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Major General Horatio Gouverneur Wright's grave enjoys a prominence in Arlington Cemetery that far exceeds his fame today, and that contrasts with the modest way he lived his life. The image of that grave, found elsewhere on this website, shows something of its appearance, including a not very distinct bas relief portrait of the general and the lack of any legend giving the name of the man who lies there. What the photograph does not disclose is its size and location, both of which make it one of the most visible in Arlington. Nearly everyone who has visited the John F. Kennedy gravesite has glimpsed it, as Wright's marker is one of two, prominent massive monuments visible on the hillside just below Arlington House's portico. Both mark graves of important Union generals. On one monument, one can easily read the word 'SHERIDAN' in metal letters imbedded in the stone. A bronze, flag draped medallion displays Philip H. Sheridan's familiar likeness. The monument opposite it, equal in size but of a different shape, is Horatio Wright's.

Although his monument ranks with Sheridan's, Wright's renown does not. A book about the Civil War has been published for every day since the end of the conflict, yet not a single biography, monograph, or article has focused on Wright. Just the breadth of his war experience invites attention. Wright fought the Civil War as an engineer, as a War Department insider, as a recruiting officer, as a commander in amphibious operations in the deep south, as a major department head in the Midwest, and as a senior infantry commander through the bloody final two years of the Army of the Potomac's existence. He watched the war come from his top staff position in the War Department, fought in the first battle of Bull Run, played a major role in turning back Gen. Braxton Bragg's 1862 invasion of Kentucky, fought at Gettysburg, and saw the war end at Appomattox Court House. Wright's war record outshines many who have received greater attention. He was captured once, and while serving as a major general, was twice wounded. At the July 12, 1864 battle of Fort Stevens, Wright's thoughtless invitation that President Lincoln join him on the parapet came nearly caused a disaster for the Union cause. Twice, at Rappahannock Station in 1863 and at Petersburg in 1865, he directly commanded troops that broke formidable Army of Northern Virginia fortifications and completely routed the defenders, a claim few generals could make. Most striking, few know how, under the most confusing of circumstances, Wright's personal heroism and sound decisions enabled Sheridan to win his signal victory at the battle of Cedar Creek.

Wright's absence from the war's general literature becomes more curious given that his contemporaries described him with superlatives. Within a month of starting his 1864 campaign against the Army of Northern Virginia, Ulysses S. Grant wrote Wright was "one of the most meritorious officers in the service and with opportunity will demonstrate his fitness for any position." To George G. Meade, Wright was an "excellent officer." Grant's Chief of Staff, Brig. Gen. John A. Rawlins, described him as "accomplished" and "able." Meade's aide, Col. Theodore Lyman, termed Wright "a sterling soldier." A Sixth Corps surgeon, George Stevens,dedicated the second edition of his book, Three Years in the Sixth Corps, to Wright, describing him as a "Brave, Honored, and Able Leader." Wright was "distinguished both for gallantry and ability" according to Col. Elisha Hunt Rhodes of the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry.

The artist and journalist James Taylor, who observed him during the 1864 Shenandoah Valley campaign, described Wright as having "a rounded face of florid hue with puffy cheeks and bulging forehead" with brown curly hair and a mustache and goatee of a lighter shade. Nearly six feet tall, and stout, he was characterized as courtly, formal, and kind. The most cited, description of him came from a subordinate, Brig. Gen. Warren Keifer. Wright's "characteristics as a soldier were of the unassuming, sturdy, solid kindnever pyrotechnic," Keifer recalled more than 35 years after they served together. "He was modest, and not specially ambitious."

Though Keifer thought him "ideally suited to command infantry," Wright appeared to have seen himself as an engineer doing his duty as a soldier before returning to quieter duties. By not writing memoirs or articles, and by not leaving papers to any institution, he contributed to his own obscurity. His distaste for what he described late in life as the "disease" of "love of newspaper fame" assured that he would not receive prominent mention in contemporary journalistic accounts. Wright failed to write several of his official reports for such a meticulous officer and those he did write are seldom quoted. Few with whom he served wrote anything substantive about Wright, and the most complete description, that penned by Warren Keifer did not appear until the year after his death.

A final cause of that obscurity lies in the character of the man. "My beau ideal of a soldier," Meade, hardly overgenerous with praise, wrote of the cadet who had finished first in conduct in the West Point Class of 1841. Recollections of him most often remark on his courtesy, calm, and good character under all circumstances. Buchanan Read, the author of "Sheridan's Ride," in a January 1863 newspaper account, summed up this view, calling Wright "a General whose gentlemanly bearing in all capacities makes him an ornament to the American army." As a gentleman and as a soldier, Wright could not, and would not, call attention to himself, and that included promoting his accomplishments during and after the war.

In 1890, when they were both old men, Jubal Early replied to a letter from Horatio Wright asking for copies of his autobiography, apparently for a charitable auction. After responding to that request, Early launched abruptly into a discussion of the 1864 Valley campaign. There had been "very curious stories [told] about that campaign in the valley especially about the Battle of Cedar Creek," Early told Wright. That is perhaps as close as Early could come to acknowledge that neither aging warrior had received the credit he was due. Early continues in that same letter to do what he did throughout his post-war career: refute accounts told by others and augment his own contentions. Wright's letter does not survive, but one must assume that he remained silent, as he seldom explained what he did or why.

And so Wright remains forgotten, his solitary reminder a monument on Arlington Heights erected by the Sixth Corps veterans who knew what they and their commander had achieved. Horatio Wright's grave lies on the ridge he helped seize, facing the Washington monument he helped build, seen by millions but noticed by only a few.

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