American Civil War: Major General Samuel Crawford

Samuel Crawford during the Civil War
Major General Samuel W. Crawford. Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Samuel Crawford - Early Life & Career:

Samuel Wylie Crawford was born November 8, 1827, at his family's home, Allandale, in Franklin County, PA.  Receiving his early education locally, he entered the University of Pennsylvania at age fourteen.  Graduating in 1846, Crawford desired to remain at the institution for medical school but was deemed too young.  Embarking on a master's degree, he wrote his thesis on anatomy before later being permitted to commence his medical studies.  Receiving his medical degree on March 28, 1850, Crawford elected to enter the US Army as a surgeon the following year.  Applying for an assistant surgeon position, he achieved a record score on the entrance exam. 

Over the next decade, Crawford moved through a variety of posts on the frontier and commenced a study of the natural sciences.  Pursuing this interest, he submitted papers to the Smithsonian Institution as well as engaged with geographical societies in other countries.  Ordered to Charleston, SC in September 1860, Crawford served as a surgeon for Forts Moultrie and Sumter.  In this role, he endured the bombardment of Fort Sumter which signaled the beginning of the Civil War in April 1861.  Though the fort's medical officer, Crawford oversaw a battery of guns during the fighting.  Evacuated to New York, he sought a career change the following month and received a major's commission in the 13th US Infantry.

Samuel Crawford - Early Civil War: 

In this role through the summer, Crawford became assistant inspector general for the Department of Ohio in September.  The following spring, he received a promotion to brigadier general on April 25 and command of a brigade in the Shenandoah Valley.  Serving in Major General Nathaniel Banks' II Corps of the Army of Virginia, Crawford first saw combat at the Battle of Cedar Mountain on August 9.  In the course of the fighting, his brigade mounted a devastating attack that shattered the Confederate left.  Though successful, a failure by Banks to exploit the situation forced Crawford to withdraw after taking heavy losses.  Returning to action in September, he led his men onto the field at the Battle of Antietam.  Engaged at the northern part of the battlefield, Crawford ascended to division command due to casualties in XII Corps.  This tenure proved brief as he was wounded in the right thigh.  Collapsing from loss of blood, Crawford was taken from the field.      

Samuel Crawford - Pennsylvania Reserves:

Returning to Pennsylvania, Crawford recovered at his father's house near Chambersburg.  Plagued by setbacks, the wound took nearly eight months to heal properly.  In May 1863, Crawford resumed active duty and took command of the Pennsylvania Reserve Division in the Washington, DC defenses.  This post had previously been held by Major Generals John F. Reynolds and George G. Meade.  A month later, the division was added to Major General George Sykes' V Corps in Meade's Army of the Potomac.  Marching north with two brigades, Crawford's men joined in the pursuit of General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.  Upon reaching the Pennsylvania border, Crawford halted the division and gave a rousing speech imploring his men to defend their home state.

Arriving at the Battle of Gettysburg around noon on July 2, the Pennsylvania Reserves paused for brief respite near Power's Hill.  Around 4:00 PM, Crawford received orders to take his men south to aid in blocking an attack by Lieutenant General James Longstreet's corps.  Moving out, Sykes removed one brigade and sent it to support the line on Little Round Top.  Reaching a point just north of that hill with his remaining brigade, Crawford paused as Union troops driven from the Wheatfield retreated through his lines.  With support from Colonel David J. Nevin's VI Corps brigade, Crawford led a charge across Plum Run and drove back the approaching Confederates.  In the course of the attack, he seized the division's colors and personally led his men forward.  Successful in halting the Confederate advance, the division's efforts forced the enemy back across the Wheatfield for the night.

Samuel Crawford - Overland Campaign:

In the weeks after the battle, Crawford was compelled to take leave due to issues relating to his Antietam wound and malaria which he had contracted during his time in Charleston.  Resuming command of his division in November, he led it during the abortive Mine Run Campaign.  Surviving the reorganization of the Army of the Potomac the following spring, Crawford retained command of his division which served in Major General Gouverneur K. Warren's V Corps.  In this role, he took part in Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant's Overland Campaign that May which saw his men engaged at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, and Totopotomoy Creek.  With the expiration of the bulk of his men's enlistments, Crawford was shifted to lead a different division in V Corps on June 2.

A week later, Crawford took part in the beginning of the Siege of Petersburg and in August saw action at Globe Tavern where he was wounded in the chest.  Recovering, he continuing to operate around Petersburg through the fall and received a brevet promotion to major general in December.  On April 1, Crawford's division moved with V Corps and a force of Union cavalry to attack Confederate forces at Five Forks under the overall command of Major General Philip Sheridan.  Due to faulty intelligence, it initially missed the Confederate lines, but later played a role in the Union victory.   

Samuel Crawford - Later Career:

With the collapse of the Confederate position at Petersburg the next day, Crawford's men took part in resulting Appomattox Campaign which saw Union forces pursue Lee's army west.  On April 9, V Corps aided in hemming in the enemy at Appomattox Court House which led to Lee surrendering his army.  With the end of the war, Crawford traveled to Charleston where he took part in ceremonies that saw the American flag re-hoisted above Fort Sumter.  Remaining in the army for another eight years, he retired on February 19, 1873 with the rank of brigadier general.  In the years after the war, Crawford earned the ire of several other Civil War leaders by repeatedly attempting to claim that his efforts at Gettysburg saved Little Round Top and were key to the Union victory.

Traveling extensively in his retirement, Crawford also worked to preserve land at Gettysburg.  These efforts saw him purchase the land along Plum Run over which his division charged.  In 1887, he published The Genesis of the Civil War: The Story of Sumter, 1860-1861 which detailed the events leading up to the battle and was the result of twelve years of research.  Crawford died on November 3, 1892 at Philadelphia and was buried in the city's Laurel Hill Cemetery.   

Selected Sources

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Major General Samuel Crawford." ThoughtCo, Oct. 29, 2020, Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, October 29). American Civil War: Major General Samuel Crawford. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Major General Samuel Crawford." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 31, 2023).