Elon J. Farnsworth
|Elon John Farnsworth|
July 30, 1837|
Green Oak, Michigan
|Died||July 3, 1863
|Place of burial||Rockton Cemetery, Rockton, Illinois|
|Allegiance||United States of America
|Service/branch||United States Army
|Years of service||1861–1863|
|Commands held||8th Illinois Cavalry Regiment
1st Brigade, 3rd Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac
Early life and career
Farnsworth was born in Green Oak, Michigan, nephew of John F. Farnsworth, a prominent politician in the Democratic Party who later became a Republican, also serving as a Civil War general. His family moved to Illinois in 1854. A member of the Chi Psi Fraternity, Farnsworth was expelled from the University of Michigan following a drinking party in which a classmate died after being thrown from a window. He joined the army as a civilian foragemaster and served on the staff of Albert Sidney Johnston during the Utah War of 1857–1858. He also worked as a buffalo hunter and scout in the Colorado Territory.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Farnsworth was appointed a first lieutenant in the 8th Illinois Cavalry, the regiment commanded by his uncle, serving with distinction throughout the early stages of the war. Being promoted to captain on December 25, 1861, he was made Assistant Chief Quartermaster of the IV Corps, and in early 1863, he served as aide-de-camp to Brig. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton through the Battle of Chancellorsville and early stages of the Gettysburg Campaign. On June 29, 1863, just two days before the Battle of Gettysburg, he was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers by Pleasonton, although this appointment was never confirmed by the United States Senate. He was given command of 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac.
Death at Gettysburg
After the collapse of Pickett's Charge and the defeat of Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart's Confederate cavalry on July 3, the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Brig. Gen. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick, commanding the 3rd Division, ordered Farnsworth to make a charge with his brigade against Confederate positions south of the Devil's Den area of the battlefield, below Little Round Top. Farnsworth initially balked, arguing there was no hope of success, and only agreed to it when Kilpatrick allegedly accused him of cowardice. Farnsworth made the charge, against elements of John B. Hood's division, under Evander M. Law (Hood having been wounded the previous day). Farnsworth rode with the second battalion of the 1st Vermont Cavalry, alongside Maj. William Wells.
The charge was repulsed with heavy losses, and Farnsworth himself was shot five times in the chest. An account by Confederate Colonel William C. Oates claimed that Farnsworth was surrounded by Confederate soldiers and committed suicide to avoid capture, but this has been disputed by other witnesses and discounted by most historians. Kilpatrick received much criticism for ordering the charge, but no official action was taken against him.
Farnsworth is buried in Rockton Cemetery, Rockton, Illinois.
- Petruzzi, J. David, "Elon J. Farnsworth", Faded Hoofbeats blog, June 13, 2007.
- Wert, p. 278: "Subsequent accounts by Confederates alleging that he had committed suicide are bogus."
- Boatner, Mark Mayo, III. The Civil War Dictionary. New York: McKay, 1988. ISBN 0-8129-1726-X. First published 1959 by McKay.
- Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher. Civil War High Commands. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
- Symonds, Craig L. American Heritage History of the Battle of Gettysburg. New York: HarperCollins, 2001. ISBN 0-06-019474-X.
- Wert, Jeffry D. Gettysburg: Day Three. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001. ISBN 0-684-85914-9.