Henry Warner Slocum (September 24, 1827 – April 14, 1894), was a Union general during the American Civil War and later served in the United States House of Representatives from New York. During the war, he was one of the youngest major generals in the Army and fought numerous major battles in the Eastern Theater and in Georgia and the Carolinas. Controversy arose from his conduct at the Battle of Gettysburg, where he was accused of indecision and a dilatory advance to the battlefield, earning him the derogatory nickname "Slow Come".
Early life and career
Slocum was born in Delphi, a hamlet in Onondaga County, New York. He attended Cazenovia Seminary and worked as a teacher. He obtained an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1848, where he did well academically, graduating 7th of 43 in his 1852 class;considerably better than his roommate, Philip Sheridan. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 1st U.S. Artillery on July 1, 1852. He served in the Seminole War in Florida and at Fort Moultrie in Charleston Harbor, married Clara Rice in 1854, and was promoted to first lieutenant on March 3, 1855. He resigned his commission October 31, 1856, and settled in Syracuse, New York.
Slocum had studied law while bored at garrison duty in the army. He was admitted to the bar in 1858 and practiced in Syracuse. He served as the county treasurer and was elected to the State assembly in 1859. During this period he also served as an artillery instructor in the New York Militia with the rank of colonel.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Slocum was appointed colonel of the 27th New York Infantry, which was a two-year regiment mustered in at Elmira, New York. He led the regiment in Maj. Gen. David Hunter's division at the First Battle of Bull Run, where his regiment suffered 130 casualties and he was wounded in the thigh. In August 1861, he was appointed brigadier general of volunteers and commanded the 2nd Brigade, Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin's 1st Division, I Corps during the Peninsula Campaign and the 1st Division, VI Corps at the Seven Days Battles, distinguishing himself at the Battle of Gaines' Mill.
On July 25, 1862, Slocum was appointed major general of volunteers to rank from July 4, the second youngest man in the Army to achieve that rank. Still in command of the 1st Division, he led it covering the retreat of Maj. Gen. John Pope after the Second Battle of Bull Run. At Crampton's Gap during the Battle of South Mountain, he and his subordinate officers overrode their indecisive corps commander, Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin, assaulting the enemy line behind a stone wall and routing it. On October 20, 1862, he assumed command of the XII Corps after its commander, Maj. Gen. Joseph K. Mansfield, was killed at the Battle of Antietam, a battle where Slocum's division was kept in reserve. He led the corps in the Battle of Fredericksburg (where he fortunately arrived too late on the scene to see any real action in that Union catastrophe) and the Battle of Chancellorsville, where he commanded the right wing, including his corps and those of Maj. Gens. George G. Meade and Oliver O. Howard, a force of 46,000 men. Slocum executed well and maneuvered his wing into the rear of Gen. Robert E. Lee's army, only to be halted prematurely at Chancellorsville by Army of the Potomac commander Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker. He publicly criticized Hooker after the battle and was one of the "cabal" of generals that attempted to have him removed from command.
Slocum was known as an unassertive, exceedingly careful, by-the-book officer. By the summer of 1863, he was relatively young, at 36, to be a major general, but he possessed a manner that inspired confidence in his men. When Hooker was relieved of command of the Army of the Potomac, Slocum, being the most senior general in that army, was in line for command. However, he was not seriously considered, and agreed to serve under Meade.
At the Battle of Gettysburg, Slocum received some criticism for his corps' slow march to the battlefield, which led to his derisive nickname, "Slow Come". The XII Corps stopped at Two Taverns on the Baltimore Pike, about 5 miles southeast of the battlefield, by midmorning on July 1, 1863. Sometime between 1:30 and 2 p.m., he received an urgent message from Maj. Gen. Howard requesting immediate reinforcements at Gettysburg. Slocum later claimed that he had been unaware of the start of the battle, possibly because of an "acoustic shadow" caused by intervening hills. Officers on his staff, however, reported that by 1 p.m. they heard the sound of cannon, increasingly heavy musketry fire, and could see smoke rising high over the hills and the bursting of shells. In any event, the receipt of the message from Gen. Howard was clear evidence and unrelated to the acoustic situation.
Historian Larry Tagg claims that Slocum "spent the entire afternoon vacillating, neither bringing forward his corps nor going ahead himself to take command by virtue of his rank." Some historians have explained Slocum's indecision by citing the "Pipe Creek Circular", Meade's contingency plan for a defensive line in Maryland, saying that it directed Slocum to stop at Two Taverns and into thinking that Meade wished to avoid a general engagement at Gettysburg. However, Meade's supplementary order to Slocum, which placed the V Corps as well as the XII Corps under his direction, explicitly made any retrograde movement dependent on the decisions of Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds in Gettysburg. (Reynolds had been killed earlier that day, but Slocum was unaware of that fact. The actions in Gettysburg made any immediate provisions of the circular irrelevant.)
It took the arrival of three additional messengers at Slocum's headquarters before he moved into action. Captain Daniel Hall, carrying a message sent at 3 p.m. by Gen. Howard, considered Slocum's response to Howard's request to be "anything but honorable, soldierly, or patriotic." Some students of the battle believe Slocum could have mitigated the rout of the XI Corps if he had arrived earlier than 6 p.m. on July 1 and had marched both of his divisions directly up the Baltimore Pike to provide reinforcements. Historian Edwin Coddington, otherwise critical of Slocum's dilatory response, found that it was highly doubtful whether they could have deployed beyond the town in time to mount a counterattack in support of the retreating XI Corps.
As the ranking general on the field, Slocum commanded the army for about six hours after the fighting that day, until Meade arrived after midnight. Meade planned an attack from the Power's Hill area into the Confederate left flank, to be led by Slocum the following day, utilizing the V Corps and the XII Corps as the army's "right wing". Slocum resisted the suggestion, claiming the terrain was too difficult for an assault, but he continued to fancy himself the right wing commander for the rest of the battle, leaving Brig. Gen. Alpheus S. Williams temporarily in command of his XII Corps during this period.
When Meade ordered Slocum to send the entire XII Corps to assist the defense against Lt. Gen. James Longstreet's assault on the Union left flank on July 2, Slocum wisely recommended holding one brigade back in its position on Culp's Hill. This brigade, under Brig. Gen. George S. Greene, was able to hold out against a massive Confederate assault and saved the critical hill for the Union.
After Gettysburg, the XI Corps and XII Corps were sent to Tennessee in the Western Theater, under the command of Joseph Hooker. When Slocum found out he was going to be serving under Hooker, he submitted two letters of resignation to President Abraham Lincoln stating his derogatory opinion of Hooker as both an officer and a gentleman. Lincoln refused the resignation and assured Slocum he would not have to serve under Hooker. A compromise was reached whereby one division of the corps, under Slocum, was assigned to protect the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad while the other division served directly under Hooker. During the summer of 1864, Slocum commanded the District of Vicksburg and the XVII Corps of the Department of the Tennessee.
When Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson was killed in action during the Atlanta Campaign, command of Army of the Tennessee opened up, and when Hooker did not get it he resigned his commission. Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman selected Slocum to command the new XX Corps (formed from the remnants of the XI Corps and XII Corps). Slocum's former XII Corps men cheered their previous commander's return. When Atlanta fell to Sherman on September 2, 1864, Slocum's corps was the first to enter the city.
At the start of the Franklin-Nashville Campaign, Sherman left Slocum in command of 12,000 troops in Atlanta as Sherman pursued Confederate Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood and his army. Sherman later placed Slocum in command of the newly created Army of Georgia, composed of the XX Corps and the XIV Corps from the Army of the Cumberland, which served as the left wing in Sherman's March to the Sea and Carolinas Campaign. The other wing, consisting of the XV and XVII Corps of the Army of the Tennessee, was commanded by Oliver O. Howard. Upon reaching Savannah, Slocum recommended to Sherman that Confederate Gen. William J. Hardee's corps, whose only escape route was north over a causeway, be cut off. But Sherman rejected Slocum's plan, and Hardee escaped, to fight again at Bentonville.
During the Carolinas Campaign, Slocum's army was heavily engaged at the Battle of Averasborough and the Battle of Bentonville, where Slocum successfully held off a surprise assault by Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. After the Confederate surrender, Slocum commanded the Department of the Mississippi before resigning from the Army on September 28, 1865.
Slocum ran as the Democratic candidate for Secretary of State of New York in 1865, but was defeated by fellow Gettysburg General Francis C. Barlow. After resuming work as a lawyer, and declining an offer to return to the U.S. Army as a colonel, he was elected as a Democrat to the 41st and 42nd Congresses (March 4, 1869 – March 3, 1873). Slocum worked in Congress for the exoneration of Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter who was court-martialed after the Second Battle of Bull Run. He was not a candidate for renomination in 1872. Instead, he resumed the practice of law in Syracuse. He was appointed president of the department of city works of Brooklyn, New York in 1876 and was involved in many civic improvements, from surface transportation to the Brooklyn Bridge, where his name is prominent on a bronze tablet. He advocated unsuccessfully for having no bridge tolls. He was again elected in 1882 as a representative-at-large to the 48th Congress (March 4, 1883 – March 3, 1885). He was president of the Board of Trustees of the New York State Soldiers' and Sailors' Home in Bath, New York, and was a member of the Board of Gettysburg Monuments Commissioners.
Henry Slocum died in Brooklyn, New York, and is interred at Green-Wood Cemetery, where Gen. Porter also is interred.
A steamship, the General Slocum, was named for him; it had a disastrous fire onboard in 1904 with much loss of life. Fort Slocum, New York, guards the entrance to New York Harbor from Long Island Sound. A statue of Slocum is in Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn.
Photograph taken by Mathew Brady in 1861 & Hand Oil Tinted by artist Margaret A. Rogers.