Reprise: Why I believe Gen. Humphreys sat out the attack

If you only read the Official Records, you would have to assume that Gen. Benjamin Grubb Humphreys, who took over the Mississippi Brigade after Gen. William Barksdale’s death at Gettysburg, was in the vanguard of the brigade’s two regiments which led the attack on Fort Sanders.

You would decide that because Gen. Lafayette McLaws, the division commander, seemed to say so in his after-action report. On the contrary, I decided, Humphreys wasn’t there at all, for several reasons. For one, it is a convention of the Confederate records to attribute all to the general in charge. Longstreet went here; McLaws went there; etc.

For another, Gen. William T. Wofford’s brigade had the left-hand column in the attack and Wofford, Humphreys’ brigade-commanding colleague, so to speak, was absent. He was home in Georgia, attending the funeral of a beloved daughter who had recently died of diphtheria. So Humphreys had an excuse not to be the only general officer on the field.

Moreover, there is what happened to the three colonels who did lead the attack: Kennon McElroy (KIA), Solon Z. Ruff, (KIA) and John Calvin Fiser (WIA). If Humphreys had been with them, he’d almost certainly have been seriously wounded, if not killed, and he wasn’t wounded at all until a year later in the Shenandoah Valley.

And, finally, there’s the sort of evidence that I, personally, like best. The testimony of a senior sergeant or junior officer, who have less to gain from playing the political games of the senior rankers.

W. Gart Johnson was a captain in the 18th Mississippi which had been detailed as sharpshooters, so they were in rifle pits behind the attackers. In a letter to the November, 1893 edition of Confederate Veteran Magazine recounting the battle and its aftermath, Johnson, then living in Orlando, FL, was explicit: “The assaulting force was composed of regiments of different brigades with no general officer in immediate command.”

About Dick Stanley

Retired Texas daily newspaperman
This entry was posted in "Knoxville 1863", Confederate Veteran Magazine, Fort Sanders, Gen. Benjamin Grubb Humphreys, The Official Records and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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