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General for whom Sedgwick County is named died 150 years ago this week

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, May 8, 2014, at 8:23 a.m.

Friday marks the 150th anniversary of when Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick uttered his last words, which became one of the most famous quotes from the Civil War.

The death of the man for whom Sedgwick County is named came on May 9, 1864, as he was leading his troops at Spotsylvania Court House, Va.

According to the book “The Civil War” by Geoffrey C. Ward, Sedgwick – who had survived battles at Antietam, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg – reportedly said moments before his death from Confederate snipers: “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.”

Sedgwick, 50, was killed instantly by a bullet that entered his left cheek.

The Wichita Beacon on Oct. 7, 1928, described Sedgwick’s death as told by Gen. Horace Porter: “The gallant commander of the Sixth Corps (Sedgwick) seemed particularly cheerful and hopeful that morning. Sedgwick started with his staff to move further to the front. A little later General Grant sent me back to Sedgwick to discuss a question with him. … While following the road I had seen him take, I heard musketry firing ahead and soon saw the body of an officer borne from the field.”

Civil War veterans who served in the Kansas Legislature when Sedgwick County was first established on Feb. 26, 1867, proposed naming the new county after Sedgwick. The county government was eventually formed, and in April 1870, the first county officials were elected.

Of the 105 counties in Kansas, 40 are named after Civil War soldiers.

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @beccytanner.

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