William Henry French

William Henry French was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on January 13, 1815. He was appointed to the Military Academy from the District of Columbia and was graduated twenty-second of fifty students in the class of 1837, which included John Sedgwick, Joseph Hooker, and Confederates Braxton Bragg, Jubal Early, and John Pemberton. Posted to the 1st Artillery, he first served in one of the innumerable Creek-Seminole wars in Florida and in the Mexican War won the brevets of captain and major for gallantry and meritorious conduct. Upon the outbreak of the Civil War, French moved his garrison at Eagle Pass, Texas, to the mouth of the Rio Grande in sixteen days and embarked it for Key West. Having been promoted to brigadier general of volunteers to rank from September 28, 1861, he was assigned to the Army of the Potomac and commanded a brigade of the II Corps in the Peninsular campaign and the 3rd division of the corps at Sharpsburg. He was promoted to major general to rank from November 29, 1862. After taking part in the battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, French was in charge of the District of Harpers Ferry during the Gettysburg campaign, but shortly after the wounding of General Daniel E. Sickles he succeeded to the command of the III Corps. At first enjoying the full confidence of George G. Meade, French lost his entire military reputation at Mine Run in the last days of November, 1863, when he was blamed, because of the slowness of his corps, for the Union failure to exploit a potential advantage over Robert E. Lee. (137) In an unpublished letter in the files of the War Department, French blamed his tardiness at Mine Run upon "one of his division commanders."

These were Major General David B. Birney, Brigadier General Henry Prince (who committed suicide in 1892, and Brigadier General Joseph B. Carr. Upon the consolidation of the various corps organizations in the spring of 1864, the III Corps disappeared and French was mustered out of volunteer service on May 6, 1864. Until the end of the war he served on various minor boards and through seniority attained the rank of colonel of the 4th Artillery. He died in Washington on May 20, 1881, and was buried in Rock Creek Cemetery.

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