George Sykes

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For other people named George Sykes, see George Sykes (disambiguation).
George Sykes
GenGS.jpg
General George Sykes
Nickname(s) Tardy George
Slow Trot Sykes
Born (1822-10-09)October 9, 1822
Dover, Delaware
Died February 8, 1880(1880-02-08) (aged 57)
Fort Brown, Texas
Place of burial West Point Cemetery
West Point, New York
Allegiance United States of America
Union
Service/branch United States Army
Union Army
Years of service 1842–1880
Rank Union army maj gen rank insignia.jpg Major General (Civil War)
Union Army colonel rank insignia.png Colonel (Post Civil War)
Commands held V Corps
Battles/wars Second Seminole War
Mexican-American War
American Civil War

George Sykes (October 9, 1822 – February 8, 1880) was a career United States Army officer and a Union General during the American Civil War.

He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1842, and served in numerous conflicts, including the Second Seminole War and the Mexican American War. During the Civil War, he was appointed commander of the 2nd Division of the V Corps of the Army of the Potomac during the Peninsula Campaign of 1862, and continued in that role through the Second Battle of Bull Run, the Battle of Antietam, the Battle of Fredericksburg, and the Battle of Chancellorsville. He assumed command of the V Corps on June 28, 1863, following the promotion of Major General George G. Meade to command of the entire army. Sykes's Corps fought with distinction on the second day of the subsequent Battle of Gettysburg on July 2. He was criticized for his performance in the Battle of Mine Run later that year, was removed from command on March 23, 1864, and sent to duty in Kansas. Sykes remained in the army after the war and died in 1880.

Early life[edit]

Sykes was born in Dover, Delaware. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1842 and graduated 39th out of 56 cadets.[1] He was commissioned as a brevet second lieutenant in the 3rd U.S. Infantry. He served in the Second Seminole War, Mexican-American War, and numerous other conflicts. He was brevetted as a captain for actions at the Battle of Cerro Gordo. By virtue of his service in the Mexican War, Sykes became a member of the Aztec Club of 1847.

Civil War[edit]

General Sykes and his staff.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Sykes was assigned as a major in the 14th U.S. Infantry. At the First Battle of Bull Run, he commanded the Regular Infantry Battalion, a collection of eight regular army companies from different regiments, the only regulars on the field. He continued his association with regulars in the early defensive positions around Washington, D.C., and then as a division commander of regulars in the Peninsula Campaign, the 2nd Division of the V Corps. His men, who often referred to themselves as "Sykes' Regulars," distinguished themselves defending their position at Gaines' Mill during the Seven Days Battles, before the Union line broke elsewhere.[2]

Sykes continued as a division commander through the battles of Second Bull Run, Antietam (in reserve), and Fredericksburg.[3] At Chancellorsville, his regulars led the advance into the Confederate rear at the start of the battle. Sykes' division engaged Maj. Gen. Lafayette McLaws' division on the Orange Turnpike. Sykes' division was forced to retreat after being attacked on the right flank by Maj. Gen. Robert E. Rodes' division, then the army commander, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, nervously recalled his advance to a defensive position; and Sykes' men were not engaged for the remainder of the campaign.[2] Sykes was promoted to major general after Antietam, on November 29, 1862. None of these battles demonstrated any aggressive or unique offensive capabilities on his part. He was known to his colleagues by the nicknames "Tardy George" and "Slow Trot" Sykes. When corps commander Maj. Gen. George G. Meade was promoted to lead the Army of the Potomac on June 28, 1863, Sykes assumed command of the V Corps.

At the Battle of Gettysburg, Sykes' corps fought in support of the beleaguered III Corps on the Union left flank. In his 1st Division (Brig. Gen. James Barnes), the fabled defense of Little Round Top was led by brigade commander Col. Strong Vincent and the 20th Maine Infantry under Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. His 3rd Division, the Pennsylvania Reserves, led by Brig. Gen. Samuel W. Crawford, attacked from Little Round Top, drove the Confederates across the "Valley of Death" and ended the deadly fighting in the Wheatfield. But there is little in the historical record that highlights any personal contribution made by Sykes.

In the Battle of Mine Run in the fall of 1863, Meade complained of Sykes' lackluster performance. Meade and general-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant agreed that Sykes was not a good choice for the upcoming Overland Campaign in May 1864, so when the Army of the Potomac was reorganized that spring, Sykes lost his corps and was sent to uneventful duty in the Department of Kansas. During Price's Raid in 1864, he was replaced with James G. Blunt.

Postbellum career[edit]

After the war, in 1866, Sykes was reverted to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He served under the 5th U.S. Infantry and later as colonel in the 20th. He commanded at a number of duty stations from Minnesota to Texas until he died while on duty in Texas at Fort Brown on February 8, 1880, at age 57. He was interred in West Point Cemetery, West Point, New York.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ What About George. . .? [Sykes, That Is] 48th Pennsylvania Infantry. 11 August 2007. Web. Retrieved March 12, 2016.
  2. ^ a b Tagg, p. 82.
  3. ^ The division had two regular brigades and one of volunteer infantry. Gouverneur K. Warren commanded that brigade for a time.

References[edit]

  • Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher. Civil War High Commands. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • Reese, Timothy J., Sykes' Regular Infantry Division, 1861-1864 a History of Regular United States Infantry Operations in the Civil War's Eastern Theater. Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland, 1990. ISBN 0-8995-0447-7.
  • Tagg, Larry. The Generals of Gettysburg. Campbell, CA: Savas Publishing, 1998. ISBN 1-882810-30-9.
  • Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964. ISBN 0-8071-0822-7.

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Charles Griffin
Commander of the Fifth Army Corps
February 5, 1863 – February 5, 1863
Succeeded by
George Meade
Preceded by
George Meade
Commander of the Fifth Army Corps
June 28, 1863 – October 7, 1863
Succeeded by
Samuel W. Crawford
Preceded by
Samuel W. Crawford
Commander of the Fifth Army Corps
October 15, 1863 – March 23, 1864
Succeeded by
Gouverneur K. Warren