General George Washington Getty

Gen. George W. Getty

In 1864, General George W. Getty received command of the Second Division, VI Army Corps, Army of the Potomac. Prior to that he had served as an artillery commander, infantry division commander in the Antietam and Suffolk Campaigns and a military engineer. He had quietly carried out his assigned duties to the best of his ability, which was quite considerable. Getty had developed a reputation for dependability seldom matched in the often quarrelsome Army of the Potomac. “He is a cool man,” declared Theodore Lyman of General George Meade’s staff . “Quite a wonder,” he added. Getty considered himself to be a soldier whose duty it was to obey orders. ” I always obey an order. If I was ordered to march my division across the Atlantic Ocean, I’d do it. At least I would march them up to their necks in the sea, and then withdraw and report that it was impractical to carry out the order.”

Getty exhibited his leadership ability on May 5, 1864 at the battle of the Wilderness. When ordered to a vital crossroads at Parker’s Store, Getty raced ahead of his division with his staff and arrived at the intersection just ahead of A. P. Hill’s Corps. With only his staff and orderlies, Getty held the position until his combat troops arrived. Getty would lead his troops and others assigned to him in the Wilderness fighting until he went down wounded. He returned to command in time to assist with the fighting at Fort Stevens, during Confederate General Jubal Early’s Raid on Washington. With the Sixth Corps, Getty would spend the balance of the active campaigning that year in the Shenandoah Valley.

Getty was often called upon anytime there was a tight situation at hand. His division bore the brunt of the fighting in an all day, high intensity skirmish at Charlestown on August 21 and anchored Sheridan’s left flank at the battle of Opequon Creek (Third Winchester). When the Confederates smashed in the VI Corps right wing during Sheridan’s initial attack, it was Getty who brought up the New Jersey Brigade from reserve and threw them into the thickest of the fight to staunch the bleeding and turned artillery against the attacking Confederates.

However, it was at the battle of Cedar Creek on October 19, that Getty rose to the apex of his duties in the Valley. With Jubal Early’s legions sweeping Sheridan’s army back in confusion, Getty, who had rose to Corps command due to Sheridan’s absence and casualties,  posted his division on Middletown’s Cemetery Hill, becoming the sole bulwark of Union resistance. Elements of three Confederate divisions attacked, but Getty’s men held the position. Confederate artillery attempted to hammer them off the hill but Getty did not pull back until the Southern infantry had bypassed his right flank in their pursuit of the balance of the Sixth Corps. When Sheridan arrived on the battlefield that morning, Getty’s was the only organized infantry division from the entire army that was on the front line confronting the Confederates with the Union cavalry. After the battle, Sheridan wrote Grant, “General, I want Getty of the Sixth Corps and the brave boys, Merritt and Custer, promoted by brevet. Getty would go on to serve the Union cause well on April 2, 1865, when his division spearheaded the Union breakthrough at Petersburg but his service at Cedar Creek was perhaps his greatest contribution to the Union war effort. Had it not been for Getty, there is no telling how the Battle of Cedar Creek would have played out and what impact its loss would have had on Abraham Lincoln’s reelection.

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1 Comment

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One response to “General George Washington Getty

  1. David Lowe

    There are moments in military history when the right man in the right place at the right time turns the tide of battle. Getty had two–at the Brock Road Intersection (May 5, 1864) and on Cemetery Hill (Oct. 19).

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