Blue and Gray Trail
Civil War Encyclopedia
Civil War in Georgia
On the Blue and Gray Trail
Civil War by state
Today in the Civil War
This year in the Civil War
Edwin Vose Sumner
Civil War Encyclopedia >> People - Union Military
Edwin Vose Sumner
Son-in-law commanded the artillery in Jackson's Corp (Confederate), becoming Robert E. Lee's secretary.
Son-in-law related by marriage to Joseph E. Johnston
Two sons were general officers in the U. S. ranks
Where did "Bull" Sumner's nickname come from?:
Powerfully built, Sumner got his nickname Bull from a bullet that "...bounced off his head..." during the battle of Cerro Gordo in the Mexican American War (Craig Symonds, Joseph E. Johnston)
After coming east to Carlisle Barracks (Carlisle, Pennsylvania) as an instructor in 1838, Sumner returned west, exploring the western United States, and at times, southern Canada. A report to the War Department in 1845 had Sumner and his dragoons patrolling between Lake Superior and Lake of the Woods (Canadian territory). It was Major Edwin Sumner who led the charge of the Second Regiment of Dragoons during the battle of Cerro Gordo, securing a bridge over the Plan del Rio in the Mexican American War. He was brevetted to Lt. Colonel for this action. At Molino Del Rey he held his ground against a superior force of mounted Mexicans and was brevetted Colonel. He was promoted to Lt. Colonel in 1848.
After serving two years as military Governor of New Mexico, Sumner was sent to Europe to study the organization and training of various armies. Upon his return in March, 1855, Edwin Vose Sumner received orders from Jefferson Davis, then Secretary of War, promoting him to colonel and placing him in command of the First Cavalry, a newly formed regiment stationed at Fort Leavenworth. Under him was Lt. Colonel Joseph E. Johnston. Albert Sidney Johnston got the Second Cavalry with Robert E. Lee. Bull Sumner fought many frontier battles at the head of the First Cavalry and commanded Fort Leavenworth, but he made grade based on his friendship with Davis.
During "Bleeding Kansas" Sumner broke up the camp of John Brown following the Battle of Black Jack. One of Sumner's aides, Lieutenant J. E. B. Stuart, knew Brown from this incident and identified him during the Raid on Harper's Ferry. Sumner received an order directly from the Commander-in-Chief, President Franklin Pierce telling him to quell unrest in Topeka, Kansas. The unrest was at the hands of the Freesoil convention being convened in that city. On July 4, 1856, Sumner rode at the head of a column of 200 men from the First Cavalry, which took a position in front of the convention hall and unlimbered their artillery. The crowd dispersed.
In the summer of 1857 Sumner and John Sedgwick met west of Ft. Kearny, Nebraska to look for a group of Cheyenne Indians. When scouts reported the Indians in front of his column Sumner detached two cavalry units, one to the left and one to the right, and ordered his infantry to make a frontal assault on the mounted Indians. The flank attacks of the cavalry routed the 300 mounted Cheyenne and drove them off. Lieutenant Stuart was wounded in this action.
In 1858 Edwin Sumner became commander of the Department of the West. Sumner had been ordered to escort President-elect Abraham Lincoln from Springfield, Illinois, to Washington D. C. for his inauguration when David Twiggs surrendered the U. S. forces in Texas. Sumner was promoted to Brigadier General and put in command of Twigg's remaining U. S. forces. When Albert Sidney Johnston resigned his post as commander of the Department of the Pacific because his native Texas had seceded from the Union, James Buchanan tapped Sumner to replace Johnston.
Returning to the east as a division commander at his own request, Abraham Lincoln personally selected Edwin Sumner as commander of the II (2nd) Corps because Army of the Potomac commander George McClellan steadfastly refused to name the men he wanted.
During the Peninsula Campaign, following the Siege of Yorktown McClellan took Sumner's 2nd Corps to move against West Point, Virginia. Sumner, McClellan's second-in-command, took charge of the Third (Heintzelman) and Fourth Corps (Keyes). Only one division of each corps had reached the Confederate line, putting two generals too many in charge of two divisions. During the subsequent Battle of Williamsburg, a rear-guard action by James Longstreet, Sumner nearly lost the battle when Longstreet advanced, but he ordered Winfield Scott Hancock to out-flank the Confederates from a knoll to the right (north) of the fort at the end of the day and put an end to Longstreet's actions.
Perhaps the high point of Sumner's Civil War career came during the Battle of Seven Pines. With Daniel Harvey Hill pushing Erasmus Keyes 4th Corps backwards with a vicious frontal assault, Sumner on his own initiative ordered General John Sedgwick to advance in support of Keyes. Sedgwick crossed the Chickahominy and stumbled onto a massive Confederate attack just then advancing on a Union garrison inside Fair Oaks Station that included Brigadier General Silas Casey. Sedgwick halted the advance and turned back the Confederates, ending any hope of victory. Sumner was brevetted major general for his actions.
During the Battle of Oak Grove, first in a series of battles called the Seven Days Retreat, Sumner advanced down Nine Mile Road, taking Old Tavern on a high knoll east of Richmond, the objective of the battle although his troops were only lightly engaged. He was assigned rear guard duty after the Union loss at Gaines Mill, engaging the Rebels at Orchard Station and Savage Station. Although he was almost completely surrounded, Sumner refused to withdraw from Savage Station until ordered to do so by George McClellan. Sumner was defending a Union Army field hospital with more than 2,500 wounded and sick soldiers.
At Antietam the 2nd Corps was heavily involved in the fighting near Dunker Church and Bloody Lane. Sumner personally led a column of John Segdwick's division into the fighting near the church. During this engagement, reserves ordered to support John Bell Hood and Jubal Early struck Segdwick's unprotected left flank, driving the entire corps back in disarray. Sumner was heavily critized for this failure at Antietam and for his personal involvement in the battle. At Fredericksburg he was in command of Ambrose Burnsides Right Grand Division consisting of the 2nd and 9th Corps. Burnside, aware of the criticism hurled at Sumner for leading his men at Antietam, ordered Sumner to stay across the Rappahanock River from the Battle of Fredericksburg. His men were responsible for the attack from the city against the Sunken Road.
In the original battle plan, William B. Franklin was to push Stonewall Jackson's Corps back, leaving both flanks of the Sunken Road open. In reality, the left flank of the Rebel line was protected by a swamp and Jackson's Corps was never driven from the field. Sumner's men had to cross an open field to two bridges over a canal, then assault an entrenched line. From noon until dusk his men, as well as some of Joseph Hooker's Central Grand Division assaulted the Sunken Road.
Charges and countercharges followed the federal disaster at Fredericksburg and Sumner requested he be reassigned. He was relieved of duty and returned home to Syracuse, New York. While on leave he received new orders putting him in charge of the Department of Missouri but died in his sleep before he left Syracuse to assume command.
Links appearing on this page:
Edwin Vose Sumner was last changed on - November 14, 2007
Battles | Places | Events by year | Events by date | Feature Stories |
Bookstore | Links | Who We Are |