Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Alfred Iverson: A General and His Burial Trench

Alfred Iverson, Jr.

       Alfred Iverson was born in 1829 in Clinton, Georgia. Iverson's father was a United States Senator, but decided on a military career for his namesake. He enrolled young Alfred in Tuskegee Military Institute in Alabama. Iverson left school at the age of seventeen to fight in the Mexican War. His father raised a regiment of Georgia volunteers and Alfred served as a second lieutenant. 
       Iverson would leave military service in 1848 to become an attorney, but he decided to return to the military in 1855, being commissioned a first lieutenant in the United States cavalry. He would resign from the Federal army when the Civil War began and because of his father's friendship with President Davis, he would be commissioned colonel of the 20th North Carolina Infantry. 
       He would be severely wounded in his first action at the Battle of Gaines' Mill, but was distinguished for his action there. This would be one of his best battles. It seems he was snake bit for much of the rest of the war. He recovered from his wound in time to see action in the Maryland Campaign. At South Mountain when Brigadier General Samuel Garland was killed, the entire brigade broke and fled the field. At Antietam, Iverson's regiment ran from the field, but he managed to reform them and lead them back into the fray. 
       Following the battle, Iverson was promoted to brigadier general. Senior Colonel Duncan Kirkland McRae of the 5th North Carolina Infantry resigned his commission in disgust. The new brigadier would be held in reserve at Fredericksburg. 
       Following the battle, Iverson attempted to bring an old friend in as colonel of the 20th North Carolina Infantry. Twenty-six officers protested to the action and Iverson attempted to have all of them arrested. When he failed to promote his friend, he childishly refused to promote anyone else to the position of colonel in the regiment. 
       Iverson led his brigade into battle at Chancellorsville, suffering heavy casualties and being hit in the groin by a piece of shell fragment. During this time, he continued to argue with his subordinates. Many in the brigade began to complain that he was a coward because he had gone to the rear during the battle to seek reinforcements. 
       On the first day at Gettysburg, Iverson sent his brigade against an entire Federal corps alone. Most historians believe that Iverson was intoxicated. When he ordered the brigade forward, he shouted, "Give them hell!" He then watched them advance alone while he stayed in the rear. The brigade advanced against the line of Federals who were crouched behind a stone wall. They lost 900 men in a very short period of time. The brigadier then cursed his men as cowards after the attack failed. Iverson had only 500 men left in his brigade, but Lee relieved him from command of the brigade for the remainder of the battle. 
       The men fell in a nearly straight line and were buried on the spot. After the battle, once the bodies decayed, the ground sank and locals called these spots 'Iverson's Pits'. A veteran returned after the war and dug into these pits finding buttons, bullets and teeth. It was all that remained of Iverson's men. 

Iverson's Pits

       General Lee later made Iverson the temporary provost marshall of his army, which removed him from combat command. Lee then sent Iverson back to Georgia to organize a cavalry brigade. Iverson then took command of a division of Joseph Wheeler's cavalry during Sherman's Atlanta Campaign. 
       Iverson did manage to defeat a larger command of Federal cavalry at this time. Major General George Stoneman and a large portion of his command were captured by Iverson. This meant that Iverson captured the highest ranking Federal officer captured during the war. 

George Stoneman

       Iverson became a business man in Macon, Georgia following the war, but soon moved to Florida where he began to farm oranges. He moved back to Atlanta to live with his daughter and died there in 1911. He rests today in Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta, Georgia. 

Alfred Iverson years after the war

       Numerous stories have been written about Alfred Iverson. One is about a soldier who seeks revenge on Iverson for the murder of so many North Carolina soldiers at Gettysburg. There are several stories surrounding the burial trench that became known as Iverson's Pits. One colonel who was lay mortally wounded after the assault at Gettysburg stated that he would make sure that his men would never have to serve under the imbecile Iverson again. One North Carolina soldier wrote that Iverson sent his brigade ahead "Unwarned, unled as a brigade, went forward Iverson's deserted band to its doom." 

Iverson's Grave in Atlanta, Georgia


1 comment:

  1. sounds like not to good of a general, good blog, good research, thanks