Gouvernor Warren

Gouvernor Warren

<< Esteemed member javal Hello all:

Has anyone ever come across any correspondence that might reveal how the peers of G.K. Warren felt about him at the time of G'burg? I spent the last 4 days touring the Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania area and was surprised (not being a follower of his career) to learn that he was not well liked, and almost canned for his perceived inaction at Spotsylvania and later at Five Forks. Were these the first examples of this supposed flaw, or was there doubt about his abilities prior to G'burg? Any help would be most appreciated...

It seems that by in large Warren was thought highly of prior to his assumption of Fifth Corps command. He did a pretty fair job commanding Second Corps in Hancock's absence, at Bristoe Station, for instance. Warren commanded a brigade with bravery and skill during the Seven Days, and at Second Manassas he -- acting on his own initiative as would later prove his undoing -- sacrificed his brigade in an attempt to slow Longstreet's juggernaut on August 30, 1862. There were a number of problems with Warren's make-up that began to cause problems in late 1863, and on through the 1864 campaign. As Meade expressed, in a letter to Grant that broached the subject of relieving Warren from Fifth Corps command -- Warren never seemed willing to merely obey, to follow instructions. He tended to second-guess his superiors, and to push his own view of how operations would be best conducted. At Mine Run he essentially called off the planned assault, thinking (and probably rightly) that a second Fredericksburg-style slaughter would be the result. But this was not Warren's decision to make -- and I think tensions with Meade began to emerge at that point. One sees the same thing at Spotsylvania and at Petersburg. I also think (and Charles Wainwright's "Diary of Battle" is a great source on this) that Warren was suffering from "war-weariness" or stress, or some sort of brooding, testy, quirky and temperamental aberation to such an extent that Wainwright noted at one point he thought Warren "has a screw loose". All of these, combined, made Warren unrealiable, as a Corps commander, in the minds of his superiors -- and it came to a head at Five Forks -- unfairly, perhaps -- but the cumulation of well over a year of questions about his capacity. Warren was bright, observant, capable of great exertion, and personally brave. But he was not cut out for the long-term stress and challenge of Corps command.

Brian Pohanka

Esteemed member "James F. Epperson" First, I'd like to second nearly everything that Brian Pohanka said about Warren. I have always thought -- admittedly with the benefit of hindsight -- that Meade would have been better served having made Warren his chief of staff and put Humphreys in command of V Corps.

Just two additions to Brian's comments, concerning letters that Warren wrote to Meade during 1864. The first was written on May 9th, and in it he excorciates all the other corps commanders, by name, suggesting that they all screwed up in the Wilderness. In the middle of the letter he gets word that Sedgwick has been shot, and decides not to send the letter on. (Wisely, I'm sure we would all agree.) Then that fall, in early October or late September, he writes Meade a long lecture on how the entire siege is being conducted wrong, that the army should do this, that, and the other thing. Warren just could not pass up the opportunity to tell others how he would do their job, and that gets very old, very quickly.

Esteemed member Patty Lindsay and Lee Fuell


Joshua Chamberlain described G.K. Warren thusly:

"There was an unfavorable judgment of Warren's manner of handling a corps; an uncomfortable sense of certain intellectual peculiarities of his; a dislike of his self-centered manner and temperament and habit generally, and his rather injudicious way of expressing his opinion on tender topics." (JLC, "The Passing of the Armies, p.131, Bantam paperback edition.)

JLC kinda makes ol' Gouverneur sound a bit short on tact, a bit "imperious" in manner, perhaps, and probably somewhat lacking in deference to his superiors. BTW, I've never quite been able to convince myself that Warren was right to go riding off after Crawford's division when the other 2/3 of his Corps was hotly engaged at the angle at Five Forks, and pretty disorganized at the time. Despite Crawford's peculiarities, I'm not sure abandoning two of one's divisions to try to re-direct the third is something a Corps commander should have been doing personally. Of course, Warren did have the luxury of the superb Maj Gen Charles Griffin available to bring some order out of chaos while he was off chasing Crawford...

Esteemed member Bterp@aol.com contributes:

If convincing is ever needed that Warren didn't have the requisite "fire in his belly," just check out the Petersburg portion in the original of Meade's orders log that is at the Historical Society of Pa. in CC Phila. It almost reads like a Civil War version of Abbot & Costello's "Who's on First." It was obvious that Warren was using every facet of perceived misunderstanding to not close in around Petersburg and make the attack that Meade had very clearly ordered.

What a shame. The war could have been over almost a year sooner.

-Bill Terpeluk

Esteemed member "Bill Cameron" Hi Rick,

There have been lots of good observations about Warren today and I have enjoyed them. Warren certainly did good duty on LRT but golly he was a self-centered so and so and the more I read about him, the less respect I have for him. One of the bones I have to pick with him is that Meade requested him to be the Chief of Staff right before the battle and Warren turned him down. If you read the letters to Emily, you quickly come to the conclusion that he turned it down because he wanted a better position. This is right before a major engagement and Meade sorely needed someone who was loyal and would coordinate the staff. I certainly believe that Butterfield did a lot more damage than good. If a new field army commander asks someone to take a position at a key point, he should put his personal ambitions aside, support his commander, and take it. Secondly, his ambitions quickly got him in the business of criticizing his peers and Warren could do it like not other.

On July 9, he wrote Emily the "I am not chief of staff, as the papers announce with so many compliments to me, I did not want it, so do not feel disappointed. I shall do better, I hope, in the end..."

He was also quite critical of Sykes and others during his testimony before the Joint Committee.

However, it all pales compared to his personal letter to his brother in which he states "General Sykes is being pitched into heavily by all the papers; but he did as well as he ever did, or ever will do. He don't really know what is best to do in a trying time, and all our present corps commanders are bad ones -- poor ones, not wicked ones. General Sykes has written to me in relation to some of the strictures upon him, and I expect he cannot be pleased with my answer. I think him much the blame..." So, my opinion is that even as a staff officer, his tragic flaw was showing.

Esteemed member "Rick & Susan Manfredi" I also agree with Brian Pohanka's astute observation why Warren failed to be a competent commander of the 5th Corps and was subsequently relieved by Sheridan. (page 151, "The Passing of the Armies" by JLC).

However there is another interesting aspect of the difference between Warren at Gettysburg and Warren at Five Forks. At Gettysburg he was Mead's "Chief of Engineers" and was somewhat of a hero because he found LRT unoccupied and sent Vincent to guard the Union's left flank. Here he was a staff officer and not a troop commander. At Five Forks he was an infantry corps commander. Even 130 years ago there was a great difference between the technologies involved in being an engineer officer and an infantry officer.

Further, staff officer and commander possitions require different leadership and interpersonal skills. Warren must have had good staff officer skillls but poor commander traits.

I am an engineer and have spent most of my military career in engineer companies and battalions. I am now in the 35th Infantry Division still as an engineer officer.

In today's Army there is a huge difference in these technologies. Good or even great engineer generals never get a chance to command infantry divisions or corps.

Esteemed member DZouave5@aol.com contributes:

In a message dated 97-02-19 22:21:54 EST, "Rick & Susan Manfredi" writes:

<< Further, staff officer and commander possitions require different leadership and interpersonal skills. Warren must have had good staff officer skillls but poor commander traits

I would agree with that in so far as Corps command goes. But remember G.K. Warren had commanded both a regiment (5th NY) and a brigade, with a good deal of energy, discipline and skill.

As a regimental commander Warren was stern, exacting, and diligent in transforming "Duryee's Zouaves" into a unit so proficient that they were, on their arrival upon the Peninsula, placed with Sykes' Regular Army division. Charles Wainwright noted that the 5th NY was "better drilled" than the Regulars, and they proved themselves at Gaines Mill and other fields of the Seven Days. As a brigade commander, Warren won plaudits for his service in those battles, and certainly at Second Manassas -- like Gettysburg an occasion where his penchant for acting on his own was the "right" thing to do. His brigade also helped cover the withdrawl of Burnside's forces from Fredericksburg, with Warren one of the last to cross the pontoons before they were taken up.

In a way it is unfortunate that Warren did not get a chance to exercise division command -- Hooker transfering him to the staff -- as his next infantry assignment was on the corps level. However as temporary commander of Second Corps Warren did well in the Bristoe campaign. His talents were undoubtedly best utilized in a staff position, but his prior regimental and brigade service was exemplary. I suppose like so many generals of that war, the "Peter Principal" applied -- he was not, in the end, cut out for command on the corps level.

Brian Pohanka