:25 am

    Eric, there still seems to be a discrepancy between the two letters. The first indicating his body was pierced with five bullets. The second letter implies three bullets, but could be four piercings being shot through the pelvis. Where’s the fifth piercing? And would these strikes be enough to kill him on the field? Still seems there’s some unanswered questions about his death. What are your thoughts?

  5. Mon 05th Jan 2015 at 9:22 am

    Ron,

    I’m not a physician, so I am not in a position to render an opinion about what would or would not be a mortal wound.

    I don’t think that the second letter implies that at all. The way I read it, it suggests that there were at least that many.

    We will never know for sure.

    Eric

  6. Hal Myers
    Mon 05th Jan 2015 at 12:05 pm

    I have read many times that he was shot five times, however, even if it was four, when hit, one of those shells could have travel anywhere in his body that could have killed him. But does it really matter 4 or 5, his charge still took his life no matter how you try to look at it, a brave soldier doing his best to do his duty. A very brave soldier.

  7. Chris Evans
    Tue 06th Jan 2015 at 8:37 pm

    Thanks for the interesting post. Glad your posting again. Really enjoy reading them.

    The Chickamauga book sounds great.

    Chris

  8. Todd Berkoff
    Mon 19th Jan 2015 at 1:00 am

    Hi Eric. James S. Wadsworth comes to mind as a Union general who was mortally wounded during an attack and would die behind Confederate lines at the Battle of the Wilderness, as the two sides swayed back and forth along the Orange Plank Road, much the same way Farnsworth was killed in front of the Rebel line and would be left there by his command. Wadsworth would later die in a Rebel field hospital on May 8, 1864 from a ghastly head wound.

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