American Civil War: Major General Darius N. Couch

Darius Couch
Major General Darius N. Couch. Library of Congress

Darius Couch - Early Life & Career:

The son of Jonathan and Elizabeth Couch, Darius Nash Couch was born in Southeast, NY on July 23, 1822.  Raised in the area, he received his education locally and ultimately decided upon pursuing a military career.  Applying to the US Military Academy, Couch received an appointment in 1842.  Arriving at West Point, his classmates included George B. McClellan, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, George Stoneman, Jesse Reno, and George Pickett.

  An above average student, Couch graduated four years later ranked 13th in a class of 59.  Commissioned as a brevet second lieutenant on July 1, 1846, he was ordered to join the 4th US Artillery.

Darius Couch - Mexico & Interwar Years:

As the United States was engaged in the Mexican-American War, Couch soon found himself serving in Major General Zachary Taylor's army in northern Mexico.  Seeing action at the Battle of Buena Vista in February 1847, he earned a brevet promotion to first lieutenant for gallant and meritorious conduct.  Remaining in the region for the remainder of the conflict, Couch received orders to return north for garrison duty at Fortress Monroe in 1848.  Sent to Fort Pickens in Pensacola, FL the following year, he took part in operations against the Seminoles before resuming garrison duty.  As the early 1850s passed, Couch moved through assignments in New York, Missouri, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

 

Possessing an interest in the natural world, Couch took a leave of absence from the US Army in 1853 and conducted an expedition to northern Mexico to collect specimens for the recently-established Smithsonian Institution.  During this time, he discovered new species of kingbird and spadefoot toad which were named in his honor.

  In 1854, Couch married Mary C. Crocker and returned to military service.  Remaining in uniform for another year, he resigned his commission to become a merchant in New York City.  In 1857, Couch moved to Taunton, MA where he assumed a position at his in-laws' copper fabrication firm.

Darius Couch - The Civil War Begins:

Employed in Taunton when the Confederates attacked Fort Sumter beginning the Civil War, Couch quickly volunteered his services to the Union cause.  Appointed to command the 7th Massachusetts Infantry with the rank of colonel on June 15, 1861, he then led the regiment south and aided in constructing defenses around Washington, DC.  In August, Couch was promoted to brigadier general and that fall received a brigade in McClellan's newly-formed Army of the Potomac.  Training his men through the winter, he was further elevated in early 1862 when he took command of a division in Brigadier General Erasmus D. Keyes' IV Corps.  Moving south in the spring, Couch's division landed on the Peninsula and in early April served in the Siege of Yorktown.

Darius Couch - On the Peninsula:

With the Confederate withdrawal from Yorktown on May 4, Couch's men took part in the pursuit and played a key role in halting an attack by Brigadier General James Longstreet at the Battle of Williamsburg.

  Moving towards Richmond as the month progressed, Couch and IV Corps came under heavy assault on May 31 at the Battle of Seven Pines.  This saw them briefly forced back before repelling Major General D.H. Hill's Confederates.  In late June, as General Robert E. Lee commenced his Seven Days Battles, Couch's division retreated as McClellan withdrew east.  In the course of the fighting, his men took part in the Union defense of Malvern Hill on July 1.  With the failure of the campaign, Couch's division was detached from IV Corps and sent north.

Darius Couch - Fredericksburg:

During this time, Couch suffered from increasingly ill health.  This led him submit a letter of resignation to McClellan.  Unwilling to lose a gifted officer, the Union commander did not forward Couch's letter and instead had him promoted to major general to date from July 4.

  While his division did not participate in the Second Battle of Manassas, Couch led his troops into the field in early September during the Maryland Campaign.  This saw them support VI Corps' attack at Crampton's Gap during the Battle of South Mountain on September 14.  Three days later, the division moved towards Antietam but did not take part in the fighting.  In the wake of the battle, McClellan was relieved of command and replaced with Major General Ambrose Burnside.  Reorganizing the Army of the Potomac, Burnside placed Couch in command of II Corps on November 14.  This formation was in turn assigned to Major General Edwin V. Sumner's Right Grand Division. 

Marching south towards Fredericksburg, II Corps' divisions were led by Brigadier Generals Winfield S. Hancock, Oliver O. Howard, and William H. French.  On December 12, a brigade from Couch's corps was dispatched across the Rappahannock to sweep the Confederates from Fredericksburg and allow Union engineers to construct bridges across the river.  The next day, as the Battle of Fredericksburg commenced, II Corps received orders to assault the formidable Confederate position on Marye's Heights.  Though Couch vehemently opposed the attack feeling that it would like be repulsed with heavy losses, Burnside insisted that II Corps move forward. Advancing early that afternoon, Couch's predictions proved accurate as each division was repelled in turn and the corps sustained over 4,000 casualties.      

Darius Couch - Chancellorsville:

Following the disaster at Fredericksburg, President Abraham Lincoln replaced Burnside with Major General Joseph Hooker.

  This saw another reorganization of the army that left Couch in command of II Corps and made him the senior corps commander in the Army of the Potomac.  For the spring of 1863, Hooker intended to leave a force at Fredericksburg to hold Lee in place while he swung the army north and west to approach the enemy from behind.  Moving out in late April, the army was across the Rappahannock and moving east on May 1.  Largely held in reserve, Couch became concerned about Hooker's performance when his superior appeared to lose his nerve that evening and elected to shift to the defensive after the opening actions of the Battle of Chancellorsville.  

On May 2, the Union situation worsened when a devastating attack by Jackson routed Hooker's right flank.  Holding his section of the line, Couch's frustrations grew the following morning when Hooker was rendered unconscious and possibly sustained a concussion when a shell hit a column he was leaning against.  Though unfit for command after awakening, Hooker refused to turn full command of the army over to Couch and instead timidly played out the battle's final stages before ordering a retreat north.  Quarreling with Hooker in the weeks after the battle, Couch requested reassignment and left II Corps on May 22. 

Darius Couch - Gettysburg Campaign:

Given command of the newly-created Department of the Susquehanna on June 9, Couch quickly worked to organize troops to oppose Lee's invasion of Pennsylvania.  Utilizing forces largely comprised of emergency militia, he ordered fortifications built to protect Harrisburg and dispatched men to slow the Confederate advance.

  Skirmishing with Lieutenant General Richard Ewell and Major General J.E.B. Stuart's forces at Sporting Hill and Carlisle respectively, Couch's men helped ensure that the Confederates stayed on the west bank of the Susquehanna in the days prior to the Battle of Gettysburg.  In the wake of the Union victory in early July, Couch's troops aided in the pursuit of Lee as the Army of Northern Virginia sought to escape south.  Remaining in Pennsylvania for most of 1864, Couch saw action that July when he responded to Brigadier General John McCausland's burning of Chambersburg, PA.      

Darius Couch - Tennessee & the Carolinas:

In December, Couch received command of a division in Major General John Schofield's XXIII Corps in Tennessee.  Attached to Major General George H. Thomas' Army of the Cumberland, he took part in the Battle of Nashville on December 15-16.  In the course of the fighting on the first day, Couch's men aided in shattering the Confederate left and played a role in driving them from the field a day later.  Remaining with his division for the rest of the war, Couch saw service during the Carolinas Campaign in the final weeks of the conflict.  Resigning from the army in late May, Couch returned to Massachusetts where he unsuccessfully ran for governor. 

Darius Couch - Later Life:

Named the customs inspector for the Port of Boston in 1866, Couch only briefly held the post as the Senate did not confirm his appointment.  Returning to business, he accepted the presidency of the (West) Virginia Mining and Manufacturing Company in 1867.  Four years later, Couch moved to Connecticut to serve as the quartermaster-general of the state's militia.  Later adding the position of adjutant general, he remained with the militia until 1884.  Spending his final years in Norwalk, CT, Couch died there on February 12, 1897.  His remains were interred at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Taunton.   

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