Crawford was a man very full of himself, never shy about taking full credit for his own and others' achievements on the battlefield. He was forty-four, "a tall, chesty, glowering man, with heavy eyes, a big nose and bushy whiskers," as one of his comrades remembered him, who "wore habitually a turn-out-the-guard expression." This description did not do justice to his spectacular sideburns, which reached all the way to his shoulders. He was quite showy, mounted on a handsome "blood bay" horse given to him by Major General William S. Rosecrans. Joshua Chamberlain described him with a slightly acid tone as "a conscientious gentleman, having the entré at all headquarters, somewhat lofty of manner, not of the iron fiber, nor spring of steel, but punctilious in a way, obeying orders in a certain literal fashion that saved him the censure of superiors--a pet of his State, and likewise, we thought, of Meade and Warren, judging from the attention they always gave him--possibly not quite fairly estimated by his colleagues as a military man . . . ."
He had an unusual background for a division commander in the Union Army. Born in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, just across South Mountain from Gettysburg, he studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and became an army surgeon, serving the decade of the 1850's at posts in the West. He happened to be garrisoned at Fort Sumter as the post surgeon when the Confederates shelled the fort in 1861. Posted at a loaded cannon during the historic bombardment, he assumed command of several guns. Perhaps this sudden introduction to combat stirred something in him, because a month later he quit the medical corps to accept a commission as major in a Regular Army regiment. After a quiet year in the East, he was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers in April 1862. In May he was assigned to Banks's small army in the Shenandoah Valley and given a brigade toward the end of the Shenandoah Valley campaign. There he marched, countermarched, and sent many messages but did no fighting.
As Banks's men were moving to join the Army of Virginia under John Pope, Crawford led his new brigade at the Battle of Cedar Mountain. Crawford's men, lying undetected in thick woods, burst suddenly upon the Confederate left, routing a division which included the Stonewall Brigade, already legendary for never having been driven from a field. The attack went unsupported, however, and the Rebels counterattacked, smashing Crawford's brigade, driving it back and inflicting 50 per cent casualties, including every field officer in three of its regiments. Division commander Brig. Gen. A.S. Williams reported that Crawford was among the last of his brigade to retreat.
An interesting meeting occurred the day after Cedar Mountain. During a truce for burying the dead, Crawford met Rebel cavalry chief "Jeb" Stuart, whom he had known in the Old Army, on the field. Stuart bet Crawford a hat that the Federals would claim that Cedar Mountain had been a Union victory. In due time, under a flag of truce, a hat had arrived at the outpost for Stuart and with it a copy of a New York paper that proclaimed a triumph for Pope in that action. That hat shortly gained notoriety when it was captured in a Union cavalry raid that nearly netted Stuart himself at the start of the Second Bull Run Campaign.
Crawford briefly succeeded to command of his division at Antietam when General Williams took the place of the mortally wounded Maj. Gen. Joseph Mansfield at the head of the Twelfth Corps. Crawford's stint as division commander was brief, however--a bullet hit him in the outside of his right thigh shortly after he took command. He stayed on the field until he became weak from loss of blood and had to be carried off. He was taken to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania to convalesce at his father's house. The bullet was removed, but the wound failed to heal properly for eight months.
When he was finally ready to return to the field in May 1863, he was given command of the Pennsylvania Reserve Division in the defenses of Washington. The following month Crawford marched out of the capital with two brigades of the division when they were stripped from the Washington forts and added to the Army of the Potomac for the Gettysburg campaign. He thus found himself the successor to Maj. Gens. John Reynolds and George Meade, the distinguished former leaders of the Pennsylvania Reserves, and charged with the solemn task of leading the Reserve Division in the defense of their home state.
Crawford was trained as a surgeon, not a soldier, however, and had only led a division in battle for a few moments nine months before, at Antietam. He had been out of action for those nine months. Nor was he familiar with his command, having been placed at the head of the Pennsylvania Reserves for the first time only five weeks before Gettysburg. If he wasn't a particularly skilled officer, he was at least a good cheerleader. The march north was hard for everybody, but especially hard on the tenderfooted Reserves, who had just spent six months sitting in the Washington forts. Just short of the line marking Pennsylvania soil, Crawford halted the division and made a fiery patriotic speech. They then crossed over into their Pennsylvania home with bands playing and the men cheering.
| A day and a half later, at about noon on July 2, Crawford and his
division brought up the rear as Maj. Gen. George Sykes led the Fifth Corps
across Rock Creek and into Union lines. The Reserves camped near Power's Hill
and had their first good meal in three days.|
That afternoon about 4:00, Crawford's division was last in line hurrying toward the position Sykes had just been assigned, on the Union left. Arriving north of Little Round Top, Crawford waited in reserve, and soon an order arrived from Sykes to send a brigade to the left to help Vincent on Little Round Top. Crawford sent Fisher's brigade, which crossed Little Round Top and went into line on Vincent's left, where, as it turned out, the fighting was already over for the day.
Crawford stayed with McCandless's brigade, which was forming for battle just north of Little Round Top looking west into the Plum Run valley, and waited for the streams of retreating Federals to pass back through his line before he started forward.
The Confederate charge which had been sweeping everything before it for the previous two hours had finally spent itself, and the remnants of three or four different Southern brigades halted at Plum Run in front of Crawford's men. The Rebels immediately saw the folly of going any farther against the seemingly endless supply of Yankee reinforcements that kept appearing on every ridge in front of them, and retired with dignity.
Before the Southerners had all gone, Crawford made another patriotic speech, and with a "hurrah" McCandless's brigade rushed down the hill into the valley. Crawford fought off the color-bearer of one of his regiments (who apparently didn't recognize him), grabbed the regimental flag and personally led the Reserves down the slope. Charging on either side were the men of Nevins's Sixth Corps brigade. Crawford and his men didn't meet much head-on resistance, and when the Pennsylvania men closed up at the stone wall on the opposite side of the half-mile wide valley, they declined to chase the Confederates further. They stayed at the wall that night, elated knowing they had put an end to an attack that had threatened the entire army, and the Union.
Casualties had been light--210 for the entire division--but Crawford gloried afterward in his association with the defense of Little Round Top, losing few opportunities to describe his exploits there with extravagant heroic sentiments. In his reports he habitually ignored the help given to him by other commands. After the war Frank Wheaton commented wryly on Crawford's selfishness: "Crawford's innate modesty never prevented his appropriating his full share of all that was done by his own division and by [Nevins's Sixth Corps brigade] that afternoon at Gettysburg." Though Crawford's men actually only attacked a small contingent Longstreet's men on July 2, he later claimed that he had "completely surprised and routed" most of Hood's division. A few months after Gettysburg, Crawford had the nerve to ask George Sykes to confirm claims which overstated Crawford's division's achievements to the detriment of Sykes's old Regular Division. Sykes refused Crawford's request, blisteringly. Crawford's attempts to garner acclaim not due him reached a pathetic state when, after the war, he offered former Confederate Maj. Gen. McLaws "a grade in the army" in exchange for a written acknowledgment that the Pennsylvania Reserves had driven back his forces on July 2nd. McLaws declined.
Crawford continued in command of the Pennsylvania Reserve Division until, in February 1865, he was no longer able to remain in the saddle on account of wounds.