About Benjamin Huger
Benjamin Huger (November 22, 1805 – December 7, 1877) was a career United States Army ordnance officer who fought with distinction during the Mexican–American War. He also served as a Confederate general officer during the American Civil War, noted for his controversial performances while in charge of Norfolk, Virginia, and during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign. Relieved of field duty, he would spend most of the remainder of the conflict in staff positions in the Trans-Mississippi Department, where he performed well. After the war Huger took up farming in North Carolina and later in Virginia.
Huger was born in 1805 in Charleston, South Carolina. (He pronounced his name English pronunciation: /uːˈʒeɪ/, although today many Charlestonians say /ˈuːdʒiː/.) He was a son of Francis Kinlock Huger and his wife Harriet Lucas Pinckney, making him a grandson of Maj. Gen. Thomas Pinckney. His paternal grandfather, also named Benjamin Huger, was a patriot in the American Revolution, killed at Charleston during the British occupation.
In 1821 Huger entered the United States Military Academy at West Point and graduated four years later, standing eighth out of 37 cadets. On July 1, 1825, he was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant, then promoted to second lieutenant in the 3rd U.S. Artillery on that same date. He served as a topographical engineer until 1828, when he took a leave of absence from the Army to visit Europe from 1828 to 1830. He then was on recruiting duty, after which he served as part of Fort Trumbull's garrison in New London, Connecticut. From 1832 to 1839 Huger commanded the Fortress Monroe arsenal located in Hampton, Virginia.
On February 7, 1831, Huger married a cousin named Elizabeth Celestine Pinckney. They would have five children together; Benjamin, Eustis, Francis, Thomas Pinckney and Celestine Pinckney. One of his sons, Francis (Frank) Kinloch Huger, also attended West Point and graduated in 1860. Frank Huger would enter the Confederate forces during the American Civil War as well, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel and leading a battalion of field artillery by the end of the conflict. On May 30, 1832, Huger was transferred to the Army's ordnance department with the rank of captain; he would spend the rest of his U.S. Army career with this branch. From 1839 to 1846 he served as a member of the U.S. Army Ordnance Board, and from 1840 into 1841 he was on official duty in Europe. Huger again commanded the Fort Monroe Arsenal from 1841 to 1846, until hostilities began with Mexico.
War with Mexico
Huger fought notably in 1846–48 during the Mexican–American War, serving as chief of ordnance on the staff of Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott throughout the conflict. Huger had command of the siege train during the Siege of Veracruz, March 9–29, 1847. He was appointed to the rank of brevet major for his performance at the Veracruz on March 29, and to lieutenant colonel for the Battle of Molino del Rey on September 8. Huger was brevetted a colonel five days later for "gallant and meritorious conduct" during the storming of Chapultepec.
Returning from Mexico, Huger was appointed to a board which created an instructional system for teaching artillery principles in the U.S. Army. From 1848 to 1851 he once more commanded the arsenal at Fort Monroe, and then led the arsenal at Harpers Ferry until 1854. During 1852 his home state presented him with a sword, commemorating Huger's long and distinguished service to South Carolina. From 1854 to 1860 he commanded the arsenal located at Pikesville in Baltimore County, Maryland, during which he was promoted to major as of February 15, 1855. Huger was then sent to observe the Crimean War in 1856. Beginning in 1860 Huger commanded the Charleston Arsenal, holding the post until resigning in the spring of 1861.
American Civil War service
Despite the secession of his home state in December 1860, Huger remained in the U.S. Army until after the Battle of Fort Sumter, resigning effective April 22, 1861. Just prior to the battle, Huger traveled to the fort and conferred with its commander, Maj. Robert Anderson, to determine where he stood. Although Anderson was also Southern-born, he had already chosen to follow the Union cause, and Huger left when "their discussions came to naught."
Huger was commissioned an infantry lieutenant colonel in the regular Confederate Army on March 16, and then briefly commanded the forces in and around Norfolk, Virginia. On May 22 he was appointed a brigadier general in the state's militia, and the next day took command of the Department of Norfolk, with defensive responsibilities for North Carolina and southern Virginia, with his headquarters located at Norfolk. Sometime that June he was also commissioned a brigadier in the Virginia Provisional Army, however Huger entered the Confederate volunteer forces on June 17 as a brigadier general. Later on October 7 he was promoted the rank of major general.
Roanoke Island and the loss of Norfolk
In early 1862 Union Army and Navy forces approached the North Carolina-Virginia coastline and Huger's area of responsibility. At Roanoke Island his subordinate, Brig. Gen. Henry A. Wise, asked Huger for a variety of supplies, ammunition, field artillery, and most importantly additional men, greatly fearing an attack on his quite unfinished defenses. Huger's response to Wise asked him to rely on "hard work and coolness among the troops you have, instead of more men." Eventually Confederate President Jefferson Davis did order Huger to sent help to the Roanoke Island area, but it proved too late. On February 7–8 Flag Officer Louis M. Goldsborough and his gunboats landed Brig. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside's infantry, initiating the Battle of Roanoke Island. Huger, having about 13,000 soldiers, failed to reinforce the immediate commanders there, an ailing Wise and Col. H. M. Shaw, and Burnside quickly eliminated the Confederate resistance and forced a surrender.
When news of the fall of Roanoke Island reached the population of Norfolk they quickly panicked, spreading the alarm to Richmond. Military historian Shelby Foote believed this loss "...shook whatever confidence the citizens had managed to retain in Huger, who was charged with their defense." On February 30 President Davis declared martial law in Norfolk and suspended the right of habeas corpus, attempting to regain control, and two days later he did the same in Richmond.
Due to the combination of the naval action at Elizabeth City on February 10, the Battle of New Bern on March 14, the Battle of South Mills on April 19, and other Union landings during the Peninsula Campaign, Confederate authorities determined Huger could not hold Norfolk. On April 27 he was ordered by Gen. Joseph E. Johnston to abandon the area, salvaging from Gosport Navy Yard as much usable equipment as he could, and join the main army. On May 1 Huger began to evacuate his men and ordered the destruction by fire of the naval yards at both Norfolk as well as nearby Portsmouth. Ten days later Union forces occupied the Gosport Yards. Military historian Webb Garrison, Jr. believed Huger did not leave the area properly, stating: "...the evacuation of Norfolk was handled poorly by Confederate Gen. Benjamin Huger—too much property was left intact." Also lost as a result was the famous Ironclad warship CSS Virginia, scuttled by her own crew when she could not stay in the James River, get past Union Naval forces at its mouth, nor survive at sea even if it did. The Union would control the facilities at Norfolk for the rest of the war, and the Confederate Congress soon began to investigate Huger's part in the defeat at Roanoke Island. He led his soldiers to Petersburg, where he remained until summoned by Johnston at the end of May.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis assigned Huger to divisional command under Gen. Johnston within the Army of Northern Virginia. His command fell back with the main body as Johnston retired towards Richmond, and then participated in the Battle of Seven Pines on May 31 and June 1, 1862.
According to Johnston's battle plan, Huger's three brigades were placed under the command of Maj. Gen. James Longstreet as a support, but Huger was never notified of this. On June 1 as he moved his men toward the fight, their march was blocked by Longstreet's columns—who had taken an incorrect road—and halted. Huger found Longstreet, asked about the delay, and for the first time learned his role and the command relationship. Huger then asked whether he or Longstreet was the senior officer and was told that Longstreet was, which he accepted as true although it was not. This delay and Longstreet's instructions to stand by and wait for orders prevented Huger's division from supporting the advance on time and hampered the overall Confederate attack. In his official report of the Battle of Seven Pines, Longstreet unjustly blamed Huger for the less than completely successful action, complaining of his tardiness on May 31 but not relating the reason for the delay. In a private letter to an injured Johnston written on June 7, Longstreet stated:
The failure of complete success on Saturday [May 31] I attribute to the slow movements of Gen. Huger's command... I can't help but think that a display of his forces on the left flank of the enemy, by Gen. Huger, would have completed the affair... Slow men are a little out of place upon the field.
Once he learned he had been criticized and blamed, Huger asked Johnston to investigate however this was refused. He then asked President Davis to order a court-martial, but although approved it never took place. Writing after the war, Edward Porter Alexander stated: "Indeed, it is almost tragic the way in which he became the scapegoat of this occasion." referring to Huger.
The Seven Days
Huger then participated in several of the Seven Days Battles with the Army of Northern Virginia, now under the command of Gen. Robert E. Lee, who replaced the wounded Johnston on June 1. Lee planned an offensive in late June against an isolated Union Army corps with the bulk of his army, leaving less than 30,000 men in the Richmond trenches to defend the Confederate capital. This force consisted of the divisions of Maj. Gens. John B. Magruder, Theophilus H. Holmes, and Huger. During the Battle of Oak Grove on June 25, his portion of the line was attacked by two divisions of the Union III Corps led by Brig. Gens. Joseph Hooker and Philip Kearny. When part of the assault faltered in rough terrain, Huger took advantage of the confused, uneven Union line and counterattacked with the brigade of Brig. Gen. Ambrose R. Wright. After repulsing the charge, another Union force attacked Huger but was also stopped short of the line. The Battle of Oak Grove cost Huger 541 men killed and wounded, while inflicting 626 total casualties on the Union Army.
Lee continued to order his army to pursue and destroy the Union forces. Following the action at Oak Grove, he pulled much of the defense around Richmond and added them to the chase, Huger's division included. On June 29, Magruder thought his position was to be attacked by overwhelming numbers and asked for reinforcements. Lee sent two brigades from Huger's division in response with instructions they were to be returned at 2 p.m. if Magruder was not hit by then. The appointed hour came and passed, Huger's men were sent back, and later that day Magruder "halfheartedly" fought the Battle of Savage's Station alone. Even without those two brigades, Huger was late in reaching his assigned position on June 29, countermarching needlessly and encamping his command without engaging with the enemy. The next day Huger was ordered toward Glendale but was delayed by the retreating Union forces, who had cut trees to slow pursuit, and also by the terrain which easily allowed for ambush. Attempting to follow along the Charles City Road to his assignment, Huger had his men cut a new path through the woods with axes. This further slowed their advance, while the other Confederate commands waited for his guns to fire, which was their signal to attack. Huger informed Lee of the delay by simply stating his march was "obstructed" without further description.
Around 2 p.m. Huger's lead brigade under Brig. Gen. William Mahone cut a mile-long path around the Union obstacles, winning the so-called "battle of the axes" and continued to approach Glendale. There he saw the 6,000-man division of Brig. Gen. Henry W. Slocum arrayed to block his way. Huger ordered one of his artillery batteries to fire on this Union position at 2:30 p.m. but Slocum's guns answered quickly, and Huger led his 9,000 men off the road and into the woods after taking some casualties. Despite outnumbering the Union division Huger made no further attempts to reach Glendale. However his few artillery shots were interpreted by the other Confederates as the signal to attack, igniting the Battle of Glendale, although Huger and his command would not take part in the fight and camped.
The following day, July 1, turned out to be Huger's last fight with the Army of Northern Virginia as well as his final field command in the American Civil War. Huger's division was directed toward the Union forces on Malvern Hill without a definite target, as he was told that Lee would "place him where most needed" against the position. Because Magruder had mistakenly led his command away from the battle, Huger took up his place on the Confederate right, just north of the "Crew House", with the division of Maj. Gen. D.H. Hill on his left. To give his infantry a chance to charge and break the Union line, Lee ordered a concentrated artillery barrage at Malvern Hill. One of Huger's brigades, led by Brig. Gen. Lewis Armistead, was to determine when this barrage had the desired effect and begin the assault. Before the cannonade could begin however, the Union artillery fired first and took out most of the Confederate guns. Shortly after 2:30 p.m. Armistead went in anyway, and though his men made some progress he failed to penetrate the strong defensive position. Other Confederate units made less progress and took heavy casualties, and around 4 p.m. Magruder arrived and put in two brigades—about a third of his command—behind Armistead, but he too retired with high loss. Two more of Huger's brigades—led by Brig. Gen. Ambrose R. Wright and Mahone, about 2,500 men—followed Armistead and toward Malvern Hill. Taking Union artillery and infantry fire as they advanced, Huger's men slowed and then stopped, finding a measure of protection in a nearby bluff. They had fought to about 75 yards (69 m) of the Union line but could go no further. Huger's last brigade under Brig. Gen. Robert Ransom managed to get within 20 yards (18 m) by 6 p.m. but also fell back after receiving heavy casualties in the Confederate defeat.
Following the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, Gen. Lee began to reorganize his army and deal with ineffective division commanders, including Huger. His actions since joining the army "left much to be desired" according to military biographer Ezra J. Warner. Other historians have also criticized Huger throughout this time: Brendon A. Rehm summarized his battle performance as "not notably successful" and John C. Fredriksen stated Huger was "lethargic" during Seven Pines as well as moved "sluggishly" during the Seven Days fights. Furthermore, the Confederate Congress held Huger accountable for the defeat at Roanoke Island. As a result, Huger was relieved of command on June 12, 1862, and that fall was ordered to serve in the Trans-Mississippi Department.
Following combat service on the Virginia Peninsula in 1862, Huger was assigned to be assistant Inspector General of artillery and ordnance for the Army of Northern Virginia. He held this post from his relief on June 12 until August, when he was sent to the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department. Huger was made the department's inspector of artillery and ordnance on August 26, and then was promoted to command of all ordnance within the department in July 1863. This position Huger held until the end of the American Civil War in 1865, when he surrendered along with Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith and the rest of the Confederate Trans-Mississippi forces. Huger was paroled from Shreveport, Louisiana, on June 12 of that same year and returned to civilian life. Huger's Trans-Mississippi service in staff positions has been rated positively by historians. Ezra J. Warner believed this area of military service was "his proper sphere" and summarized Huger's overall performance there as: "These duties he energetically and faithfully discharged until the close of the war, most of the time in the Trans-Mississippi service." Likewise John C. Fredriksen states "He functioned capably in this office until 1863, when he rose to chief of ordnance in the Trans-Mississippi Department until the end of the war."
After the war, Huger was a farmer in North Carolina and then in Fauquier County, Virginia, finally returning in poor health to his home in Charleston, South Carolina. He was also a member of Aztec Club of 1847, a social club formed just after the Mexican-American War by army officers. Huger served as its vice president from 1852 to 1867. He died in Charleston in late 1877 and was buried at Green Mount Cemetery located in Baltimore, Maryland.