Civil War Generals

Civil War Leaders / Civil War Commanders

Full list of Union Civil War Generals
Full list of Confederate Civil War Generals

Time-after-time, the Civil War generals met on the fields of battle to decide the fate of a young country divided. Of all Civil War commanders leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg, the Confederate generals had bested the Union generals to the point where they felt a certain sense of invincibility.

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After General Robert E. Lee won a one-sided victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville a few weeks prior, he proposed an invasion of the north to inflict a decisive blow. This victory had come at a cost however as Lee lost his most trusted commander, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson who was mortally wounded by friendly fire during the confusion of battle. Jackson had consistently out-thought and out-maneuvered the enemy in a string of victories leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg and he would be sorely missed in this campaign.

robert e lee gettysburg generalOf all Civil War generals however, few faced the daunting challenge that General George Meade had before him. He was an able Civil War commander appointed control of the Union army just 3 days prior to the battle by President Abraham Lincoln after General Joseph Hooker was relieved of command. He was largely unaware of where the southern army was located, and was now responsible for over Union 90,000 troops. His true test would come as the two armies would engage at Gettysburg, PA for 3-days of bloody battle.

It was General John Buford, Union commander of the 1st cavalry division who arrived at Gettysburg on June 30, 1863 and made the decision to defend against the Confederate forces he knew were in the area. His dismounted cavalry positioned west and north of town that would put up a heroic defense against Confederate infantry assaults on July 1, 1863. Buford and his men who were largely outnumbered, were able to hold the ground until Union infantry reinforcements would arrive. Buford was one of a number of Union Civil War generals that rose to the task at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Major General John Reynolds served as commander of the Union I, III and XI Corps at the Battle of Gettysburg and he arrived at Gettysburg at a crucial moment in the battle and quickly took command. This Gettysburg general conferred with Buford before surveying the ground and deploying his advance troops to defend against the advancing Confederates. Reynolds was one of the most well-respected Civil War generals on both sides, and he served the Union well on this day of battle.

george meade gettysburg generalConfederate General James Longstreet, second in command to Lee and among the best Civil War leaders, did not arrive on the battlefield until late in the day on July 1. Longstreet vehemently disagreed with Lee regarding the tactics needed to defeat the Union army at the Battle of Gettysburg and made his sentiments known.

He believed a more defensive approach would serve the Confederates well and suggested they redeploy to another position between the Union capital of Washington and the Union army thereby forcing Meade to attack on the ground of their choosing. Longstreet was one of the more well-respected Civil War Generals on both sides, and although Lee listened, he chose to keep the Confederate army in place and engage the Union army the following day.

Although only a colonel at the Battle of Gettysburg, Joshua Chamberlain of the 20th Maine would prove to be one of the most ablest Civil War commanders. Chamberlain and his men would factor considerably in the fighting on July 2, 1863 on the extreme left of the Union army in the defense of Little Round Top. After having defended the hill for some hours and his men exhausted of ammunition, Chamberlain would order a bayonet charge on the unsuspecting 15th and 47th Alabama regiments as they attempted one final charge. Chamberlain and the 20th Maine were able to capture many Confederates and effectively eliminated the severe threat to the left flank of the Union army.

jeb stuart gettysburg generalNoticeably absent from the engagement at Gettysburg was Confederate Major General J.E.B. Stuart who commanded the main body of Confederate cavalry. His orders from Lee a few weeks prior were somewhat vague, yet his main task was to support the advance of the Confederate army into Pennsylvania and act as the eyes and ears of the army.

He finally arrived at the Battle of Gettysburg late in the evening of July 2, 1863, and Lee quickly let Stuart know that he had failed to keep him abreast on the movement of the Union army, and voiced his displeasure with the situation the Confederate army now found themselves in.

Confederate General George Pickett arrived with his division that same evening and he and Longstreet discussed the plans for battle on the following day. Pickett had one of the few remaining fresh Confederate divisions, and he would factor heavily in the final day of fighting most notably as part of the fateful Confederate assault known as Pickett's Charge.

Winfield Scott Hancock was considered by many to have made the most impact by a general at the Battle of Gettysburg. His courage in the face of fire and leadership played a huge role in the success of the Union victory at Gettysburg.

Winfield Scott Hancock, General HancockPerhaps the most controversial of the Civil War Generals at the Battle of Gettysburg was Union General Daniel Sickles. He disobeyed a direct order from General George Meade and created a dangerous salient in the Union left. Historians still debate today how this tactical blunder affected the outcome of the battle.

Confederate General Jubal Early played a key role in the battle when he led an assault on Gettysburg just north of town. Like many other Confederate generals, his performance at Gettysburg was adequate but their overall strategy was flawed. He was one of the most consistent of the Civil War generals and perhaps his most important role for the Confederates was during the Valley Campaign of 1864.

Confederate General Lewis Armistead is best known for his leadership and bravery at the Battle of Gettysburg. Armistead was mortally wounded on the final day during Pickett’s Charge and would die two days later on July 5, 1863. Armistead will always be remembered as the General that lead his men to the "High-water mark of the Confederacy", and his bravery at the Battle of Gettysburg was among the most impressive by any of the Confederate generals.

George Armstrong Custer, George Custer, Civil War GeneralsJust prior to the Battle of Gettysburg, 23 year-old George Armstrong Custer was promoted to Brigadier General of Volunteers. He was one of the youngest generals in the Union Army and prior to the engagement at Gettysburg, had not led men into battle. On the third day of battle, he led a courageous charge against cavalry forces under General J.E.B. Stuart which helped thwart the Confederate attack on the Union rear.

Confederate General John Bell Hood led a division under General James Longstreet and was one of his most trusted commanders. Hood arrived on the battlefield on the morning of July 2, 1863 after marching more than 20 miles in the July heat the day before and was put into action on the main Confederate assault later that day. Heavy fighting ensued at Devil's Den and Hood fell wounded by artillery fire. His removal from the battlefield may have been the deciding factor in the battle on Gettysburg day 2.

Lt. Colonel Rufus Dawes was an officer who led the 6th Wisconsin Regiment as part of the famed Iron Brigade. It was made up of 420 volunteers from the western frontier - one of the toughest regiments in the Union army. Dawes will always be remembered for his bravery and leadership in battle and proved to be one of the most successful commanders at the Battle of Gettysburg.

The Civil War generals who fought at Gettysburg were tested by strategy, fortitude and the realization that this battle would go down as the bloodiest in the American Civil War. For the first time, the Union generals stood to the task and bested an enemy that had defeated them on the field of battle time-after-time leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg.

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