Brig. General Elon J. Farnsworth (USA)

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Brig. General Elon J. Farnsworth (USA)'s Geni Profile

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Elon John Farnsworth

Birthplace: Green Oak Livingston County Michigan
Death: Died
Cause of death: killed in the Battle of Gettysburg
Place of Burial: Rockton Township Cemetery Rockton Winnebago County Illinois
Immediate Family:

Son of James Farnsworth and Achsah Farnsworth

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Brig. General Elon J. Farnsworth (USA)

Elon John Farnsworth (July 30, 1837 – July 3, 1863) was a Union Army cavalry general in the American Civil War, killed at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Early life and career

Farnsworth was born in Green Oak, Michigan, nephew of John F. Farnsworth, a prominent politician in the Democratic Party who later became a Republican, also serving as a Civil War general. His family moved to Illinois in 1854. A member of the Chi Psi Fraternity, Farnsworth was expelled from the University of Michigan following a drinking party in which a classmate died after being thrown from a window. He joined the army as a civilian foragemaster and served on the staff of Albert Sidney Johnston during the Utah War of 1857–1858. He also worked as a buffalo hunter and scout in the Colorado Territory.

Civil War

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Farnsworth was appointed a first lieutenant in the 8th Illinois Cavalry, the regiment commanded by his uncle, serving with distinction throughout the early stages of the war. Being promoted to captain on December 25, 1861, he was made Assistant Chief Quartermaster of the IV Corps, and in early 1863, he served as aide-de-camp to Brig. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton through the Battle of Chancellorsville and early stages of the Gettysburg Campaign. On June 29, 1863, just two days before the Battle of Gettysburg, he was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers by Pleasonton, although this appointment was never confirmed by the United States Senate. He was given command of 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac.

Death at Gettysburg

After the collapse of Pickett's Charge and the defeat of Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart's** Confederate cavalry on July 3, the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Brig. Gen. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick, commanding the 3rd Division, ordered Farnsworth to make a charge with his brigade against Confederate positions south of the Devil's Den area of the battlefield, below Little Round Top. Farnsworth initially balked, arguing there was no hope of success, and only agreed to it when Kilpatrick allegedly accused him of cowardice. Farnsworth made the charge, against elements of John B. Hood's division, under Evander M. Law (Hood having been wounded the previous day). Farnsworth rode with the second battalion of the 1st Vermont Cavalry, alongside Maj. William Wells.

       **Stuart's ride in the Gettysburg Campaign
        Further information: Gettysburg Campaign

Following a series of small cavalry battles in June as Lee's army began marching north through the Shenandoah Valley, Stuart may have had in mind the glory of circumnavigating the enemy army once again, desiring to erase the stain on his reputation of the surprise at Brandy Station. General Lee gave orders to Stuart on June 22 on how he was to participate in the march north, and the exact nature of those orders has been argued by the participants and historians ever since, but the essence was that he was instructed to guard the mountain passes with part of his force while the Army of Northern Virginia was still south of the Potomac and that he was to cross the river with the remainder of the army and screen the right flank of Ewell's Second Corps. Instead of taking a direct route north near the Blue Ridge Mountains, however, Stuart chose to reach Ewell's flank by taking his three best brigades (those of Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton, Brig. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee, and Col. John R. Chambliss, the latter replacing the wounded Brig. Gen. W.H.F. "Rooney" Lee) between the Union army and Washington, moving north through Rockville to Westminster and on into Pennsylvania, hoping to capture supplies along the way and cause havoc near the enemy capital. Stuart and his three brigades departed Salem Depot at 1 a.m. on June 25. Unfortunately for Stuart's plan, the Union army's movement was underway and his proposed route was blocked by columns of Federal infantry, forcing him to veer farther to the east than either he or General Lee had anticipated. This prevented Stuart from linking up with Ewell as ordered and deprived Lee of the use of his prime cavalry force, the "eyes and ears" of the army, while advancing into unfamiliar enemy territory. Stuart's command crossed the Potomac River at 3 a.m. on June 28. At Rockville they captured a wagon train of 140 brand-new, fully loaded wagons and mule teams. This wagon train would prove to be a logistical hindrance to Stuart's advance, but he interpreted Lee's orders as placing importance on gathering supplies. The proximity of the Confederate raiders provoked some consternation in the national capital and two Union cavalry brigades and an artillery battery were sent to pursue the Confederates. Stuart supposedly said that were it not for his fatigued horses "he would have marched down the 7th Street Road [and] took Abe & Cabinet prisoners." In Westminster on June 29, his men clashed briefly with and overwhelmed two companies of Union cavalry, chasing them a long distance on the Baltimore road, which Stuart claimed caused a "great panic" in the city of Baltimore. The head of Stuart's column encountered Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick's cavalry as it passed through Hanover and scattered it on June 30; the Battle of Hanover ended after Kilpatrick's men regrouped and drove the Confederates out of town. Stuart's brigades had been better positioned to guard their captured wagon train than to take advantage of the encounter with Kilpatrick. After a 20 mile trek in the dark, his exhausted men reached Dover on the morning of July 1, as the Battle of Gettysburg was commencing without them. Stuart headed next for Carlisle, hoping to find Ewell. He lobbed a few shells into town during the early evening of July 1 and burned the Carlisle Barracks before withdrawing to the south towards Gettysburg. He and the bulk of his command reached Lee at Gettysburg the afternoon of July 2. He ordered Wade Hampton to cover the left rear of the Confederate battle lines, and Hampton fought with Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of Hunterstown before joining Stuart at Gettysburg.

Gettysburg and its aftermath

When Stuart arrived at Gettysburg on the afternoon of July 2—bringing with him the caravan of captured Union supply wagons—he received a rare rebuke from Lee. (No one witnessed the private meeting between Lee and Stuart, but reports circulated at headquarters that Lee's greeting was "abrupt and frosty." Colonel Edward Porter Alexander wrote, "Although Lee said only, 'Well, General, you are here at last,' his manner implied rebuke, and it was so understood by Stuart.") On the final day of the battle, Stuart was ordered to get into the enemy's rear and disrupt its line of communications at the same time Pickett's Charge was sent against the Union positions on Cemetery Ridge, but his attack on East Cavalry Field was repulsed by Union cavalry under Brig. Gens. David Gregg and George Custer. During the retreat from Gettysburg, Stuart devoted his full attention to supporting the army's movement, successfully screening against aggressive Union cavalry pursuit and escorting thousands of wagons with wounded men and captured supplies over difficult roads and through inclement weather. Numerous skirmishes and minor battles occurred during the screening and delaying actions of the retreat. Stuart's men were the final units to cross the Potomac River, returning to Virginia in "wretched condition—completely worn out and broken down." The failure to crush the Federal army in Pennsylvania in 1863, in the opinion of almost all of the officers of the Army of Northern Virginia, can be expressed in five words—the absence of the cavalry. Confederate Maj. Gen. Henry Heth The Gettysburg Campaign was the most controversial of Stuart's career. He became one of the scapegoats (along with James Longstreet) blamed for Lee's loss at Gettysburg by proponents of the postbellum Lost Cause movement, such as Jubal Early.This was fueled in part by opinions of less partisan writers, such as Stuart's subordinate, Thomas L. Rosser, who stated after the war that Stuart did, "on this campaign, undoubtedly, make the fatal blunder which lost us the battle of Gettysburg." In General Lee's report on the campaign, he wrote ... the absence of the cavalry rendered it impossible to obtain accurate information. ... By the route [Stuart] pursued, the Federal Army was interposed between his command and our main body, preventing any communication with him until his arrival at Carlisle. The march toward Gettysburg was conducted more slowly than it would have been had the movements of the Federal Army been known.

The charge was repulsed with heavy losses, and Farnsworth himself was shot five times in the chest. An account by Confederate Colonel William C. Oates claimed that Farnsworth was surrounded by Confederate soldiers and committed suicide to avoid capture, but this has been disputed by other witnesses and discounted by most historians. Kilpatrick received much criticism for ordering the charge, but no official action was taken against him.

There is NO record of Gen. Stuart's so called defeat. He who wins gets to write the HISTORY. On the final day of the battle, Stuart was ordered to get into the enemy's rear and disrupt its line of communications at the same time Pickett's Charge was sent against the Union positions on Cemetery Ridge, but his attack on East Cavalry Field was repulsed by Union cavalry under Brig. Gens. David Gregg and George Custer. Just as Pickett was repulsed.


Farnsworth is buried in Rockton Cemetery, Rockton, Illinois.

In memoriam

"Battery Farnsworth", a coastal defense built between 1897 and 1899 near Fort Constitution at New Castle, New Hampshire, was named in his honor.

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Brig. General Elon J. Farnsworth (USA)'s Timeline

July 30, 1837
Green Oak Livingston County Michigan
July 3, 1863
Age 25
Rockton Township Cemetery Rockton Winnebago County Illinois