Major General Oliver Otis Howard


From his memoirs.

O. O. Howard on taking Charge of the 11th Corps

"As soon as General Sickles, who was then my junior in rank, was assigned to the Third Corps, feeling that I had been overlooked, I wrote a brief letter to General Hooker, asking to be assigned according to my rank. Immediately I was ordered to take command of the Eleventh Army Corps, which General Sigel had just left. I assumed command at Stafford Court house, where General Carl Schurz was in charge. My coming sent Schurz back to his division and Schimmelfennig back to his brigade. The corps was then, in round numbers, 13,000 strong. It had about 5,000 Germans and 8,000 Americans. Two divisions were under the German commanders, Von Steinwehr and Carl Schurz, and one under Devens. One of Devens's brigades was commanded by Colonel Von Gilsa, a German officer, who at drills and reviews made a fine soldierly appearance. Outwardly I met a cordial reception, but I soon found that my past record was not known here; that there was much complaint in the German language at the removal of Sigel, who merely wanted to have his command properly increased, and that I was not at first getting the earnest and loyal support of the entire command. But for me there was no turning back. I brought to the corps several tried officers: for example, General Barlow, to command one brigade in Von Steinwehrts division and General Adelbert Ames to take a brigade. I had the command drilled and reviewed as much as could be done in a few weeks."

(The Autobiography of O. O. Howard by The Baker and Taylor Company, pg 348 and 349.)

O. O. Howard on Chancellorsville

"It has been customary to blame me and my corps for the disaster. The imputations of neglect to obey orders; of extraordinary self-confidence; of fanatical reliance upon the God of battles; of not sending out reconnaissances; of not intrenching; of not strengthening the right dank by keeping proper reserves; of having no pickets and skirmishers; of not sending information to General Hooker, etc., etc., are far from true. My command was by positive orders riveted to that position. Though constantly threatened and made aware of hostile columns in motion, yet the woods were so dense that Stonewall Jackson was able to mass a large force a few miles off, whose exact whereabouts neither patrols, reconnaissances, nor scouts ascertained. The enemy crossing the plank road, two and a half miles off, we all saw. So the turning at the Furnace was seen by hundreds of our people; but the interpretation of these movements was certainly wrong. Yet, wherein did we neglect any precaution? It will be found that Devens kept his subordinates constantly on the qui vive; so did Schurz. Their actions and mine were identical. The Eleventh Corps detained Jackson for over an hour; part of my force was away by Hooker's orders; part of each division fought hard, as our Confederate enemies clearly show; part of it became wild with panic, like the Belgians at Waterloo, like most of our troops at Bull Run, and the Confederates, the second day, at Fair Oaks.

I may leave the whole matter to the considerate judgment of my companions in arms, simply asserting that on the terrible day of May 2, 1863, I did all which could have been done by a corps commander in the presence of that panic of men largely caused by the overwhelming attack of Jackson's 26,000 men against my isolated corps of 8,000 without its reserve thus outnumbering me 3 to 1.

There is always a theory in war which will to rest all the imputation of blame to those who do not deserve it. It is to impute the credit of one's great defeat to his enemy. I think in our hearts, as we take a candid review of everything that took place under General Hooker in the blind wilderness country around Chancellorsville, we do, indeed, impute our primary defeat to the successful effort of Stonewall Jackson, and our other checks to General Robert E. Lee."

(The Autobiography of O. O. Howard by The Baker and Taylor Company, pg 348 and 349.)

O. O. Howard on Gettysburg

Early July 1, 1863

... "Schurz ordered General Schimmelfennig (who had Schurz's division now) to advance briskly through Gettysburg and deploy on the right of the First Corps in two lines. Shortly after that the first division, under Barlow, arrived by the Emmittsburg road proper, and advanced through the town on the right of the third division. I rode with Barlow through the city, and out to what is now Barlow Hill.
The firing at the front was severe and an occasional shell burst over our heads or among the houses. When I think of this day, I shall always recall one incident which still cheers my heart: it was that a young lady, after all other persons had quite disappeared for safety, remained behind on her porch and waved her handkerchief to the soldiers as they passed. Our living comrades who were there will not forget this episode, nor the greeting which her heroism awakened as they were going to battle. How heartily they cheered her!"

After arriving north of Gettysburg

... "I ordered Schurz to push out a strong force from his front and seize a wooded height situated some distance north of Robinson's position; but the order had hardly left me when Major Howard brought me word that Early's division of Ewell's corps was at hand; in fact, the entire corps was coming in from the north and east. Reports from Schurz and Buford confirmed the alarming intelligence.
Barlow against a shower of bullets made a strong effort to advance his lines, but as soon as I heard of the approach of Ewell and saw that nothing could prevent the turning of my right flank if Barlow advanced, the order was countermanded, except to press out a skirmish line. The skirmishers on their arrival found the heights already occupied by Rodes's division of Ewell's corps.
Our lines were much extended, and there was quite an interval between the Eleventh and First Corps, occupied only by the two batteries and skirmishers which I have named, yet Robinson, aided by Schimmelfennig (Forty-fifth New York Regiment), captured in that space another Confederate brigade (Iverson's)."

Later

... "I sent positive orders to Schurz and Doubleday to fall back to the cemetery as slowly as possible and take post-the Eleventh on the right and the First on the left of Baltimore pike. I instructed Buford to pass to the extreme left and extend the new line, making with his cavalry all the show possible. Speaking of the retreat of the two corps Doubleday remarks: ' I think the retreat would have been a very successful one, if it had not been unfortunately the ease that a portion of the Eleventh Corps, which had held out very well on the extreme right, had been surrounded and fallen back at the same time that my right flank fell back.'"

(The Autobiography of O. O. Howard by The Baker and Taylor Company, pg 413 and 418.)

Life History