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Civil War Trust

Daniel E. Sickles USA

Major General
October 20, 1819 - May 3, 1914

Daniel Edgar Sickles
Daniel E. Sickles (Library of Congress)

Born in New York City on October 20, 1819, Daniel Edgar Sickles began his career with an apprenticeship as a printer,  eventually studying law at New York University.  Following school he became involved in politics and held several offices:  Corporate Consul of New York City, Secretary of U.S. Legation in London, and State and Federal legislator representing New York State.

In 1859 he shot and killed his wife's lover, Francis Barton Key.  The victim was the son of Francis Scott Key, (author of the Star Spangled Banner).  Future Secretary of State Edwin Stanton represented Sickles in what would be the first successful use of the "temporary insanity" defense.

Sickles began his military career serving as Colonel for the 17th New York Infantry before being appointed Brigadier General of Volunteers, commanding New York's Excelsior Brigade.  In November 1862 he was promoted to Major General.  While he was extremely brave in battle, he often found himself in conflict with superior officers.   

Sickles fought in Joseph Hooker's Division of the Third Corps during the Peninsula Campaign and at Antietam.  He commanded a Division at Fredericksburg, and then commanded the Third Corps during the Chancellorsville campaign.  There was controversy about Sickle's leadership at Chancellorsville.  Most of his Corps pursued General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's men, which they had mistakenly believed to be in retreat.  By doing this Sickles left a large portion of the Union line undefended, unintentionally making a long salient which left his men open to attack from both sides.  It also isolated the Eleventh Corps.  The result was disastrous: even though the XI corps held out the longest it was eventually forced to retreat, with heavy losses.

While Sickles had stretched his orders during Chancellorsville, he outright disobeyed direct orders from Gen. George Meade during the Battle of Gettysburg.  Sickles orders were to cover the Round Tops, instead he moved his men to the Peach Orchard.  The result was that the Third Corps was overrun and annihilated.  Sickles lost his right leg in the disaster.  Despite this fiasco Sickles was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Gettysburg.  The citation states that he, "displayed most conspicuous gallantry on the field vigorously contesting the advance of the enemy and continuing to encourage his troops after being himself severely wounded."

After the surgery, Sickles gained lasting fame for donating his amputated limb to the Army Medical Museum in Washington, DC.  The limb was received with a small card which said, "With the Compliments of Major General D.E.S."  Part of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the Army Medical Museum has kept Sickles' amputated limb on display. 

Abraham Lincoln sent Sickles to the South where he assessed the effects of slavery on African Americans and gave suggestions for Reconstruction in the future.  After the war he held a variety of positions:  diplomat to Colombia, Military Governor of South Carolina, Minister to Spain, Chairman of the New York Civil Service Commission, New York City Sherriff, New York Congressman and Chairman of the New York State Monuments Commission.    He was removed from the monuments committee in 1912 - allegedly misusing funds.  Despite this, he was instrumental in establishing the Gettysburg National Battlefield Park.  He visited Gettysburg many times after the war.

Sickles died of "cerebral hemorrhage" at New York City on May 3, 1914.  He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
 

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