Civil War to the Bloody End
Jerry Thompson
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Buy *Civil War to the Bloody End: The Life and Times of Major General Samuel P. Heintzelman* by Jerry Thompson online

Civil War to the Bloody End: The Life and Times of Major General Samuel P. Heintzelman
Jerry Thompson
Texas A&M University Press
464 pages
September 2006
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Major General Samuel P. Heintzelman was a career soldier who lived from 1805 to 1880. He was able to persuade Congressman James Buchanan, later the fifteenth President of the United States, to recommend him to West Point, which he entered in 1822 and graduated in 1826 seventeenth out of forty-one. His nickname was “sourdough”, due to his argumentative disposition and his appearance.

Heintzelman was of the habit of keeping a journal, and this is the main source for Jerry Thompson’s biography. After West Point, he was given various assignments. He served in the Mexican War, but after the major fighting was over. Later he was assigned to California. He had his soldiers construct Fort Yuma in present-day Arizona to protect settlers and travelers from Indian attacks. He was assigned in 1859-1860 to duty in Texas along the border with Mexico. During this assignment, he was involved in what is known as the Cortina War, named after Mexican leader Juan Nepomuceno Cortina who wanted to return Texas to Mexican rule, or at least the part around Brownsville and along the Rio Grande River. Cortina and his followers raided American farms, ranches, even towns. Heintzelman was sent out to stop them but, after several battles with Cortina, was unable to capture or kill him. He was able, though, to drive him into Mexico and stop his raiding. Heintzelman was then ordered back to Washington.

After Abraham Lincoln was elected president, the South began to secede from the Union. Heintzelman led an army under General Irvin McDowell at the Battle of Bull Run, where the Union Army was defeated and forced to retreat to Washington. He was wounded in the arm at Bull Run and was to be affected by this injury for the rest of his life. He was commander of the III Corps of the Army of the Potomac during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign under General George B. McClellan and was successful at the Battle for Williamsburg and other battles during this campaign. He opposed McClellan’s decision to retreat before reaching Richmond, feeling the Army could have continued forward. His corps was sent to help General John Pope’s Army of Virginia, which was defeated at the Second Battle of Bull Run. Heintzelman was relieved of this command and reassigned to command of the defenses of the southern approaches to Washington. He was not able to keep the Confederate guerillas away, however, so he was again removed from command and sent to command the Union armies in the Midwest, which meant taking care of prison camps and keeping Copperheads under control. He had to deal with several governors who made many demands of him.

After the Civil War ended, he was sent to Texas to help with reconstruction there under the command of General Philip Sheridan, working with the governor of Texas and other state and local officials who were not supporters of reconstruction. That governor was eventually removed and a military governor appointed. Asked his opinion on creating two new states out of Texas, Heintzelman thought it was a good idea. This idea, of course, did not come about.

Along with being a soldier, Heintzelman was also involved in silver mines, especially in Arizona (he was involved in getting Arizona created into a territory). He also speculated in railroads and other businesses but was not able to make a lot of money for his wife and two children. His son, Charles, went to and graduated from West Point, and he was not a poor man, able to provide for his family. While in Texas, he held the rank of colonel in the regular army, but during the Civil War, he had reached the rank of major general of volunteers and was able to retire with this rank with its pension.

This book is quite long, with the chapters themselves long but interesting. There are several black-and-white illustrations and photographs, as well as several maps of the battles Heintzelman was involved in. There are endnotes, a bibliography and an index. Thompson uses quotes and paraphrases Heintzelman journals, which provide an eyewitness view of events - especially when Heintzelman werved as a general during the Civil War. His journals provide unique information since he was a general and knew more about what was planned and what occurred than the average soldier or officer. They also provide insights into a general’s mind. Unfortunately, some of his journals were lost due to water damage, and during some periods of his life he did not write because he was sick or too busy.

Civil War to the Bloody End is highly recommended to Civil War enthusiasts interested in the biography of a lesser Union general, especially since the main source for the book is the general’s own journals.

Dr. Jerry Thompson (Ph.D. from Carnegie-Mellon University) is Regents Professor at Texas A&M International University in Laredo. He is the author of Cortina: Defending the Mexican Name in Texas (2007). He is author and co-author of around twenty books and several articles.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Br. Benet Exton, O.S.B., 2008

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