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The Federal Commanders at Buffington - Part III: Henry M. Judah

Updated: Jan 8, 2023

When one hears about the Buffington Island battle, we often hear about John H. Morgan and the Confederate point of view, but we rarely delve into the Federal leadership. This series of posts will talk about the various Union brigade and provisional division commanders in an effort to bring to light their stories. In the first post we presented Brigadier General Edward H. Hobson and in the second installment we covered Colonel August V. Kautz. Today's post focuses on the man who did not have a stellar Civil War career, Henry M. Judah.

Library of Congress

Henry Moses Judah was born in Maryland on June 12th, 1821. Judah would secure an appointment to the military academy at West Point, graduating in the Class of 1843 with a poor class standing (thirty-fifth out of thirty nine), this class also including one Hiram Ulysses Grant. Due to his low standing, Judah would serve as a second lieutenant in the Eighth Infantry Regiment, and would go on to have a reputable experience during the Mexican War, in which he was commended for bravery for his actions in the battles of Monterrey, Molino del Rey, and Mexico City, also seeing service at the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. He was promoted to first lieutenant during the war.

After the Mexican conflict Judah would be promoted to captain in the Fourth Infantry Regiment, and serve in several posts along the New York/Canada border, and later in the Pacific Northwest. The start of the Civil War found Judah in command of the Fourth California Volunteer Infantry Regiment at Fort Yuma, California on the Colorado River. He would then see service in California before resigning his commission and moved to the Eastern Theater. After serving in the defenses of Washington, he would be made a brigadier general of volunteers in March 1862, and serve under Grant's command at Shiloh, serving as an inspector general. Given command of a division during the Corinth campaign, he would then see service in Cincinnati before joining the Federal Army of Kentucky in October, having taken a sick leave as well as serving as command of Ohio's Camp Dennison during the intervening months. His field performance must not have impressed his superiors, as he spent the winter of 1862-63 as an inspector general once again.

The month before Buffington Island, Judah was given a field command once again, in charge of the Third Division of the XXIII Corps. When the Great Raid started, Judah's command was in a position to intercept Morgan's Confederates, but Judah made decisions that allowed the Confederates an easier path towards the Ohio River. Due to his inability to stop Morgan in Kentucky, Edward Hobson was given command of the forces directly chasing Morgan. Judah's command would eventually join the chase, taking steamboats from Cincinnati to Portsmouth, then moving towards Portland overland. It would be Judah's forces that would be surprised in the fog of the early hours of July 19th. After this initial setback, Judah would get his forces on line and press the Confederates northward while Hobson's men were coming into Portland Bottoms from the west.

Judah would make another poor decision. While Hobson had been command of the pursuing Federals, Judah outranked Hobson and in the aftermath of the battle, while the Federals should have been chasing after a fleeing Morgan, Judah held Hobson in check until the command structure could be sorted out.

After the Great Raid Judah would again lead an infantry division during the opening phases of the Atlanta campaign. Judah, with a known propensity for alcohol, had already been reprimanded by John Schofield for his drunkeness and poor performance. At Resaca, Georgia, Judah failed to use his artillery in his attack against the Confederate positions, positions that he had also failed to properly reconnoiter prior to launching his attack. The attack was a dismal failure and Judah was removed from field command and given an administrative role. Ironically Judah did receive two brevet promotions during this time, but was still a major in the Regular Army.

When the war ended Judah would continue his service in the United States Army, serving at Plattsburgh, New York in garrison duty. He would die at Plattsburgh on Valentine's Day, 1866 at the age of forty-four. Most likely his fondness for the bottle led to his early death.

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Dave Powell
Dave Powell
Jan 15, 2023

George Crook served under him in the pre-war west, and hated him. Criik's memoirs cast him as a hopeless drunk and martinet.

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