Civil War Fangirl

The thoughts of a (slighty eccentric & crazy) Canadian who happens to be obsessed with Abraham Lincoln, General William Tecumseh Sherman & the Civil War

Archive for the category “South Mountain”

“He is one of the bravest men…”

It’s funny how I will develop an interest in someone from the Civil War, especially some high ranking officer. It’s often the eyes that strike me the most. Or just that they’re damn fine looking gentlemen. I give you a wonderful example below of my two favourites…

If y’all follow me on Twitter, you know how much I love General Sherman and probably have picked up on how much I LOVE General John Reynolds as well. With Reynolds, it was totally the eyes that struck me the most and it turns out he was a pretty damn fascinating guy. You can check the post I wrote about him here.

It was much the same when I came across this handsome gentleman. Totally the eyes AGAIN. Y’all, meet Major General John Gibbon…


Major General John Gibbon. Intense eyes AND yes, he’s an interesting fellow…

Of course I wanted to know more about him. Just as was the case with General Reynolds, Major General Gibbon is an interesting guy. I recently wrote a post about the Battle of South Mountain, in which Gibbon was a part of at Turner’s Gap. Check it out here.

On to more about Gibbon. Here we go…

John Gibbon was born on April 20, 1827 in Philadelphia, PA. When he was ten years old, Gibbon and his family moved to the Charleston, South Carolina. His father had accepted a position of Chief Assayer (basically, analyzing the quantity of gold, silver, etc. in a coin) at the U.S. Mint.

In 1842 at the age of 15, John was appointed to the US Military Academy at West Point. He had discipline problems (i.e. rebel, badass, etc) and ended up having to repeat his ENTIRE first year. Clearly, mistakes were made but lessons were learned. After this, his time there and, subsequently, his entire military career was defined by rigid discipline. He graduated in the middle of his class in 1847.Two of his classmates were Ambrose Burnside and Ambrose Powell Hill.

After graduation, John was made Brevet 2nd Lieutenant in the 3rd US Artillery.

He was in Mexico during the Mexican-American war, but saw no action there. He was also in Florida and in Texas.

In 1854, he returned to West Point where he taught artillery tactics. This proved to be quite a fit for him and must have been something he enjoyed, because he ended up writing an ENTIRE book about it called the Artillerist’s Manual. It was published in 1859, and was adopted by the War Department very quickly. It ended up being used by both the Union and the Confederate Armies during the Civil War.


I bought an e-version of this from Amazon. My partner’s reaction: “We’re probably on some list now…”.

In 1855, Gibbon married Francis North Moale and together they had four children: Frances Moale, Catharine (Katy), John Jr. (he died as a toddler) & John S. Gibbon.

Life seemed to be rolling along smoothly for John when the Civil War broke out in 1861. His father, who still lived in the south, was a slave owner. John’s three brothers and his cousin, J. Johnston Pettigrew, all fought for the Confederacy.


John Gibbon’s cousin, J.Johnston Pettigrew. He was involved in Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. He was killed at Bunker Hill, West Virginia, on July 17, 1863.

John, who was stationed in Utah at the time, decided to remain loyal to the Union. He took the oath to the United States and reported to Washington. Here he was made Chief of Artillery for Major General Irwin McDowell.


Major General Irvin McDowell. Hails from Columbus, Ohio. Unfortunately, best known for his defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run. Well, f%^&

In 1862, the Gibbs (I know, so not an original nickname is you watch NCIS but…come on…it works! And it’s kinda cute…) was promoted to Brigadier General of Volunteers and placed in charge of King’s Wisconsin Brigade, made of men from Wisconsin (duh), Michigan & Indiana. He proved to be quite good at handling the volunteers, and, unlike other officers, he did not have a negative opinion of them.  Not only was he big into drilling his soldiers but he used a rigid discipline system to turn them into being some of the most bad-ass, ferocious fighters in the Army of the Potomac. Gibbs believed the best way to promote such rigid discipline was using a system of awards (gold star, anyone?!) to recognize good behaviour and, for not-so-good behaviour, he used penalties that were meant to hurt their pride.

A few examples…

Fence stealing was popular (cause why not steal a fence when you’re a volunteer soldier, right?) amongst his brigade. Fence pieces would be used for shelter or fires. This extra curricular activity dwindled after Gibbs came on the scene. Fence stealing ain’t so much fun when you have to rebuild said fence.

On a positive note, however, the Gibbs discovered that giving the well-behaved soldiers 24 hour passes was a thing of miracles for promoting good behaviour. Y’all, this 24 hour pass was their version of a gold star. Leave camp, go have fun! I’d be good to if it meant I got to leave camp for 24 hours and go play cards (cards being a euphemism for various sorts of shenanigans I won’t mention on here) with the locals.

He also changed the uniform of the soldiers. The most notable of these changes was the hat. He replaced the traditional Kepi with the black felt Hardee hat. Soon after this, they became known as the Black Hat Brigade.

Clearly, Gibbs wanted his bad-ass Brigade to stand out.

And stand out his brigade did…

He fought at Second Manasses at Brawner’s Farm. This was one of the most intense fire fights of the entire Civil War. One of his solider’s remarked of him after the battle:

How completely that little battle removed all dislike from the strict disciplinarian, and how great became the admiration and love for him, only those who have witnessed similar changes can appreciate…

Gibbs was at South Mountain at Turner’s Gap. It was here that either General Joseph Hooker or G McC (my pet name for General McClellan) christened Gibbon’s brigade as the “Iron Brigade”. The men had “fought like iron”.


Part of the Iron Brigade

At Antietam, the Iron Brigade had heavy losses. It was here that Gibbon manned an artillery piece during the very bloody fighting in the Cornfield.

In late 1862, John was promoted to the 2nd Division, I Corps. This meant he would be separated from his “Iron Brigade”:

My feeling was one of regret at the idea of being separated from my gallant brigade.

It is said that John Reynolds picked up on this and said he could offer it to someone else. Gibbs, despite qualms about leaving, did accept the new position he had been offered. One officer of the Iron Brigade described Gibbon as “a most excellent officer…beloved and respected by his whole command”.

His love of this brigade and its men evidently stuck with the Gibbs throughout his life. His answer to an invitation to all soldiers honorably discharged from Wisconsin shows how he felt towards them:

I was not a Wisconsin soldier, and have not been honorably discharged, but at the judgement day I want to be with Wisconsin soldiers. 

So, on it was to his new command, and the first battle he led them at was Fredericksburg. It was here Gibbon ended up receiving a wound near his wrist after a shell exploded close by. This put him out of duty for several months.

He was back in time for Gettysburg. It was here he commanded the 2nd Division of General Winfield Scott Hancock’s II Corps.


General Winfield Scott Hancock. As my #soulsister Jen would say…#HeyGirl. She’ll also be happy I  managed to include a photo of him in this post. 🙂

On July 3rd at Gettysburg, Gibbon was at Cemetery Ridge. His major role in the battle was the repulse of Pickett’s Charge. In a council of war meeting (sounds like Game of Thrones shit happening here…) the night before, General Meade had pulled Gibbon aside and predicted that if Lee were to attack, it would be right where Gibbon would be. Eerily enough, Meade was right. Gibbon’s division did bear the brunt of the fighting, as predicted by Meade. Both Gibbon and Hancock ended up getting wounded here.

With being wounded, Gibbs was out of action and he ended up being sent to Cleveland, Ohio where he worked in a draft depot.

I’m sure that was really exciting…

But here’s something really cool. While Gibbon was still recovering from his wounds (okay, so that’s not so cool but this next part is the total silver lining in it all), he was able to attend the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863. Y’all know what happened on that day, right? GETTYSBURG ADDRESS BY MY FAVOURITE MAN. How  awesome is it that Gibbon got to see and hear Lincoln give the Gettysburg Address? Also, could you imagine being there at the Gettysburg Address? Lincoln and Gibbon in the same place? I would have been fangirling big time. On a serious note, it would have been absolutely amazing to witness the Gettysburg Address, perhaps one of the most amazing speeches ever written (that’s for another post though).


I had to put a photo in of my fav man! #heygirl #fangirl Also, the crooked bowtie is awesome. #workit

Once he’d recovered from his wounds, Gibbon was back in action again. He dove right back in for the Overland Campaign and fought at Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg. On June 7th, 1864,  he was promoted to Major General for his service in the Overland Campaign.

On August 25, 1864, he and his men fought in the Second Battle of Reams Station. He felt his Division had fought poorly and this very much disheartened. At this time, he also began to quarrel with his superior, General Hancock. I’m guessing Hancock was probably not a good man to cross. Although promoted briefly to command the XVIII Corps, Gibbs ended up going on sick leave.

In January 1865 he came back and was given command of the XXIV Corps in the newly created Army of the James. James Rufus Davies, a member of the Iron Brigade, had this to say about Gibbon receiving this command:

His honors are fairly won. He is one of the bravest men. He was with us on every battlefield

On April 2, 1865, Gibbon was involved in the Third Battle of Petersburg. This battle was also known as (SPOILER ALERT) the Fall of Petersburg, so I think we all know how that turned out for the Confederates. It was during this battle that the Gibbs captured Fort Gregg, part of the Confederate defences.

During the Appomattox Campaign, Gibbon blocked the Confederate escape route during the battle of Appomattox Courthouse.

At the conclusion of the Appomattox Campaign, Gibbon served as the Surrender Commissioner.


Can y’all spot Gibbon? And check out the evil eye on Sheridan towards Lee.

After the Civil War, Gibbs was demoted to being a Colonel in the regular army (this apparently happened quite a bit. It’s complicated to get into and I’m just beginning to learn about it myself). Gibbon spent much time on the frontier. He was mainly engaged in the Indian Wars. It was Gibbon who came upon the remains of Custer and his men after the Battle of Little Big Horn.

In 1885, he was promoted to Brigadier General in the regular army. He was placed in command of the Department of Columbia, which represented all points of the Pacific Northwest. In 1890, he was made head of the Military Division of the Atlantic. He only held this post for a year, however, as he was forced to retire in 1891.


Gibbs aged well. #finewine #swoon

In all, he served nearly fifty years! John Gibbon passed away on February 6, 1896 in Baltimore, Maryland and he is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.


One cool thing I learned in researching this post is that Gibbon has a few towns that are named after him. Thanks for my cool Twitter follower @AndersenTy, I found out there is a town in Nebraska called Gibbon. Yes, named after John Gibbon. There are others too – in Oregon, Minnesota, and Washington. Gibbon River and Falls in Yellowstone National Park is also named after him. Gibbon went there on an 1872 expedition.

Besides “The Artillerist’s Manual”, Gibbon also wrote two other books, both of which were published posthumously: “Personal Recollections of the Civil War” (1928) and “Adventures On The Western Frontier” (1994).

Just on the lighter side of things, apparently Gibbon was quite the colourful speaker, something which I appreciate because I do have a knack for use of colourful language myself (as I’m sure y’all have picked up on from some of my blog posts or videos). A member of General Meade’s staff described Gibbon as having an “up-and-down manner of telling the truth, no matter whom it hurt”. In other words, he was blunt. He could also out-swear most officers in the Army of the Potomac, which does make him a personal hero of mine now (upon finding this out, I blurted out “that is f&^%ing awesome!”).  Apparently, the exception to this rule was Andrew Humphreys  and quite possibly (and for some reason this did not surprise me), Winfield Scott Hancock.


Major General Andrew Humphreys, known potty-mouth of the Army of the Potomac. #lifegoals

Gibbon was a really cool, interesting guy. He was clearly well-respected by his troops and despite being a strict disciplinarian, a hard-ass and a-type about drilling his soldiers, in his heart he clearly cared about those he commanded. He created some of the most bad-ass fighters in the Army of the Potomac when he commanded the Iron Brigade. And the men he commanded after that were just equally as bad-ass. I’ll end this post by leaving you with a photo of the monument to Gibbon, which is at Gettysburg. It was dedicated on July 3, 1988 and it close to where he was wounded during Pickett’s Charge. Check out the swagger…


#workit #heygirl #sexyboots #swagger

As always, thanks for reading! I hope y’all enjoyed this post. I certainly enjoyed researching and writing it.

Until next time,




“John Gibbon”. Civil War Trust.

“John Gibbon, Loyal and Able Soldier”

Nolan, Alan T. “The Iron Brigade: A Military History” Indiana University Press: Indianapolis. 1961.

Reardon, Carol & Tom Vossler. “A Field Guide To Gettysburg”. University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill.2013.

John Gibbon. Wikipedia.




They “Fought Like Iron…”

I’ve mentioned a few times on Twitter that for the last little while I’ve been working on a blog post about this Union Army hottie Major General John Gibbon…


“Hey, girl…” as my BFF Jen always says when we’re discussing the Generals we love. Gibbon is swoon worthy and y’all, he’s interesting as hell, too. Post will be done soon 🙂

Gibbon was the second commander of what is known as the Iron Brigade. The first commander was Union Brigadier General Rufus King. The Wisconsin Historical Society has some more information about him here


Rufus King, first leader of the Iron Brigade. President Lincoln had originally appointed him Minister to the Papal States in 1861 but when the Civil War broke out, he took a leave of absence from this to join the Union Army. 

It was on May 7, 1862, when Special Order No. 46 was issued, giving command of the Iron Brigade to Brigadier General John Gibbon. To begin, the Brigade had consisted of the 2nd, 6th and 7th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiments, 19th from Indiana and Battery B of the 4th U.S. Light Artillery. The 24th Michigan later joined their ranks.

When I started researching John Gibbon and finding out that he led the Iron Brigade, one of the questions I had was just how had this Brigade come to be called the “Iron Brigade”?

Well, it happened 154 years ago today, during the Battle of South Mountain (also known as the Battle of Boonsboro Gap), which was part of the Maryland Campaign. It was fought at three separate passes where General Lee’s Army  (this is where I started to go down a rabbit hole but quickly got back out again. No, Mary, focus on how the Brigade was named. You don’t need to talk about the whole damn battle!):

So, I won’t go into a lot of detail about the battle but Civil War Trust has a good summary of the battle here. Also, I’ve included a couple maps too, just to give y’all an idea of where the battle was fought and who was where…


Crampton’s Gap. Southern most post of the battle. The Union won the day here. 


Fox’s & Turner’s Gap. The Federal’s almost take Fox’s Gap but Confederate General John Bell Hood arrives in time to stop this. Turner’s Gap is where the Iron Brigade earns it’s nickname.


Onto the naming of the Brigade. By this point, Gibbon’s Brigade was already standing out with their black Hardee hats. Ever the unique snowflake, it was Gibbon who had made them part of the uniform. Hence the other name they are also known by – the Black Hat Brigade.


The Hardee hat, chosen by John Gibbon as part of their uniform. Hence the name “Black Hat Brigade”

The morning of September 14 found Gibbon and his men marching towards South Mountain. In short, General McClellan (henceforth known as G McC) had found General Lee’s Order 191 (Pro-tip: don’t roll important orders around a cigar. Someone will probably drop them), giving detailed plans of his army’s operation. Hence the marching to South Mountain. By this point, however, Bobbi Lee had found out G McC had found the order. He’d already reinforced South Mountain. I read a couple sources that state G McC was taking things at a “leisurely place”(*gasp* Is this what Lincoln referred to as “the slows”? I think so…).

Gibbon was marching with Brigadier General John Porter Hatch’s Division to begin with…


John Porter Hatch. He was wounded at the Battle of South Mountain. After the battle, he was promoted to Major General of Volunteers. He also earned the Medal of Honor. 

Plans changed, however, and he received direct orders from General Ambrose Burnside to take his brigade plus Battery B (the artillery) back to the National Road. It was there they started advancing towards the mountain at what is known as Turner’s Gap.

It was Confederate General D.H. Hill who was defending Turner’s Gap, a man who John Gibbon knew personally as he’d been D.H. Hill’s groomsman at his wedding. This is one of those moments where I think of the Godfather: “It’s not personal, it’s strictly business”.


Confederate General D.H. Hill. He was the brother-in-law of General “Stonewall” Jackson. Did not get on too well with Bobbi Lee, therefore was considered to be under utilized. This may be why he looks angry.

With support from Battery B, it was Gibbon’s Brigade on its own that was to go up the National Road and hit the center of the Confederate line at Turner’s Gap. Back at headquarters, G McC and Burnside would have front row seats, so to speak, to see Gibbon and his men in action. Since Bobbi Lee knew G McC would be coming to pay him a visit, General D.H. Hill had been reinforced already with brigades from Brigidier General J.R. Jones and General John Bell Hood. Of course he had artillery of his own too.

Gibbs and his Black Hat Brigade were going to have a tough climb up to Turner’s Gap towards Alfred H. Colquitt, who had 1,100 men with him. It was later in the afternoon when Gibbon finally received word from Burnside to move forward. As they started their ascent, Gibbon was mounted on his horse, commanding “Forward! Forward! Forward!”. They ascended towards Turner’s Gap, and they had a hell of a fight.

Much of the fighting was done in the darkness. The Black Hat Brigade fought hard and slowly, they gained ground, despite constant firing and shelling from the enemy. The Confederates were putting up a hell of a fight as well in order to hold their ground. Gibbon moved on the battlefield, directing his men where to go and seemingly staying quite cool considering the circumstances.


Painting depicting the Iron Brigade fighting at Turner’s Gap. If anyone can tell me the name of the artist, please let me know! I couldn’t find it anywhere and they need credit for the this amazing painting.

Circumstances seemed grave near the end of the night and I’m sure even Gibbon was scared. You know shit is getting bad when you have to give your men the order “Hold your ground with the bayonet” because they’ve run out of ammo. This was the order he had to give the men of the 7th Wisconsin and it is eerily like an order given less than a year later by Union General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain at Little Round Top during the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Just when things seemed at their worst, Gibbon finally got the word to cease firing and that they had won the day. At approximately 9pm on September 14th, the bloody fighting at Turner’s Gap was done.

Fighting had ended else where along South Mountain at this time too. General  Lee soon withdrew his troops. The wounded and dead lay strewn along the mountainside and this was Gibbon’s greatest concern. 25% of the brigade had been lost – 37 killed, 251 wounded and 30 missing. The 7th Wisconsin had the heaviest casualties with 147 wounded or dead. Overall, the Black Hat Brigade had sustained greater losses than any other Brigade that day at South Mountain.

Their hard fighting and sacrifice did not go unnoticed, however. Remember I said that G McC and Burnside had front row seats to watch Gibbon and his bad ass Black Hat Brigade ascend Turner’s Gap? Nolan sums it up perfectly in his book about the history of the Iron Brigade:

McClellan and Burnside and a number of other officers had seen it all, the initial advance up the mountainside, the unflinching progress as the enemy’s fire increased and the dogged movements, always forward, into the darkness, marked toward the end of the day by the flashes from the opposing lines of rifles. 

“A brilliant engagement” was how Burnside put it. G McC, in his official report, wrote that “General Gibbon, in this delicate movement, handled his brigade with as much precision and coolness as if upon parade and the bravery of his troops could not be excelled”.

The word “iron” was used to describe the brigade and how they had fought. Some sources say that it was Hooker who said “those men fought like iron”. Others say it was McClellan. Another source I found attributed it to Hooker. Whatever the case, Gibbon’s Brigade, nicknamed the Black Hat Brigade because of their black Hardee hats, became known as the Iron Brigade. This was the name they most certainly had earned in the fighting of Turner’s Gap.

Nolan states that:

On the rocky sides of South Mountain at Turner’s Gap, Gibbon’s soldiers acquired a reputation, a reputation they would have to sustain with further bravery and which would somehow make them brave, as brave as an “Iron Brigade”. 


Just a few of the men from Gibbon’s Iron Brigade. This Co. K, 7th Wisconsin Infantry. These are the men who suffered the heaviest casualties in Gibbon’s Brigade.

Prior to South Mountain, they had fought at Second Bull Run. They went on to fight at Antietam, which happened just a few days after South Mountain on September 17th, 1862. Their other battles included Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Minerun, Overland, Richmond-Petersburg and finally, Appomattox.

Also, I can’t recommend Alan T. Nolan’s book “The Iron Brigade: A Military History” enough. Although I haven’t read it all the way through yet,what I have read is very well written and very interesting. It was my main source for writing this post.

Thanks, as always, for reading. I absolutely loved learning how the Iron Brigade earned it’s name at South Mountain. The Iron Brigade is becoming a favourite of mine and I can’t wait to read the whole book about them.

Do any of you have a favourite brigade from the Civil War? Let me know in the comments, on Twitter or on my Facebook page.

Until next time,







Thus ensued the Battle of South Mountain



“Bloody Prelude: The Battle of South Mountain”.

Civil War Trust

“King, Gen. Rufus (1814-1876)”. Wisconsin Historical Society.

Nolan, Alan T. “The Iron Brigade: A Military History”. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1961.

“The Battle of South Mountain”. The American Civil War 150 Years Ago Today.

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