Sunday, June 19, 2022

The Juneteenth General

Gordon Granger (1821-1876) was the general who sparked the first Juneteenth celebration on June 19, 1865. 

Granger was a West Point graduate who served as an officer in US Army for the rest of his life. A junior officer during the Mexican War, he rose to the rank of volunteer major general during the Civil War. His finest moment in the war came during the 1863 Battle of Chickamauga. Major elements of the Union army and Commanding General Rosecrans fled the field in panic, leaving General Thomas and the rest of the army in the lurch against the entire Confederate army. Granger, assigned to guard a path around the Union left some miles away, decided instead, without orders, to march to Thomas’s aid with his green troops of the Reserve Corps. Their intervention allowed Thomas to barely hang on until nightfall and then retreat under cover of darkness. The Union Army of the Cumberland escaped to fight another day.


Granger was rewarded with the command of the veteran IV Corps. His troops performed well at the Battle of Chattanooga, during the impromptu attack that routed the Confederates and restored the reputation of the Army of the Cumberland. Just before the charge, Granger drew Grant’s ire by personally aiming the individual guns of an artillery battery. Grant sent a messenger to order Granger to act like a corps commander and not an artillery lieutenant. Granger continued to rub Grant the wrong way and was assigned to minor operations for the rest of the war.


Granger was sent to command the District of Texas after the war ended. Texas had not been conquered during the fighting, but was included in the general surrender. Plantation owners acted as if nothing had changed. Granger then issued his order #3, which began as follows.


“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection therefore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer." 

This sparked joyous celebrations by the liberated, the first Juneteenth.


When the massive volunteer army demobilized, Granger reverted to the rank of colonel in the small regular army. He commanded the Black 25th Infantry Regiment and later the 15th Infantry Regiment. He became a political ally of President Andrew Johnson, and thus a further opponent of Ulysses S. Grant, who became president after Johnson’s single chaotic term. Granger passed away in New Mexico in 1876.


Happy Juneteenth!

In remembrance of my ancestors, freed from chattel slavery by the Civil War.