Richard Coulter (general)

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Richard Coulter, Sr.
Born (1827-10-01)October 1, 1827
Greensburg, Pennsylvania
Died October 14, 1908(1908-10-14) (aged 81)
Place of burial St. Clair Cemetery near Greensburg[1]
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Union Army
Years of service 1847–1848, 1861–1865
Rank Union Army brigadier general rank insignia.svg Brigadier General
Union Army major general rank insignia.svg Brevet Major General
Unit 2nd Pennsylvania Volunteers
Commands held 11th Pennsylvania Infantry
3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, I Corps
2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, I Corps
2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, V Corps
2nd Division, V Corps
2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, V Corps
3rd Brigade, 3rd Division, V Corps
Battles/wars Mexican-American War
American Civil War

Richard Coulter, Sr. (October 1, 1827 – October 14, 1908) was an American Civil War general in the Union Army, a businessman, and banker. During the Civil War he was colonel of the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry, often rising to brigade command upon the wounding of superior officers.

Early life and career[edit]

Richard Coulter, Sr. was born in Greensburg, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, a son of Eli Coulter Jr. (1791–1830) and Rebecca Alexander. Eli Coulter was a prominent business man and managed a steam mill in Greensburg. Richard attended Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania. After leaving college in 1845 at the age of 19, he worked in the law office of his uncle, Richard Coulter (1788–1852) in Greensburg where he remained until the beginning of the Mexican-American War.

Coulter enrolled in the Westmoreland Guards, a local militia company that was mustered into the United States Army as Company E of the Second Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment. It was one of only two regiments sent from Pennsylvania to serve in Mexico.[2] Coulter saw action under General Winfield Scott in the Siege of Vera Cruz and the subsequent battles of Cerro Gordo, Contreras, Churubusco, and Chapultepec, and the capture and occupation of Mexico City in 1847. He served directly under future Civil War general John W. Geary, a man he had little respect for due to his vanity. [3]

After the Mexican War, the regiment returned to Pennsylvania in June 1848. Coulter then resumed his study of law and was admitted to the bar in 1849. His uncle had become a Pennsylvania Supreme Court judge in 1846, and Coulter took over his uncle's law practice in Greensburg. He practiced law until the beginning of the Civil War in 1861. Throughout the 1850s, he remained active in the local militia.

Civil War[edit]

With the outbreak of the war and the subsequent calls to arms by President Abraham Lincoln and then by the Governor of Pennsylvania, Andrew Curtin, Coulter raised a company of soldiers and was elected as their first captain. The company soon was made part of the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteers, in which Coulter was promoted to lieutenant colonel. When the regiment was reorganized as a three-year regiment, Coulter became the regimental commander until the end of the war in 1865. Coulter's regiment fought at Cedar Mountain, Thoroughfare Gap, and Second Bull Run.[4] At the Battle of Antietam, Coulter assumed command of the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, I Corps when Brig. Gen. George L. Hartsuff was wounded. Returning to regimental command Coulter fought at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, being wounded in the former. At the battle of Gettysburg Coulter assumed command of the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, I Corps when Brig. Gen. Gabriel R. Paul and all other ranking officers were wounded on July 1 near Oak Ridge. Coulter himself was wounded but retained brigade commanded until July 3 when he briefly turned over command before resuming command the same day.[5]

At the start of the 1864 Overland Campaign, Coulter was in command of his regiment but once again assumed brigade command (2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, V Corps) at the Wilderness when Brig. Gen. Henry Baxter was wounded on the second day of the battle. At Spotsylvania he assumed command of the 2nd Division, V Corps when Brig. Gen. John C. Robinson was wounded and led the division for two days before returning to brigade command. On May 18 Coulter received a wound that incapacitated him for the next several months. He was brevetted Brigadier General of United States Volunteers on August 1, 1864. During the siege of Petersburg Coulter briefly returned to the front in command of the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, V Corps at the battle of Globe Tavern. His final command appointment was the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division, V Corps during the Appomattox Campaign. He was brevetted Major General of U.S. Volunteers for services at Five Forks. He was mustered out of the volunteer services on July 1, 1865.

Postbellum career[edit]

Pennsylvania Monument at the Gettysburg National Military Park

After the Civil War, Coulter returned to Greensburg, where he became active in business. He joined with several other local financiers to invest in various industries, businesses, and residential areas in and around Greensburg. Coulter began a partnership with George Franklin Huff, a local businessman and financier who later became a state senator and a U.S. congressman. Coulter and Huff collaborated on several of the largest and most significant companies in Westmoreland County in the 1880s, including the Keystone Coal and Coke Company, the Greensburg-Hempfield Electric Street Railway, and the First National Bank of Greensburg (now the First Commonwealth Bank). Coulter served at the bank's president until his death in 1908. His son, Richard Coulter Jr. (1870–1955) took over as president and held that position for more than 40 years.

Greensburg was located on a large vein of bituminous coal about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh. Coal and coke were needed for steel mills that were built in and near Pittsburgh in the 1860s and 1870s. Coulter and Huff prospered with the rising steel industry by developing and mining the coalfields in Westmoreland County.

General Coulter married Emmy Welty (1841–1929) and had six children—Richard Coulter Jr., Rebecca, Henry, Alexander, William, and Margaret.

Memorial[edit]

Coulter is memorialized on the Pennsylvania State Monument at Gettysburg National Military Park.

As the "most famous Civil War veteran" from Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, Coulter's grave was featured by the Westmoreland County Historical Society's celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War.[1]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

  • Boucher, John N., Old and New Westmoreland, American Historical Society, 1918.
  • Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher. Civil War High Commands. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • Hahn, Ed, "Three Richard Coulters", Westmoreland Chronicle, newsletter of the Westmoreland County Historical Society, Fall 2007, page 10.
  • Sopko, Jennifer, "From Major General to Major Stockholder", Westmoreland History, published by the Westmoreland County Historical Society, Summer 2007, page 12.
  • Van Atta, Robert, A Bicentennial History of the City of Greensburg, PA, Chas M. Henry Printing Co., 1999.

Further reading[edit]

  • Coulter, Richard, "The Westmoreland Guards in the War with Mexico, 1846-1848." Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine Number 24 (1941), 101-126.
  • Peskin, Allan, ed. Volunteers: the Mexican War journal of Private Richard Coulter and Sergeant Thomas Barclay, Company E, Second Pennsylvania Infantry. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1991.