John Sedgwick - Facts

September 13, 1813 - May 9, 1864

Key facts about Major General John Sedgwick who became the highest ranking Union combat casualty during the Civil War when a Confederate sharpshooter killed him during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House on May 9, 1864, .

Portrait of John Sedgwick

On May 9, 1864, a Confederate sharpshooter killed John Sedgwick shortly after Sedgwick declared that “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” [Wikimedia Commons]

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Full Name:

  • John Sedgwick

Birth Date:

  • September 13, 1813

Birth Location:

  • Cornwall Hollow, Connecticut

Parents:

  • Benjamin and Olive (Collins) Sedgwick

Education:

  • United States Military Academy (1837)

Occupation:

  • Military officer

Career Summary:

  • Colonel (USA)
  • Major General (USVA)

Spouse:

  • None

Nickname(s):

  • Uncle John

Place of Death:

  • Spotsylvania County, Virginia

Date of Death:

  • May 9, 1864

Place of Burial:

  • Cornwall Hollow Cemetery, Cornwall Hollow, Connecticut

Significance:

  • John Sedgwick was named after his grandfather, John Sedgwick, an American Revolutionary War general who served under George Washington and survived the grim winter of 1777 at Valley Forge.
  • John Sedgwick attended nearby Sharon Academy, and afterward Cheshire Academy.
  • As a teenager, John Sedgwick taught school for two years during the winter and worked on the family farm during the summer.
  • In 1833, Jabez Huntington, U.S. Senator from Connecticut, helped John Sedgwick obtain an appointment at the United States Military Academy.
  • John Sedgwick entered the United States Military Academy on July 1, 1833.
  • Among John Sedgwick’s classmates at the United States Military Academy were future Confederate generals Braxton Bragg, John C. Pemberton, Jubal Early, William H. T. Walker, and future Union general, Joseph Hooker.
  • John Sedgwick graduated 24th out of his class of fifty cadets at the United States Military Academy on July 1, 1837.
  • Following his graduation from the United States Military, John Sedgwick was commissioned as a second lieutenant with the 2nd US Artillery and sent to Florida, where he participated in the Second Seminole War (1835 to 1842).
  • John Sedgwick participated in the Mexican-American War (April 25, 1846–February 2, 1848).
  • During the Mexican-American War, John Sedgwick served with General Winfield Scott’s invasion force at the Siege of Veracruz (March 9‑29, 1847), the Battle of Cerro Gordo (April 17‑18, 1847), the Battle of Churubusco (August. 20, 1847), the Battle of Molino del Rey (September. 8, 1847), the Battle of Chapultepec (September 12‑13, 1847), and the assault and capture of the City of Mexico (September 13‑14, 1847).
  • During the Mexican-American War, John Sedgwick was brevetted to captain for gallant and meritorious conduct in the Battles of Contreras and Churubusco, effective August 20, 1847.
  • During the Mexican-American War, John Sedgwick was brevetted to major for gallant and meritorious conduct in the Battle of Chapultepec effective September 13, 1847.
  • John Sedgwick was promoted to captain on January 26, 1849.
  • On March 8, 1855, John Sedgwick was promoted to major with the 1st Cavalry and transferred west.
  • John Sedgwick helped quell violence during the Border Wars in Kansas.
  • John Sedgwick campaigned against the Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Comanche Indians.
  • John Sedgwick participated in the Utah Expedition against Mormon settlers.
  • John Sedgwick was promoted to lieutenant colonel on March 16, 1861, and sent to Washington, DC.
  • On April 25, 1861, John Sedgwick was promoted to the full rank of colonel and placed in charge of the 1st Cavalry after its commander, Robert E. Lee, resigned.
  • On August 3, 1861, John Sedgwick was transferred to the 4th Cavalry, and he briefly held the position of Acting Inspector-General of the Department of Washington.
  • On August 12, 1861, John Sedgwick was given command of the 2nd brigade of Major General Samuel P. Heintzelman’s division in the Army of the Potomac.
  • On December 5, 1861, the US War Department issued General Order No. 106, promoting John Sedgwick to brigadier general in the volunteer army to date from August 31, 1861.
  • On March 13, 1862, Major General George B. McClellan issued General Order No. 101 (Army of the Potomac) assigning John Sedgwick to command the 2nd Division of the 2nd Corps of the Army of the Potomac.
  • During the Peninsula Campaign, John Sedgwick commanded the 2nd Division of the 2nd Corps of the Army of the Potomac at several major engagements, including the Siege of Yorktown (April 5–May 4, 1862), the Battle of Fair Oaks (May 31–June 1, 1862) the Battle of Savage’s Station (June 29, 1862), and the Battle of Glendale (June 30, 1862), where he was wounded in the arm and leg.
  • On July 4, 1862, John Sedgwick was promoted to major general of volunteers. His promotion was confirmed in General Order No. 181, issued by the US War Department on November 1, 1862.
  • Three days later, on the single bloodiest day of fighting in American military history (September 17, 1862), Major General Edwin V. Sumner ordered an ill-conceived and uncoordinated attack by Sedgwick’s division that contributed to the high casualty total at the Battle of Antietam (September 16-18, 1862).
  • John Sedgwick was severely wounded, being struck by three bullets during the Battle of Antietam.
  • In December 1862, John Sedgwick was elevated to a corps commander. He was placed in charge of the 2nd Corps for one month and of the 9th Corps for three weeks.
  • On February 5, 1863, Major General Joseph Hooker issued General Orders, No.6 (Army of the Potomac), announcing the appointment of seven corps commanders, including John Sedgwick as commander of the 6th Corps, the unit with which his career is most identified.
  • On May 3, 1863, John Sedgwick’s 6th Corps belatedly drove Confederate General Jubal Early’s defenders off of Mayre’s Heights above Fredericksburg during the Battle of Chancellorsville.
  • Most of John Sedgwick’s 6th Corps was held in reserve during the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1–3, 1863).
  • John Sedgwick’s 6th Corps was heavily engaged at the Battle of the Wilderness (May 5–7, 1864).
  • On May 9, 1864, a Confederate sharpshooter killed John Sedgwick shortly after Sedgwick declared that “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.”
  • John Sedgwick’s soldiers affectionately referred to him as “Uncle John.”
  • John Sedgwick was one of the four highest-ranking Union casualties of the Civil War.
  • John Sedgwick’s remains were buried at Cornwall Hollow Cemetery, in Cornwall Hollow, Connecticut.
  • John Sedgwick was the highest-ranking Union officer to die during the Civil War.
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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title John Sedgwick - Facts
  • Coverage September 13, 1813 - May 9, 1864
  • Author
  • Keywords John Sedgwick
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date December 8, 2022
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 29, 2021

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