William Gamble

William Gamble

Esteemed member shane g Hello,

Can anyone tell me where I may find more information concerning Colonel William Gamble? What other cavalry engagements he fought, did he survive the war, etc.

Thanks for any help you may offer.

Shane Gamble

Cincinnati, OH


Dear Shane,

Here's a little piece I did on Colonel Gamble (thanks to Marshall Krolick of Chicago for research help).

William Gamble, at forty-five, still spoke with the brogue native to his County Tyrone, Ireland home.

Gamble's wartime photograph projects an affable quality--he is the one officer in all the war who smiled for the camera. At the battle of Gettysburg he was suffering from a bad cold or allergies, constantly sniffing, sneezing, wheezing, and wiping his nose and his watery eyes on his coat.

Though corps commander Pleasonton was doing his best to weed all foreign-born officers out of brigade commands, Gamble didn't arouse his resentment, perhaps because the Irishman with the fluffy muttonchop sideburns and broad, florid face had spent most of his life in the United States.

Gamble had already served a stint as a dragoon in the British Army before immigrating to America in 1838 at the age of twenty, where he immediately enlisted in the 1st Dragoons, U.S. Army. He fought the Seminoles, then left the army after four years. He went to Chicago to return to a career as a civil engineer which he had begun in Ireland. For eighteen years, until the Civil War broke out, he worked for the Board of Public Works in Chicago and lived in Evanston, Illinois.

His Old Army dragoon service, though it had ended almost twenty years before, was credential enough to get him commissioned as a lieutenant colonel in September 1861, second in command of the 8th Illinois volunteer cavalry regiment. The following summer the regiment was attached to the Pennsylvania Reserve Division, and saw active duty in the Peninsula campaign. On August 5, 1862, more than a month after the end of the Seven Days' Battles but before the Army of the Potomac departed the Peninsula, Gamble led a cavalry charge during a skirmish with Rebel pickets near the scene of the recent battle on Malvern Hill. He was severely wounded by a bullet which entered his chest, skipped off a rib and lodged in his back, and spent the next three months convalescing.

When he returned to the army, Gamble took command of the 8th Illinois from departed Colonel (now Brigadier General) John Farnsworth, who had been bumped up to command the newly formed cavalry brigade. Gamble was promoted to colonel on December 5, 1862, just before the battle of Fredericksburg. In that battle, the regiment did no fighting.

John Farnsworth had already been elected to Congress in the fall of 1862, and when he resigned in January 1863 to begin his term in office, Gamble took command of the brigade. Gamble went on leave, however, and missed the Chancellorsville campaign in early May and the battle of Brandy Station on June 9; the brigade was commanded in both by "Grimes" Davis, a "proud tyrannical devil" who loved to fight. Davis was killed at Brandy Station, and when Gamble returned from leave on four days after the battle, his lack of aggressiveness in the early phases of the Gettysburg campaign contrasted sharply with the recently departed Davis's fiery leadership. Gamble's own military philosophy was summed up in an order to the 8th Illinois:

"The first duty of a soldier is a prompt and cheerful obedience to all lawful orders, and no one is fit to command, in any capacity, that is not himself willing to obey."

At Gettysburg, Gamble's brigade did the early skirmishing against the advance brigades of the Army of Northern Virginia; it held the rebel infantry a full two hours or so until the first Union infantry could come up. There are probably dozens of GDG members who could fill you in on Gamble's fighting during the battle--all of it on July 1--much better than me.

In the Mine Run Campaign he was assigned to the Washington Fortifications and after a period directing the cavalry of that department he took charge of a mixed brigade, which was frrequently engaged against John S. Mosby. He was mustered out on July 15, 1865. Two months later he was recommissioned with the full rank of briigadier. Again mustered out on March 13, 1866, he was made a major in the new 8th Cavalry four months later. Whle his regiment was in transit to the Pacific Coast, he died of cholera in Nicaragua on December 20, 1866.

(This last part, his short life after Gettysburg, is from Stewart Sifakis's _Who Was Who in the Union_.)


, Larry Tagg

Much of this comes from Ezra J. Warner's *Generals in Blue* but other information comes from a variety of sources including a letter from Gamble's son in the Evanston Historical Society, Abner Hard papers and book, pension and muster records, T.M. Eddy, *The Patriotism of Illinois*, and so on.

William Gamble was born January 1, 1818 in the parish of Duross, 4 miles from Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Ireland, the eldest of four brothers, his only sister dying young. (Warner says County Tyrone). He studied civil engineering and practiced this profession in the Queen's Surveying Office and participated in the Northern Ireland survey before emigrating to the United States about 1838. He enlisted in the US army in NY, August 6, 1838 where he was sent first to Carlisle Barracks and then to Jefferson Barracks (St. Louis). He then marched to Ft. Levenworth, KS, arriving on December 13, and joined the 1st Dragoons, Co. H. He rapidly progressed from private to the grade of Sgt Major (Oct. 20, 1839) and was mustered out August 6, 1843 at Chicago, having participated in the Florida war as well as being stationed at Forts Levenworth and Gibson engaged in guarding aganst the Indians. While in the army he married Sophia Steinwandt (May 6, 1841), whose father, George C.F. Steinwandt, had served in the Havoverian army under General Blucher and, according to Gamble's son Winfield Scott, had nine medals. Gamble lived in Chicago for a number of years, being employed by the Chicago Board of Public Works, where he was involved with the Chicago canal and river system. He was also a founder of the Indiana Street Methodist church - the first Methodist church north of the Chicago River. He moved to Evanston about 1859 where he built a house which currently houses the Anthropology Department of Northwestern University. While here, he participated in the activies of the Methodist Church which had been founded by the founders of Northwestern University. A heavily abolitionist group, a meeting was held in that church the day after Ft. Sumter surrendered and many joined the army. Gamble was asked by Congressman John Farnsworth (Sept. 1861), a personal friend of Lincoln, to be Lt. Colonel of his new cavalry regiment, a regiment which Lincoln had directly authorized Farnsworth to raise. This became the 8th Illinois and Gamble was largly responsible for training it. Gamble's son, George, also joined the regiment, becoming a 1st Lt. Interestingly enough, George, one of 13 (or perhaps 15) children, died in the collapse of the Brunswick Hotel during the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

Sgt. William Hazelton in a letter home commented on Gamble's training:

Gamble was severely wounded in the chest at Malvern Hill (August 5, 1862) which put him out of action for a while. He seems to have returned to duty around December 1862 and was promoted Colonel when Farnsworth received his star. Winter took its toll, however, and suffering from 'Rhumatism and neuralgia' plus the continued effects of his Penisula wound, Gamble got a medical furlough in March. Missing the action at Kelly's Ford (Brandy Station), he returned to duty on June 13, 1863, just in time to take over the command of the First Brigade (Buford's Division) vacated by the death of Grimes Davis.

Gamble is now involved as a brigade commander in the actions around Upperville and Middleburg, the opening action at Gettysburg with Buford, a late day charge to allow the 1st Corps to retire towards Cemetery Hill, and the cavalry actions of Williamsport, Boonesborough, and Falling Waters.

In April 1864, Gamble was transferred to Washington D.C. where he was to take charge of Camp Stoneman (Giesboro), a remounting station for the cavalry corps. He never really recovered from the effects of his wound and remained honorably at this post for the rest of the war. He is considered to have done a very good job at Giesboro. He was brevetted Brigadier general of volunteers to rank from December 14, 1864 and mustered out of the service July 17, 1865. He applied to reenter the service and was appointed major of the 8th Cavalry July 1866. That Autumn the regiment was ordered to California where he was to take command of the Presidio but he died enroute of Cholera (December 20, 1866) and is buried at Virgin Bay, Nicaragua.

Having read his orders (in OR and 8th Ill Order and Letter Book) and descriptions of him by others, Gamble strikes me as meticulous and competant in administrative matters. His reports are clear and precisely written. He was also a stickler for rules and strikes me as fussy - although known to drink and swear on occasion. Cautious by nature, and I do not think terribly innovative as a commander, he nonetheless would fight fiercely when given orders to do so, as on the Peninsula and in the Gettysburg campaign. He appears to me to have a very high sense of duty and desire to do things correctly. Unfortunately, after his wounding on the Peninsula, his only real action was the Gettysburg campaign and that may not only reflect his physical condition, but the opinion of his superiors on his abilities and perhaps lack of aggressiveness (IMHO). It may also suggest that they thought he would do a good job at the Cavalry remount station, which he did.

I have tried to give you some background on Gamble. Now, I hope others will step in and evaluate his performance at Gettysburg.

Laurie Schiller

Esteemed member Eric Wittenberg contributes

Brigadier General William Gamble. Born in Ireland on January 1, 1819, Gamble was both a practical engineer and a career cavalryman. Prior to emigrating to the United States, Gamble served a stint in the British dragoons. In 1838, he landed in the U.S. and enlisted in the 1st Dragoons. He was promoted to sergeant-major and served five years, fighting Indians in both the west and in Florida. He then left the army and served as a civil engineer in Chicago until the outbreak of the war. Originally sergeant-major of the 8th Illinois Cavalry, Gamble was commissioned the regiment’s lieutenant colonel in September 1861. In 1862, he was promoted to colonel, and served in that capacity in the Peninsula Campaign, where he was severely wounded in action. While colonel of the 8th Illinois, Gamble wrote the following order to his men, which demonstrates his own philosophy as a leader: “the first duty of a soldier is a prompt and cheerful obedience to all lawful orders, and no one is fit to command, in any capacity, that is not himself willing to obey.” Gamble spent nearly a year recuperating from the Peninsula wound.

Unable to return to duty until the Gettysburg Campaign was underway, Gamble performed superbly throughout. Gamble commanded a brigade under Buford, and then was assigned to be George Stoneman’s assistant at the Cavalry Bureau. He was brevetted brigadier general in December 1864, and promoted to brigadier general of volunteers on February 14, 1865. Gamble was appointed major of the 8th U.S. Cavalry in 1866, and died of yellow fever contracted while in transit to his duty post in California. He died on December 20, 1866.