Dan Sickles: Disregarded Hero of the Battle of Gettysburg

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Southern New Hampshire University
Dan Sickles has been regarded by many historians as a political general who was a buffoon and led his troops into harm’s way at Gettysburg for personal glory. This paper examines Sickles’ early personal history, why that history has led historians to examine Sickles in a critical fashion with a historical lens, and why Sickles has been disregarded as the true hero of Gettysburg. Sickles was a lover of women causing him to perhaps have an affair with his mother-in-law, visit prostitutes, introduce one prostitute to the Queen of England, and ultimate to murder his wife’s lover in a rage that allowed him to be acquitted on an insanity defense. Sickles entered the Civil War looking to redeem his reputation and develop a military hero role for himself. Gettysburg would allow him the opportunity for that role, but events and his own future behaviors would prevent historians to view him in the role of hero. General Daniel Sickles has largely been criticized for his positioning of his troops on Day Two of the Battle of Gettysburg. However careful review of his personal history, his military experience prior to Gettysburg and his actions during the battle are all consistent with a general who correctly interpreted the situation and moved to prevent a Union defeat at Gettysburg. This paper will examine his early development as a politician, the murder of his wife's lover and entry into the service in the attempt to recover his reputation. The paper will review the effects of prior military actions he was involved in including the Peninsular Campaign, and Chancellorsville that influenced his actions at Gettysburg. Finally, the paper will examine his actions at Gettysburg, the effect on the Confederate attack, and prove the conclusion that General Sickles correctly positioned his troops and prevented a Union defeat.