John Gibbon succeeded his old comrade, Lucius Fairchild, as Commander-in-Chief of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United State in 1895, upon the latter's retirement from office. Major General Gibbon was one of the most popular officers of the Union Army in the Civil War. Next to General Henry Hunt, Gibbon, as author of The Artillerist's Manual, was, arguably, the best known "canoneer" of the United States Army in the Civil War.
A native of Pennsylvania, John Gibbon was born just outside of present day Philadelphia on April 20, 1827. He moved almost immediately to Charlotte, North Carolina, with his parents, Dr. John Heysham Gibbon and Catherine Lardner. John and his three brothers were, consequently, raised in the South and it was from North Carolina that the young Gibbon was appointed to West Point in 1842.
Although John Gibbon graduated in 1847, he missed any meaningful paticipation in the Mexican War and did not see active service until the conflict with Seminoles two years later. His specialty in artillery led to an appointment as instructor at West Point in 1852, where he published his treatise on gunnery. He was promoted 1st Lieutenant in 1850 and Captain on November 2, 1859. Captain Gibbon commanded the artillery in the expedition against the Mormon's in Utah but returned to Fort Leavenworth at the news, brought in Gibbon's case by the "pony express," of outbreak of the Civil War.
Gibbon was appointed Chief of Artillery of the division commanded by General Irving McDowell in October 1861. Gibbon's three brothers joined the Confederate Army, but John remained steadfastly loyal to the Union. Captain Gibbon manifested a particular aptitude in working with the volunteer soldiers who were coming into the Army in great numbers in response to President Abraham Lincoln's call for 75,000 men to come to the defense of the Republic. In May 1862, Gibbon was promoted to Brigadier General and assigned command of the brigade composed of the 2nd, 6th, and 7th Wisconsin, and the 19th Indiana (the 24th Michigan was added at a later date) which was to go down in history as the famous "Iron Brigade." Lucius Fairchild commanded the 2nd Wisconsin in the brigade and when General Gibbon was promoted to the command of a division, he recommended that Fairchild succeed him as brigade commander.
General Gibbon commanded the Iron Brigade at the battles of Painesville, Second Bull Run, South Mountain, and Antietam. He was breveted Major in the regular army of the United States on September 17th 1862 and Lt. Colonel on December 13th for service at the Battle of Fredericksburg where he commanded a division in the First Corps. General Gibbon was wounded in the wrist at Fredericksburg and was invalided home for three months recuperation. While in the hospital in Washington D.C., he was visited by President Lincoln for whom he developed a great personal regard.
General Gibbon rejoined the army in time for the Battle of Gettysburg and was given command of the 2nd Division of the Second Corps and succeeded General Winfield Scott Hancock (who was assigned by General George G. Meade to take over the Third Corps from General Daniel Sickles) in command of the Corps. As commanding officer of the Second Corps, Gibbon participated in the famous "Council of War" at Meade's Headquarters on the night of July 2nd. As the junior officer present, General Gibbon had to give his opinion first as to what tactics should be followed on the following day. When asked his opinion by General Daniel Butterfield, Meade's chief of staff, Gibbon replied, "Remain here, and make such corrections in our position as may be deemed necessary but take no step which even looks like retreat" The following day, while commanding the center in repulsing Pickett's Charge General Gibbon was shot in the left shoulder.
Following his recovery from his wound at Gettysburg, General Gibbon rejoined the army and was breveted Major General of Volunteers on June 7, 1864. He participated in the battles of the Wilderness, Spottsylvania, and Cold Harbor. On January 15, 1865, he was given command of the Twenty-fourth Army Corps of the Army of the James and as such was the senior officer in charge of arrangements for the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House where he supervised the printing of the parole forms. On January 15, 1866, he was mustered out of the volunteer service and the following July assumed command of the Thirty-sixth Infantry in the U.S. Army.
From 1869 to 1886, General Gibbon commanded the Seventh Infantry and was commanding officer of the Yellowstone Expedition in 1876 during which General Custer and units of the Seventh Cavalry were killed in action against the Sioux. The following year General Gibbon commanded the army in the fight on August 9, 1877, which resulted in the defeat of the Nes Perces at Big Hole Pass, Montana, where he was again wounded in action. General Gibbon commanded the Department of Dakota in 1878 and later that of Columbia in Washington Territory where he suppressed the riots against the Chinese in Seattle. On July 1, 1885, he was promoted Brigadier General in the United States Army.
On July 11, 1888, General John Gibbon was elected a Companion of the First Class of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States through the Commandery of Oregon and assigned Insignia Number 6388. Although his active service in the U.S. Army restricted his participation in the Loyal Legion, he did attend meetings when able. On October 8, 1890, General Gibbon gave a paper on the subject of pensions before the Oregon Commandery in Portland. In advocating improvement in pensions for those who faithfully served in the War of the Rebellion, General Gibbon said, When we look back on the dark days of 1862 and '63' and recall the sacrifices made by the patriots of this country, and the promises freely given on all hands in regard to what care should be extended to the widows and orphans and dependents of all kinds of those who, volunteering to take the field in support of the government, should fall or be crippled in the National cause, the very natural question arises now, 25 years after the close of the struggle, have those promises been kept? If called on suddenly to face our comrades who fell in the war, could be truthfully say that the promises made to them as they marched to the battle field had been faithfully kept?
General Gibbon retired from the Army on April 20, 1891 and moved to Baltimore, Maryland. He was elected Commander-in-Chief of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States on October 15, 1895 and died in Baltimore on February 6, 1896 just as he was to start on a tripwest to visit the Commanderies of Wisconsin and Minnesota. General Gibbon was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. His wife, Frances North Moale, a son, John Gibbon, and a daughter, Frances Moale Gibbon, survived him. In 1885 John Gibbon wrote his memoirs, Personal Recollections of the Civil War, but it was not published until 1928 after being edited by his daughter. John Gibbon's memoirs is among the best by one of the important brigade and division commanders of the United States Army in the Civil War and, as one reviewer noted, are written in a straightforward, frank and soldierly fashion and tell only what the writer himself saw. General Ulysses S. Grant said of General Gibbon, I know that whatever John Gibbon is directed to do will be done and well done. General Gibbon was succeeded as Commander-in-Chief of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States by Rear Admiral Bancroft Gherardi.
On his retirement John Gibbon wrote a poem which says, in part.
Nations and horses and soldiers as well,
Have their downs and their ups, their heaven, their hell;
Nations and horses run their course, then expire;
Soldiers run theirs, for a time, then retire.
The bugle no longer shall call them to arms;
No longer the "long roll" to them sounds alarms;
Once bearded as pards and full of strong "damns"
They peaceful become, yes as peaceful as lambs.
To farewells I'm averse. I don't like "good byes"
They make the voice tremble, they moisten the eyes;
'Tis better to flank them, it brings on no fight;
So with a God bless you, I bid you "good night.
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