John Gibbon historical marker

John Gibbon 1827-1896 (L-117)

Wrote pivotal artillery manual, 1859. Maj. Gen., Union Army, Civil War. Oversaw Lee’s surrender, 1865. He lived nearby.

Location: Near 5037 N. Tryon St., Charlotte
County: Mecklenburg
Original Date Cast: 2021

John Gibbon was one of a handful of antebellum military officers with ties to North Carolina who remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War. (Three of his brothers entered Confederate service.) He was born in Pennsylvania on April 20, 1827, the son of Dr. John Gibbons and Catherine Gibbons. Although Dr. Gibbons, who dropped the “s” from the family name at an unknown date, practiced medicine, he was interested in mineralogy and geology. This led to the pursuit of his appointment as an assayer at the U.S. Mint in Charlotte, where the family relocated in 1837. Later the family moved into a rented estate, located near modern-day North Tryon Street.

Gibbon entered the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1842. In August 1845, he was assigned to the 3rd Regiment U.S. Artillery, part of Major General Winfield Scott’s expeditionary force to Mexico. By the time he reached the regiment in December, the fighting had ended, but the regiment was involved in occupation activities. In the meantime, Gibbon was transferred to the 4th Regiment U.S. Artillery.

From 1848 to 1854 Gibbon spent much of his time at various company postings in Florida and Texas. In 1854 he was appointed an assistant instructor of artillery at West Point. He became a full instructor of artillery tactics and post quartermaster in 1856.
In 1859, Gibbon published his first book, The Artillerist’s Manual, which was praised for its depth, organization and readability. It was soon adopted as the official artillery manual by West Point. In 1859, Gibbon was one of several officers on the faculty at West Point who were ordered to return to duty. He was assigned to command an artillery company stationed at Camp Floyd in the Utah Territory. It was while on duty at Floyd that the secession crisis erupted. While Gibbon remained loyal to the United States, many Southern officers serving in the armed forces did not, and those who did remain were initially objects of suspicion.

Gibbon’s battery was ordered east and assigned to the Army of the Potomac. He was put in charge of the division’s artillery, consisting of four batteries. He set about training the new recruits. In May 1862, Gibbon was appointed a brigadier general of volunteers and assigned to command a brigade. He issued distinctive uniforms for his troops, including the use of the large black felt hats, usually used for dress parade, for regular full-time wear; for this reason, the unit became nicknamed the Black Hat Brigade.

The brigade began to establish its reputation at the Battle of Second Bull Run (Second Manassas), fought in August 1862. Early on the evening of August 28, Confederate forces attacked a Federal column on the march. Much of the ensuing fight was carried on the Union side by Gibbon’s brigade, initiated when Gibbon, convinced that the opposing forces were mainly horse artillery, ordered his men to advance to capture the guns. His troops soon were battling growing numbers of Confederate infantry. The Federals were outnumbered nearly three-to-one. Although forced to withdraw in the end, the Black Hat Brigade acquitted itself well and inflicted heavy casualties upon their opponents, while suffering heavy losses of their own. The brigade saw further action in the Maryland Campaign, including the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) on September 17. It was allegedly Major General Joseph Hooker who gave the unit its more famous nickname, the Iron Brigade, after having witnessed it in action at the Battle of Turner’s Gap on September 14.

In November, Gibbon left the Iron Brigade, having accepted command of the 2nd Division of the I Corps. Gibbon commanded this division for the only time at the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, where he was wounded in the right hand and wrist by a shell fragment. He returned to duty in time for the Chancellorsville campaign in May and was assigned to command the 2nd Division of the II Corps. On July 3, Gibbon’s division played a key role in the repulse of the Confederate assault on the Union center at the Battle of Gettysburg. Gibbon was wounded for a second time in the latter action, shot in the left shoulder. He would not return to duty until March 1864. He commanded the 2nd Division of the II Corps during the Overland Campaign of May-June 1864. In June he was promoted to major general. He continued to command the division through the early months of the siege of Petersburg. On April 2, 1865, his corps broke the Confederate siege lines at Petersburg at Fort Gregg. Subsequently, the corps was ordered to get ahead of the retreating Confederate forces. On the morning of April 9, the corps blocked General Robert E. Lee’s last route of escape at Appomattox Court House, forcing the Confederates to seek surrender terms. Gibbon was appointed one of three Federal officers to oversee the surrender and parole of the Confederate forces.

Following the Civil War, Gibbon faced the dilemma of other career army officers who had received general rankings of volunteer forces during the conflict: reduction to their old ranks in the antebellum army. Thus, Gibbon became a captain of artillery again. In 1866, Congress expanded the size of the peacetime army. Gibbon was promoted to colonel on General of the Army Ulysses S. Grant’s recommendation and commanded in succession the 36th Regiment U.S. Infantry and later the 7th Regiment U.S. Infantry. These commands led to various postings in Nebraska, the Utah Territory, and the Montana Territory.

In 1876, Gibbon commanded one of three columns sent to the Dakota territory to force the native peoples of the Black Hills onto reservations. On June 27 Gibbon’s column found the remains of Colonel George Armstrong Custer’s command, which had been annihilated two days earlier near the Little Big Horn River. In 1877, Gibbon and the 7th Infantry were involved in the Nez Perce War. Gibbon found and attacked the Nez Perce encampment at Big Hole, Montana Territory.

Following the Nez Perce War, Gibbon was assigned to several posts in the Dakota Territory. He wrote two essays critical of the United States’ Native American policies, “Hunting Sitting Bull” (1878) and “Our Indian Question” (1881). Although Gibbon’s attitudes towards the Native Americans was racialist and paternalistic, he was sympathetic to their plight and understood that their actions were in defense of their traditional way of life.

Gibbon’s remaining active military career was spent in the West. In 1884 he was placed temporarily in command of the Military Department of the Platte. Promoted to brigadier general in 1885, he was given command of the Military Department of the Columbia. While in the latter post, he declared martial law in Seattle in response to anti-Chinese riots, and commanded troops brought in to suppress the rioters and restore order. In 1890 he became commander of the Military Division of the Pacific. He retired in April of the following year.

He died on February 6, 1896, from pneumonia and he is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. He is commemorated today in the names of four different Western towns, the Gibbon River and Gibbon Falls at Yellowstone National Park, and a statue at Gettysburg National Military Park.

John Gibbon, Adventures on the Western Frontier, ed. Alan and Maureen Gaff, 1994.
John Gibbon, The Artillerist’s Manual, 1860.
John Gibbon, Personal Recollections of the Civil War, 1928.
John Gibbon Papers, Collection 2031, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA.
Nicholas Biddle Gibbon Papers, Collection MS0078, J. Murray Atkins Library, UNC Charlotte.
Dennis S. Lavery and Mark H. Jordan, Iron Brigade General: John Gibbon, A Rebel in Blue, 1993.
Richard G. Stone Jr. “Gibbon, John,” in William S. Powell, ed, Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 1986,

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