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From Cuckold to Killer to Civil War General: The Strange Odyssey of Daniel E. Sickles

A look at a colorful figure from guest writer Matthew A. Perry

The Battle of Gettysburg was the turning point of the American Civil War. It was Lee’s second attempt to invade the north and would be the last time that his army would cross the Potomac in force. The commander of the Union Army of the Potomac, George Gordon Meade, was new to his command but was happy with his positions on the field. Meade had formed a defensive position around the town of Gettysburg and the surrounding heights in the shape of a fishhook. At the top of the fishhook, were the slopes of Cemetery Ridge and Seminary Ridge. At the bottom of the fishhook were the Little and Big Roundtops, just before the end of the Union lines. Near the base of the Round Tops was where Dan Sickles and his III Corps were stationed.

Sickles was a guy that did what he wanted; he had been that way his entire life, so Army life was not well suited to his personality. He was enraged that he was ordered into defensive positions, and he thought he knew much better than Meade what his Corps should do. Just in front of the III Corps, Sickles saw the Peach Orchard and its surrounding high ground, and decided he would move his entire Corps out of its defensive position in order to occupy it. Sickles did this without orders and neglected orders from Meade to stay. When Sickles moved, he left a massive hole in the Union line, giving the Confederates a perfect target to exploit. As Sickles moved his men forward, they were slammed by the Confederates who sought to breach the vulnerable Union position. As his Corps was being decimated by attacking Confederates, Sickles’ leg was blown almost completely off by a Confederate cannonball. Sickles ordered his men to drag him from the field, and while he was being stretchered off, Sickles lit and smoked a cigar and barked orders, as his leg dangled by tendons. Sickles would lose his leg that night, but thankfully for the Union cause, the breach opened by his orders was closed.

See the next page for the story of Sickles after the war.

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