Edwin Vose Sumner, Sr

Edwin Vose Sumner, Sr

Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, USA
Death 21 Mar 1863 (aged 66)
Syracuse, Onondaga County, New York, USA
Burial Syracuse, Onondaga County, New York, USA
Plot Section 8, Lot 1
Memorial ID 5844484 · View Source
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Civil War Union Major General. Nicknamed “Bull Head” because of a legend that a musket ball bounced off his head, he had the distinction of being the oldest field commander of any Army Corps on either side of the Civil War. He entered the United States Army as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 2nd United States Infantry in 1819, and by the outbreak of the Civil War had served longer many other officers had been alive. He fought in the Black Hawk War of 1834, and commanded the Carlisle Cavalry School in 1838. His rise through the ranks was typically slow for the peacetime Army, reaching Captain in 1833 and Major in 1846. He rendered brave service during the Mexican War, where he received a wound at the Battle of Cerro Gordo, commanded American reserve forces at the Battles of Contreras and Churubusco, and headed a successful cavalry charge at the Battle of Molino de Rey that defeated a force of 5,000 Mexican lancers. For his services he won brevets to Lieutenant Colonel, a rank he would officially be promoted to in 1848. He had spent much of his career patrolling the West and battling Indians, and his service in between the Mexican and Civil Wars was no different. He was promoted to full Colonel in 1855, and was given command of the 1st United States Cavalry, a unit scattered over various Western outposts. In 1856, as commander of Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, he became embroiled in the section strife known as “Bloody Kansas”. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, he was advanced to Brigadier General in the Regular Army, replacing the Southern-sympathizing General David E. Twiggs, who was dismissed and became a General in the Confederate Army. In 1862, when the Union’s Army of the Potomac under Major General George B. McClellan consolidated its divisions into Corps, Edwin Sumner was placed in command of the II Corps. Although highly successful in leading companies, battalions and regiments in his career, leading a larger group of soldiers proved difficult for him. During McClellan’s 1862 Peninsular Campaign, he produced mixed results. At the Battle of Williamsburg, his inability to make quick and effective decisions about his command left the fight in the hands of circumstances and his subordinates, and he wielded little influence on the direction and outcome of the combat. At the May 31, 1862 Battle of Seven Pines, he executed a difficult crossing over a rain swollen Chickahominy River, and arrived in time to bolster Union forces of the IV Corps already under attack. He helped stabilize the Union position, and directed the stalemated fight the next day. For his efforts in the battle he was promoted to Major General, US Volunteers on July 16, 1862 (to rank from May 5). He led the II Corps through the rest of the campaign (being wounded twice), and in the Battle of 2nd Bull Run. During the September 17, 1862 Battle of Antietam, Maryland, his lack of acumen for Corps command came to the fore. He led his Corps into battle at its head, not in the rear where a Corps commander can supervise its operations, and he fed his divisions piecemeal into the Battle, which greatly cut down on its effectiveness (General John Sedgwick’s division was nearly annihilated when it made an unsupported attack on Confederates in the West Woods area). His mistakes were some of the many Union commanders made that day, and it did not harm his place in the Army. When Major General Ambrose E. Burnside replaced General McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac, he organized it into three “Grand Divisions”, and General Sumner was placed at the head of the “Right Grand Division” which consisted of the II and IX Corps. In the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862, men from his command made most of the futile attacks on the impregnable Confederate positions on Marye’s Heights, and sustained horrific casualties. The debacle, coupled with the later futile Mud March, caused the replacement of General Burnside with Major General Joseph Hooker, a move that caused Edwin Sumner to request to be relieved of his command. He was then assigned out West to command the Department of Missouri, but he died in Syracuse, New York en route to taking his post. His son, Edwin Vose Sumner Jr, would go on to be brevetted a Brigadier General of Volunteers for his Civil War service. His grandson would perish during World War I.

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 14 Oct 2001
  • Find a Grave Memorial 5844484
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Edwin Vose Sumner, Sr (30 Jan 1797–21 Mar 1863), Find a Grave Memorial no. 5844484, citing Oakwood Cemetery, Syracuse, Onondaga County, New York, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .