Monday, July 18, 2016

“An Outburst of Passion and Profanity”: The Career of Hobart Ward, Part 2.

This is my second post about Brigadier General Hobart Ward, a forty-year-old officer who served with the Army of the Potomac. By the summer of 1863, Ward was a veteran of a dozen Civil War engagements. So far, he had fought at Bull Run, Yorktown, Williamsburg, Fair Oaks, Glendale Cross Roads, Malvern Hill, 2nd Manassas, Chantilly, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. He was also commanding more troops than he ever had in his life. After Gettysburg, he became acting divisional commander, directing the maneuvers of the 1st Division, 3rd Corps.

One might think that Ward was something of a star on the rise, but in fact, as Ward’s responsibilities grew, he received less and less respect from his troops. As I mentioned in the previous post, Ward was not a nice man. He was petty, erratic, unlikeable, and fond of drink at inappropriate moments. Moreover, Ward did not think highly of his enlisted men or of the value of human life. As one soldier who served under him later related, “General Ward was formerly a prize fighter and, no doubt, much brutalized. He regards human life much as an angler does the worm he uses for bait.” Arguably, Ward’s lowest moment came when he acted out childish vengeance against a portion of his command the day after the Battle of Wapping Heights. His troops wanted food and Ward wanted them to shut the hell up.

The affair began when Ward’s division engaged in a furious but largely forgotten battle called Wapping Heights, which occurred on July 23, 1863. That day, the 3rd Corps assaulted a portion of the Army of Northern Virginia in Manassas Gap. After a day-long engagement, Ward’s division took possession of the heights, driving off Colonel Edward Walker’s Georgia brigade. Despite the importance of the battle, Ward was rarely seen directing the action. According to one soldier, Ward stopped at a house near Linden Station to drink from a jug of whiskey offered by his corps commander, Major General William French, who was, likewise, no inspirational leader. At 4 P.M., just as the Union troops gained the summit, Ward and French came to check on the course of the battle, and both were, in the words of a witness, “in a highly exhilarated condition by this time.”

Although Ward’s misbehaviors earned the ire of his enlisted men, the real trouble occurred the next day, July 24. At 11 A.M., Ward’s division set out on a thirteen-mile trek to Springfield, a small village east of Markham. Having fought in a rigorous battle the day before and lacking rations, Ward’s soldiers were in a sour mood. Writing to friends, Chaplain Lorenzo Barber explained, “Our supplies were not up and our men were out of rations. Some of us had not had half a breakfast, and nothing left in our haversacks.” By the afternoon, after marching seven hours through the heat with nothing to eat, Ward’s 1st Brigade demanded their overdue nourishment. Specifically, they began chanting, “Hardtack! Hardtack!” A private in the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters wrote in his journal, “The men of our regiment took up the cry and kept it up all afternoon.” Chaplain Barber of the same regiment noticed how quickly the chanting spread among the other regiments. Soon, the entire division was shouting loudly for the ill-loved army cracker. Barber wrote, “Tired with their hard work and with empty stomachs, they halted to rest at almost dark. As the officers were putting them into position, the whole division (Gen. Ward’s) good naturedly cried out, ‘Hard Tack!’ ‘Hard Tack!’” In a letter to friends, Barber insisted that the chanting started out genially, but he pointed out that it carried serious undertones: “The Colonels and Brigadiers took it good naturedly as it was intended, though their own empty larders must have reminded [them] it was a suggestive joke.”

The chanting caught the attention of Ward, who rode along the line with his staff. For whatever reason, Ward was in no mood to hear his soldiers’ pleas for a meal—even one as inadequate as hard tack. The chanting soldiers embarrassed him and he wanted them silenced immediately. Sensing bad blood, Chaplain Barber continued the story: “The thing was made serious by Gen. Ward and staff riding furiously among the men, and Gen. Ward saying: ‘God damn your souls, I’ll give you hard tack; I’ll shoot the first man that says hard tack again.’ Two or three brigades nearest him kept silence, but every other regiment in his division shouted ‘hard tack’ louder than before.”

Ward grew furious when the chanting would not cease, so he rode down the line and accosted the men of the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters, the unit that had started the ruckus. Private Wyman White described the scene: “The general rode to the right of the regiment, and turned his horse, and facing the regiment, drew his revolver and called out in the voice of a brigadier general, ‘G—D— your souls to hell. The next man that says ‘Hardtack’ I will put a ball through his head’.” (As an aside, White’s recollection of Ward’s threat must have been remarkably accurate. Another soldier in the same regiment jotted the words in his diary that evening, and with alarming similarity, they confirmed what White and Barber had both recorded: “God damn your souls! I will give you hardtack! The first man that says hardtack I will put a ball through!”)

Whatever might be said of Ward’s reaction, it did not have the desired effect. The Sharpshooters had no intention of letting Ward get away, not without one last jab. As White related, “All was still and the general turned his horse and in an instant every man in the regiment yelled, ‘Hardtack.’ He did not stop to shoot. If he had, I dare say it would have been his last, for I heard lots of rifles click.” Barber, meanwhile, heard Ward muttering under his breath. “Baffled and disgraced,” Barber narrated, “he rode off cursing officers and men, threatening them with terrible punishment in the way of picket duty, &c.”

Even so, Ward carried out something akin to revenge. When the division went into camp, he ordered several regiments placed under temporary arrest, keeping the men at full marching gear for several hours. Meanwhile, he called into his tent the officers of those regiments that had humiliated him and gave them a rigorous tongue-lashing. Although witnesses disagreed on the length of time he kept the men standing at attention, Private John Haley probably had it correct, saying that it lasted about two hours. Haley remembered, “After we went into bivouac, a portion of the division was made to stand in line for two hours, in marching order, for yelling ‘Hard Tack!’ at General Ward as he rode past. Although many hadn’t eaten for a day or two, and are nearly insane from hunger, they should realize that such behavior will not help.” When the officers returned to the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters, they told their men what Ward had said. According to Private White, “the old puff ball told the officers that he would hold them responsible for our good behavior thereafter and that ended the matter.”

Ward’s pomposity killed his reputation among his enlisted men. Chaplain Barber wrote home, making it clear that Ward was not a man to be admired: “I have not time to moralize on such an outburst of passion and profanity on the part of a commanding General, but I am sorry to say that we have some such in command of our brave and intelligent troops.”

For Ward, the incident began the downward spiral of his career. In a year, he’d find himself discharged and disgraced. One wonders, if he had been nicer to his men on July 24, would they have stuck up for him when the army threatened to remove him from command in the midst of the Overland Campaign? Such is the fate of people who indulge in petty tyrannies. Without respect, they have nothing.

Here's the photograph of Hobart Ward that everyone usually sees. Here he is as brigadier general, taken in 1863, presumably.

Friday, July 15, 2016

“I Always Supposed Him to Be Brave”: The Career of Hobart Ward, Part 1.

For the next few posts, I’d like to focus on the Civil War career of Brig. Gen. John Henry Hobart Ward, a soldier who served three years with the Army of the Potomac. Ward was an interesting character. As an officer, he enjoyed widespread praise from newspaper correspondents and from superior officers. Lofted to the rank of colonel early in the war, he eventually rose to divisional command by the summer of 1863. And yet, Ward was hardly a likable man. He was mean, condescending, intemperate, and ruthless. In short, he was a general who fooled a host of admirers (and I’m sad to say, still manages to bamboozle a cluster of historians who consider him an excellent officer). This is the story of a grade-A snot-bag who managed to wear general stars despite a series of personality defects that would have normally kept him from rising high in the ranks of the Army of the Potomac. This is the tale of Hobart Ward.

In some ways, Ward was destined to fight in the Civil War. He came from a family steeped in military tradition. His grandfather fought in the American Revolution and his father fought in the War of 1812. He was a huge man, over six feet in height, and it was rumored that he had been a pugilist in his teenage years. In 1841, at age eighteen, Hobart Ward followed in the family tradition and joined the Army. He enlisted in the 7th U.S. Infantry, eventually reaching the rank of sergeant-major in 1845. In 1847, he served in the Mexican-American War, fighting at the Battle of Monterrey, where he was wounded, and also at the Battles of Cerro Gordo and Huamantla. After the war, Ward returned to New York and served as the state militia’s assistant commissary general from 1851 to 1855, then as the senior commissary general, which post he held until 1859. He joined the “Scott Life Guard,” a militia regiment that recruited only veterans from the Mexican-American War. When the Civil War began, Ward acquired a colonelcy from New York’s governor, Edwin Morgan, and he began raising a two-year regiment, the 38th New York (informally known as the 2nd Regiment, Scott Life Guard).

Ward and his regiment gained fame quickly. Ward was one the few officers who kept his cool during the rout at Bull Run. Later, on the Peninsula, Ward and his regiment fought several tough fights, losing eighty-eight officers and men at Williamsburg and another eighteen at Fair Oaks. At Williamsburg, Ward’s divisional commander claimed that Ward “conspicuously distinguished himself,” and has “already been noticed by me as one of the bravest of the brave.” Another officer believed that Ward was so talented that he should be elevated to the rank of major general. He wrote, “His experience during twenty years, and his services during the Rebellion, eminently fit him for the position recommended.” Major General Daniel Sickles called him a “an officer whose tact, discretion, and accomplishments fit him for command of a division, and his services have been so conspicuous and brilliant that he deserves this recognition of merit.”

Wherever Ward went, he received praise. Between 1861 and 1863, newspapers heaped commendation upon him. After Bull Run, a New York newspaper mentioned Ward’s coolness. It proclaimed, “Colonel J. H. Hobart Ward, who served during the war with Mexico, and was breveted for his good conduct on the field, throughout the late battle was collected, courageous and energetic. Wherever his men faltered, there he was to rally and encourage them, and where danger appeared he confronted it.” When Ward’s regiment, the 38th New York, mustered out in New York City in May 1863, Mayor George Opdyke couldn’t say enough about Ward’s fine qualities as a commander. Opdyke wrote, “The excellent record you have made in the army must be attributed, in a large degree, to the skill, courage and coolness of . . . the brave veteran Colonel, who just commanded the Thirty-eighth, now Brig.-Gen. Ward.”

When Ward applied for a brigadier general’s commission, his superiors jumped at the chance to discuss his finer qualities. Not only did Major Generals Philip Kearney, John Sedgwick, David Birney, and Joseph Hooker offer endorsements, but even Winfield Scott—now in retirement—chose to write a testimonial based on his experience with Ward in Mexico. One of Ward’s superiors, Major General Samuel P. Heintzelman, wrote of Ward, saying, “There has been no Colonel in my command who has rendered more efficient and gallant service on the Peninsula, both as Colonel, and when temporarily in command of a brigade.”

With such esteemed opinions, the U.S. Senate confirmed Ward’s promotion to brigadier general on October 4, 1862. When he assumed command of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, 3rd Corps, Army of the Potomac, Ward held his men enthralled by his stature and soldierly demeanor. Captain Charles Weygant, an officer who served in Ward’s brigade, remembered his first meeting with Ward. He later wrote, “Our new brigadier was a dark-complexioned, stern-looking man, about fifty years of age, stood six feet three, weighed about two hundred and forty pounds, and when mounted on his iron grey charger looked a very giant.”

Reading all these estimations, one might assume that Ward was a wonderful general, universally loved by his men and his peers. In truth, he was a brutish tyrant. Thin-skinned, petty, and foul-tempered, Hobart Ward lacked the graces held by his contemporaries. Ward’s foul behavior surfaced early on. When his regiment, the 38th New York, was encamped in Washington in May 1861, Ward mercilessly beat an unarmed citizen for cheering on behalf of the Confederacy. Ward was standing on the steps of a hotel when he overheard three citizens cheering loudly for Jeff Davis followed by three more cheers for the Southern Confederacy. Ward was about to walk away when he heard the men propose three groans for the U.S. government. When he heard this, Ward snapped. He walked over, humorously accusing the men of acting “unconstitutionally,” and then Ward slugged one of them in the face. After their friend tumbled down the steps, the other two citizens bolted down the street, and Ward gave chase. He didn’t catch them, but the newspaper reporter who described the incident praised Ward—as any northern newspaper writer might—for standing up for the Union. Another crack in his reputation appeared a bit later, at Chancellorsville. On the evening of May 2, 1863, Ward gave way to panic (although, in all fairness, so did many Union soldiers who fought in the night action there). He put spurs to his horse and bolted for the rear, running over two men, one of whom was trampled so badly that he later died.

Probably, the beating of the southern sympathizer and the running over of the two soldiers were more emblematic of Ward’s character than all the newspaper reports or the endorsements from superiors.  As my future posts will show, all these people got Ward dead-wrong. Ward was nursing a sequence of bad behaviors that became more pronounced as the war dragged on. It is unclear how Ward was able to fool so many people for so long, but he did. In May 1864, when Ward was arrested for drunkenness during the Battle of Spotsylvania (the subject of a future post), Colonel Theodore Lyman—an officer attached to George Meade’s headquarters—expressed himself shocked  that he had misjudged Ward. Baffled by the fact that Ward’s career was coming to an inglorious end, Lyman wrote, “General Ward was relieved from his command, for misbehavior and intoxication in presence of the enemy at the Battle of the Wilderness. I had always supposed him to be a brave but rough man.”

How did Ward forfeit his reputation? Stay tuned!

Here, you can see John Henry Hobart Ward as colonel of the 38th New York.