Union Commanders at the Battle of Gettysburg

Leading the Army of the Potomac

Fought July 1–3, 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg saw the Union Army of the Potomac field 93,921 men which were divided into seven infantry and one cavalry corps. Led by Major General George G. Meade, Union forces conducted a defensive battle which culminated with the defeat of Pickett's Charge on July 3. The victory ended the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania and marked the turning point of the Civil War in the East. Here we profile the men who led the Army of the Potomac to victory:

Major General George G. Meade - Army of the Potomac

Major General George G. Meade
The National Archives & Records Administration

A Pennsylvanian and West Point graduate, Meade saw action during the Mexican-American War and served on the staff of Major General Zachary Taylor. With the beginning of the Civil War, he was appointed a brigadier general and quickly moved up to corps command. Meade assumed command of the Army of the Potomac on June 28 following the relief of Major General Joseph Hooker. Learning of the fighting in Gettysburg on July 1, he sent Major General Winfield S. Hancock ahead to assess the field before arriving in person that evening. Establishing his headquarters behind the Union center at the Leister Farm, Meade directed the defense of the Union line the next day. Holding a council of war that night, he elected to continue the battle and completed the defeat of General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia the next day. In the wake of the fighting, Meade was criticized for not vigorously pursuing the beaten enemy.

Major General John Reynolds - I Corps

Major General John F. Reynolds
The Library of Congress

Another Pennsylvanian, John Reynolds graduated from West Point in 1841. A veteran of Major General Winfield Scott's 1847 campaign against Mexico City, he was widely considered one of the best commanders in the Army of the Potomac. This opinion was shared by President Abraham Lincoln who offered him command of the army following Hooker's removal. Unwilling to be fettered by the political aspects of the position, Reynolds declined. On July 1, Reynolds led his I Corps into Gettysburg to support Brigadier General John Buford's cavalry which had engaged the enemy. Shortly after his arrival, Reynolds was killed while deploying troops near Herbst Woods. With his death, command of I Corps passed to Major General Abner Doubleday and later Major General John Newton.

Major General Winfield Scott Hancock - II Corps

Major General Winfield S. Hancock
The National Archives & Records Administration

An 1844 graduate of West Point, Winfield S. Hancock served in his namesake's Mexico City campaign three years later. Made a brigadier general in 1861, he earned the nickname "Hancock the Superb" during the Peninsula Campaign the following year. Taking command of II Corps in May 1863 after the Battle of Chancellorsville, Hancock was sent ahead by Meade on July 1 to determine if the army should fight at Gettysburg. Arriving, he clashed with XI Corps' Major General Oliver O. Howard who was senior. Occupying the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge, II Corps played a role in the fighting in the Wheatfield on July 2 and bore the brunt of Pickett's Charge the next day. In the course of the action, Hancock was wounded in the thigh.

Major General Daniel Sickles - III Corps

Major General Daniel Sickles
The Library of Congress

A New Yorker, Daniel Sickles was elected to Congress in 1856. Three years later, he killed his wife's lover but was acquitted in the first use of the insanity defense in the United States. With the beginning of the Civil War, Sickles raised several regiments for the Union Army. In reward, he was made a brigadier general in September 1861. A solid commander in 1862, Sickles received command of III Corps in February 1863. Arriving early on July 2, he was ordered form III Corps on Cemetery Ridge to the south of II Corps. Unhappy with the ground, Sickles advanced his men to the Peach Orchard and Devil's Den without notifying Meade. Overextended, his corps came under attack from Lieutenant General James Longstreet and was nearly crushed. Sickles' action forced Meade to shift reinforcements to his part of the battlefield. As the fighting raged, Sickles was wounded and ultimately lost his right leg.

Major General George Sykes - V Corps

Major General George Sykes
The Library of Congress

A West Point graduate, George Sykes took part in both Taylor and Scott's campaigns during the Mexican-American War. A no-nonsense soldier, he spent the early years of the Civil War leading a division of US Regulars. Stronger in defense than attack, Sykes assumed command of V Corps on June 28 when Meade ascended to lead the army. Arriving on July 2, V Corps entered the battle in support of III Corps' crumbling line. Fighting in the Wheatfield, Sykes men distinguished themselves while other elements of the corps, notably Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain's 20th Maine, conducted the vital defense of Little Round Top. Reinforced by VI Corps, V Corps held the Union left through night and July 3.

Major General John Sedgwick - VI Corps

Major General George Sykes
The Library of Congress

Graduating from West Point in 1837, John Sedgwick first saw action during the Second Seminole War and later during the Mexican-American War. Made a brigadier general in August 1861, he was liked by his men and known as "Uncle John." Taking part in the Army of the Potomac's campaigns, Sedgwick proved a reliable commander and was given VI Corps in early 1863. Reaching the field late on July 2, the lead elements of VI Corps were used to plug holes in the line around the Wheatfield and Little Round Top while the rest of Sedgwick's troops were held in reserve on the Union left. Following the battle, VI Corps was ordered to pursue the retreating Confederates.

Major General Oliver O. Howard - XI Corps

Major General Oliver O. Howard
The Library of Congress

A superior student, Oliver O. Howard graduated fourth in his class at West Point. Experiencing a deep conversion to evangelical Christianity early in his career, he lost his right arm at Seven Pines in May 1862. Returning to action that fall, Howard performed well and in April 1863 was given command of the largely immigrant XI Corps. Resented by his men for his strict demeanor, the corps performed badly at Chancellorsville the following month. The second Union corps to arrive at Gettysburg on July 1, Howard's troops deployed north of the town. Attacked by Lieutenant General Richard Ewell, XI Corps's position collapsed when one of its divisions moved out of position and additional Confederate troops arrived on Howard's right. Falling back through the town, XI Corps spent the remainder of the battle defending Cemetery Hill. In charge of the field following Reynolds' death, Howard was unwilling to relinquish command when Hancock arrived at Meade's behest.

Major General Henry Slocum - XII Corps

Two photos of General Henry Slocum

The National Archives & Records Administration

A native of western New York, Henry Slocum graduated from West Point in 1852 and was assigned to the artillery. Leaving the US Army four years later, he returned at the start of the Civil War and was made colonel of the 27th New York State Infantry. Seeing fighting at First Bull Run, on the Peninsula, and Antietam, Slocum received command of XII Corps in October 1862. Receiving calls for assistance from Howard on July 1, Slocum was slow to respond and XII Corps did not reach Gettysburg until that evening. As XII Corps assumed a position on Culp's Hill, Slocum was placed in command of the army's right wing. In this role, he resisted Meade's orders to send the entirety of XII Corps to reinforce the Union left the next day. This proved critical as the Confederates later mounted several assaults against Culp's Hill. Following the battle, XII Corps played a role in pursuing the Confederates south.

Major General Alfred Pleasonton - Cavalry Corps

Major General Alfred Pleasonton
The Library of Congress

Completing his time at West Point in 1844, Alfred Pleasonton initially served on the frontier with the dragoons before taking part in the early battles of the Mexican-American War. A dandy and political climber, he ingratiated himself with Major General George B. McClellan during the Peninsula Campaign and was made a brigadier general in July 1862. During the Antietam Campaign, Pleasonton earned the nickname "The Knight of Romance" for his fanciful and inaccurate scouting reports. Given command of the Army of the Potomac's Cavalry Corps in May 1863, he was mistrusted by Meade and directed to remain close to headquarters. As a result, Pleasonton played little direct role in the fighting at Gettysburg.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "Union Commanders at the Battle of Gettysburg." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/battle-of-gettysburg-union-commanders-2360438. Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). Union Commanders at the Battle of Gettysburg. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/battle-of-gettysburg-union-commanders-2360438 Hickman, Kennedy. "Union Commanders at the Battle of Gettysburg." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/battle-of-gettysburg-union-commanders-2360438 (accessed June 6, 2023).