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John Gibbon (April 20, 1827 ‚Äď February 6, 1896) was a career United States Army officer who fought in the American Civil War and the Indian Wars.

Early life

Gibbon was born in the Holmesburg section of Philadelphiamarker, Pennsylvaniamarker, the fourth child of ten born to Dr. John Heysham Gibbons and Catharine Lardner Gibbons. When Gibbon was nearly 11 years old the family moved near Charlotte, North Carolinamarker, after his father took a position as chief assayer at the U.S. Mint. He graduated from the United States Military Academymarker in 1847 and was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in the 3rd U.S. Artillery. He served in the Mexican-American War without seeing combat, attempted to keep the peace between Seminoles and settlers in south Floridamarker, and taught artillery tactics at West Pointmarker, where he wrote The Artillerist's Manual in 1859. The manual was a highly scientific treatise on gunnery and was used by both sides in the Civil War. In 1855, Gibbon married Francis "Fannie" North Moale. They had four children: Frances Moale Gibbon, Catharine "Katy" Lardner Gibbon, John Gibbon, Jr. (who died as a toddler) and John S. Gibbon.

Civil War

When war broke out between the states, Gibbon was serving as a captain of Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery at Camp Floyd in Utahmarker. Despite the fact that his father was a slaveholder and that three of his brothers, two brothers-in-law and his cousin J. Johnston Pettigrew served in the Confederate military, Gibbon decided to uphold his oath to the Union. Upon arrival in Washington, Gibbon, still in command of the 4th U.S. Artillery, became chief of artillery for Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell. In 1862, he was appointed brigadier general of volunteers and commanded the brigade of westerners known as King's Wisconsin Brigade. Gibbon quickly set about drilling his troops and improving their appearance, ordering them to wear white leggings and distinctive black 1858 regular army Hardee hats. The hats earned them the nickname The Black Hat Brigade. He led the brigade into action against the famous Confederate Stonewall Brigade at the Battle of Brawner's Farm, a prelude to the Second Battle of Bull Runmarker. He was still in command of the brigade during their strong uphill charge at the Battle of South Mountainmarker, where Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker exclaimed that the men "fought like iron". From then on, the brigade was known as the "Iron Brigade". Gibbon led the brigade for the last time at the Battle of Antietammarker, where he was forced to take time away from brigade command to personally man an artillery piece in the bloody fighting at the Cornfield.

Gibbon was promoted to command the 2nd Division, I Corps at the Battle of Fredericksburgmarker, where he was wounded. The wound was minor but kept getting infected, so Gibbon was out of action for a few months. Shortly after returning to duty he learned of the sudden death of his son, John Gibbon, Jr. Gibbon returned for the Battle of Chancellorsvillemarker, but his division was in reserve and saw little action. At the Battle of Gettysburgmarker, he commanded the 2nd Division, II Corps and temporarily commanded the corps on July 1 and July 2, 1863, while Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock was elevated to command larger units. At the end of the council of war on the night of July 2, army commander Maj. Gen. George G. Meade took Gibbon aside and predicted, "If Lee attacks tomorrow, it will be on your front." And his division did bear the brunt of fighting during the defense against Pickett's Chargemarker on July 3, when Gibbon was again wounded. While recovering from his wounds, he commanded a draft depot in Cleveland, Ohiomarker, and attended the dedication of Soldiers' National Cemeterymarker and heard Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address with his close friend and aide Lt. Frank A. Haskell.

Gibbon was back in command of the 2nd Division at the battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court Housemarker, and Cold Harbormarker. During the Siege of Petersburgmarker, Gibbon became disheartened when his troops refused to fight at Ream's Stationmarker. He briefly commanded the XVIII Corps before going on sick leave, but his service being too valuable, he returned to command the newly created XXIV Corps in the Army of the James. His troops helped achieve the decisive breakthrough at Petersburg, capturing Fort Gregg, part of the Confederate defenses. He led his troops during the Appomattox Campaignmarker and blocked the Confederate escape route at the Battle of Appomattox Courthousemarker. He was one of three commissioners for the Confederate surrender.

Indian Wars

Gibbon stayed in the army after the war. He reverted to the regular army rank of colonel and was in command of the infantry at Fort Ellismarker in the Montana Territory, during the campaign against the Sioux in 1876. Gibbon, General George Crook, and General Alfred Terry were to make a coordinated campaign against the Sioux and Cheyenne, but Crook was driven back at the Battle of the Rosebud, and Gibbon was not close by when Lt. Col. George A. Custer attacked a very large village on the banks of the Little Bighorn Rivermarker. The Battle of the Little Bighornmarker resulted in the deaths of Custer and some 261 of his men. Gibbon's approach on June 26 probably saved the lives of the several hundred men under the command of Major Marcus Reno who were still under siege. Gibbon arrived the next day and helped to bury the dead and evacuate the wounded.

Gibbon was still in command in Montana the following year when he intercepted a telegraph from General Oliver O. Howard to cut off the Nez Percé, who were camped along the Big Hole River in western Montana. At the Battle of the Big Hole Gibbon's forces inflicted heavy losses, but became pinned down under Indian sniper fire. Gibbon held off the warriors until General Howard's forces arrived late on the second day of battle and drove them off.

Later career and retirement

Gibbon served temporarily as commander of the Department of the Plattemarker in 1884. He was promoted to brigadier general in the regular army in 1885 and took command of the Army of the Pacific Northwest. He placed Seattle, Washingtonmarker, under martial law during the anti-Chinese riots of 1886. Gibbon was required to retire due to age restrictions in 1891.

Gibbon served as president of the Iron Brigade Association, and Commander in Chief of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States from October 1895 until his death the following year. He also gave the commencement address to the West Point Class of 1886.

Death and legacy

John Gibbon died in Baltimoremarker, Marylandmarker, and is buried in Arlington National Cemeterymarker. In addition to his famous and influential Artillerist's Manual of 1859, he is the author of Personal Recollections of the Civil War (published posthumously in 1928) and Adventures on the Western Frontier (also posthumous, 1994) along with many articles in magazines and journals, typically recounting his time in the West and providing his opinions on the government's policy toward Native Americans.

On July 3, 1988, the 125th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, a bronze statue of John Gibbon was dedicated in the Gettysburg National Military Parkmarker, near the site of his wounding in Pickett's Charge.

The town of Gibbon in south central Minnesota is named after him.

In popular media

Gibbon was portrayed in the film Gettysburg by Emile O. Schmidt.

See also


  • Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • Gaff, Alan D., On Many a Bloody Field: Four Years in the Iron Brigade, Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1999, ISBN 978-0-2532-1294-8.
  • Gibbon, John, Adventures on the Western Frontier, Alan D. Gaff and Maureen Gaff, eds., Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1994, ISBN 0-2533-2579-X.
  • Haskell, Frank A. The Battle of Gettysburg, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States Commandery of the State of Massachusetts, 1908.
  • Herdegen, Lance D., The Men Stood Like Iron: How the Iron Brigade Won Its Name, Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1997, ISBN 978-0-25333-221-9.
  • Lavery, Dennis S., "John Gibbon", Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History, Heidler, David S., and Heidler, Jeanne T., eds., W. W. Norton & Company, 2000, ISBN 0-393-04758-X.
  • Lavery, Dennis S. and Mark H. Jordan, Iron Brigade General: John Gibbon, Rebel in Blue, Greenwood Press, 2003, ISBN 978-0-3132-8576-9.
  • Nolan, Alan T., The Iron Brigade, A Military History, Indiana University Press, 1961, ISBN 0-253-34102-7.
  • Tagg, Larry, The Generals of Gettysburg, Savas Publishing, 1998, ISBN 1-882810-30-9.
  • Warner, Ezra J., Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders, Louisiana State University Press, 1964, ISBN 0-8071-0822-7.
  • Wright, Steven J., and Blake A. Magner, "John Gibbon: The Man and the Monument", The Gettysburg Magazine, Issue 13, July 1995.


  1. Eicher, p. 253, Warner, p. 171, Tagg, p. 44, Lavery, John Gibbon, p. 838, Nolan, p. 40, Wright and Magner, p. 119, and Gibbon's gravestone list his name as John Gibbon. In the preface (p. ix) to Gibbon's Adventures on the Western Frontier, editors Alan and Maureen Gaff list a middle name of Oliver. A genealogical website on the "Heysham-Gibbon Branch" of the Hissem-Montague Family refers to possible middle names of Hannum, Heysham, and Oliver, but states that "a letter written by his younger brother, Nicholas, indicated that their father disliked middle-names, perhaps adverse to his own, and gave them to none of his children, excepting Nicholas who was given his by his mother."
  2. Lavery and Jordan, p. 2. Despite the Wright and Magner article that states that Gibbon's mother's surname was Larder (and that may simply be a typographical error), her actual surname was Lardner. A genealogical Website on the "Heysham-Gibbon Branch" of the Hissem-Montague family also refers to her surname as Lardner with the exception of three typographical errors. The site also provides this link to the Lardner family. In addition, Gibbon's mother spelled her first name with an "a" rather than an "e" according to Lavery and Jordan who cite letters written by her that are available in the Lardner-Gibbon papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. According to Alan and Maureen Gaff, Gibbon's father dropped the "s" from the end of his surname around the time of his 18th birthday and prior to his marriage to Catharine Lardner. However, Gibbon's biographers Dennis Lavery and Mark Jordan maintain the Gibbons spelling throughout their study when referring to General Gibbon's parents.
  3. Lavery and Jordan, pp. 2-5.
  4. Wright and Magner, p. 119.
  5. Lavery and Jordan, pp. 25-32, 37-38; Gibbon 1994, pp. ix-xi.
  6. please see references on the dates of the Second Battle of Bull Run.
  7. Haskell, pp. 34-37.
  8. Haskell, pp. 48-68.
  9. Gaff, p. 305.
  10. Wright and Magner, pp. 126-27.

Further reading

  • Felton, Silas. "The Iron Brigade Battery: An Irregular Regular Battery," in Giants in their Tall Black Hats: Essays on the Iron Brigade. Alan T. Nolan and Sharon Eggleston Vipond, eds. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1998, ISBN 0-2533-3457-8.
  • Gaff, Alan D. and Maureen Gaff. "'The Dread Reality of War': Gibbon's Brigade, August 28-September 17, 1862," in Giants in their Tall Black Hats: Essays on the Iron Brigade. Alan T. Nolan and Sharon Eggleston Vipond, eds. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1998, ISBN 0-2533-3457-8.
  • Gibbon, John. Gibbon on the Sioux Campaign of 1876. The Old Army Press, 1970.
  • Gibbon, John. Personal Recollections of the Civil War. New York : G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1928.
  • Gramm, Kent. "'They Must be Made of Iron': The Ascent of South Mountain," in Giants in their Tall Black Hats: Essays on the Iron Brigade. Alan T. Nolan and Sharon Eggleston Vipond, eds. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1998, ISBN 0-2533-3457-8.
  • Hartwig, D. Scott. "'I Dread the Thought of the Place': The Iron Brigade at Antietam," in Giants in their Tall Black Hats: Essays on the Iron Brigade. Alan T. Nolan and Sharon Eggleston Vipond, eds. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1998, ISBN 0-2533-3457-8.
  • Nolan, Alan T. "John Brawner's Damage Claim," in Giants in their Tall Black Hats: Essays on the Iron Brigade. Alan T. Nolan and Sharon Eggleston Vipond, eds. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1998, ISBN 0-2533-3457-8.
  • Wright, Steven J. "John Gibbon and the Black Hat Brigade," in Giants in their Tall Black Hats: Essays on the Iron Brigade. Alan T. Nolan and Sharon Eggleston Vipond, eds. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1998, ISBN 0-2533-3457-8.

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