Sunday, April 06, 2014

Spotsylvania panorama: Where General Sedgwick was killed

Click on image for full-screen interactive panorama.
John Sedgwick was killed by a sharpshooter's
bullet on May 9, 1864.
(Library of Congress collection)

The story of Union Major General John Sedgwick, fondly called "Uncle John" by his troops, came full circle for me today during a sun-splashed Virginia day.

Born in Cornwall, Conn., Sedgwick was shot and killed after uttering one of the most famous quotes of the Civil War. "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance," the general scolded soldiers who had scurried from long-distance Rebel gunfire at Spotsylvania Courthouse, Va.., on May 9, 1864. Moments later, a sharpshooter's bullet crashed into the 50-year-old soldier's left cheek, earning Sedgwick the unenviable title of "Highest-ranking Union Officer To Die On A Battlefield During the Civil War."

As many as five Rebels apparently claimed they had shot Sedgwick, and according to this account, an old soldier acknowledged on his death bed that he was the culprit. But no one knows for sure who fired the infamous 500-yard kill shot.

Sedgwick's house in Cornwall Hollow, Conn., where he recuperated from wounds suffered at the Battle of Antietam, and the general's grave a short distance away are must-see Civil War stops in Connecticut. I have been to both spots many times, so a visit this afternoon to Sedgwick's death site with fellow blogger and Spotsylvania County Civil War expert John Cummings was pretty neat. (Commercial interruption: Cummings' Spotsylvania Courthouse battlefield tour is well worth his fee.) In May 1887, veterans of Sedgwick's VI Corps placed the monument on the spot where their commander was killed.

John Sedgwick was killed here at Spotsylvania Courthouse, Va.

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