A prominent Union general officer, Samuel W. Crawford was possibly the only person who was present for the beginning of the American Civil War at Fort Sumter and for the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House four years later.
Samuel Wylie Crawford was born on November 8, 1827 in Franklin County, near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. He was the son of the Reverend Dr. Samuel Wylie Crawford and Jane (Agnew) Crawford. Crawford's father, an ardent abolitionist, was an ordained minister and a noted educator who taught at the Chambersburg Academy and served as Principal of the Academical Department of the University of Pennsylvania from 1830 to 1853.
Crawford was a bright lad who graduated from University of Pennsylvania in 1846 at the age of nineteen years. After receiving his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine four years later, Crawford joined the United States Army Medical Corps as an assistant surgeon in 1851.
Crawford spent the next ten years in the American West, principally in Texas. During that time he engaged in several scientific studies and expeditions.
In September 1860, Crawford transferred to Fort Moultrie, one of three Federal facilities in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina commanded by Major Robert Anderson. Three months later, on December 20, 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union, in reaction to Abraham Lincoln's victory in the November presidential election. After South Carolina Governor Francis Pickens failed to negotiate a peaceful takeover of the Federal facilities in Charleston Harbor, Anderson evacuated Fort Moultrie and moved the garrison to the more formidable Fort Sumter. Tensions continued to mount and finally erupted on the morning of April 12, 1861, when the South Carolina Militia began bombarding Fort Sumter, touching off the American Civil War.
Although Crawford was the fort's medical officer, he received Anderson's permission to man one of the batteries returning fire on the Rebels. After enduring thirty-four hours of shelling, Anderson negotiated a settlement with Brigadier-General P.G.T. Beauregard, who commanded the South Carolinians. Beauregard's terms were generous. The entire Union garrison, including Crawford, was allowed to leave the fort unmolested and to return to New York, New York.
One month after tasting combat at Fort Sumter, Crawford traded his scalpel for a sabre, accepting a major's commission with the 13th U.S. Infantry in June 1861. One year later, on June 10, 1862, the United States War Department issued General Orders, No. 63, announcing that the United States Senate had confirmed President Abraham Lincoln's appointment of Crawford as a brigadier-general of volunteers, effective April 25, 1862.
In May 1862, Crawford was placed in command of a brigade in Nathaniel P. Banks's 5th Army Corps, which was operating in the Shenandoah Valley. On June 26, 1862, President Lincoln issued a presidential proclamation creating the Army of Virginia, commanded by Major General John Pope. Lincoln's directive specified that "the troops of the Shenandoah Department, now under General Banks, shall constitute the Second Army Corps" of the Army of Virginia.
The 2nd Corps came close to inflicting a critical defeat to Major General Thomas J. Jackson's Stonewall Brigade at the Battle of Cedar Mountain on August 9, 1862. Jackson's personal heroics and reinforcements from Major General A.P. Hill's Light Division turned back a spirited attack by Crawford's soldiers late in the day and turned the tide of the battle. Crawford's unit bore the brunt of the punishment inflicted by the Rebels at Cedar Mountain. His brigade suffered over a fifty percent casualty rate, losing 867 men killed, wounded, or missing/captured out of 1679 engaged.
Because the 2nd Corps was so decimated at Cedar Mountain, Pope held it in reserve during the Confederate victory at the Battle of Bull Run II (August 28–30, 1862). Crawford's next action was at the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862. Crawford entered the fray commanding the 1st Brigade of Brigadier-General Alpheus S. Williams 1st Division of the 12th Corps. When corps commander Major General Joseph K. Mansfield was mortally wounded early in the day, Williams ascended to his position and Crawford assumed command of the division. Crawford's tenure as divisional commander was brief. Shortly after taking charge, a bullet struck him in the right thigh. After weakening from a considerable loss of blood, Crawford had to be evacuated from the field. Taken to his father's home to convalesce, he did not return to action for eight months.
By the time that Crawford returned to active duty in May 1863, Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia had scored overwhelming victories at the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11, 1862–December 15, 1862) and at the Battle of Chancellorsville (April 30, 1863–May 6, 1863). The Army of the Potomac was in disarray. On November 5, 1862, President Lincoln issued an executive order naming Major General Ambrose E. Burnside to replace Major General George B. McClellan as head of the army. Less than three months later, the U.S. War Department issued General Orders No. 20, on January 25, 1863, announcing that Lincoln had sacked Burnside in favor of Major General Joseph Hooker. Fighting Joe's tenure did not last much longer. On June 27, 1863, the U.S. War Department issued General Orders No. 194, announcing that Major General George G. Meade was replacing Joseph Hooker "by direction of the President."
Just prior to Hooker's demise, Major General Samuel P. Heintzelman, commander of the Department of Washington, named Crawford to command of the 1st and 3rd Brigades of the Pennsylvania Reserves, on June 1, 1863. Two days later, Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia launched his second invasion of the North.
When Lee launched his Gettysburg Campaign, Crawford's Pennsylvania Reserves were ordered to leave the defenses around Washington, DC, to join the Army of the Potomac, as the undersized 3rd Division of Major General George Sykes's 5th Army Corps. Initially, Crawford's division joined the pursuit of the Confederate army as it moved north through Maryland and into Crawford's home state of Pennsylvania.
Sykes's Corps arrived at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863, the second day of the battle. Meade ordered Sykes's command toward the left of the army to support the 3rd Corps, which was under assault by fourteen thousand Rebels commanded by Lieutenant General James Longstreet. When Meade discovered that a small knob known as Little Round Top was undefended, he ordered Sykes to occupy the hill and to "hold at all hazards." Sykes deployed Colonel Vincent Strong's Brigade to seize the hilltop. He then ordered Crawford's Division forward to assist Strong, but by the time Crawford arrived Strong's men had completed the task.
Although Crawford was not much help to Strong, he arrived in time to encounter the remnants of three Confederate brigades that were advancing up Plum Run between Devil's Den and Little Round Top. Following the lead of brigade commanders William McCandless and David J. Nevin, Crawford ordered his division to join in a charge down the slopes of Little Round Top, into an area that became known as "the Valley of Death." During the assault, an aroused Crawford seized his division's colors and personally led the attack that met with little resistance from the weary Rebels who had been fighting all day in an area known as the Wheatfield. For his heroics, Crawford was later brevetted to colonel in the regular army. Although the combined Union assault drove the Rebels back across the Wheatfield, it was a relatively minor engagement. Nonetheless, Crawford spent the remainder of his life promoting it as a pivotal event during the Battle of Gettysburg.
Crawford's lingering Antietam injury forced him to take a leave of absence after the Union victory at Gettysburg. He returned to his command in November 1863 in time to participate in the ill-fated Mine Run Campaign. When Ulysses S. Grant came east in the spring of 1864 and launched his Overland Campaign, Crawford maintained his command. Assigned to Major General Gouverneur K. Warren's 5th Corps, Crawford participated in the Battle of the Wilderness (May 5-7, 1864), the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House (May 8-21, 1864), and the Battle of Totopotomoy Creek (May 29-30, 1864).
Crawford went on to participate in the Petersburg Campaign (June 1864–March 1865), where he was wounded during the Battle of Globe Tavern (August 18-21, 1864), and in the Appomattox Campaign (March–April 9, 1865). On February 14, 1865, Crawford was brevetted to major general in the volunteer army, to rank from August 1, 1864. During the Appomattox Campaign, Crawford led his division astray during the Battle of Five Forks (April 1, 1865) causing the 5th Corps commander, Major General Gouverneur K. Warren to go searching for him when he should have been elsewhere. Vexed by Warren's absence, despite the Union victory, Major General Philip Sheridan relieved Warren of his command after the battle, with the approval of Ulysses S. Grant.
The Federal victory at Five Forks threatened Robert E. Lee's supply lines into and his best escape route out of Petersburg. On the next morning, Lee informed Confederate President Jefferson Davis that the Army of Northern Virginia would have to evacuate Petersburg. Sensing the urgency of Lee's situation, Grant ordered a general assault on the Confederate defenses at Petersburg on April 2, which resulted in the fall of the Confederate capital at Richmond. Doggedly pursued by the Army of the Potomac over the next week, Lee knew that his army was beaten. On April 9, 1865, Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House. As a divisional commander in the Union army, Crawford was present for the surrender, giving him the distinction of possibly being the only person who was present for the beginning of the Civil War at Fort Sumter and for the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia.
Like many Union general officers, Crawford received several brevet promotions after the Civil War ended. On April 10, 1866, he was brevetted to colonel in the regular army for "gallant and meritorious service at the Battle of Gettysburg" to date from July 2, 1863. Also on April 10, 1866, Crawford was brevetted to brigadier-general in the regular army for "gallant and meritorious service at the Battle of Five Forks" to date from March 13, 1865. Finally, on July 17, 1866 Crawford was brevetted to major general "for gallant and meritorious services in the field during the war," to date from March 13, 1865.
Crawford mustered out of volunteer service on January 15, 1866, and he remained in the regular army at the rank of major with the 13th U.S. Infantry. Remarkably, he never attained the rank of major general in the volunteer army, despite being a divisional commander for over two years. Crawford remained in the regular army for seven more years. On February 22, 1869, Crawford was promoted to colonel with the 16th U.S. Infantry. He transferred to the 2nd U.S. Infantry a few weeks later on March 15, 1869. Crawford remained in the army for four more years, until he was authorized to retire on February 19, 1873, due to injuries he received during the war. At the time of his separation, Crawford was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general, U.S. Army Retired.
Crawford spent the remainder of his life traveling abroad extensively and lobbying for heightened recognition of his unit's achievements during the Battle of Gettysburg. His efforts led him to purchase the ground where his men fought to ensure that it was preserved. The forty-nine-acre tract eventually became part of the Gettysburg National Park. In 1988, a bronze statue of Crawford, was dedicated in Gettysburg National Park along Crawford Avenue, near Devil's Den and Little Round Top.
Crawford served as a director of the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association from 1880 until the time of his death. He died at his home in Philadelphia on November 3, 1892, and was buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery in that city.
Cite this Entry
"Samuel Wylie Crawford," Ohio Civil War Central, 2022, Ohio Civil War Central. 25 May 2022 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=1614>
"Samuel Wylie Crawford." (2022) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved May 25, 2022, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=1614
- A.P. Hill
- Abraham Lincoln
- Ambrose E. Burnside
- Appomattox Campaign
- Army of Northern Virginia
- Army of Virginia
- Army of Virginia
- Battle of Antietam
- Battle of Bull Run I
- Battle of Bull Run II
- Battle of Cedar Mountain
- Battle of Chancellorsville
- Battle of Five Forks
- Battle of Fort Sumter
- Battle of Fredericksburg
- Battle of Gettysburg
- Battle of Globe Tavern
- Battle of Spotsylvania Court House
- Battle of the Wilderness
- Battle of Totopotomoy Creek
- General Orders, No. 194 (U.S. War Department)
- General Orders, No. 20 (U.S. War Department)
- General Orders, No. 63, (U.S. War Department)
- George B. McClellan
- George G. Meade
- George Sykes
- Gettysburg Campaign
- Gouverneur K. Warren
- James Longstreet
- Jefferson Davis
- John Pope
- Joseph Hooker
- Mine Run Campaign
- Nathaniel P. Banks
- Overland Campaign
- P.G.T. Beauregard
- Petersburg Campaign
- Philip H. Sheridan
- Robert Anderson
- Robert E. Lee
- Samuel P. Heintzelman
- Stonewall Brigade
- Thomas J. Jackson
- Ulysses S. Grant
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