Dixon S. Miles

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U.S. Colonel Dixon S. Miles

Dixon Stansbury Miles (May 4, 1804–September 16, 1862) was an officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War.[1] He commanded a division in the First Battle of Bull Run.[2] He was the commander of the Federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry during the Battle of Harpers Ferry.[2] He died from shrapnel wounds the day after the Union garrison surrendered.[2]

Early career[change | change source]

Miles was born in Baltimore, Maryland on May 4, 1804.[3] He was a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point from June 24, 1819, to July 1, 1824.[4] He was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in the 7th Infantry Regiment.[4] Nine years later Miles was promoted to first lieutenant in 1833 and captain in 1836.[5] He served as Assistant Quartermaster from January 16, 1839 to September 30, 1845.[4] In 1846, he served in the Mexican–American War.[4] At the Siege of Fort Texas he was cited for Gallantry and "Meritorious Conduct" in the defense of Fort Texas and was promoted to the rank of major.[4]

Civil War[change | change source]

Miles had achieved the rank of Colonel by 1859.[3] He was stationed at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas when the Civil War began.[3] He was sent to Virginia and placed in command of an infantry brigade under Major general Robert Patterson. Then he was given command of a division under Brigadier general Irvin McDowell.[1] He was at First Battle of Bull Run, but his division was held in reserve. He was then accused of being drunk at the battle.[a] A Court of Inquiry was held and he was found guilty.[3] A court-martial was not held. But Miles was not given another command until March 1862.

Harpers Ferry[change | change source]

At the time he was assigned to the Harpers Ferry Armory, he was 58 years old; the oldest colonel in the Union Army.[7] Miles arrived to take command in the spring of 1862.[8] In 1861 the armory had been burned by Confederates.[8] The town's remaining houses, mills and churches served as hospitals, barracks and stables.[9] Most of the population was gone. But it was still an important base of supply for the Union.[9] By September 1862, Miles had 14,000 men at Harpers Ferry.[9] On September 12, 1862 Brigadier general Julius White arrived.[7] But because he had no military experience, Colonel Miles remained in command.[7] On September 5, Miles had been given very specific orders by his superior, Major general John E. Wool, "you will not abandon Harpers Ferry without defending it to the last extremity."[7] As if the message was not specific enough, Wool sent another saying "there must be no abandoning of a post, and shoot the first man that thinks of it". Miles wired back saying he was ready for them.[7] [b] But for some reason Miles insisted on keeping most of the troops near the town instead of taking up commanding positions on the surrounding heights.

As Confederate General Robert E. Lee moved North in his Maryland Campaign of 1862, he split his forces. Lee sent Major General (CSA) Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson to capture and hold Harpers Ferry. His troops found the heights unguarded and placed artillery in a position to bombard the town. Early on September 15, Miles gathered his officers together. They were surrounded and nearly out of ammunition. At around 9:00 a.m., white flags were raised by the Union troops indicating their surrender. A few minutes later a Confederate shell exploded mortally wounding Miles. He died the next day. General White, the second in command, arranged for the surrender. It was the largest capture of Union soldiers during the war. Jackson captured over 12,700 men, 13,000 arms and 47 artillery pieces.[8] Miles was blamed for the surrender.

Notes[change | change source]

  1. A charge he denied.[6] In an article in the Washington Star, published August 5, 1861, he answered all the charges against him saying all were false.[6]
  2. The location of Harpers Ferry made it easy to attack and very hard to defend.[9] It was surrounded on all sides by steep cliffs.[9]

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 "Dixon Stansbury Miles". Antietam on the Web. Retrieved 30 June 2016.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Dixon S. Miles". Civil War Trust. Retrieved 30 June 2016.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 "Dixon Stansbury Miles". Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. Retrieved 30 June 2016.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Bill Thayer. "Class of 1824". George W. Cullum's Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, since its establishment in 1802. University of Chicago. Retrieved 30 June 2016.
  5. Francis Bernard Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army: From its Organization, September 29, 1789, to March 2, 1903, Vol 1 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1903), p. 708
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Reply Of Col. Dixon S. Miles To Col. Richardson". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 June 2016.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Byron Farwell, Stonewall: A Biography of General Thomas J. Jackson (New York: W.W. Norton, 1992), p. 431
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 "1862 Battle of Harpers Ferry". Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. Retrieved 30 June 2016.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 "Ten Facts about Harpers Ferry". Civil War Trust. Retrieved 30 June 2016.