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Army of the Potomac

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Army of the Potomac
Potomac Staff.jpg
Commanders of the Army of the Potomac at Culpeper, Virginia, 1863. From the left: Gouverneur K. Warren, William H. French, George G. Meade, Henry J. Hunt, Andrew A. Humphreys, George Sykes
FoundedJuly 26, 1861
DisbandedJune 28, 1865
Country United States
Seal of the United States Board of War and Ordnance.svg
United States Army
TypeField army
RolePrimary Union Army in Eastern Theater
Part ofUnion Army
Garrison/HQWashington, D.C.
EngagementsAmerican Civil War
George B. McClellan
Ambrose Burnside
Joseph Hooker
George G. Meade

The Army of the Potomac was the principal Union Army in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War. It was created in July 1861 shortly after the First Battle of Bull Run and was disbanded in May 1865 following the surrender of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in April.

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  • ✪ 2018 Winter Lecture Series - “A Great Weight at My Heart”: The Army of the Potomac after Gettysburg
  • ✪ A Compelling Social History of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia In Its Final Year (2000)
  • ✪ 3rd Corps Army of the Potomac Firepit Discovery
  • ✪ “To Antietam Creek: The Maryland Campaign of 1862" by Mr. D. Scott Hartwig
  • ✪ General Ulysses S Grant: 'Mr Lincolns Butcher' | Civil War Journal


Ladies and gentlemen, welcome, welcome to Gettysburg National Military Park and, of course, welcome to today's winter lecture. My name is Christopher Gwinn. I'm the Chief of Interpretation and Education at Gettysburg National Military Park. And as many of you have probably heard me joke before, I'm still learning exactly what that means. I often remark that about 80% of my day is spent mired in bureaucracy and on a particularly good day I get 20% of what I would call history. So this is my 20%, at least for the weekend. So, thank you for being here. And we have a lot to talk about and a lot to go over. So what I'd like to do is just kind of jump right into it. And I'd like to begin actually 25 years after the Battle of Gettysburg, 25 years after. The date is October 16, 1888. And let's imagine that we're with the citizens of Gettysburg along the Taneytown Road on the Baltimore Street as they look out their windows at front stoops and their offices that line those roads. They could see that day a parade of marching men heading south towards the battlefield beyond. Now, by 25 years after the battle, that sight had become a common one, prompting among the residents of Gettysburg in nearly equal measure curiosity, celebration, perhaps even a twinge of sadness. Now this particular procession, this parade, was composed of the surviving veterans of the 136th New York Infantry formerly of the 11th Corps of the Army of the Potomac. And after a lapse of 25 years, these veterans had returned to the battlefield, the same soldiers that once defended the slopes of Cemetery Hill and the regions south of town and now returned, and within, instead of ambulances and ammunition wagons and caissons, were their children and grandchildren, wives, family members. And they looked out over a landscape that in most respects bore a very strong resemblance to that which they had encountered 25 years before -- the odd house, an outbuilding, an occasional bar, but mostly open farm fields and orchards. And it's true, by that point the town had grown, new buildings had been built, new roads laid, and like their own, monuments had sprung up across the battlefield. But otherwise, Gettysburg still retain much of that same sense of place. The road where the men had fought was still there, the rock wall where they had sheltered themselves was still there, the tombstones and evergreen cemetery, they were still there, too. All of it now, kind of like them, relics of the battle, but still there. Their procession ended at their still shrouded monument along the Taneytown Road. And when they arrived, they gathered around and performed the kind of ceremonial tableau that would be repeated time and again on the Battlefield of Gettysburg. The veterans stood, heads bowed, caps doffed as prayers were read, flags unfurled, speeches delivered, and poems recited. "We think and speak of other fields," one soldier wrote, "but not as we think and speak of Gettysburg." And Clinton Minor, who helped dedicate the monument that day, he talked amount the monument and the fields that surrounded it as, quote, "holy ground." It would be here, their monument along with Taneytown Road, where the men of the 136th New York would be remembered. And the veterans of the 136th New York, and other Union veterans that would come to the battlefield and speak, they were speaking to themselves and to their family members, but also to future generations. And if you can distill their message down to its base alloy, their message is a fairly simple one. And that is, Gettysburg was the turning point of the war. It was the high-water mark, it was the epic of the conflict, it's where the Confederate Army reached its zenith, where the blow that would ultimately destroy the Confederacy was struck, and everything that happened before was prologue, and everything that happened after was postscript. Gettysburg, Union Veterans contended, ranked among the great battles of history, not only modern history but antiquity as well. As one Union Veteran said, "As Greece had her Thermopylae and Marathon, and as the Battle of Waterloo decided the fate of Europe for a hundred years, so Gettysburg decided the fate of this country for the next hundred." Gettysburg, according to the veterans, the Union Veterans, also signaled the beginning of the end of slavery. Veteran John Ramsey was a veteran of the Eighth New Jersey, he would remind his fellow veterans that, quote, "The result of the battle decided that this was to be a land of freemen, that the shackles of the slaves should be sold for old iron, that the auction block should be burned." Union Veterans argued, at least many of them, that the skillful handling of the Army of the Potomac by George Meade earned George Meade a place in the Pantheon of American heroes, but also ultimately get him a statue on Cemetery Ridge. Union Veterans state, again and again and again, that it was the fortitude of the common soldier, more than any other thing, that won the battle. And so it would be this place, this battlefield, where they would be remembered. And so Union Veterans returned to Gettysburg in the hundreds and thousands and in so doing helped to create the Battlefield Park that we have today. And they also helped to cement this narrative of Gettysburg as the turning point of the war. But these old men, these veterans, who come back to the battlefield in their 50s and 60s and 70s, they had one great advantage that their former selves lacked. And that, of course, is the clarity that comes with hindsight. When they viewed the American Civil War, and here's a throwback to my time in English class, when they viewed the American Civil War, the four years of the conflict, played out with this kind of wonderful narrative arc -- so in 1861 and 1862, as the armies were formed, as they battled in Virginia and Maryland, the action rose. And the story reached its climax in June and July of 1863 with the Gettysburg Campaign. And then afterwards, in 1864 and 1865, the action descended to its logical conclusion -- Union victory, freedom to the enslaved, democratic institutions preserved. To make a long story short, the war, when it was viewed backwards, made sense in a way that it hadn't while it was being fought. And so Union Veterans looked at Gettysburg as the turning point because they knew what came next. They knew the end of the story. They had lived to see the campaigns of 1864, the Siege of Petersburg, the reelection of Lincoln, the triumph of Grant over Lee at Appomattox. But how did Union Veterans feel at the moment, immediately after the Battle of Gettysburg? How did they share the news of what happened there with their friends and family at home? How did they process and come to terms with the death of their friends and comrades? Did they still regard the Battle of Gettysburg as a turning point? What did they do in the days, weeks, and months that followed after? What was it like for them not to remember it, but to live it? For the remainder of our time together today, I'd like to try to answer at least some of those questions. And to do that, I've established a relatively arbitrary timespan for myself. What I'm going to do is look at the three or so months immediately following the Battle of Gettysburg, so July, August, September of 1863. And I'm going to limit myself to only those writers, diary entries, journal accounts that were written at the time, while the men were getting -- living it, while they were engaged in marching and fighting, nothing from the post-war period. And whether it's a, you know, letter written along the banks of the Potomac at Williamsport or amongst the woods at Warrenton, these letters and these diary accounts and these articles -- they paint a very interesting portrait of the Union soldier after Gettysburg. They portray a Union soldier who recognizes what was accomplished at Gettysburg and also what was not accomplished. They portray a soldier whose physical exhaustion and ability to endure privation rivals, if not surpasses, their courage on the battlefield. They portray a Union soldier who cares about politics, who understands the connection between the battlefield and the homefront. They show a union soldier those constant companion is fatigue and hunger, and who was often confused, prey to gossip and rumor, and unsure of the larger forces that decide fate. And they portray, at least in the summer of 1863, a Union soldier who is fighting for more than any other thing the right to go home with his head help up. And so let's join that soldier, and let's do so at the end of the battle, the evening, July 3, 1863. The battle was over, but no one then knew it nor did it come to an abrupt halt. It came to kind of a sputtering conclusion as skirmishers still fired, as pickets still blasted, as units moved and repositioned themselves. Charles Maddox of the 17th Maine, the Trobriands Brigade, that evening learned that General Sickles had died. And he recorded the news in his diary. Others along the Union battle line shared the news that George McClelland had arrived and taken command. And Webb's Brigade, Philadelphians, so he just repulsed Pickett's charge, wrote about how they expected Little Mac's presence at any moment. An 11th Corps soldier reported seeing McClelland on East Cemetery Hill, riding down the Baltimore Pike, dressed as a woman [laughter]. Less reliable reports [laughter], placed James Longstreet among the wounded prisoners, and Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard in another Confederate Army approaching from the South. Now we all know this was true, but in the twilight of battles, the men that were living it, any of it, might be true. "I can't tell what is going on now," one New Yorker lamented, "so I'll not try, for I hear so many rumors." Most believed that they had delivered a heavy blow to Lee's army though even that depended very much on the soldier and his position on the battlefield. Along Cemetery Ridge, Second Corps soldiers counted up captured rebel battle flags. And the final tally was around 20, but they were still finding them here and there, in front of the stone wall. And this was more than had been taken by the Army of the Potomac in the first two years of the war combined. Ultimately Lee's army would take over 40 during the battle. In front of the position of the Twelfth Corps on Culp's Hill, men collected discarded rifles like they were cord wood. Ivory Jeffers of the 137th New York wrote home to his family and said, quote, "We fought the Stonewall Brigade and whipped them. The prisoners said that it was the first time they had ever been whipped." From the lower level of the George Spangler barn, 11th Corps Field Hospital, wounded men tried to gauge the progress of the battle by the muffled roar of rifle and artillery fire and the kind of ebb-and-flow of new arrivals to the hospital. And the soundscape is very difficult for them to read. What could be agreed upon by virtually everyone who survived it was that the night of July 3rd was singularly miserable. It rained, so the ground was soaked as were the men that slept on it. Everything was wet and everything became muddy, and the groans of the wounded were unceasing. By dawn of July 4th, the situation had coagulated a bit. Men in the Army of the Potomac were now certain they had not lost. And most had come to the conclusion that Lee and the Rebel Army had been whipped. The oft-quoted Elijah Hunt Rhodes advanced towards the now-vacant rebel battle lines and recorded, quote, "Was ever the nation's birthday celebrated in such a way before?" And he goes on to say, "This morning, the Second Rhode Island was sent out front and found that during the night General Lee and his Rebel Army had fallen back." And still another wrote that, "quote, "Bobby Lee will go home with his tailfeathers," The euphoria of victory and of survival dissipated almost as quickly as the Rebel Army vanished from the battlefield. From the lower saddle of Culp's Hill, Lieutenant Colonel George Cobham, commanding the 111th Pennsylvania described the scene. "All around me, as I write, our men are busy burying the dead. The ground is literally covered with them, and the blood standing in pools all around me is a sickening sight." In front of the position of the Third Corps, the men noted the decaying smell, the stench, in the air. "The stench has become awful," one said. "I should hate to live here." Other soldiers noticed that as soon as the armies left, new parties arrived -- gawkers, good samaritans, Army correspondents, journalists, nurses, surgeons, graverobbers. One recorded photographic artists taking view of groups of dead, graves, dead horses, et cetera. But most men that wrote home directly from the battlefield did so with what I would call an economy of language. And very typical was Oliver Norton of the Fifth Corps. He wrote, "Dear Father, I am safe and well. We have met the enemy and given them hell. Colonel Vincent is mortally wounded. Al Fares is safe; so is Conway. No time for more." Still near Gettysburg on the sixth of July was Captain Henry Livermore Abbott of the 20th Massachusetts. And he's a young officer. He's well-educated. He belongs to the Harvard Regiment. He's daring. He had led men in some of the most desperate situations of the war, from the streets of Fredericksburg to the debacle at Balls Bluff. And he assumed command of the 20th Massachusetts, the height of Pickett's Charge. And during that fighting he had lost one of his good friends, a young soldier named Henry Ropes. And on July 6th he would write to his father and say this. "When our great victory was just over, the exaltation of victory was so great that one didn't think of our fearful losses. But now I can't help feeling a great weight in my heart. Poor Henry Ropes was of the dearest friends I had ever had or expect to have. He was one of the purest-minded, noblest, most generous men I every knew. His loss is terrible." And here I think we can see Abbott struggling to put into words the seemingly irreconcilable. By terms euphoric and by terms -- Union soldiers, they struggled to process what they had just gone through, what they had survived. But I think most recognized that Gettysburg had been a victory, but it was a victory that was followed by a comma, and not by an exclamation point or a period. I think most Union soldiers on the battlefield, they recognized that the war wasn't over, and they hadn't destroyed the Confederate Army. And George Cobham, he spoke for nearly all when he wrote, quote, "I think the rebels will make another stand between here and Potomac." And over the next two days the men of the Army of the Potomac marched away from the battlefields. They left behind those that could not march either because of deaths or wounds, and the army was still very much coming to grips with just how many men that might be. And the confusion of battle made casualties very difficult to quantify. Some thought dead were only wounded. Some thought wounded were dead. And in the space between, a great many men were simply missing. Ivory Jeffers of the 137th New York and his best friend, Will Dodge, for example, had gone into battle together on July 2nd. In the confusion of the night fighting they became separated. And it was only after that Ivory Jeffers learned his best friend, Will Dodge, had been wounded in the leg. And he was sent to one of the hospitals along Rock Creek. It was told to Jeffers that his leg wasn't broken, so it was likely he'd survive. And Jeffers left Pennsylvania with the knowledge that his best friend was probably going to live. The ghost of George McClellan that had floated over the ranks of the Army July 3rd and 4th vanished almost as quickly as it had appeared as other rumors took shape and took form. Meade was still in command, but exactly what the order of battle looks like between Meade and any individual soldier was a matter of speculation. A soldier in Henry Abbott's Harvard Regiment, for example, 20th Massachusetts -- they began the battle with the well-known Winfield Scott Hancock in Corps Command. And after the battle they learned that the almost totally unknown William Hayes was in charge. Most men probably couldn't have recognized that soldier in the battlefield for $1000. In the 114th Pennsylvania, for a soldier that helped defend Sherfy Peach Orchard on July 2nd, virtually nothing of the chain of command remained intact. In Company F, Captain Francis Fix had been wounded as had First Sergeant Robert Crushman. Regimental Commander Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Cavada had been captured along with Brigade Commander Charles Graham. The vacuum of command resulted in a new Division Commander and a new Corps Commander to make good in the wounded Daniel Sickles. So that nothing was as it had been for a soldier in Company F between him and the Commander of the Army of the Potomac. Captain Francis Donaldson of the 118th Pennsylvania noted the mood as the men left Pennsylvania and crossed into the Maryland border. And most of you know from accounts of soldiers who left Maryland into Pennsylvania on July 1st or June 30th, it was the celebratory time. "Flags were uncased, music was played, the atmosphere," Donaldson writes, "is very, very different as the men leave Pennsylvania." He writes, "Now, no notice whatever was taken of the fact of leaving the state." And for many, the weeks after the battle was more taxing than the battle itself. The euphoria and shock had kind of hardened into what I would call, I guess, this steely resolve. And, really, the pursuit of the Rebel Army for the Army of the Potomac becomes this act of endurance more than anything else. Some men, such as those in the 6th Army Corps, they initially pursue the Confederates directly west down the Fairfield Road. But, ultimately, almost the entirety of the Army of the Potomac head South to the East of the Catoctin and South Mountains, down, hopefully, to Frederick, and then through the gaps in the Maddox. The idea was to cut off Lee from his escape at the fjords of the Potomac. "We've been straining every nerve," one soldier wrote to his sister. "Thousands of men are barefoot and officers, too. But they are bravely struggling on, footsore and hungry, enduring everything without a murmur so we may finish the war now." And in the rain, in the heat, in the endless marching, men end up recording miles, kind of the way they recorded battles on the regimental flag. "My health is good," one man said. "If it was not, we could not stand marching as we are doing. Day before yesterday we marched 28 miles." Another tally that his regiment had marched 250 miles since leaving the Rappahannock, and he predicted another 250 in the month to come. But still he felt optimistic. This soldier wrote, quote, "This style of campaigning agrees with me excellently. I never felt better in my life." If men were optimistic, and if they found these kind of untapped inner reserves of strength, it was because most believed that the end of the war was at hand. Most believed, you know -- in fact, if the machine was driven until the tank was empty and the gears locked, well, that's what it had to -- that's what it had to happen for the war to end. And most men then took the hardship in stride. They sloughed the rainy nights, they endured the shortage of food, lack of sleep, and the endless miles that seemed to blur together. "I will try and not grumble or find fault with the hard marching and privations we have to endure," one man wrote. "I feel confident peace is close at hand and then I shall soon be home again with my parents and friends." The road from Gettysburg took men through a lot of familiar towns and villages and places, many of which the men had marched through on their way to Gettysburg -- places like Littlestown, Taneytown, Emmitsburg, Frederick, Middletown, Boonesborough, Sharpsburg. Men in the First, Second, Fifth Corps trudged past the battlefields of September of 1862 at South Mountain. Some of them actually crossed Burnside Bridge during their pursuit of Lee's Army and the tide of emotion that must have swept over these men as they saw these places. And as the days and miles passed, the sense of an impending battle -- sense of urgency continued to grow. And through a kind of osmosis this urgency spills into the writing of the men. "I'm almost tired, worn out, haven't had my shoes off for a week, lying sometimes in the heaviest of rain without a shelter, not allowed a minute of my own and you can see I have but little time to write," one man wrote from Sharpsburg. And as the urgency grew, so too did the stakes because around this moment the men of the Army of the Potomac learn that Vicksburg had fallen. Now some of the men reported as early as July 5th, but by this point July 9th known throughout the Army. And, also, that same day, July 9th, the Confederate Garrison at Port Hudson surrenders along with 7000 men. And only a few days later that word makes it to the Army of the Potomac. By the 12th of July it appeared to the men in the Army of the Potomac that their moment was up, their moment was at hand. After days of intense marching they caught up to the Army of Northern Virginia at Williamsport. And the men in the ranks from the very limited vantage point -- they tried to appraise the situation. And it was clear that the rebels had their backs to the Potomac River, that the hammer was ready to kind of deliver the crushing blow, and everyone just waited for that moment to happen. Irie Jeffers of the 137th New York reported that "the rebels are said to be entirely surrounded and Potomac is up so they can't fjord it and our men have destroyed the pontoon bridges so they are in a pretty tight spot." Another man wrote that it would, quote, "require all of Lee's Generalship to save the army." And there's this pregnant moment of expectation when men are writing home that they believe at any moment they're going to be advancing. And then the next day, Monday, July 13th, nothing happens. Charles Maddox of the 17th Maine wrote, quote, "Monday, July 13th, near Antietam. The same and moreso. Same place, same rain, no fight, nothing real but rain." On the 14th day of July, Union Forces advanced on Williamsport to find empty entrenchments. Somehow Lee had been able to escape across the Potomac. "We followed the Rebels as fast as possible to Williamsport," one man noted. "They got away from us again, and now we cannot catch them this side of Richmond. The men have pressed on since the right, barefooted, hungry, lousy, and faint." The universal emotion after the Williamsport crossing was one of disappointment and resignation, right? During those weeks of furious marching from Gettysburg to the Potomac there was this common refrain that was voiced by virtually everyone who left on account of it. And that they hoped the end of the war was near -- the end of war, the end of campaigning, the end of wet marches and sleepless nights. And it was that more than any other thing that propelled the men south. And so, on July 14th, when they find that Lee had escaped, rather than looking at it as some sort of reprieve or gallows pardons and that fact they, you know, avoided having to assault the entrenchments outside of Williamsport, the way that later in the war they would write about Mine Run or Cold Harbor, the men write about it with disappointment. This wasn't the end as much as they hoped it would be. A few tried to find a silver lining. Elijah Hahn Rose wrote that he thought it unlikely that Lee would have much of a stomach for an invasion again. "We got more out of the rebels this time than McClellan did at Antietam," he said. "And that, too, without being two or three times at Bull Run and Chantilly and running to Washington for protection." On July 17th, another Union soldier wrote to his parents from Harper's Ferry, and attempted to kind of mitigate expectations on the homefront, he wrote, "I'm supposing the people at home will think we ought to have captured them all, but that is a thing much easier to talk about than to do." And it's here that most narratives of the Gettysburg Campaign, they come to an end. Lee's Army escaped across the Potomac into Virginia. Abraham Lincoln pens this agonizing letter to George Meade talking about how "the enemy was within your easy grasp and now the war will be prolonged indefinitely." Lincoln never sends the letter. Meade offers his resignation anyways, and that's where the period occurs. That's the end of the campaign. And yet, to those that lived it, July 15th looked a whole lot like July 14th, and that looked a whole lot like July 13th, and there was no clear demarcation that separated one chapter of history from another. And so, for most of the men, the war would continue, the marching would continue, and perhaps even a speedy pursuit of Lee could still end it. On the 18th of July, the Fifth Army Corps, at least part of it, crossed the Potomac. And Captain Francis Donaldson of the118th Pennsylvania noted that crossing back into Virginia was punctuated by curses and groans uttered from the men who, quote, "detest the soil of Virginia. "My own feelings that again entering the state can be imagined better than described. Even the name, he wrote, "Virginia, is hateful to me. It was," he said, "the graveyard of the Army of the Potomac." The Union soldier, after his return back to Virginia encountered a landscape that was very, very different from what he had seen in Pennsylvania. And one Union veteran of Gettysburg remarked at how lucky the people of Pennsylvania had been to get rid of the Confederate Army as quickly as it had. And he wrote to his mother, he wrote, "I wish, my dear mother, that I had something to write that would interest you, some description of beautiful scenery or a visit to some of the thriving town and find ole homesteads. Such things at present," he said, "exist but in fancy." The same soldier went on to chronicle the state that he was marching through. And he said "it was one wide scene of desolation and woe. Every house you pass is either partially or altogether in ruins. Not a man is to be seen unless it be some old gray-haired man. At every house there remains two or thee women are to be seen, and nine out of every 10 are dressed in deep mourning for some brother, husband, or son who will return no more. I feel very thankful that the scenes I witness around me are not carried to my own home." The war continued, but now with both armies to the South of the Potomac. For the men in the ranks, the theatre of operation might have changed but beyond that very little else had. And for most, the exhausting marching continued. And from Loudon County, Virginia, men wrote of a physical exhaustion that went beyond just sheer exhaustion to something else, something deeper. They complained of sickness, fatigue. A soldier in the 83rd Pennsylvania wrote that, "I am near sicker than I have been in a year," and that if he could walk at all, he'd walk to a hospital. Sickness ravaged the ranks not just because of the strain and the fatigue of the campaign, but also it should because of the enormous filth. As the men had counted miles, now, too, they started to count the number of days they had gone without bathing or changing clothes. The men were, quote, "lousy." "You hardly know what that means," one man wrote home, "but if you were in the ranks, you would. Not head lice but body lice that crawl all over your shirt and pants." And one soldier wrote home with very admirable candor and simplicity, he wrote, quote, "I am at present really filthy dirty,"[laughter]. He admitted to his mother he hadn't changed his clothes in two weeks. Men noticed, too, the roads were lined with dead horses, animals that had literally, literally, been worked to death. A Fifth Corps soldier wrote that, "marching had been the order of the day since the Army returned to Virginia," but he couldn't see how the army could possibly keep it up. "I think we will now have to stop as our horses are giving out. They die by the hundreds daily. The past few weeks have been a fearful, fearful experience. Artillerymen, especially, noticed the severe toll the march was taking place -- the march was taking on their animals. One artilleryman noted, quote," " the horses are worn out. Every day's march killing from five to 20 in each battery. In addition to the horses, men continued to die. On July 23rd, 1863, outside the town on Lyndon, Virginia, Sergeant Major Fred Bosworth of Company A17th Maine was hit by a six-pound solid shot fired from one of the Confederate artillery pieces. And the would had been in the thigh and it was clearly fatal. But the 20-year-old, he proved resilient. He lived until August, into August. And few in his regiment that wrote about his death could really assign any particular important to it or for any of those who would continue to die of sickness, disease, and from combat in these nameless skirmishes in consequential battles. And the camp of the 20th Massachusetts a month and a half later, a man was murdered. It happened at night. The assailant fled into the darkness and at first it was assumed to have been committed by some recently-arrived draftee. Others came to the conclusion that the murder must have had something to do with a woman. Officers in the regimen took the loss particularly hard as the victim, a Captain Thomas McKay, was one of the most popular men in the regimen. On July 27th, while the Army was near Warrington, Virginia, Ira Jeffers of the 137th New York learned that his friend Will Dodge, whom he'd last seen before the fighting on Culp's Hill, had died. He had been wounded in the leg and initially it was thought the bone wasn't broken, but it turned out it was, and on July 13th his leg was amputated. And Will Dodge died that same day. And Jeffers in his letters writes about the agony that he's facing because he knows that he'll probably have to be the one to tell Dodge's parents. And he describes the feeling of losing that friend. He wrote, "He was to me almost a brother, and now that he is gone it seem almost as though I was left alone among strangers. And to compound the pain, letters to Will Dodge continued to arrive in the mail, and these Jeffers dutifully collected. Not only did men continue to die, but the losses that had been sustained at Gettysburg really whittled away most regiments to a shadow of what they had once were. Take, for example, the Excelsior Brigade. Excelsior Brigade fights the Battle of Whopping Heights on July 23rd and when they did so, they did so after having lost 42% of their men at the Battle of Gettysburg on top of the losses they sustained at Chancellorsville. Nine-month regiments, like the 153rd Pennsylvania, the 13th Vermont, which had seen action at Gettysburg were now leaving the Army entirely. And George Meade is watching the Army that he inherited atrophy in front of him. The Lincoln Administration's response to this was the Enrollment and Conscription Acts of 1863, better know as The Draft. And the hope was to motivate fresh volunteers into the ranks with, with not a draft, but with the threat of a draft. And if that didn't work, the draft itself would take place. And each Congressional district was given a quota. They had to fill the quota. First draft was in July of 1863. In the unlikely event that your name happened to be called in the draft, a number of things could conceivably happen, the least likely of which, as James McPherson writes, was military service. You could fail to report, and one out of five men did this. Just go to Canada, the West, just don't show up. Three-fifths of those drafted were sent home for medical disabilities, and that could be any number of things. In a neighborhood of Boston, men were exempted for crooked toes, a single disabled toe, tender feet, skin growths. One man was sent home for varicose veins. Another was sent home for excessive stammering. Forty percent of the men drafted in Boston got a medical exemption. You're exempted if you could prove you were the sole support for a widow or an orphan sibling or a mother's child. You could hire a substitute, normally an 18 or 19-year-old or an immigrant. Or if you didn't do all that, well, you could pay $300. That would get you out of this draft, but not necessarily a future draft. And there were a lot of ways to cheat the system -- surgeons could be bribed, documents proving a dependency could be forged, some men went as far as self-mutilation. The $300 fee was roughly what a, you know, an Irishman in New York would make in a year. And there was a lot of anger over the draft, particularly among the immigrant and the poorer classes. Among the streets of Boston, the popular song, "We Are Coming, Father Abraham, 300,000 More" was changed to "We Are Coming, Father Abraham, $300 More" [laughter]. Now as Union soldiers marched away from Gettysburg, as the massive casualties were just being made known, the draft commenced. And as we all know, it erupted in violence. In New York on July 13th a draft riot began. The rioters, primarily immigrants, mostly Irish, destroyed public property, they attacked Republican and Abolitionist establishments, set the police stations on fire. They set the colored orphan asylum ablaze, they murdered and lynched black people. The rioting lasted for four days before men from the Army of the Potomac and others subdued the mob. The casualties from the New York Draft Riots were almost as difficult to quantify as the casualties at Gettysburg. There were at least 2000 of them. Damages amount to over $2 million. And news of the incident, news of the riot struck the members of the Army of the Potomac like a lightning bolt. And they processed it in the same way that we do today by viewing it through whatever political leanings they had and crafting around the narrative. Henry Abbott of 20th Massachusetts was many things, but he was not a Republican and he was not an Abolitionist. Henry Abbott had not love for Abraham Lincoln, and he saw in the Draft Riot violence and the mob. He saw in it all proof of the failings of the Lincoln Administration. He writes, "The vilest rowdies in New York have shown the fruit of Lincoln's teaching. The next election alone can save the country. I wish to God it could come now." Most viewed the Draft Riots and the resistance to the Draft as virtually the same thing as fighting for the Confederacy. If you had to simplify men's messages, that was it. The rioting -- same as fighting for the Confederacy. And most men said what they wished was that the mob would come south and get their bellies full of Confederate lead or, more preferably, send the Army of the Potomac up to New York City. One man wrote, quote, "Every copperhead, peace man, anti-draft man, every cursed mother's son of them that does not support the war by word and deed ought to be hung or sent to the south where they belong." Elijah Hunt Rose wrote, "The day that Lee crossed the Potomac, the riots in that city are a disgrace to the nation and ought to be suppressed at any cost of money or life." And, ultimately, as we all know, the Draft went on much to the displeasure of the men that found themselves drafted. And about a month later in the camps of the Army of the Potomac the first draftees, the first conscripts, arrived. They were delivered under guard to virtually all the regiments in the Army of the Potomac, and now these veteran regiments had to incorporate these new arrivals, these draftees, and expectations, as a general rule, were not particularly high for these men. To the rugged campaigners of the Army of the Potomac, these replacements looked like men who didn't want to be in Virginia. So, of course, they didn't, they weren't. They were mostly poor and they were mostly foreign, both of which were marks against them in the often very class conscious and nativist Army of the Potomac. And, yeah, first impressions had not been positive. Getting them south had been like herding cats. The drafted men exhibited a tendency to desert which is perhaps understandable given the circumstances under which they joined the Army. Typical though was the situation in the 118th Pennsylvania. Company Commander Frank Donaldson reported that on the 6th of August, as his brigade was in camp at Rappahannock Station, 109 draftees and substitutes arrived, but not before 50 of them deserted [laughter]. The new men were divided up among the companies, and now Donaldson found himself with 12 new recruits under his command. Five were immigrants, at least three were German, and three claimed to have at one time been officers in some of the 90-day regiments that had been formed at the beginning of the war. One, a man by the name of Von Schlimbeck [assumed spelling], said that he had once been a Brigadier General and commanded a brigade. And all of them still addressed one another by their former Army ranks, Colonel, Captain, and so forth, until Donaldson put a stop to it. They were, according to Donaldson, "a fearful lot of loafers and bummers. That wasn't Donaldson's biggest problem though. His biggest problem was that he had been given, quote, "five Quakers." How do get them to take a musket is a mystery yet to be solved [laughter]. In describing the draftees and the conscripts, men used phrases like rogues and hard nuts, drunkards, rowdies. One 12th Corps soldier noted that most of the conscripts looked like men who'd much rather be in a garage shop which is, for some of them, probably true. In one Second Corps Regiment, it was reported that of the 180 draftees they received, 30 had deserted and another 40 had been sent to the hospital, ill, it was said, of diseases they had when they arrived. To the veterans of Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, these new men were really just a jumbled lot of nearly unpronounceable Dutch, French, Italian, German, in some cases Chinese names, men who were just as apt to shoot them as they were the enemy. "Now," one man wrote, "the orders are never to put a conscript on outposts without an old man in his company." Very bad to have half your army guarding the other half. For the men of the Army of the Potomac, the Gettysburg veterans, the draft was a failure. Rather than lifting their morale, it deteriorated it, it degraded it. And, true, many of the conscripts were poor soldiers. Many of the charges levelled against them were not without merit. But even the most earnest of brave, of draftees, was put in this unwinnable situation. And probably, because if the draft had not been designed to ensure animosity between the reinforcement and the reinforced, it had an implementation to achieve something very like it. It virtually ensured that those from the bottom of society ended up in the ranks. And as such wronged the draftee doubly. First, they're preying on the poor and the marginalized. And, second, we're subjecting them unfairly to the prejudices of the men already in the ranks. How could a draftee or a conscript or a substitute, no matter how brave, no matter how patriotic, possibly replace men like Henry Roots or William Dodge, Fred Bosworth, Thomas McKay, or any of the men who now occupy the thousands of graves that litter the paths of the armies? How could a draftee or a $300 man walk into the camps of the Second Wisconsin or the Fifth New Hampshire and in the eyes of his new comrades possibly replace the men that had been lost? For the Gettysburg veteran, though, most stinging of all, these men who had been motivated by the patriotic ideals of 1861 and 1862, these men who had buried comrades at Antietam and Manassas and Fredericksburg, well, these men now knew exactly how much they were worth. They might not know the number of miles they marched, they might have difficulty quantifying the number of casualties they suffered, but they knew how much their government valued them. That, of course, was $300. Desertion among the conscripts was so frequent and so prevalent, that the Army was forced to come down hard which it did at the end of August and the first weeks of September. On August 29th, General Charles Griffin of the Fifth Corps ordered the entirely of the First Division to form up in an empty field as five bounty jumpers from the 188th Pennsylvania were to be executed. The division formed up along three sides of a hollow square in front of freshly-dug graves. A precession came in, a band playing three mournful dirge, men carrying coffins, and finally the condemned men who were going to be shot. Many men witnessed this scene and virtually all of them wrote about it. Said the theatrics apparently made an impression. Of the five condemned men, two were Protestant, two were Catholic, and one was Jewish. So a priest, a minister, and a rabbi were on hand. Fifty riflemen, 10 each for the five convicted men, waited for the order to fire, and at 3:45 p.m. it came. "It is a very solemn thing to see human beings led forth to be shot like dogs, and those who witnessed such scenes receive an impression that can never be shaken off," one 20th Maine veteran wrote. Another wrote that, quote, "I have seen men shot in the battlefield, man with heads shot off, men with arms and legs gone. I passed them all without a thought." Another wrote, "But," -- another wrote basically the same thing, but he said, "Somehow there was something different in this execution." If the scene made an impression on the men that witnessed it, it also made an impression on the war correspondents and newspapermen that witnessed it as well. And accounts of this appeared in a lot of the northern newspapers. Oliver Wilcox Norton wrote to his family, and wrote, "If you see anything in any of the accounts about the bugler, well, that was me." Similar scenes played out in virtually all of the Corps of the Army of the Potomac to much the same effect. Some men like Henry Abbott, again blamed Lincoln. But most hoped that it would curb desertion as tough as a sight as it was to see. After the execution at Raccoon Fjord in September, Ira Jeffers penned a very shaky description of the scene. And he ended with writing, quote, "I hope that I shall never be tempted to desert." And I think we can see in the construction and wording of that sentence a soldier who is unsure of the future and maybe also unsure of himself, a soldier who, even after witnessing the horrors of a military execution, recognized the possibility that he, too, may be pushed past the point of endurance, and that he, too, may be the one that ends up sitting on the edge of his own coffin. The summer of 1863 ended the rumors. Very few men at this point reported that they believed the end of the war was at hand. That hope seems to have been buried somewhere between the Potomac and the Rappahanick River, the graveyard of the Potomac Army. And they come from the 12th Corps. It was reported that Charleston, South Carolina had surrendered, and that the Stars and Stripes flew over the battered walls of Fort Sumpter. Others had heard that George Meade was to be replaced and so others heard that they were to be sent to Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee. Some of this was true. Some of it wasn't. But to the men in the ranks, any of it might be true. No one could see the future terribly clearly, and so they guessed and they speculated. What in 10 or 20 or 30 years would be very obvious was, in the moment, a mystery. And that includes the importance of the battle they fought at Gettysburg. No one then in the Army of the Potomac would refute the fact that the Battle of Gettysburg had been anything other than a titanic clash, and no one would say that the site of retreating rebels and stacked-up flags and rifles had been anything other than a clear indication of victory. The immediate importance of the battle for the men that won it was the fact that they had won it. They had beaten Lee. And while they might write home of the drubbing they gave the rebels and the feeling of euphoria that came with their victory, very few at this point would venture beyond saying much more than that. What was perhaps more obvious was the fact that by the end of the summer of 1863 the Army of the Potomac was not the same army that it once had been. Something in it had changed. Something had metastasized. Gone were the days of the strictly volunteer armies, renowned units, the Armed Brigade, the Irish Brigade, the Excelsior's. They might exist in name but they were no longer the same units that marched out to the field at Antietam and Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. Within that year, the First and Third Corps, destroyed after the Battle of Gettysburg, were disbanded and their regiments consolidated into other organizations. By the Spring Campaigns of 1864, the 11th Corps and the 12th Corps were gone. They had been sent to Georgia. The Army of the Potomac was a different organization, not necessarily better, not necessarily worse, just different. In their 50s and 60s and 70s, Union Veterans returned to the battlefield at Gettysburg. They erected their monuments like the men of the 136 New York. We started talking about them. Mostly they recorded the names of the battles they fought, the losses they had the battle an importance magnified by the passage of time. But in the immediate aftermath of the fighting, amidst the wreckage and destruction of war, nothing was ever that clear. On the lower slopes of Culp's Hill, surrounded by pools of blood, Lieutenant Colonel George Cobham watched as his men buried rebels in mass graves and stacked up thousands of captured rifles. And during the lull in the rain he took an opportunity to write home. And at first he wrote about mundane things. His wife Annie had informed him that their roof at their house had sprung a leak and he gave suggestions on how to repair it. He said that when he got home he would replace it with tin even though tin was expensive. They were about mundane, everyday things. Like he expected to live. He then attempted to describe the battle and wrote about the men that he saw killed. He writes, "As one sees his former companions and friends fall one after the other, he feels a sort of bulldog determination to give as good as he gets." Gettysburg was a turning point for the Union volunteer, not because it signaled the beginning of the end, nor because its strategic and tactical significance meant some important momentous event for the Union effort, but rather because it demonstrated that the men in the Army of the Potomac, they could win. It cemented in them that belief and that bulldog determination that Cobham writes about that would carry them past the unknowable miles to be marched, privations to be endured, graves to be dug, and battles to be fought. And so that, I believe, is why Gettysburg is a turning point for the men who wrote about it. And with that, I'll bring this to a conclusion. Thank you all for being here. I hope you took something out of it. [ Applause ]



The Army of the Potomac was created in 1861 but was then only the size of a corps (relative to the size of Union armies later in the war). Its nucleus was called the Army of Northeastern Virginia, under Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell, and it was the army that fought (and lost) the war's first major battle, the First Battle of Bull Run. The arrival in Washington, D.C., of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan dramatically changed the makeup of that army. McClellan's original assignment was to command the Division of the Potomac, which included the Department of Northeast Virginia under McDowell and the Department of Washington under Brig. Gen. Joseph K. Mansfield. On July 26, 1861, the Department of the Shenandoah, commanded by Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks, was merged with McClellan's departments and on that day, McClellan formed the Army of the Potomac, which was composed of all military forces in the former Departments of Northeastern Virginia, Washington, Pennsylvania, and the Shenandoah. The men under Banks's command became an infantry division in the Army of the Potomac.[1] The army started with four corps, but these were divided during the Peninsula Campaign to produce two more. After the Second Battle of Bull Run, the Army of the Potomac absorbed the units that had served under Maj. Gen. John Pope.

It is a popular, but mistaken, belief that John Pope commanded the Army of the Potomac in the summer of 1862 after McClellan's unsuccessful Peninsula Campaign. On the contrary, Pope's army consisted of different units, and was named the Army of Virginia. During the time that the Army of Virginia existed, the Army of the Potomac was headquartered on the Virginia Peninsula, and then outside Washington, D.C., with McClellan still in command, although three corps of the Army of the Potomac were sent to northern Virginia and were under Pope's operational control during the Northern Virginia Campaign.

The Army of the Potomac – Our Outlying Picket in the Woods, 1862
The Army of the Potomac – Our Outlying Picket in the Woods, 1862

The Army of the Potomac underwent many structural changes during its existence. The army was divided by Ambrose Burnside into three grand divisions of two corps each with a Reserve composed of two more. Hooker abolished the grand divisions. Thereafter the individual corps, seven of which remained in Virginia, reported directly to army headquarters. Hooker also created a Cavalry Corps by combining units that previously had served as smaller formations. In late 1863, two corps were sent West, and— in 1864— the remaining five corps were recombined into three. Burnside's IX Corps, which accompanied the army at the start of Ulysses S. Grant's Overland Campaign, rejoined the army later. For more detail, see the section Corps below.

The Army of the Potomac fought in most of the Eastern Theater campaigns, primarily in (Eastern) Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. After the end of the war, it was disbanded on June 28, 1865, shortly following its participation in the Grand Review of the Armies.

The Army of the Potomac was also the name given to General P. G. T. Beauregard's Confederate army during the early stages of the war (namely, First Bull Run; thus, the losing Union Army ended up adopting the name of the winning Confederate army). However, the name was eventually changed to the Army of Northern Virginia, which became famous under General Robert E. Lee.

In 1869 the Society of the Army of the Potomac was formed as a veterans association. It had its last reunion in 1929.

Grand Review of the Army of the Potomac, drawn by Thomas Nast, Harper's Weekly,  October 10, 1863
Grand Review of the Army of the Potomac, drawn by Thomas Nast, Harper's Weekly, October 10, 1863

Famous units

Saint Patrick's Day celebration in the Army of the Potomac, depicting a steeplechase race among the Irish Brigade, March 17, 1863, by Edwin Forbes
Saint Patrick's Day celebration in the Army of the Potomac, depicting a steeplechase race among the Irish Brigade, March 17, 1863, by Edwin Forbes

Because of its proximity to the large cities of the North, such as Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City, the Army of the Potomac received more contemporary media coverage than the other Union field armies. Such coverage produced fame for a number of this army's units. Individual brigades, such as the Irish Brigade, the Philadelphia Brigade, the First New Jersey Brigade, the Vermont Brigade, and the Iron Brigade, all became well known to the general public, both during the Civil War and afterward.


Scouts and guides, Army of the Potomac, Mathew Brady
Scouts and guides, Army of the Potomac, Mathew Brady

The army originally consisted of fourteen divisions commanded by Edwin Sumner, William B. Franklin, Louis Blenker, Nathaniel Banks, Frederick W. Lander, Silas Casey, Irvin McDowell, Fitz-John Porter, Samuel Heintzelman, Erasmus Keyes, William F. Smith, Charles P. Stone (replaced by John Sedgwick in February 1862), and George McCall. Because this arrangement would be too hard to control in battle, President Lincoln issued an order on March 13, 1862, dividing the army into six corps headed by Sumner, Banks (despite being in the Shenandoah Valley and not part of the main army), McDowell, Heintzelman, and Keyes, the highest-ranking officers. McClellan was not happy with this, as he had intended to wait until the army had been tested in battle before judging which generals were suitable for corps command.

After the Battle of Williamsburg on May 5, McClellan requested and obtained permission to create two additions corps; these became the V Corps, headed by Brig. Gen Fitz-John Porter, and the VI Corps, headed by Brig. Gen William B. Franklin, both personal favorites of his. After the Battle of Kernstown in the Valley on March 23, the administration became paranoid about "Stonewall" Jackson's activities there and the potential danger they posed to Washington D.C., and to McClellan's displeasure, detached Blenker's division from the II Corps and sent it to West Virginia to serve under John C. Fremont's command. McDowell's corps was detached as well and stationed in the Rappahannock area.

In June 1862, George McCall's division from McDowell's corps (the Pennsylvania Reserves Division) was sent down to the Peninsula and temporarily attached to the V Corps. In the Seven Days Battles, the V Corps was heavily engaged. The Pennsylvania Reserves, in particular, suffered heavy losses including its division commander, who was captured by the Confederates, and two of its three brigadiers (John F. Reynolds, also captured, and George Meade, who was wounded). The III Corps fought at Glendale, however, the rest of the army was not heavily engaged in the week-long fight aside from Slocum's division of the VI Corps, which was sent to reinforce the V Corps at Gaines Mill.

The Army of the Potomac remained on the Virginia Peninsula until August, when it was recalled back to Washington D.C. Keyes and one of the two IV Corps divisions were left behind permanently as part of the newly-created Department of the James, while the other division, commanded by Brig. Gen Darius Couch was attached to the VI Corps.

During the Second Battle of Bull Run, the III and V Corps were temporarily attached to Pope's army; the former suffered major losses and was sent back to Washington to rest and refit afterward, so it did not participate in the Maryland Campaign. The V Corps attracted controversy during the battle when Fitz-John Porter failed to execute Pope's orders properly and attack Stonewall Jackson's flank despite his protests that James Longstreet's troops were blocking the way. Pope blamed the loss at Second Bull Run on Porter, who was court-martialed and spent much of his life attempting to get himself exonerated. Sigel's command, now redesignated the XI Corps, also spent the Maryland Campaign in Washington resting and refitting.

In the Maryland Campaign, the Army of the Potomac had six corps. These were the I Corps, commanded by Joe Hooker after Irvin McDowell was removed from command, the II Corps, commanded by Edwin Sumner, the V Corps, headed by Fitz-John Porter, the VI Corps, headed by William Franklin, the IX Corps, headed by Ambrose Burnside and formerly the Department of North Carolina, and the XII Corps, headed by Nathaniel Banks until September 12, and given to Joseph K. Mansfield just two days prior to Antietam, where he was killed in action.

At Antietam, the I and XII Corps were the first Union outfits to fight and both corps suffered enormous casualties (plus the loss of their commanders) so that they were down to near-division strength and their brigades at regimental strength after the battle was over. The II and IX Corps were also heavily engaged but the V and VI Corps largely stayed out of the battle.

When Burnside took over command of the army from McClellan in the fall, he formed the army into four Grand Divisions. The Right Grand Division was commanded by Edwin Sumner and comprised the II and V Corps, the Center Grand Division, commanded by Joe Hooker, comprised the IX and III Corps, and the Left Grand Division, commanded by William Franklin, comprised the VI and I Corps. In addition, the Reserve Grand Division, commanded by Franz Sigel, comprised the XI and XII Corps.

At Fredericksburg, the I Corps was commanded by John F. Reynolds, the II Corps by Darius Couch, the III Corps by George Stoneman, the V Corps by Daniel Butterfield, the VI Corps by William F. Smith, and the IX Corps by Orlando Willcox. The XI Corps was commanded by Franz Sigel and the XII Corps by Henry Slocum, however, neither corps was present at Fredericksburg, the former not arriving until after the battle was over, and the latter was stationed at Harper's Ferry.

Following Fredericksburg, Burnside was removed from command of the army and replaced by Joe Hooker. Hooker immediately abolished the Grand Divisions and also for the first time organized the cavalry into a proper corps led by George Stoneman instead of having them ineffectually scattered among infantry divisions. Burnside and his old IX Corps departed out to a command in the Western Theater. The I, II, and XII Corps retained the same commanders they had had during the Fredericksburg campaign, but the other corps got new commanders once again. Daniel Butterfield was chosen by Hooker as his new chief of staff and command of the V Corps went to George Meade. Daniel Sickles received command of the III Corps and Oliver Howard the XI Corps after Franz Sigel had resigned, refusing to serve under Hooker, his junior in rank. William Franklin also left the army for the same reason. Edwin Sumner, who was in his 60s and exhausted from campaigning, departed as well and died a few months later. William F. Smith resigned from command of the VI Corps, which was taken over by John Sedgwick. The I and V Corps were not significantly engaged during the Chancellorsville campaign.

During the Gettysburg Campaign, the army's existing organization was largely retained, but a number of brigades composed of short-term nine-month regiments departed as their enlistment terms expired. Darius Couch resigned from command of the II Corps after Chancellorsville, the corps going to Winfield Hancock. The Pennsylvania Reserves Division, having spent several months in Washington D.C. resting and refitting from the 1862 campaigns, returned to the army, but was added to the V Corps rather than rejoining the I Corps. George Stoneman had been removed from command of the cavalry corps by Hooker after a poor performance during the Chancellorsville campaign and replaced by Alfred Pleasanton.

George Meade was suddenly appointed the commander of the army on June 28, a mere three days before the battle of Gettysburg. At the battle, the I, II, and III Corps suffered such severe losses that they were almost nonfunctional as fighting units at the end. One corps commander (Reynolds) was killed, another (Sickles) lost a leg and was permanently out of the war, and a third (Hancock) was badly wounded and never completely recovered from his injuries. The VI Corps had not been significantly engaged and was mostly used to plug up holes in the line during the battle.

For the remainder of the war, corps were added and subtracted from the army. IV Corps was broken up after the Peninsula Campaign, with its headquarters and 2nd Division left behind in Yorktown, while its 1st Division moved north, attached to the VI Corps, in the Maryland Campaign. Those parts of the IV Corps that remained on the Peninsula were reassigned to the Department of Virginia and disbanded on October 1, 1863.[2] Those added to the Army of the Potomac were IX Corps, XI Corps (Sigel's I Corps in the former Army of Virginia), XII Corps (Banks's II Corps from the Army of Virginia ), added in 1862; and the Cavalry Corps, created in 1863. Eight of these corps (seven infantry, one cavalry) served in the army during 1863, but due to attrition and transfers, the army was reorganized in March 1864 with only four corps: II, V, VI, and Cavalry. Of the original eight, I and III Corps were disbanded due to heavy casualties and their units combined into other corps. The XI and XII Corps were ordered to the West in late 1863 to support the Chattanooga Campaign, and while there were combined into the XX Corps, never returning to the East.

The IX Corps returned to the army in 1864, after being assigned to the West in 1863 and then served alongside, but not as part of, the Army of the Potomac from March to May 24, 1864. On that latter date, IX Corps was formally added to the Army of the Potomac.[3] Two divisions of the Cavalry Corps have transferred in August 1864 to Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan's Army of the Shenandoah, and the 2nd Division alone remained under Meade's command. On March 26, 1865, that division was also assigned to Sheridan for the closing campaigns of the war.[4]


  • Brigadier General Irvin McDowell: Commander of the Army and Department of Northeastern Virginia (May 27 – July 25, 1861)
  • Major General George B. McClellan: Commander of the Military Division of the Potomac, and later, the Army and Department of the Potomac (July 26, 1861 – November 9, 1862)
  • Major General Ambrose E. Burnside: Commander of the Army of the Potomac (November 9, 1862 – January 26, 1863)
  • Major General Joseph Hooker: Commander of the Army and Department of the Potomac (January 26 – June 28, 1863)
  • Major General George G. Meade: Commander of the Army of the Potomac† (June 28, 1863 – June 28, 1865)

†Major General John G. Parke took brief temporary command during Meade's absences on four occasions during this period)

Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, general-in-chief of all Union armies, located his headquarters with the Army of the Potomac and provided operational direction to Meade from May 1864 to April 1865, but Meade retained command of the Army of the Potomac.

Major battles and campaigns

Casualties breakdown

Below is the grand recapitulation of the losses sustained by the Army of the Potomac and the Army of the James, from May 5, 1864 to April 9, 1865, compiled in the Adjutant-General's Office, Washington:


  1. ^ Beatie, p. 480.
  2. ^ Welcher, pp. 361–62.
  3. ^ Welcher, pp. 428, 431.
  4. ^ Welcher, pp. 536, 540.


  • Beatie, Russel H. Army of the Potomac: Birth of Command, November 1860 – September 1861. New York: Da Capo Press, 2002. ISBN 0-306-81141-3.
  • Beatie, Russel H. Army of the Potomac: McClellan Takes Command, September 1861 – February 1862. New York: Da Capo Press, 2004. ISBN 0-306-81252-5.
  • Beatie, Russel H. Army of the Potomac: McClellan's First Campaign, March – May 1862. New York: Savas Beatie, 2007. ISBN 978-1-932714-25-8.
  • Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • Welcher, Frank J. The Union Army, 1861–1865 Organization and Operations. Vol. 1, The Eastern Theater. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989. ISBN 0-253-36453-1.

Further reading

  • Chamberlain, Joshua L. The Passing of the Armies: An Account of the Final Campaign of the Army of the Potomac. New York: Bantam Books, 1993. ISBN 0-553-29992-1. First published in 1915 by G.P. Putnam's Sons.
  • Sears, Stephen W. Lincoln's Lieutenants: The High Command of the Army of the Potomac (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017), xii, 884 pp.
  • Taaffe, Stephen R. Commanding the Army of the Potomac. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2006. ISBN 0-7006-1451-6.

External links

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