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Alvin Hovey, 24th Indiana

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Alvin P. Hovey

“History can teach no lesson where the Truth is untold.”  The significance of this quote will be revealed later, after introducing the subject of this discussion.

Alvin P. Hovey was born in Indiana in 1821, and orphaned when he was 15 years old. Apprenticed to learn the trade of bricklayer, but more interested in Law, he studied law at night after spending all day at physically demanding employment. In 1843, the focused, determined young man was admitted to the Bar. Married the following year, Hovey became a member of the Democratic Party and benefited by his subsequent association with senior officials: appointed to the Indiana Supreme Court (for six months, to fill a vacancy);  involved in construction of the State’s new Constitution; and in 1855 appointed by Democrat President Franklin Pierce as United States Attorney for Indiana.

But, following the election of Democrat President James Buchanan, things took a turn for the worse for Alvin Hovey: caught up in the internal strife polarizing the party, Hovey lost his position as State’s Attorney; and because of his views on “the issue of the day,” he was expelled from the Democratic Party. After a brief period as an “Independent,” Alvin Hovey ultimately joined the Republican Party as storm clouds gathered on the National horizon.

Following breakout of war, Hovey helped organize the Indiana State Militia; and was afterwards appointed Colonel of the 24th Indiana Volunteer Infantry (mustered into service 31 July 1861.) Sent to Missouri in August, the 24th Indiana took part in Fremont’s Expedition against Springfield; and then remained in defence of Missouri until February 1862, when Colonel Hovey and his regiment were ordered to join Grant’s Campaign in Tennessee (but arrived too late to take part in the Fort Donelson operation.) In meantime, the 24th Indiana became attached to the Third Division (Lew Wallace) First Brigade (Morgan Smith) and in early March accompanied the expedition up the Tennessee River (at that time commanded by BGen Charles F. Smith.) Debarking at Crump’s Landing, the 24th Indiana set up camp not far to the west along the Purdy Road, with the rest of Colonel Smith’s 1st Brigade.

On Sunday 6 April, Hovey’s 24th Indiana became part of the circuitous march conducted north, and within earshot of the Shiloh Battle; but did not reach the battlefield until late that day, after combat had ceased with the onset of night. The following morning, the 24th Indiana was placed at the extreme left end of Major General Wallace’s line and took a noted part in the general advance of Day 2 (and incurred a high percentage of the casualties suffered by the Third Division); the operation to drive the Rebels from the battlefield achieved successful conclusion by late afternoon. For his role, Alvin Hovey gained mention in MGen Wallace’s battle report; and subsequent to his impressive performance at Shiloh, Hovey was promoted to Brigadier General, effective April 28th 1862. (This April promotion proved to be timely, because when MGen Lew Wallace “left” the Third Division in June 1862, it was Hovey – in the right place, at the right time – who took over acting command in Wallace’s absence.)

As concerns combat performance, Alvin Hovey is most noted for his contribution to the Union victory at Champion Hill: then in command of the 12th Division of McClernand’s XIII Army Corps, both Hovey and McPherson gained recognition from Major General Grant during that action. Not long afterwards, just a few days after surrender of Vicksburg, it was Hovey who took command of Hurlbut’s old Fourth Division (after General Lauman’s debacle at Jackson Mississippi, where he led his men into an ambush.)

The death of his wife in November 1863 seems to have affected General Hovey greatly. He returned home to Indiana to arrange her funeral and organize for care of his children; but he ended up away from the battle front a long time. And when he did return in mid-1864 (in time for the Atlanta Campaign) he discovered he no longer had the necessary enthusiasm for the fight, and returned to Indiana. Although remaining “on the rolls” until October 1865, brevet-Major General Hovey’s war career effectively ended in August 1864.

A year after the war ended, President Andrew Johnson appointed Alvin Hovey as Minister to Peru; he remained in Lima, serving as Minister until 1870. Upon return to the United States, Hovey distanced himself from politics and resumed his Law practice. In 1886, he again felt “a calling” and won election to the U.S. House of Representatives; followed two years later by election as Governor of Indiana. It was while serving as Governor that Alvin Hovey passed away in 1891 at the age of seventy.

In my estimation, Alvin Hovey performed competently during his Civil War career; and, when compared with similar “political generals,” was outperformed by only John A. Logan and perhaps a half-dozen others.



References:    http://archive.org/details/hoveychaselifeof00walk  Alvin Hovey and Ira Chase (1888) by C. M. Walker.

Staff Ride Handbook: Vicksburg by Dr. Christopher Gabel  http://books.google.com.au/books?id=LKJvCwAAQBAJ&pg=PT137&lpg=PT137&dq=assessment+of+general+alvin+p+hovey&source=bl&ots=PFwEf6SqQF&sig=ssIxhgh599ixRN_1LE2xV6cWS44&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjh_-6g-P3cAhVHQd4KHbrFCTI4ChDoATAFegQIBRAB#v=onepage&q=assessment of general alvin p hovey&f=false  Stand No.18.

OR 10 pages 173 - 4 (Lew Wallace Shiloh report) 

 http://archive.org/stream/battleofshilohor00unit#page/92/mode/2up  D. W. Reed's Battle of Shiloh pages 92 - 3.





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Part Two

It appears that Alvin Hovey experienced a period of self-assessment following on the ending of the Civil War (and having amassed an impressive war record.) Except, his successes were not what he was noted for; instead, the fact he’d been publicly accused by General William Tecumseh Sherman of shirking his duties (after which Hovey submitted his resignation, but it was not accepted) and ended the war on the sidelines in Indiana… this is how he was being remembered, if remembered at all. Upon reflection, General Hovey realized that his was not an isolated case: other Generals of Volunteers had suffered similar unsatisfactory ends to their war service – John McClernand, Jacob Lauman, Lew Wallace – with the common thread being that all were considered “political generals” …and all of them (including Alvin Hovey) had been present at the Battle of Shiloh. Was there some connection?

In an effort to determine the answer, in 1883 General Hovey reviewed the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion (Volume 10 – Shiloh – had been published in 1880) and finding important reports “missing,” felt a pressing need to “set the record straight.” That reassessment of the Record of the Battle of April 6 and 7 was published in the National Tribune on 5 April 1883, titled “Surprise at Shiloh.”

Reference:   http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82016187/1883-04-05/ed-1/seq-1/   National Tribune page 1 cols.1 - 3.

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Surprised ?

The extraordinary exchange of arguments involving Generals Veatch and Hovey took place during 1883 and focused on a single topic: Surprise. Every aspect of “Were we surprised at Pittsburg Landing ?” gained an airing, and along the way, scores of Shiloh veterans added their own responses, both For and Against the idea of Surprise.

Of particular interest, some aspects of “the surprise” that were examined:

·         The initiation of first contact, attributed to General Prentiss;

·         Just-in-time disruption of Rebel intention to launch surprise attack;

·         Lack of preparation of physical defences at Pittsburg Landing (abatis and trenches)

·         Claimed lack of proper pickets and cavalry patrols;

·         The presence of General Grant at Savannah, nine miles away from his Army at Pittsburg Landing, recognized as “not the action of a commander who seriously believes his Army is under threat of attack by the enemy”

·         The presence of “acoustic shadow,” believed due to easterly wind and dampness of the air, which prevented many from hearing the exchange of musketry (and hence were surprised when the Rebels appeared in their front)

·         The roar of cannon (beginning about 7 a.m.) which alerted General Grant at Savannah and sent that officer up the Tennessee River (departed about 8 a.m.)

·         The sending away of messengers by General Prentiss, alerting Smith and Hurlbut to the presence of the enemy in force, and requesting support; the messengers prevented Hurlbut and Wallace and Stuart, and their commands, from being surprised.

The initial post that resulted in Veatch vs. Hovey appeared on the front page of the 1 FEB 1883 edition of the National Tribune. The 15 FEB edition, page 1, Col.3, contained the first veteran response (with a cryptic reply at bottom of Column 3 from the Editor.) General Veatch had his article published 15 March, and General Hovey added his on 5 April 1883.

The fallout: during the course of the discussion, serious efforts were made to determine, “Who really was responsible for thwarting the Confederate surprise that Sunday morning?”

References: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82016187/1883-02-01/ed-1/seq-1/#date1=1883&index=0&rows=20&words=Hovey+HOVEY&searchType=basic&sequence=0&state=District+of+Columbia&date2=1883&proxtext=Hovey&y=0&x=0&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1   National Tribune of 1 FEB 1883.

http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82016187/1884-03-13/ed-1/seq-1/   National Tribune of 15 FEB 1883.



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