Brevet Major General David McMurtrie Gregg was the longest tenured Federal cavalry division commander during the Civil War.
David McMurtrie Gregg was born on April 10, 1833, at Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. He was the third of nine children born to Matthew Duncan Gregg and Ellen McMurtrie. Matthew Gregg was trained as a lawyer and was part owner and iron master of the Potomac Furnace, an iron works in Loudoun County, Virginia. David Gregg's grandfather, Andrew Gregg was a United States Congressman from Pennsylvania who served in the House of Representatives from 1791 to 1807, and then in the Senate from 1807 to 1813.
David Gregg's father died of fever on July 27, 1845 when young Gregg was just twelve years old. Gregg's mother moved her children to live with family members in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, where, tragically, she died just a year later on August 17, 1847. Gregg and his older brother, Andrew, went to live with their uncle, David McMurtrie III in Huntingdon, while Gregg's siblings were scattered amongst relatives. The uncle insured that both boys were properly educated. David Gregg first attended the John A. Hall School in Huntingdon. In 1849, he was sent to the Milnwood Academy, a preparatory school at nearby Shade Gap. The next year he followed in Andrew's footsteps, enrolling at the University of Lewisburg (later Bucknell University). In 1850, Representative Samuel Calvin of Blair County secured an appointment for Gregg at the United States Military Academy. Before he enrolled, however, tragedy visited Gregg's life again when Andrew died on March 11, 1851.
Gregg entered West Point on July 1, 1851. While enrolled there he garnered a reputation as a fine horseman, which contributed to his eventual renown as a cavalry officer. One class ahead of Gregg was future Confederate cavalry commander J.E.B. Stuart, who Gregg would encounter many times on the field of battle. Gregg graduated on July 1, 1855, finishing eighth in his class of 34 cadets. At the commencement ceremonies, Gregg met Ellen Frances Sheaff, the granddaughter of former Pennsylvania Governor Joseph Hiester. Eight years later, the couple wed in Philadelphia during the Civil War. Their marriage produced two sons, George Sheaff Gregg and David McMurtrie Gregg.
Upon graduation from the Academy, Gregg was brevetted as a second lieutenant with the 2nd U.S. Dragoons and assigned to garrison duty at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. On September 4, 1855, Gregg was promoted to 2nd lieutenant with the 1st U.S. Dragoons, and sent to Fort Union, New Mexico. Gregg was transferred to California in 1856 and then on to the Washington Territory in 1857 where he campaigned against American Indians until 1861. On March 21, 1861, Gregg was promoted to first lieutenant and ordered to return to California. Just a few weeks later, soon after the Civil War began, he was elevated to the rank of captain with the 6th U.S. Cavalry on May 14, 1861, and ordered east to the defenses of Washington, D.C.
On the recommendation of his first cousin, Governor Andrew Gregg Curtin of Pennsylvania, Gregg was appointed colonel of the 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry in the volunteer army on January 24, 1862. During George B. McClellan's Peninsula Campaign (March 17–August 14, 1862), Gregg also commanded the Cavalry Brigade of the 4th Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Later in the year, Gregg participated in the Maryland Campaign (September 4 – September 20, 1862). Following his wedding on October 6, 1862, and a brief honeymoon, Gregg returned to active duty and was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers on November 29, 1862, prior to participating in the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11 - 15, 1862). During that battle, Gregg assumed command of the 2nd Brigade of the Army of the Potomac's Cavalry Division following the death of Brigadier General George D. Bayard.
Following the Federal defeat at Fredericksburg, Major General Joseph Hooker replaced Major General Ambrose Burnside as commander of the Army of the Potomac. On February 5, 1863, Hooker reorganized the army, centralizing his horsemen and creating a cavalry corps consisting of three divisions commanded by Major General George Stoneman. Hooker placed Gregg in charge of the 3rd Division of the newly-created Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac in December 1862.
When Hooker began his 1863 spring offensive, which would culminate at the Battle of Chancellorsville (April 30 – May 6), he sent most of Stoneman's cavalry on a major raid behind enemy lines near Fredericksburg. Stoneman's Raid of 1863 began on April 13 when the cavalry commander led 10,000 Federal troopers out of the main camp of the Army of the Potomac near Falmouth, Virginia, with orders to sever the Army of Northern Virginia's supply lines, thereby forcing them to abandon their defenses at Fredericksburg. Two days later, torrential rains began falling, making the Rappahannock River impassable and placing Hooker's plan far behind schedule. Once across the river, Stoneman was able to destroy some railroad lines between Richmond and Fredericksburg, but he was unable to completely sever the Rebel supply lines. Losing contact with Hooker on April 30, he did not rejoin the army until May 7, depriving Hooker the use of his cavalry at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Eager to find a scapegoat for the Federal defeat at Chancellorsville, and deflect criticism from himself, Hooker placed much of the blame on Stoneman. On June 7, 1863, Hooker sacked Stoneman and placed Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton in charge of the Cavalry Corps. Gregg was transferred to the command of the 2nd Division, the position he held for the remainder of his service with the army.
After the Rebel victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Robert E. Lee decided to take the war to the North. As Lee marched the Army of Northern Virginia north through the Shenandoah Valley on the western side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, he ordered Major General J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry to screen his movements by riding in the same direction through the Loudoun Valley on the east side of the mountains. Hooker and Pleasonton responded by forcing a series of cavalry engagements during June 1863 attempting to ascertain Lee's intentions. On June 9, Gregg commanded the Left Wing of the Union cavalry at the Battle of Brandy Station, the largest cavalry engagement of the Civil War. Gregg's troopers also engaged Stuart's cavalry at the Battle of Aldie (June 17), the Battle of Middleburg (June 17), and the Battle of Hanover (June 21).
On the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 3, 1863) Gregg, commanding three cavalry brigades, thwarted Stuart's attempt to flank and assault the Union rear as they withstood Pickett's Charge at Cemetery Ridge. Following the Federal victory at Gettysburg, Gregg's troopers harassed Lee's army as it retreated to Virginia. Gregg spent the remainder of 1863 operating against Confederate cavalry in Central Virginia, seeing action at Rapidan Station (September 14), Beverly Ford (October 12), Auburn (October 14), and New Hope Church November 27).
On March 7, 1864 President Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant as General-in-Chief of the Armies of the United States. Grant proceeded to send Pleasonton to the Western Theater, replacing him with one of his personal favorites, Major General Philip Sheridan. As senior division commander, Gregg was undoubtedly shocked and disappointed to be passed over for promotion by someone with very little cavalry experience. Gregg served as interim commander of the Cavalry Corps from the time of Pleasonton's departure on March 26, 1864, until Sheridan assumed command on April 4, 1864. Upon Sheridan's arrival, Gregg resumed his previous command of the 2nd Division.
During Grant's Overland Campaign, Gregg participated in numerous skirmishes and several major engagements during the summer of 1864, including the Battle of Haw's Shop (May 28, 1864), the Battle of Trevilian Station (June 11 – June 12, 1864) and the Battle of Saint Mary's Church (June 24, 1864).
In June 1864, Confederate General Jubal Early launched a major offensive into the Shenandoah Valley and parts of Maryland. By July, he was within view of Washington, D.C. Although forced to retreat to the Valley after the Battle of Monocacy (July 9, 1864), Early's force remained a threat to the nation's capital. In early August, Grant dispatched Sheridan to the Shenandoah Valley to deal with Early. Sheridan was placed in command of the newly-created Army of the Shenandoah, with two divisions of the Army of the Potomac's Cavalry Corps. In Sheridan's place, Gregg was brevetted to major general of volunteers on August 1, 1864, and left behind to command the remainder of the Cavalry Corps during the Siege of Petersburg.
Sheridan's work in the Shenandoah Valley was completed with his rout of Early's forces at the Battles of Winchester III (September 19, 1864), the Battle of Fisher's Hill (September 21 – 22, 1864), and the Battle of Cedar Creek (October 19, 1864). With Early's forces gone, Sheridan spent the next few weeks laying waste to farms, mills, and any other infrastructure that might provide sustenance or aid to the Confederate cause. When it became apparent that Sheridan would be recalled to resume his previous position as commander of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac, Gregg resigned his commission from the army on February 3, 1865. Although Gregg's resignation letter cited only "pressing private duties and business" at home that demanded personal attention, it was widely assumed that he was unwilling to be superseded by Sheridan a second time.
During retirement, Gregg returned to Pennsylvania and later tried farming in Delaware. Quickly tiring of civilian life he attempted to return to the service in 1868, but was rebuffed. On February 3, 1874, President Grant appointed Gregg as the United States Consul at Prague, Bohemia, but Mrs. Gregg grew homesick, so Gregg resigned on June 28, 1874. Upon returning to the United States in August, Gregg took up residence in Reading, Pennsylvania, where he became active in civic affairs. In 1891, Pennsylvania voters elected Gregg to one term as the state's auditor general. In 1899, he declined a nomination for the office of state treasurer, due to his declining health. Gregg died on August 7, 1916, less than a year after his wife's passing. He was buried at Charles Evans Cemetery in Reading.
Cite this Entry
"David McMurtrie Gregg," Ohio Civil War Central, 2021, Ohio Civil War Central. 4 Dec 2021 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=1029>
"David McMurtrie Gregg." (2021) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved December 4, 2021, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=1029
- Abraham Lincoln
- Alfred Pleasonton
- Ambrose E. Burnside
- Army of Northern Virginia
- Army of the Potomac (USA)
- Army of the Shenandoah (USA) (1864)
- Battle of Aldie
- Battle of Brandy Station
- Battle of Cedar Creek
- Battle of Chancellorsville
- Battle of Fisher's Hill
- Battle of Fredericksburg
- Battle of Gettysburg
- Battle of Hanover
- Battle of Haw's Shop
- Battle of Middleburg
- Battle of Monocacy
- Battle of Saint Mary's Church
- Battle of Trevilian Station
- General Orders, No. 97 (U.S. War Department) (1865)
- George Stoneman
- J.E.B. Stuart
- Joseph Hooker
- Jubal Early
- Maryland Campaign
- Overland Campaign
- Peninsula Campaign
- Philip H. Sheridan
- Pickett's Charge
- Robert E. Lee
- Ulysses S. Grant
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