Daniel Edgar Sickles


Medal of Honor citation:

Rank and organization: Major General, U.S. Volunteers
Place and Date: At Gettysburg, Pa., July 2, 1863.
Entered Service At: New York, N.Y.
Birth: New York, N.Y.
Date of Issue: October 30, 1897.
Displayed most conspicuous gallantry on the field vigorously contesting the advance of the enemy and continuing to encourage his troops after being himself severely wounded.

Daniel Edgar Sickles, always a controversial figure, was born October 20, 1819, in New York City. After attending New York University and studying law, he appraised the chances of advancement in various fields and quickly chose politics. As a Tammany stalwart he became corporation counsel of the city at the age of twenty-eight, but resigned the same year to be secretary of legation in London. He then served as a New York State senator and was a representative in Congress from 1857 to 1861. Sickles first achieved national notoriety in 1859 when he shot down, in the shadow of the White House, his young wife's paramour, son of the author of "The Star Spangled Banner." During a lurid trial, in which the defense counsel was headed by Edwin M. Stanton, Sickles for the first time in American jurisprudence pleaded the "unwritten law" and was acquitted. Subsequently he enraged both critics and admirers by publicly forgiving his errant spouse. As a War Democrat in 1861, Sickles' offer of his services was eagerly accepted by the administration and he soon found himself a brigadier general of volunteers, ranking from September 3, 1861. He was assigned the command of New York's Excelsior Brigade, which he had been instrumental in recruiting. His later career as division and corps commander, with promotion to the grade of major general to rank from November 29, 1862, found him frequently at odds with his superiors. Nonetheless, he demonstrated many soldierly qualities and was utterly fearless in combat. He fought on the Peninsula and at Sharpsburg in Joseph Hooker's division of the III Corps; commanded the division at Fredericksburg; and in the campaign of Chancellorsville commanded the III Corps. In the latter battle elements of his command reported Stonewall Jackson's celebrated flank march, while it was in progress, as a retreat. The subsequent advance of two-thirds of the corps to pursue the flying Rebels left Oliver O. Howard's XI Corps on its right completely isolated and contributed largely to the ensuing debacle. At Gettysburg Sickles' men were supposed to cover the Federal left in the vicinity of the Round Tops. Not liking the position and in defiance of direct orders to the contrary, he advanced the corps line into the famous Peach Orchard, creating a salient which was subsequently overrun by James Longstreet's assault. The end results were the virtual destruction and subsequent disappearance of the III Corps, the termination of Sickles' command in the field by virtue of a wound which cost him his right leg, and a controversy with George G. Meade. After his recovery President Lincoln dispatched him on a tour of Union-held Southern territory for an appraisal of the effects of amnesty, Negro progress, and Reconstruction. Next, he performed a diplomatic mission to Colombia; served as military governor of South Carolina; and in 1869 was retired with rank of major general in the Regular Army, a position which he would hold for forty-five years. At this time Grant appointed him minister to Spain, where he was chiefly distinguished diplomatically by becoming the intimate friend of Isabella, former Queen of Spain. He served a term in Congress in 1893-95 and for many years was chairman of the New York State Monuments Commission, a position from which he was removed in 1912 by reason of alleged peculation. An octogenerian relic of a bygone age, General Sickles became separated not only from his family but from reality and died, "irresponsible and cantankerous," on May 3, 1914, at his residence in New York. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Previous Page

Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.