General Alfred Pleasonton
Buried in the Congressional Cemetery, Washington D. C. Plot: Range 42, Site 245
(July 7, 1824 – February 17, 1897) was a United States Army officer and General of Union cavalry during the American Civil War. He commanded the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac during the Gettysburg Campaign, including the largest predominantly cavalry battle of the war, Brandy Station. In 1864, he was transferred to the Trans-Mississippi Theater, where he defeated Confederate General Sterling Price in two key battles, effectively ending the war in Missouri. He was the son of Stephen Pleasonton and younger brother of Augustus Pleasonton.
At the start of the Civil War in 1861,
Captain Pleasonton traveled with the 2nd Dragoons from Fort Crittenden, Utah
Territory, to Washington D.C. Despite active politicking on his part, attempting
to capitalize on the faded political connections of his now-disgraced father
(who had died in 1855), Pleasonton did not earn the rapid promotions of some of
his colleagues and was promoted only to major by early 1862. He fought without
incident or prominence in the Peninsula Campaign and was finally promoted to
brigadier general on July 16, 1862, commanding a brigade of cavalry in the Army
of the Potomac.
On September 2, Pleasonton assumed division command in the cavalry and was wounded by an artillery shell at the Battle of Antietam. Ever ambitious, Pleasanton was displeased that he was not promoted to major general of volunteers for his actions, claiming erroneously that his division, and particularly the horse artillery assigned to him, had had a decisive effect on the battle. (He did receive a brevet promotion to lieutenant colonel in the regular army, probably based solely on the inflated claims of his battle report, which were not substantiated by the reports of other generals.)
At the Battle of Chancellorsville, Pleasanton continued his practice of self-promotion. He claimed that he temporarily halted an attack by Stonewall Jackson's Corps and that he was able to prevent the total destruction of the Union XI Corps on May 2, 1863. He was persuasive enough that the commander of the Army of the Potomac, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, told President Abraham Lincoln that Pleasanton "saved the Union Army" at Chancellorsville. Battle reports, however, indicate that Pleasanton's role was considerably less important than he claimed, involving only a small detachment of Confederate infantry on Hazel Grove. Nevertheless, his claims earned him a promotion to major general of volunteers as of June 22, 1863, and when the inept Cavalry Corps commander, Maj. Gen. George Stoneman, was relieved after Chancellorsville, Hooker named Pleasanton as his temporary replacement. Pleasonton could not accept even this elevated role gracefully. He wrote to Gen. Hooker "I cannot...remain silent as to the unsatisfactory condition in which I find this corps...the responsibility of its present state...does not belong to me."
Alfred Pleasonton died in his sleep in Washington, D.C., and is buried in the Congressional Cemetery there, alongside his father. Before his death, Pleasonton requested that his funeral be devoid of all military honors and even refused to be buried in his old uniform because he felt the Army passed him over after the Civil War. The town of Pleasanton, California, was named for Alfred in the 1870s; a typographical error by a U.S. Postal Service employee apparently led to the spelling difference. The city of Pleasanton, Kansas, despite its different spelling, has begun an annual festival named for Pleasonton. On the huge Pennsylvania Memorial at the Gettysburg Battlefield stands a statue of General Pleasonton. However, it is possible that this represents Alfred's brother, Augustus, a native of Pennsylvania, who was a general in the Pennsylvania militia at the time of the battle.
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