One of the more colorful generals and personalities that fought at the Battle of Antietam was General John Gibbon of North Carolina. As an 1847 graduate of West Point, Gibbon was a career artillery officer in the regular army. When the War came, he remained loyal to the Union and was granted command of a brigade of Western regiments, along with retaining his 4th U.S. Artillery, Light Battery B.
In the Spring of 1862, Gibbon, as part of McDowell’s Corps, was retained from joining McClellan on the Peninsula Campaign by duties in the Fredericksburg area. In his book Personal Recollections of the Civil War (1885), Gibbon wrote the following of his experiences in late May through June of 1862…
At times we almost fancied we caught the sound of McClellan’s guns as his army struggled along the Chickahominy towards the rebel capital. Everything was now reported ready for an advance, when, on the 23rd it was suddenly announced that the President, Secretary of War, and several other members of the Cabinet had arrived in camp from Washington and in the morning a circular was sent round inviting the Division and Brigade Commanders to pay their respects to the President at Gen. McDowell’s Headquarters in the Lacy House, a large family mansion on the bank of the river overlooking Fredericksburg.
On entering the large hall well filled with officers and others, Gen. McDowell presented us to Mr. Lincoln in the order of our rank, “Gen. Augur, Mr. Resident, Gen. Patrick, Gen. Gibbon.” We all advanced and shook hands with Mr. Lincoln. The last name seemed to catch his attention and assuming a peculiarly quizzical expression he inquired:–“Is this the man who wrote the ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire?’”
Doubtless I looked somewhat confused at this pointed allusion, for placing his hand kindly on my shoulder, he said, “Never mind, General, if you will write the decline and fall of this rebellion, I will let you off.”
“Why,” I said, “Mr. President, the only book I ever did write—the Artillerist’s Manual—the War Department refused to subscribe to.” He laughingly replied, “I shall have to tell Stanton to give you another hearing.”
The writing to which Gibbon referred was a booklet of his composition in 1859. Gibbon taught artillery tactics at West Point, and the manual was a highly detailed composition on gunnery and was used by both sides in the Civil War.
Gibbon goes on in the pages following the quote above to talk about how his division was run all over the countryside of Virginia in an alleged effort to capture Jackson. He wrote that, “…by June 25th we were once more at our starting point – Fredericksburg – not having seen any enemy nor heard a gun fired during that time. … Our month’s operations however, were not entirely thrown away, for though we produced no beneficial results on the enemy, the experience and marching were valuable to our new troops.”