In the last post, I narrated the tale of Lieutenant Colonel Gustavus W. Town, the young officer who found himself in command of the 95th Pennsylvania during the hard-fought Battle at Gaines’s Mill. Philadelphians expected that his superiors would recommend him for a promotion to colonel, but that did not happen.
The answer is this: Town was a Republican. All of the 6th Corps’ brigadier generals were Democrats. The 6th Corps’ commander, Major General William Buell Franklin, was a Democrat. If a colonelcy ever became vacant in his corps, as his secret policy, Franklin insisted that it go to a party stalwart. As it turned out, for the 95th Pennsylvania, he already had a candidate in mind.
On July 2, 1862, one of Franklin’s colleagues, thirty-three-year-old Second Lieutenant John Baillie McIntosh, distinguished himself on the south side of the James River. McIntosh formed part of an expedition led by Colonel William Woods Averell consisting of 300 men from the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry and the 5th U.S. Cavalry. Averell’s expedition proceeded two and one-half miles south from the James River shore to Sycamore Church. McIntosh led the advance guard of this expedition, consisting of twenty-five men. Averell instructed him “to charge at once upon any force of the enemy that he could distinctly see, unless it should be too numerous and too well posted for our whole force to attack with discretion.” Amid a driving rain that opened at noon, McIntosh’s detachment encountered 150 Confederate soldiers near a bridge over a millrace. Without waiting for orders, McIntosh drew his saber and charged the enemy “boldly, putting him to flight, wounding some, killing a horse and taking 2 prisoners.” McIntosh barely escaped with his life, having his horse killed underneath him. Before the Confederate troops could rally, the rest of Averell’s force came up and secured the millrace bridge. In his post-battle report, Averell credited the success of the expedition to “the impetuous dash of Lieutenant McIntosh.” He wrote, “The conduct of Lieutenant McIntosh was a fine model for cavalry soldiers.”
A few days after McIntosh’s daring charge, at 6th Corps headquarters, General Franklin casually mentioned his desire to see McIntosh promoted. Brigadier General John Newton replied that one of his regiments, the 95th Pennsylvania, possessed an open colonelcy. Wouldn’t it be swell if McIntosh could have it?
Both Franklin and Newton realized that only one man had the authority to promote an officer to colonel of a Pennsylvania regiment: Andrew Curtin, governor of Pennsylvania. Knowing that time was of the essence, the two Democratic officers hastily sent their letters of recommendation to the Harrisburg state house, insisting that Lieutenant McIntosh receive the coveted colonelcy. The two officers did their best to avoid any hint of political partisanship. It is obvious that they wanted to promote a Democratic lieutenant over the head of a Republican lieutenant colonel, but they realized that their recommendations must not appear to stem from partisan influence. In writing to Governor Curtin, Franklin thus explained why Town, the logical choice to fill the colonelcy of the 95th Pennsylvania, was not an acceptable candidate. He wrote:
Army of the Potomac
Camp on James River
July 16th 1862
Andrew G. Curtin
Gov of Penn'a,
My Dear Sir,
The reputation of J. B. McIntosh as an officer is second to none in the service. I cordially recommend him for appointment of Colonel of the 95th Regt., and believe that the interests of the service will be promoted by such appointments. Col. Town is entirely too young and inexperienced to take care of the regiment under the difficult circumstances that now surround us.
W. B. Franklin
|Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin commanded the 6th Corps.|
General Newton wrote a similar letter, blasting Town for his youth and inexperience, a bold move considering the fact that Newton had been present to witness Town’s gallant behavior under fire at Gaines’s Mill. Newton wrote:
Lieut J. B. McIntosh, 5th US Cavalry, . . . is recommended by me and others who know his military character for the colonelcy of the 95th P.V. I consider him capable of bringing the 95th to the standard required for the service we have yet to see. Lieut. Col. Town is not in my opinion, of sufficient force, experience, or age, to effect this most essential result; though he makes a good second in command. Nothing but the vital importance of securing a good colonel to a regiment would justify me in trespassing upon your valuable time.
|Brig. Gen. John Newton was Town's brigade commander.|
Even more shocking, General Franklin asked the Army of the Potomac’s commander, Major General George Brinton McClellan, to endorse McIntosh. McClellan sent a short missive to Governor Curtin: “I most cordially concur with the above [statements by Franklin and Newton] & would regard it as my gift to the 95th to have McIntosh made its colonel.”
It did not take long for Lieutenant Colonel Town to realize that the 6th Corps officers wanted to block his promotion. Somehow, rumors reached him that McIntosh was making his move and that General Franklin was aiding him. In a long letter written to Adjutant General Andrew L. Russell, Town aired his grievances:
Headquarters 95th Regt Penn’a Vols.
Near Harrison’s Landing, V.A.
July 14, 1862
A. L. Russell
Adjt. Genl. Penn’a
The Regiment of which I am now Lieutenant Colonel Commanding, participated in the recent battles and movements before Richmond, acting with credit to themselves and their state. At the Battle of Gaines Mills we were unfortunate in losing both our Colonel and Major—both having been mortally wounded, dying a short time after. During the ever memorable days and nights following the battle at Gaines Mills, until our arrival at our present position on James River; I was left to conduct the Regiment almost totally unaided; for in addition to having lost my Colonel and Major killed,—the adjutant is a prisoner and the Quarter-master was sent off sick. Desiring not to speak in my own praise, I will merely mention that the Regiment was properly and promptly conducted upon every occasion, fighting by day and marching by night,—yet not withstanding this strain upon it, its discipline was just as perfect upon its arrival at James River as it was the day before any fighting commenced. It is true that many of the officers and men were nearly used up, and we had lost in our various encounters about two hundred men killed, wounded, and missing. Having confidence in their officers they required rest only to make them as efficient as ever. My Regt. still numbers between 6 and 700 enlisted men present.
Being the only field officer of the Regiment, the duties necessarily weighed too heavily upon me, it being the general desire that the vacant positions be filled as soon as possible, and that the Governor of Penn’a be requested to commission me as Colonel of the Regiment. . . . I have been informed by some of my officers that they heard that some outside parties are endeavouring to have a stranger placed in command of the Regiment.—I hope for the credit of Penn’a. and ourselves that such is not the case, or at least, that it will not be allowed. Both men and officers from long association with myself, I always having shared more than an equal amount of danger with them. Having been engaged in most of the actions in the Peninsula from West Point on 7th of May to the present time,—have a confidence in myself that they would have in no stranger, come with what éclat he might. More than that they consider that I have well earned the promotion I desire,—desire—not from its personal aggrandizement, but as a reward of merit.
I do not know that any one is attempting to undermine me, but it has every appearance of such. I will give you such information as I possess on the subject. My officers report to me that one of our Generals desiring to obtain a commission for a friend of his,—and knowing of the vacancy in the head of my Regiment, has requested Gov. Curtin to commission said friend colonel of this Regiment. The expectant Colonel is said to be Mr. McIntosh who is a 2nd Lieut. of [the] 5[th] Regular Cavalry. Mr. McIntosh was appointed from Civil Life, about a year since, a second lieutenant of cavalry, which position he now holds. It is but natural to suppose that his knowledge of Infantry tactics is very limited and fitness for that position may be totally wanting,—but aside from all this it would be unjust to the line officers of the Regiment, most of whom have seen service under good officers previously to having been connected with my regiment, and all having been selected with every possible care by the Colonel and myself,—to be compelled to serve under one such as I have described. I am proud of my officers for they are men of fine education and superior military attainments,—all being men controlling businesses and of influence, had no pecuniary motives in view in leaving their homes, but the justices of their cause and a desire to restore the Union was all that could have compelled them to leave lucrative callings to risk their lives for their country. Justice would ask that their wishes be complied with. I am sorry to be compelled to think that if the Governor should see proper to commission someone other than myself as Colonel, the dissatisfaction produced would tend to much disorganize what has been considered one of the finest and best disciplined Regiments from Penn’a, or in the service—as Genl. McClellan could certify to,—and the Governor once had an opportunity to see for himself and acknowledge the splendid condition of the Regiment I now command. . . . Hoping that these claims of merit may meet your approbation, and that commissions for the various positions asked for may be granted.
I remain with much respect,
Gust. W. Town
Lt. Col. 95th P.V.
Town had stated his case. What would Governor Curtin decide?