Skip to content

Union Leaders: O. O. Howard

Oliver O. Howard (1830-1909)

Howard saw brief service in the Watervliet and Kennebec arsenals before becoming chief of ordnance in Florida during hostilities with the Seminoles (1857). He was promoted to 1LT 1 Jul ’57, returned to West Point as instructor in mathematics, and remained there until Jun ’61, when he resigned to become COL of the 3d Maine Infantry. Howard commanded a brigade at First Manassas (21 Jul ’61), and was promoted BG of vols 3 Sep ’61.

During the Peninsula Campaign Howard was wounded twice, losing his right arm at Fair Oaks (1 Jun ’62) and did not return to duty until 27 Aug. Returning to field service he commanded a brigade of the II Corps at Antietam (17 Sep ’62), assuming temporary command of the division after Sedgwick was wounded. Howard was promoted to MG of vols 29 Nov ’62, and commanded a division of the II Corps at Fredericksburg (13 Dec ’62).

Oliver O. Howard

On 1 Apr ’63 he was assigned command of the XI Corps, composed mostly of Germans- Americans. Because he had displaced the popular (at least among the Germans) MG Franz Sigel, Howard was generally disliked by his troops. In addition they were not impressed with his reputation as a great Biblical soldier, “the Havelock of the Army.” Having studied for the ministry in the Presbyterian Church, Howard was intensely pious and was a temperance leader. This led to friction between Howard and his commanding officer, Joe Hooker, whose reputation in the army was that of a profane and hard drinking womanizer. Hooker was not impressed with Howard’s moral philosophy, later stating that Howard was a good deal more qualified to “command a prayer meeting” than an army corps. At the Battle of Chancellorsville (1-4 May ’63), while Howard’s corps held the army’s right flank, Jackson’s corps struck the surprised XI Corps in the flank and rear and it. When Hooker was ultimately forced to withdraw from the battlefield, the XI Corps, specifically the Germans, was held responsible for the failure of the campaign.

On the first day at Gettysburg (1-3 Jul ’63) Howard’s XI Corps again held the right flank of the army and, as at Chancellorsville, was outflanked and routed. The remnants of the corps fell back to Cemetery Ridge.

On 24 Sep ’63 Howard’s corps was ordered to Tennessee and participated in the battles around Chattanooga. On 10 Apr ’64, after the XI and XII Corps’ were consolidated to form the XX Corps, he was placed in command of the IV Corps, Army of the Cumberland. He took part in the battles around Atlanta and in Jul ’64 was given command of the Army of the Tennessee, passing over Hooker, his senior in rank.

Howard and his command participated in the March to the Sea, the surrender of Savannah (21 Dec ’64), and the surrender of the Confederate Army under Johnston (26 Apr ’65).

On 12 May ’65 Howard was appointed commissioner of the newly established Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. He was instrumental in founding Howard University in Washington, D.C., and was its president from 1869 until 1874. In 1872 President Grant had sent Howard to the Southwest as a peace commissioner to the Apache Indians under Cochise (1872), with whom he concluded a treaty. In 1874 Howard commanded the Department of Columbia and in 1877 he commanded an Expedition against the Nez Perce Indians. The following year he was on an expedition against the Bannocks and Piutes. In 1881 he became superintendent of West Point and two years later took command of the Department of the Platte. Promoted MG in 1886 Howard commanded the Division of the East until his retirement in 1894.

Note: Biographical information comes from the U.S. Army Center for Military History Gettysburg Staff Ride book.

Posted in Civil War.

Read Comments