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Charles William Field (April 6, 1828 – April 9, 1892) was a career military officer, serving in the United States Army and then, during the American Civil War, in the Confederate States Army. His division was considered as one of the finest in the Army of Northern Virginia. Field was one of a handful of American officers who advised the army of Egyptmarker following the Civil War.

Early life

Field was born at the family plantation, "Airy Mount," in Woodford County, Kentuckymarker. His parents had immigrated from Virginiamarker, and his father was a personal friend of Henry Clay. Through Clay's and Andrew Jackson's influence, President James K. Polk appointed Field as an "at large" cadet to the United States Military Academymarker. Field graduated 27th of 43 cadets in the Class of 1849 and accepted a commission as a brevet second lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Dragoons. He was assigned to frontier duty for five years at various posts in New Mexicomarker, Texasmarker, and the Great Plainsmarker. In 1855, he was promoted to first lieutenant and assigned to the newly organized 2nd U.S. Cavalry, a regiment under Col. Albert Sidney Johnston that also included Robert E. Lee and numerous other future Civil War generals. In 1856, Field returned to West Point as Assistant Instructor of Cavalry Tactics. He was promoted to captain in January 1861.

Civil War

With the outbreak of the Civil War, Field resigned his commission on May 30, 1861, and left West Point for Richmondmarker, where he offered his services to the Confederacy. His first assignment was to organize a school for cavalry instruction in Ashland, Virginiamarker. In July, he became major of the 6th Virginia Cavalry, becoming its colonel in November. In March 1862, he was promoted to brigadier general of a brigade of Virginia infantry. He served in what became famed as A.P. Hill's "Light Division" of the Army of Northern Virginia during Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaignmarker in the spring of 1862. Field performed competently during the Peninsula Campaign, but was severely wounded in the leg at the Second Battle of Bull Runmarker in August. At first, it was feared that the mangled leg would require amputation, but doctors managed to save it. However, it took nearly a year for Field to recuperate, although he never fully recovered. During his convalescence, John M. Brockenbrough and Henry Heth commanded Field's Brigade, which officially retained his name until the Chancellorsville Campaignmarker. In May 1863, using crutches to move, Field was able to resume limited military duties, serving as Chief of the Bureau of Conscription in the War Department until July. He continued as a conscription and recruiting officer for nine more months.

Finally cleared for field duty, Field rejoined the army in Tennesseemarker in February 1864, serving on the board of generals appointed to court-martial Lafayette McLaws. Promoted to major general, he commanded the veteran division formerly led by John Bell Hood. In the confused fighting in the Wilderness, Field suffered two minor wounds, but stayed in action throughout the Overland Campaign, including the Battle of Spotsylvania Court Housemarker. When Lt. Gen. James Longstreet was wounded, Field briefly assumed command of the First Corps, but he was later replaced by Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson, who had more seniority and combat experience. Field's division continued to perform well during the fighting at Battle of Cold Harbormarker and Siege of Petersburgmarker. On the afternoon of August 16, 1864, at the Battle of Deep Bottommarker, 5,000 Union soldiers under Brig. Gen. Alfred H. Terry broke through the Confederate lines and briefly threatened to rout the defenders. The tide finally turned when Field orchestrated a hard-hitting counterattack that forced the Federals to retreat. In April 1865, he surrendered with his division at Appomattox Court Housemarker. Numbering nearly 5,000 men, it was one of the few units still in fighting condition.

Postbellum career

After the war, Field pursued business interests in Marylandmarker and Georgiamarker. He traveled abroad in 1875 and served Isma'il Pasha, the khedive of Egyptmarker, as a colonel of engineers, helping train native officers and supervising several construction projects. He later served as Inspector General. Returning to the United States in 1877, he was nominated for the position of doorkeeper of the U.S. House of Representatives. His service under a foreign head of state technically resulted in the loss of U.S. citizenship, rendering him ineligible for the post. However, former fellow Confederate general Eppa Hunton argued that Field's service was under a private contract and that he had never sworn an oath of allegiance to the khedive. Field was elected to the post.

He became a civil engineer from 1881 through 1888 and then served for a time as superintendent of Hot Springs Reservation (later renamed Hot Springs National Parkmarker). He died in Washington, D.C.marker, and was buried in Baltimore, Marylandmarker, in Loudon Park Cemetery.

In the 20th century, the commonwealth of Kentuckymarker erected a roadside marker on U.S. Route 62 near Versaillesmarker commemorating Woodford County's Civil War generals, including Field.

See also



References

  • Warner, Ezra J., Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders, Louisiana State University Press, 1959, ISBN 0-8071-0823-5.
  • Photo Gallery of Charles Field



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