Gouverneur Kemble Warren

Gouverneur Kemble Warren was born in Cold Spring, New York, on the Hudson River across from West Point on January 8, 1830. He was appointed to the Military Academy at the age of sixteen and was graduated in 1850, ranking second in the class. From then until the outbreak of the Civil War he served in the topographical engineers and as an instructor of mathematics at his alma mater. On May 14, 1861, he was appointed a lieutenant colonel of the 5th New York and with it saw some action at the first battle of the war, Bethel Church, Virginia, on June 10. In August he became colonel of the regiment, and on the Peninsula he was wounded at Gaines's Mill, while directing a brigade of Sykes's division of Porter's V Corps. He continued to command a brigade under Fitz John Porter at Second Manassas and at Sharpsburg in the Maryland campaign; subsequently he was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers on September 26, 1862, and major general on August 8 to rank from May 3. Warren possessed an eye for ground as good as any in the Army of the Potomac, and on the second day at Gettysburg, while observing the lay of the land from a signal station on Little Round Top which overlooked the Confederate right, he noted the threat to the entire Federal position on Cemetery Ridge by John B. Hood's onrushing Confederates who were already in the little interval between Big and Little Round Top. At this point Warren was chief engineer of the Army of the Potomac and was not exercising line command; however, in a matter of minutes he had Vincent's and Weed's brigades of Sykes's V Corps, which was coming to the front, hurrying to the southern slope of the knoll where the signal station stood, in the nick of time to deploy a line of defense. Today a bronze statue of Warren, field glasses in hand, marks the spot where the second day of the battle of Gettysburg was won. Had it not been won there and then, there would have been no need for Pickett's famous charge the next day, for there would have been no Federal army on Cemetery Ridge. From August, 1863, until March, 1864, Warren was in temporary charge of the II Corps in the absence of the wounded Winfield S. Hancock; he was then assigned to permanent command of the V Corps when the Army of the Potomac was reshuffled for the Overland campaign against Richmond. Warren's handling of his corps in the bloody operations which led up to the siege of Petersburg could hardly be taken exception to; however, there seems to have been a personality clash among him, U. S. Grant, and Philip Sheridan. When Sheridan was put in command of all of the forces ordered to break the Confederate defenses at Five Forks and to seize the Southside Railroad (the last artery connecting Petersburg and the South), he was authorized by Grant to relieve Warren at his discretion. Sheridan grasped the first opportunity to do so, despite the fact that Warren had handled his three divisions as well as perhaps anyone in the same job could have done. In any event, his military career was destroyed: he spent his remaining years in the army in the Engineer Corps and did not become a lieutenant colonel until 1879, when a court of inquiry not only exonerated him completely of culpability at Five Forks but criticized the manner of his relief. In the meantime, he wrote prolifically in matters relating to his profession and boasted several signal accomplishments in the field, including the railroad bridge over the Mississippi at Rock Island, Illinois. General Warren died at his home in Newport, Rhode Island, on August 8, 1882, and was buried in Island Cemetery.

Previous Page

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