Gouverneur Kemble Warren was born on January 8, 1830 in Cold Springs, New York. He graduated second in his class from West point in 1850, serving in the topographical engineers and as an instructor at the Academy until the coming of the war. He was instrumental in mapping the Minnesota River Valley and in surveying potential transcontinental railroad routes in Nebraska Territory.
In May of 1861 he became Lieutenant Colonel of the 5th New York Infantry Regiment and took part in the first skirmish of the war at Big Bethel. He was promoted to brigade command during the Peninsula Campaign, where he was wounded at Gaines’s Mill. He commanded his brigade during its heroic stand at Second Manassas and again at Antietam before becoming the Army of the Potomac’s Chief of Engineers in February of 1863.
This brought Warren to his date with destiny on Little Round Top at Gettysburg on July 2nd, 1863. Known for having one of the best eyes for terrain in the army, Warren found the strategic hill empty except for a Signal Corps detachment. He immediately went to find troops to man the position, and had the outstanding luck to run into men he had commanded and who would unhesitatingly divert their brigades as Warren directed. It was a case of the right man in the right place at the right time. It blunted Longstreet’s attack on the second day of Gettysburg, set the stage for Lee’s desperate attack the next day in Pickett’s Charge, and played on of the major roles in the Union victory.
Warren was rewarded with temporary command of the 2nd Corps in the wounded Hancock’s absence, and was then given permanent command of the 5th Corps in the spring of 1864.
Warren was a competent corps commander, but had the careful, calculating personality of an engineer which clashed with Grant and Sheridan. Eventually Sheridan relieved Warren of command at Five Forks, with Grant’s blessing. It was blatantly unfair and ruined Warren’s army career, but the collapse of Lee’s army put Grant and Sheridan beyond criticism there could be no appeal. Warren resigned his commission as Major General of Volunteers in protest.
After the war Warren stayed in the army with the rank of major, his requests for a court of inquiry refused or ignored as long as Grant was president. With Grant’s departure President Hays ordered one to be held. After lengthy testimony Warren was not only exonerated, but Sheridan’s actions in relieving him were criticized.
Warren died at home in Newport, Rhode Island in 1882. At his request he was buried in civilian clothes and without military honors. The official results of the Court of Inquiry were not published until after his death.
Warren is honored by a statue on Little Round top at Gettysburg.