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Oliver Otis Howard
November 8, 1830(1830-11-08) – October 26, 1909 (aged 78)
Oliver O. Howard
Portrait of Oliver O. Howard by Mathew Brady, during the Civil War
Place of birth Leeds, Maine
Place of death Burlington, Vermont
Place of burial Lake View Cemetery, Burlington, Vermont
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Union Army
Years of service 1854–94
Rank Major General
Commands held XI Corps
Army of the Tennessee
Freedmen's Bureau
United States Military Academy
Battles/wars American Civil War

Indian Wars

Awards Thanks of Congress
Medal of Honor
Other work President, Howard University

Oliver Otis Howard (November 8, 1830 – October 26, 1909) was a career United States Army officer and a Union General in the American Civil War. He was a corps commander noted for suffering two humiliating defeats, at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, but he recovered from the setbacks while posted in the Western Theater, and served there successfully as a corps and army commander. After the war, he commanded troops in the West, conducting a famous campaign against the Nez Perce tribe. He was instrumental in the founding of Howard University.


Early years

Howard was born in Leeds, Maine, the son of Rowland Bailey Howard and Eliza Otis Howard. Rowland, a farmer, died when Oliver was 9 years old.[1] Oliver attended Monmouth Academy in Monmouth, North Yarmouth Academy in Yarmouth,[2] Kents Hill School in Readfield,[3] and graduated from Bowdoin College in 1850 at the age of 19. He then attended the United States Military Academy, graduating in 1854, fourth in his class of 46 cadets, as a brevet second lieutenant of ordnance. He served at the Watervliet Arsenal near Troy, New York, and was the temporary commander of the Kennebec Arsenal in Augusta, Maine. In 1855, he married Elizabeth Anne Waite, with whom he would have seven children. In 1857 he was transferred to Florida for the Seminole Wars. It was in Florida that he experienced a conversion to evangelical Christianity and considered resigning from the Army to become a minister. His religious proclivities would later earn him the nickname "the Christian general." Howard returned to West Point in September 1857 to become an instructor of mathematics and the following year he was promoted to first lieutenant. As the Civil War began with the surrender of Fort Sumter, thoughts of the Ministry were put aside and he decided to remain in the service of his country.[4]

Civil War

Howard was appointed colonel of the 3rd Maine Infantry regiment[5] and temporarily commanded a brigade at the First Battle of Bull Run. He was promoted to brigadier general effective September 3, 1861, and given permanent command of his brigade. He then joined Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan's Army of the Potomac for the Peninsula Campaign.

On June 1, 1862, while commanding a Union brigade in the Fair Oaks, Howard was wounded twice in his right arm, which was subsequently amputated. (He was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1893 for his heroism at Fair Oaks.) Brig. Gen. Philip Kearny, who had lost his left arm, visited Howard and joked that they would be able to shop for gloves together. Howard recovered quickly enough to rejoin the army for the Battle of Antietam, in which he rose to division command in the II Corps. He was promoted to major general in November 1862 and assumed command of the XI Corps the following April. In that role, he replaced Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel. Since the corps was composed largely of German immigrants, many of whom spoke no English, the soldiers were resentful of their new leader and openly called for Sigel's reinstatement.

At the Battle of Chancellorsville, Howard suffered the first of two significant military setbacks. On May 2, 1863, his corps was on the right flank of the Union line, northwest of the crossroads of Chancellorsville. Robert E. Lee and Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson created an audacious plan in which Jackson's entire corps would march secretly around the Union flank and attack it. Howard was warned by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, now commanding the Army of the Potomac, that his flank was "in the air", not anchored by a natural obstacle, such as a river, and that Confederate forces might be on the move in his direction. Howard failed to heed the warning and Jackson struck before dark, routing the XI Corps and causing a serious disruption to the Union plan.

Monument to Howard in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

At the Battle of Gettysburg, the XI Corps, still chastened by its humiliation in May, arrived on the field in the afternoon of July 1, 1863. Poor positioning of the defensive line by one of Howard's subordinate division commanders, Brig. Gen. Francis C. Barlow, was exploited by the Confederate Corps of Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell and once again the XI Corps was routed, forcing it to retreat through the streets of Gettysburg, leaving many prisoners behind. On Cemetery Hill, south of town, Howard quarreled with Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock about who was in command of the defense. Hancock had been sent by Maj. Gen. George G. Meade with written orders to take command, but Howard insisted that he was the ranking general present. Eventually he relented. He started circulating the story that his corps' failure had actually been triggered by the collapse of Maj. Gen. Abner Doubleday's I Corps to the west, but this excuse was never accepted at the time or by history—the reverse was actually true—and the reputation of the XI Corps was ruined. Howard should get some credit for the eventual success at Gettysburg because he wisely stationed one of his divisions (Maj. Gen. Adolph von Steinwehr) on Cemetery Hill as a reserve and critical backup defensive line. For the remainder of the three-day battle, the corps remained on the defensive around Cemetery Hill, withstanding assaults by Maj. Gen. Jubal Early on July 2, and participating at the margin of the defense against Pickett's Charge on July 3,.

Howard and his corps were transferred to the Western Theater to become part of the Army of the Cumberland in Tennessee. In the Battle of Chattanooga, the corps joined the impulsive assault that captured Missionary Ridge and forced the retreat of Gen. Braxton Bragg. In July 1864, following the death of Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson, Howard became commander of the Army of the Tennessee, fought in the Atlanta Campaign, and led the right wing of Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's famous March to the Sea, through Georgia and then the Carolinas. Sherman, having favored Howard over John A. Logan for command of the Army of the Tennessee after McPherson's death, asked Howard to allow Logan to lead the army in the May 1865 Grand Review in Washington. Howard agreed when Sherman appealed to him as a Christian gentleman.


Howard in 1893 at Governor's Island

From May 1865 to July 1874, General Howard was commissioner of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. He was placed in command of the Department of the Columbia in 1874, went west to Washington Territory's Fort Vancouver, where he fought in the Indian Wars, particularly against the Nez Perce, with the resultant surrender of Chief Joseph. In Chief Joseph's famous 1879 Washington, D.C., speech, he claimed, "If General Howard had given me plenty of time to gather up my stock and treated Too-hool-hool-suit as a man should be treated, there would have been no war." Subsequently, Howard was superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1881–82. He served as commander of the Department of the Platte from 1882 to 1884. He retired from the United States Army in 1894 with the rank of major general.


Howard University

Howard ca. 1908

General Howard is also remembered for playing a role in founding Howard University, which was incorporated by Congress in 1867.[6] The school is nonsectarian and is open to both sexes without regard to race. As commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau, Howard was known for promoting the welfare and education of former slaves, freedmen, and war refugees. On November 20, 1866, ten members, including Howard, of various socially concerned groups of the time met in Washington, D.C., to discuss plans for a theological seminary to train colored ministers. Interest was sufficient, however, in creating an educational institute for areas other than the ministry. The result was the Howard Normal and Theological Institute for the Education of Preachers and Teachers. On January 8, 1867, the Board of Trustees voted to change the name of the institution to Howard University. Howard served as president from 1869 to 1874. He was quoted in saying "The opposition to Negro education made itself felt everywhere in a combination not to allow the freedmen any room or building in which a school might be taught. In 1865, 1866, and 1877 mobs of the baser classes at intervals and in all parts of the South occasionally burned school buildings and churches used as schools, flogged teachers or drove them away, and in a number of instances murdered them."[7] He also founded Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee, in 1895, for the education of the "mountain whites."

Death and memorialization

Oliver Howard died in Burlington, Vermont, and is buried there in Lake View Cemetery.

A bust of Howard designed by artist James E. Kelly is on display at Howard University. An impressive equestrian statue is on East Cemetery Hill on the Gettysburg Battlefield. A dormitory at Bowdoin College is named for Howard.

The Oliver O. Howard Relief Corps of the Grand Army of the Republic provided funds to help destitute former Union soldiers and to support worthy public causes. It contributed money and the design for the State Flag of Utah in 1922.

An Army Reserve Center was named after him in Auburn, Maine, and is still used today by several U.S. Army Reserve units.

Howard High School of Technology in Wilmington, Delaware, is named in his honor.[8]

Howard County, Nebraska, is named in his honor.[9]

Howard School of Academics and Technology, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is named in his honor.

Selected works

Howard was the author of numerous books after the war, including Donald's School Days (1878), Nez Perce Joseph (1881), General Taylor (1892), Isabella of Castile (1894), Autobiography (1907), and My Life and Experiences among Our Hostile Indians (1907).

In popular media

In the 1950 film Broken Arrow, Howard is played by Basil Ruysdael opposite James Stewart, who portrays Tom Jeffords. In the 1956 film The Last Wagon, he was portrayed by Carl Benton Reid.

James Whitmore portrayed General Howard in the 1975 television film, I Will Fight No More Forever, about the U.S. Army campaign against the Nez Perce and the surrender of Chief Joseph in 1877.

Medal of Honor citation

Rank and organization: Brigadier General, U.S. Volunteers. Place and date: At Fair Oaks, Va., June 1, 1862. Entered service at: Maine. Born: November 8, 1830, Leeds, Maine. Date of issue: March 29, 1893.


Led the 61st New York Infantry in a charge in which he was twice severely wounded in the right arm, necessitating amputation.

See also


  • Cimbala, Paul A., "Oliver Otis Howard", Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History, Heidler, David S., and Heidler, Jeanne T., eds., W. W. Norton & Company, 2000, ISBN 0-393-04758-X.
  • Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • Tagg, Larry, The Generals of Gettysburg, Savas Publishing, 1998, ISBN 1-882810-30-9.
  • Warner, Ezra J., Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders, Louisiana State University Press, 1964, ISBN 0-8071-0822-7.


  1. ^ Tagg, p. 121.
  2. ^ Warner, p. 237; Oliver Otis Howard, In the Beginning, Bowdoin Orient website.
  3. ^ Kent's Hill Notables, Rootsweb.
  4. ^ Cimbala, pp. 1008-10.
  5. ^ Eicher, p. 306.
  6. ^ "Brief History". Howard University. Retrieved 2008-01-19. 
  7. ^ Moore, Robert B. Reconstruction the promise and betrayal of democracy. New York, N.Y: CIBC, 1983.
  8. ^ National Historic Landmark Nomination by Flavia W. Rutkosky and Robin Bodo, January 5, 2004.
  9. ^ Nebraska Association of County Officials website

External links

Military offices
Preceded by
John Sedgwick
Commander of the II Corps
January 26, 1863 - February 5, 1863
Succeeded by
Darius N. Couch
Preceded by
Gordon Granger
Commander of the IV Corps
April 10, 1864 - July 27, 1864
Succeeded by
David S. Stanley
Preceded by
Carl Schurz
Commander of the XI Corps
April 2, 1863 - July 1, 1863
Succeeded by
Carl Schurz
Preceded by
Carl Schurz
Commander of the XI Corps
July 1, 1863 - September 25, 1863
Succeeded by
Army of the Cumberland
Preceded by
Army of the Potomac
Commander of the XI Corps (Army of the Cumberland)
September 25, 1863 - January 21, 1864
Succeeded by
Carl Schurz
Preceded by
Carl Schurz
Commander of the XI Corps (Army of the Cumberland)
February 25, 1864 - April 10, 1864
Succeeded by
Preceded by
John Schofield
Superintendents of the United States Military Academy
Succeeded by
Wesley Merritt


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