Read on. . .
Although he spent most of his life in the military and served gallantly in two American wars, Brigadier General Truman Seymour was also an accomplished artist who lived in Italy during his final years painting beautiful watercolors of Italian villages and landscapes. He entered the Civil War a captain of artillery, stationed in Fort Sumter, and fought throughout the four years of the conflict, steadily rising in rank. He commanded a brigade of troops during most of his wartime service, but led a division in the attack against Fort Wagner, South Carolina, in 1863, and then held district and departmental command in the Deep South before returning to Virginia in 1864. Aggressive and hard-fighting, Seymour excelled as a brigade leader but achieved only mixed results in higher command. He was present with the Army of the Potomac when General Lee surrendered, thus making him one of the few officers who was present when the war began at Sumter and when it ended at Appomattox.
Truman Seymour was born on September 24, 1824, in Burlington, Vermont, the son of a Methodist preacher. He sought at an early age to pursue a career in the military, and in 1840, at just sixteen years of age, he entered Norwich University, a premier military school in Northfield, Vermont. After spending two years at Norwich, Seymour received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. He graduated four years later ranked nineteenth in a class of fifty-nine graduates. West Point’s Class of 1846 stands as one of the most illustrious in the academy’s storied history with George McClellan, Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, Jesse Lee Reno, Darius Couch, George Stoneman, Sam Sturgis, David R. Jones, and George Pickett among its members. Commissioned a second lieutenant by brevet in the 1st U.S. Artillery, Seymour was sent to Mexico where he immediately distinguished himself as an artillerist and earned brevet promotions for gallantry at the battles of Cerro Gordo, Contreras, and Churusbusco. He earned further praise for his heroics during the final assaults on Mexico City.
Following the war with Mexico, Seymour was stationed in New York and later served three years (1850-1853) as an instructor of drawing at West Point. From 1856 through 1858, he was stationed in Florida seeing infrequent action against the Seminole. Promoted to first lieutenant in August 1847, Seymour made it to the rank of captain thirteen years later, on November 22, 1860. With the secession of the southern states and the threat of war becoming ever more apparent during the winter of 1860-1861, Captain Seymour was assigned to Fort Sumter, which soon became the focal point of the escalating crisis. During the early morning hours of April 12, 1861, South Carolinian forces under the command of General P.G.T. Beauregard opened fire on Sumter, instigating the American Civil War. When the fort fell, the Union officers stationed there were captured but soon paroled. Receiving a brevet promotion to the rank of major for his gallantry during the bombardment of Sumter, Seymour was assigned command of the artillery for the Second Division, Department of the Rappahannock, and in December 1861, held command of a Camp of Instruction in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Seymour served in Harrisburg for a little more than three months before returning to the Army of the Potomac in the early spring of 1862. Switching his branch of service, Seymour, on April 28, 1862, was promoted to the rank of brigadier general of volunteers and assigned to command a brigade of infantry in George McCall’s Division of Pennsylvania Reserves in the Fifth Corps. Seymour’s Brigade participated in most of the major battles throughout the spring and summer of 1862, seeing heavy action during the Seven Days’ Battles. At the battle of Glendale on June 30, 1862, Seymour’s immediate superior, General George McCall, was captured and command of the division devolved upon Seymour. Commanding the Pennsylvania Reserves at Malvern Hill and throughout the months of July and August, Seymour established a reputation as a hard-fighting and reliable commander. On August 26, General John Fulton Reynolds succeeded Seymour as divisional commander, and Seymour resumed command of his brigade.
At 2nd Bull Run and again South Mountain, Seymour continued to distinguish himself. Indeed, for his performance at South Mountain, Seymour was highly praised by his immediate superior, George Gordon Meade, and was brevetted a lieutenant colonel in the Regular Army. Seymour’s Brigade—consisting of the 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th and 13th Pennsylvania Reserves—led the Army of the Potomac across the Antietam Creek on the afternoon of September 16, 1862. Marching westward, his men encountered Hood’s Confederate Division in the East Woods, and from 6:00 p.m. until nightfall kept up a steady fight. Remaining in their advanced position in the East Woods throughout the night, Seymour’s men became engaged at daybreak on September 17. Pushing forward along the Smoketown Road, Seymour’s Pennsylvanians drove back a Confederate skirmish line until arriving at the southern edge of the woodlot where their advance was checked by Alexander Lawton’s Division. Seymour’s men soon exhausted their ammunition and, at 7:00 a.m., were relieved by troops from General James Ricketts’s Second Division, First Corps. Ordered to take up a position near the Joseph Poffenberger Farm behind the First Corps's line, Seymour’s men remained in reserve for the duration of the battle.
At Antietam, Seymour’s five regiments lost more than 150 men killed and wounded. Turning in yet another creditable performance, Seymour received a brevet promotion to the rank of colonel in the Regular Army. During the late morning hours of September 17, after George Meade took command of the First Corps following the wounding of Joseph Hooker, Seymour assumed command of the Pennsylvania Reserves Division.
Shortly after the battle of Antietam, Seymour took a well-deserved leave of absence. When he returned to the army in November, however, he was upset at having discovered that an officer inferior in rank to himself, General John Gibbon, was given command of James Ricketts’s Division after that officer asked to be relieved. Requesting another assignment, Seymour was transferred to Charleston, where he served as Chief of Staff to General Quincy Gillmore, commander of the Department of the South. Holding this administrative position for several months, Seymour, in early July 1863, was given command of the Second Division, Tenth Army Corps. On July 18, Seymour’s Division, with the famed 54th Massachusetts Infantry in the lead, attacked Battery Wagner in Charleston Harbor. His men suffered high casualties during the assault, and Seymour was himself severely wounded by grapeshot. After the battle, Seymour received some criticism for placing Robert Gould Shaw’s black regiment in the van of what many believed to be a forlorn attack.
Having sufficiently recovered from his wound, Seymour returned to the army in October 1863. Assigned first as commander of Morris Island and then the District of Hilton Head, Seymour did not return to active field duty until February 1864 when he was given command of a division of troops in Florida. Receiving orders to march into Florida and help secure that state for the Union, Seymour quickly took possession of Jacksonville but then, on February 20, was defeated at the Battle of Olustee where his division of 5,000 men suffered more than 2,000 casualties. Following this debacle, Seymour retreated to Jacksonville, holding command of the District of Florida until relieved in late April.
Kurz & Allison Lithograph. . .The Battle of Olustee
Seymour returned to Virginia in April 1864. He served as Assistant Inspector General for the Department of the East for several weeks, and then, on May 5, was given command of the Second Brigade, of the Sixth Corps’s Third Division. The following day, during the Battle of the Wilderness, Seymour was captured and sent as a prisoner of war to Charleston, South Carolina. Held captive while the city was being besieged by Union gunboats, Seymour spent a nervous summer in Charleston until released in mid-August. Two months later, in October 1864, Seymour was given divisional command in the Army of the Potomac’s Sixth Corps. He served well in this position, seeing action in the Shenandoah Valley in the fall of 1864 and during the final stages of the Petersburg Campaign in the spring of 1865. He also led a division at the battle of Saylor's Creek on April 6, 1865. By war’s end, Seymour was brevetted a major general in both the volunteer service and in the Regular Army.
With the surrender of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox and the termination of the Civil War, Seymour was mustered out of the volunteers as a brevet major general on August 24, 1865. He remained in the Army after the war, reverting back to his rank of captain in the 5th U.S. Artillery. Promoted to major the following summer, Seymour spent the next ten years in uniform, stationed at various forts along the East Coast. From 1869 until 1870, he commanded Fort Warren, Massachusetts, and then, for the next five years, Fort Preble, Maine. While in the army, Seymour received an honorary master’s degree from Williams College. On November 1, 1876, fifty-two-year-old Truman Seymour, after thirty years in the service, tendered his resignation from the army.
Seymour focused his attention on painting during his retirement years. In 1885, he moved to Florence, Italy, and spent the next six years painting spectacular watercolors of Italian vistas and villages. Physically, however, Seymour’s longtime bronchitis affliction continued to get worse, and he suffered as well from degenerative heart disease. He died on October 30, 1891, at the age of sixty-seven, in Florence where his remains were buried in the Cimitero degli Allori. Nearly one hundred years later, in 1986, Seymour’s artworks were compiled and published in The Drawings and Watercolors of Truman Seymour.
Market, Tangier by Truman Seymour
(Seymour watercolors from Martha Richardson Fine Art Gallery, Boston, Massachusetts. To see more of Seymour's paintings, visit: http://www.martharichardsonfineart.com/artist_catalog_thumbnails.asp?id=1721680292)