Major General Gouverneur K. Warren (USA)

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Major General Gouverneur Kemble Warren (USA)

Gouverneur Kemble Warren was born in Cold Spring, Putnam County, New York on 8 January 1830. He entered the United States Military Academy at age 16 and graduated second in his class of 44 cadets in 1850. He was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in the Corps of Topographical Engineers. He worked on the Mississippi River, on transcontinental railroad surveys, and mapped the trans-Mississippi West. He served as the engineer at William S. Harney’s Battle of Ash Hollow in the Nebraska Territory in 1855.

At the start of the Civil War, Warren was a first lieutenant and mathematics instructor at the United States Military Academy. He helped raise a local regiment for service in the Union Army and was appointed lieutenant colonel of the 5th New York Infantry on 14 May 1861. He saw combat at the Battle of Big Bethel in Virginia on 10 June. He was promoted to colonel and regimental commander on 10 September.

During the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, Warren commanded his regiment at the Siege of Yorktown and assisted the chief topographical engineer of the Army of the Potomac, Brig. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys, by leading reconnaissance missions and drawing detailed maps of appropriate routes for the army in its advance up the Virginia Peninsula. He commanded the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, V Corps during the Seven Days Battles and was wounded at the Battle of Gaines’ Mill. At Malvern Hill, his brigade stopped the attack of a Confederate division. He led the brigade at the Second Battle of Bull Run, suffering heavy casualties in a heroic stand against an overwhelming enemy assault. At Antietam, the V Corps was in reserve and saw no combat.

Warren was promoted to brigadier general on 26 September 1862 and fought at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December. Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker reorganized the Army of the Potomac in February 1863 and named Warren his chief topographical engineer and then chief engineer. As chief engineer, Warren was commended for his service in the Battle of Chancellorsville.

At the start of the Gettysburg Campaign, Warren advised Hooker on the routes the Army should take to pursue Robert E. Lee. On 2 July 1863, Warren initiated the defense of Little Round Top, recognizing the importance of the undefended position on the left flank of the Union Army, and directing, on his own initiative, the brigade of Colonel Strong Vincent to occupy it just minutes before it was attacked. Warren suffered a minor neck wound during the Confederate assault.

Promoted to major general on 8 August 1863, Warren commanded the II Corps from August 1863 until March 1864, replacing the wounded Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock, distinguishing himself at the Battle of Bristoe Station. On 13 March 1865, he was brevetted to major general in the regular army for his actions at Bristoe Station.

During the Mine Run Campaign, Warren’s corps was ordered to attack Lee’s army, but he perceived that a trap had been laid and refused the order from army commander Maj. Gen. George G. Meade. Although initially angry, Meade acknowledged Warren had been right. Upon Hancock’s return from medical leave, and the spring 1864 reorganization of the Army of the Potomac, Warren assumed command of the V Corps and led it through the Overland Campaign, the Siege of Petersburg, and the Appomattox Campaign.

During these campaigns, Warren established a reputation of bringing his engineering traits of deliberation and caution to the role of infantry corps commander. He won the Battle of Globe Tavern, 18-20 August 1864, cutting the Weldon Railroad, a vital supply route to Petersburg.

The aggressive Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan was dissatisfied with Warren’s performance. He was angry at Warren’s corps for supposedly obstructing roads after the Battle of the Wilderness and its cautious actions during the Siege of Petersburg. At the beginning of the Appomattox Campaign, Sheridan requested IV Corps be assigned to his pursuit of Lee’s army, but Grant insisted that V Corps was better positioned and gave Sheridan written permission to relieve Warren if he felt it was justified.

At the Battle of Five Forks on 1 April 1865, Sheridan judged the V Corps had moved too slowly into the attack, and criticized Warren for not being at the front of his columns. Warren had been held up searching for Samuel W. Crawford’s division. Otherwise, he had handled his corps efficiently and their attack had carried the day at Five Forks. Nevertheless, Sheridan relieve Warren on the spot. Warren was assigned to the defenses of Petersburg and then briefly to command of the Department of Mississippi.

Warren resigned his commission in protest on 27 May 1865, reverting to his rank of major in the Corps of Engineers. He served as an engineer for seventeen years achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1879, but his career had been ruined. He urgently requested a court of inquiry to exonerate him from the stigma of Sheridan’s action. Finally, President Rutherford B. Hayes ordered a court of inquiry in 1879 that found Sheridan’s relief of Warren had been unjustified. Unfortunately, the results were not published until after his death.

His last assignment was as district engineer for Newport, Rhode Island where he died on 8 August 1882.

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