Alfred Iverson, Jr.'s way had been paved by his father, Alfred Iverson, Sr. The elder Iverson was a former Senator from Georgia, one of the earliest, most fiery advocates of secession, and a close friend of fellow former Senator Jefferson Davis. Senator Iverson decided on a military career for his son, and began by sending young Alfred to school at the military institute at Muskegee, Alabama. Then, when Alfred, Jr. was seventeen, the Mexican War began. The Senator quickly raised and equipped a Georgia volunteer regiment for the war, took his son out of school, and commissioned the teenager to serve in the war as 2nd lieutenant in the regiment.
With his pedigree and Mexican War experience, the young Iverson was commissioned directly into the U.S. Army as a 1st lieutenant of cavalry in 1855. He served in "Bloody Kansas" in the late 1850's. When the South seceded in 1861, Alfred, now thirty-two years old, resigned from the U.S. Army and received a commission from his father's old friend, President Davis, as colonel of the 20th North Carolina.
Iverson's 20th was stationed in North Carolina until it was called to the Peninsula in June 1862. There, in his first action at the battle of Gaines' Mill, Iverson demonstrated promise as an officer. Division commander Maj. Gen. D.H. Hill sent five regiments to storm a troublesome enemy battery, but it was Iverson's alone which reached the battery and captured it, allowing the rest of the Hill's division to move forward. Iverson himself was seriously wounded early in the charge, and the regiment suffered 272 casualties, second among Rebel regiments that day. Unfortunately for the Confederate cause, Iverson's first distinguished performance would be his last in the Army of Northern Virginia.
Iverson recovered in time to lead the regiment at South Mountain in September, where the entire brigade skedaddled after brigade leader Brig. Gen. Samuel Garland went down with a mortal wound. Three days later at the Battle of Sharpsburg, the shaky brigade broke and ran again, though Iverson rallied his regiment later in the day. None of this was to Iverson's credit, but it didn't slow his rise through the ranks.
As a result of the brigade's poor performance at Sharpburg under Col. D.K. McRae, Lee was open to suggestions for a more suitable commander for Garland's brigade. It was probably as a result of pressure from patrons in high places that Alfred Iverson was determined to be that man, promoted to brigadier general, and placed in command of the brigade in the army reorganization of November 1862 (prompting McRae, Iverson's senior, to resign in disgust). Iverson was in command of the brigade for the first time at the Battle of Fredericksburg, but there the brigade was held in reserve and the new brigadier was not put to the test.
Iverson's relationship with the 20th North Carolina had been an exception to the rule which says a regiment always falls in love with its first colonel. The field officers of the 20th had never liked Iverson much, and Iverson reciprocated the feeling. When he was promoted to brigade command, Iverson tried to import a friend from outside the regiment to take his place as colonel of the 20th. Outraged, 26 field officers of the regiment signed a protest. When Iverson refused to forward the petition, the aggrieved officers disregarded the proper channels and sent it over his head to the Adjutant and Inspector General. On December 27, 1862, Iverson retaliated by sending an aide to put all 26 officers under arrest. The officers eventually remained in their positions and Iverson's friend was not placed as the new colonel, but Iverson continued to fuel the feud all winter by rejecting all subsequent appointees to the post.
Iverson had problems with his superiors as well as his subordinates. He tried his privileged status on the wrong man in February 1863 when he insisted to corps commander Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson that he must have a furlough and that if he could not get it, he would have to resign. Jackson promptly replied that while it would be unfortunate for Iverson to resign, he would rather Iverson do that than approve a furlough when a battle might be fought at any time. Iverson's bluff had been called, and he stayed put.
At Chancellorsville, Iverson's brigade was posted on the far left of the first line of Jackson's monumental flank attack. Driving the fleeing Federals before him, Iverson lost 470 men fighting in the baffling woodland of the Wilderness, but Doles and Ramseur on the right were the brigade leaders who won favorable notice. Iverson worsened the bad feeling between him and his men when he went to the rear to get support for his left flank during the fighting--his officers concluded he was shirking, and the bad blood in the brigade's command was stirred again.
As Lee's army invaded Pennsylvania in the weeks after Chancellorsville, whispers that Iverson's advancement had been the result of family influence were unabated, especially in his own command. With so much rancor seething in his regiments, the general's one noteworthy performance--in those short moments at Gaines' Mill a year before--was forgotten. Trouble in the next battle might have been foreseen.
| On July 1 at Gettysburg the Senator's son showed clearly that he was
unequal to the job of leading a brigade. Iverson's men led the march of
Rodes's division onto the crest of Oak Hill about 1 o'clock in the afternoon.
Seeing the opportunity offered by having arrived squarely on the flank of the
Union First Corps on Seminary Ridge, Rodes quickly shook out his first three
brigades into a battle line--Iverson was on the right, from Oak Hill to the
Mummasburg Road. Unsure about exactly when to advance, Iverson did not
coordinate with the more impetuous Col. E.A. O'Neal on his left. O'Neal
attacked first and quickly suffered a bloody repulse.|
When Iverson started forward around 2:30 P.M., things went awry at once. First, he committed the unpardonable sin for a brigadier of not going forward with his brigade. With the words "Give them hell," he sent his men ahead while he himself stayed in the rear, where he was unable to correct what soon proved to be a fatally flawed alignment. Worse, Iverson ordered his men forward without reconnoitering the ground ahead or putting out skirmishers. Thus "Unwarned, unled as a brigade, went forward Iverson's deserted band to its doom," wrote the scribe of the North Carolina regiments. Iverson's men veered toward a stone wall, and Brig. Gen. Henry Baxter's entire Union brigade rose up from behind it and ambushed the surprised Confederates, pouring in a deadly fire at point-blank range. In the initial volley, about 500 men of Iverson's men fell in a straight line. It was perhaps the most intense one-sided minute of slaughter in the War. Many North Carolinians who didn't fall in the first volleys waved white handkerchiefs and were quickly taken prisoner. Iverson reportedly "went to pieces and became unfit for further command." A captain rallied some of the men and led them until the Federals had been chased through Gettysburg. At that point Iverson attached his remnants to Ramseur's command. For the rest of the battle, he was without authority, and his men were not again engaged.
Some of his officers and men refused to serve with Iverson after Gettysburg. One colonel, as he lay dying from a mortal wound, told some of his men he would make sure that "the imbecile Iverson" would never lead them into battle again. Lee agreed. When the army had retreated across the Potomac, Iverson was given the post of temporary provost marshal--a polite way of removing him from command. In late July, he was transferred for a while to Nicholls's Brigade, but in October, Lee quietly removed him from the army, ordering him back to Georgia to organize cavalry.
For further reading:
Derry, Joseph T. Georgia, Vol. 6 of Confederate Military History. ed. by Clement A. Evans. Atlanta, 1899. Vol. 7 of extended ed. Wilmington, 1987
Krick, Robert K."Failures of Brigade Leadership." in Gary Gallagher, ed., The First Day at Gettysburg, Kent, 1992