Times Past, Pausing to Remember

General George Sykes

First Bull Run, Seven Days, Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg...the list of George Syke's Civil War engagements is an impressive one. His name is not a household name like some of my Civil War cousins, but his unit - the Fifth Corps of the Union Army - had its prominence during the battle of Gettysburg.

Sykes took command of the Fifth Corps only three days before the opening shots at that small town in Pennsylvania. General Hooker had been relieved and replaced by General George Mead, then commanding the Fifth Corps. Sykes was his replacement.

George Sykes had his detractors, but he was an intelligent and articulate man who was careful to give credit where credit was due, and unlike some more surly and disgruntled officers who blamed their troops and subordinates when events turned sour, he was complimentary to the men in his command. Following the battle of Chancellorsville, where things really went sour for the Union Army, he wrote the following as part of his report on the battle to his commander.

In these ten days' operations, my troops were patient, enduring, and gallant. Long, harassing, and wearisome marches were performed with alacrity, and cheerfulness. When the hour of battle came, they were successful and confident. Probably in no campaign of the war were the energies of troops more taxed than in this. They were strangers to rest and sleep, full of zeal, and had they been attacked while in position or been permitted to advance on the enemy's left on the 4th or 5th instant, the results of the movement must have been more favorable.

My thanks are especially due to General Warren, who was with me on May 1. His suggestions were always thoughtful, and characterized by the good sense and ability for which he is conspicuous.

General Ayres, commanding First Brigade; Col. S. Burbank, commanding Second Brigade, and Colonel O'Rorke, One hundred and fortieth New York Volunteers, commanding Third Brigade, were, throughout all the operations of the command, prompt, active, and untiring, in carrying our the various duties devolving upon them. I beg to unite in the recommendations made by them of their subordinate commanders and others.

My personal staff rendered me every assistance, and deserve not only my unqualified thanks, but promotion at the hands of the Government. They are: Capt. George Ryan, Seventh Infantry, acting assistant adjutant-general; First Lieut. James A. Snyder, Third Infantry, aide-de-camp, chief quartermaster, and commissary of subsistence; First Lieut. George T. Ingham, Eleventh Infantry, aide-de-camp; Capt. H.L. Chipman, Eleventh Infantry, assistant inspector-general; Capt. G. B. Overton, Fourteenth Infantry, commissary of musters (severely wounded); First Lieut. W.W. Swan, Seventeenth Infantry, acting aide-de-camp, and First Lieut. George H. Butler, Tenth Infantry, division ordnance officer.

The medical department, under Asst. Surg. C. Wagner, U.S. Army, was untiring in its efforts to relieve and care for the wounded, all of whom were brought safely to the division hospital, near Brooke's Station.

On the 5th instant, Capt. J.W. Ames. Eleventh Infantry, with a small party, marked and opened a road to my rear, by which my troops passed easily to the ford. The captain deserves great credit for the success attending his efforts.

The casualties in my command amount to:

Officers - 3 killed, 6 wounded, 3 missing for a total of 12.

Enlisted men - 25 killed, 161 wounded, 88 missing for a total of 274.

Totals - 28 killed, 167 wounded, 91 missing for a total of 286.

Among the officers who gave their lives to their country was Capt. W.J. Temple, Seventeenth U.S. Infantry, an officer of rare promise and ability. His loss is deeply deplored throughout the command.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Major-General, Commanding.

Before Gettysburg and afterward, the chief criticism of General George Sykes was that he was slow in attack situations. His nickname was "Tardy George." He had always been highly competent in defensive positions, and that was his role at Gettysburg.

Arriving on the field on the second day of the battle, the Fifth Corps was assigned by Commanding General George Meade to bolster General Sickles' troops, who were in an indefensible position, due to the arrogance and poor judgment of Dan Sickles. Part of Sykes command was then diverted to the far left of the Union line, which was is great danger of being overrun.

General Sykes' star was bright at Gettysburg that day. He moved his units time after time into just the right places to stave off the Confederates' assaults on the Union left. At the end of the day, the Federal line was intact.

Cousins in the Civil War