American Civil War: Brigadier General David McM. Gregg

David Gregg
Brigadier General David McM. Gregg. Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress

David McM. Gregg - Early Life & Career:

Born April 10, 1833, in Huntingdon, PA, David McMurtrie Gregg was the third child of Matthew and Ellen Gregg.  Following his father's death in 1845, Gregg moved with his mother to Hollidaysburg, PA.  His time there proved brief as she died two years later.  Orphaned, Gregg and his older brother, Andrew, were sent to live with their uncle, David McMurtrie III, in Huntingdon.  Under his care, Gregg entered the John A. Hall School before moving on to nearby Milnwood Academy.  In 1850, while attending the University of Lewisburg (Bucknell University), he received an appointment to West Point with the aid of Representative Samuel Calvin.  

Arriving at West Point on July 1, 1851, Gregg proved a good student and an excellent horseman.  Graduating four years later, he ranked eighth in a class of thirty-four.  While there, he developed relationships with older students, such as J.E.B. Stuart and Philip H. Sheridan, with whom he would fight and serve with during the Civil War.  Commissioned a second lieutenant, Gregg was briefly posted to Jefferson Barracks, MO before receiving orders for Fort Union, NM.  Serving with the 1st US Dragoons, he moved to California in 1856 and north to Washington Territory the following year.  Operating from Fort Vancouver, Gregg fought several engagements against the Native Americans in the area.  

David McM. Gregg - The Civil War Begins:

On March 21, 1861, Gregg earned a promotion to first lieutenant and orders to return east.  With the attack on Fort Sumter the following month and beginning of the Civil War, he quickly received a promotion to captain on May 14 with orders to join the 6th US Cavalry in Washington DC's defenses.  Shortly thereafter, Gregg fell gravely ill with typhoid and nearly died when his hospital burned.  Recovering, he took command of the 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry on January 24, 1862 with the rank of colonel.  This move was facilitated by the fact that Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtain was Gregg's cousin.  Later that spring, the 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry shifted south to the Peninsula for Major General George B. McClellan's campaign against Richmond.

David McM. Gregg - Climbing the Ranks:

Serving in Brigadier General Erasmus D. Keyes' IV Corps, Gregg and his men saw service during the advance up the Peninsula and ably screened the army's movements during the Seven Days Battles that June and July.  With the failure of McClellan's campaign, Gregg's regiment and the rest of the Army of the Potomac returned north.  That September, Gregg was present for the Battle of Antietam but saw little fighting.  Following the battle, he took leave and traveled to Pennsylvania to marry Ellen F. Sheaff on October 6.  Returning to his regiment after a brief honeymoon in New York City, he received a promotion to brigadier general on November 29.  With this came command of a brigade in Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton's division.

Present at the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, Gregg assumed command of a cavalry brigade in Major General William F. Smith's VI Corps when Brigadier General George D. Bayard was mortally wounded.  With the Union defeat, Major General Joseph Hooker assumed command in early 1863 and reorganized the Army of the Potomac's cavalry forces into a single Cavalry Corps led by Major General George Stoneman.  Within this new structure, Gregg was selected to lead the 3rd Division consisting of brigades headed by Colonels Judson Kilpatrick and Percy Wyndham.  That May, as Hooker led the army against General Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Stoneman received orders to take his corps on a raid deep into the enemy's rear.  Though Gregg's division and the others inflicted substantial damage on Confederate property, the effort had little strategic value.  Due to its perceived failure, Stoneman was replaced by Pleasonton.

David McM. Gregg - Brandy Station & Gettysburg:

Having been beaten at Chancellorsville, Hooker sought to gather intelligence on Lee's intentions.  Finding that Major General J.E.B. Stuart's Confederate cavalry had concentrated near Brandy Station, he directed Pleasonton to attack and disperse the enemy.  To accomplish this, Pleasonton conceived a daring operation which called for dividing his command into two wings. The right wing, led by Brigadier General John Buford, was to cross the Rappahannock at Beverly's Ford and drive south toward Brandy Station. The left wing, commanded by Gregg, was to cross to the east at Kelly's Ford and strike from the east and south to catch the Confederates in a double envelopment.  Taking the enemy by surprise, the Union troopers succeeded in driving the Confederates back on June 9.  Late in the day, Gregg's men made several attempts to take Fleetwood Hill, but were unable to compel the Confederates to retreat.  Though Pleasonton withdrew at sunset leaving the field in Stuart's hands, the Battle of Brandy Station greatly improved the Union cavalry's confidence.

As Lee moved north towards Pennsylvania in June, Gregg's division pursued and fought inconclusive engagements with Confederate cavalry at Aldie (June 17), Middleburg (June 17-19), and Upperville (June 21).  On July 1, his compatriot Buford opened the Battle of Gettysburg.  Pressing north, Gregg's division arrived around midday on July 2 and was tasked with protecting the Union right flank by new army commander Major General George G. Meade.  The next day, Gregg repulsed Stuart's cavalry in a back-and-forth battle east of town.  In the fighting, Gregg's men were aided by Brigadier General George A. Custer's brigade.  Following the Union triumph at Gettysburg, Gregg's division pursued the enemy and harried their retreat south.

David McM. Gregg - Virginia:

That fall, Gregg operated with the Army of the Potomac as Meade conducted his abortive Bristoe and Mine Run Campaigns.  In the course of these efforts, his division fought at Rapidan Station (September 14), Beverly Ford (October 12), Auburn (October 14), and New Hope Church (November 27).  In the spring of 1864, President Abraham Lincoln promoted Major General Ulysses S. Grant to lieutenant general and made him general-in-chief of all Union armies.  Coming east, Grant worked with Meade to reorganize the Army of the Potomac.  This saw Pleasonton removed and replaced with Sheridan who had built a strong reputation as an infantry division commander in the west.  This action rankled Gregg who was the corps' senior division commander and an experienced cavalryman.

That May, Gregg's division screened the army during the opening actions of the Overland Campaign at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House.  Unhappy with his corps' role in the campaign, Sheridan obtained permission from Grant to mount a large-scale raid south on May 9.  Encountering the enemy two days later, Sheridan won a victory at the Battle of Yellow Tavern.  In the fighting, Stuart was killed.  Continuing south with Sheridan, Gregg and his men reached the Richmond defenses before turning east and uniting with Major General Benjamin Butler's Army of the James.  Resting and refitting, the Union cavalry then returned north to reunite with Grant and Meade.  On May 28, Gregg's division engaged Major General Wade Hampton's cavalry at the Battle of Haw's Shop and won a minor victory after heavy fighting. 

David McM. Gregg - Final Campaigns:

Again riding out with Sheridan the following month, Gregg saw action during the Union defeat at the Battle of Trevilian Station on June 11-12.  As Sheridan's men retreated back towards the Army of the Potomac, Gregg commanded a successful rearguard action at St. Mary's Church on June 24.  Rejoining the army, he moved over the James River and aided in operations during the opening weeks of the Battle of Petersburg.  In August, after Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early advanced down the Shenandoah Valley and threatened Washington, DC, Sheridan was ordered by Grant to command the newly-formed Army of the Shenandoah.  Taking part of the Cavalry Corps to join this formation, Sheridan left Gregg in command of those cavalry forces remaining with Grant.  As part of this transition, Gregg received a brevet promotion to major general. 

Shortly after Sheridan's departure, Gregg saw action during the Second Battle of Deep Bottom on August 14-20.  A few days later, he was involved in the Union defeat at the Second Battle of Ream's Station.  That fall, Gregg's cavalry worked to screen Union movements as Grant sought to extend his siege lines south and east from Petersburg.  In late September, he took part in the Battle of Peebles Farm and in late October played a key role in the Battle of Boydton Plank Road.  Following the latter action, both armies settled into winter quarters and large-scale fighting subsided.  On January 25, 1865, with Sheridan set to return from the Shenandoah, Gregg abruptly submitted his letter of resignation to the US Army citing an "imperative demand for my continued presence at home."

David McM. Gregg - Later Life:

This was accepted in early February and Gregg departed for Reading, PA.  Gregg's reasons for resigning were questioned with some speculating that he did not wish to serve under Sheridan.  Missing the war's final campaigns, Gregg was involved in business activities in Pennsylvania and operated a farm in Delaware.  Unhappy in civilian life, he applied for reinstatement in 1868, but lost out when his desired cavalry command went to his cousin, John I. Gregg.  In 1874, Gregg received an appointment as US Consul in Prague, Austria-Hungary from President Grant.  Departing, his time abroad proved brief as his wife suffered from homesickness. 

Returning later that year, Gregg advocated for making Valley Forge a national shrine and in 1891 was elected Auditor General of Pennsylvania.  Serving one term, he remained active in civic affairs until his death on August 7, 1916.  Gregg's remains were buried in Reading's Charles Evans Cemetery.     

Selected Sources

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Brigadier General David McM. Gregg." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). American Civil War: Brigadier General David McM. Gregg. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Brigadier General David McM. Gregg." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 31, 2023).