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Robert Cumming Schenck
October 4, 1809(1809-10-04) – March 23, 1890 (aged 80)
Robert C. Schenck.jpg
Robert Cumming Schenck (1809-1890)
Place of birth Franklin, Warren County, Ohio
Place of death Washington, D.C.
Place of burial Woodland Cemetery, Dayton, Ohio
Allegiance United States of America
Union
Service/branch Union Army
Rank Major General
Battles/wars American Civil War

Robert Cumming Schenck (October 4, 1809 – March 23, 1890) was a Union Army general in the American Civil War, and American diplomatic representative to Brazil and the United Kingdom. He was at both battles of Bull Run and took part in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862, and the Battle of Cross Keys. His eldest brother, James Findlay Schenck, was rear admiral of the United States Navy.

Contents

Early life and career

Schenck was born in Franklin, Warren County, Ohio to William Cortenius Schenck (1773-1821) and Elizabeth Rogers (1776-1853). William Schenck was descended from a prominent Dutch family and was born in Monmouth County, New Jersey. William Schenck was a land speculator and an important early settler of Ohio who had also been in the War of 1812 and, like his son, rose to the rank of general. He died when Robert was only twelve and the boy was put under the guardianship of General James Findlay.

In 1824, Robert Schenck entered Miami University as a sophomore and graduated with a bachelor of arts degree with honors in 1827, but remained in Oxford, Ohio, employing his time in reading, and as tutor of French and Latin, until 1830, when he received the degree of Master of Arts.

He began to study law under Thomas Corwin and was admitted to the bar in 1831. He moved to Dayton, Ohio and there rose to a commanding position in his profession. He was in partnership with Joseph Halsey Crane in the firm of Crane and Schenck for many years.

On August 21, 1834, Schenck was married to Miss Renelsche W. Smith (1811-1849) at Missequoque, Long Island, New York. Six children were born to the union, all girls. Three of them died in infancy. Three daughters survived him. His wife died of tuberculosis in 1849 in Dayton, Ohio.

His first foray into political life came in 1838 when he ran unsuccessfully for the State Legislature; he gained a term in 1841. In the Presidential campaign of 1840, he acquired the reputation of being one of the ablest speakers on the Whig side. He was elected to the United States Congress from his district in 1843, and re-elected in 1845, 1847 (when he was chairman of the Committee on Roads and Canals) and 1849. His first conspicuous work was to help repeal the gag rule that had long been used to prevent antislavery petitions being read on the floor of the house. He opposed the Mexican-American War as a war of aggression to further slavery.

He declined re-election in 1851, and, in March 1851, was appointed by President Millard Fillmore, Minister to Brazil and also accredited to Uruguay, Argentine Confederation, and Paraguay. He was directed by the Government to visit Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and Asunción, and make treaties with the republics around the La Plata and its tributaries. Several treaties were concluded with these governments by which the United States gained advantages never accorded to any European nation. The Democratic victory in 1852 caused the treaty of commerce with Uruguay to fail to be ratified by the United States Senate.

In 1854, Schenck returned to Ohio, and though sympathizing generally in the views of the Republican party, his personal antipathy to John C. Fremont was so strong, that he took no part in the election. He was building up a lucrative law practice, and was also President of the Fort Wayne Western Railroad Company. He became more in sympathy with the Republican party, and, in September 1859, Schenck delivered a speech in Dayton regarding the growing animosity within the country. In this speech, Schenck recommended that the Republican Party nominate Abraham Lincoln for the presidency.

This was, perhaps, the first public endorsement of Lincoln for the presidency. He supported Lincoln with great ardor at the Chicago Convention in 1860 and in the campaign that followed.

Civil War

When the attack was made on Fort Sumter, Schenck promptly tendered his services to the President. He later recalled his meeting with Lincoln:

"Lincoln sent for me and asked, 'Schenck what can you do to help me?' I said, 'Anything you want me to do. I am anxious to help you.' He asked, 'Can you fight?' I answered, 'I would try.' Lincoln said, 'Well, I want to make a general out of you.' I replied, 'I don't know about that Mr. President, you could appoint me as general but I might not prove to be one.' Then he did so and I went to war."

Schenck was commissioned Brigadier-General of Volunteers. Many West Point graduates sneered at political generals. Schenck had not been a military man, but he had been a diligent student of military science. In his first engagement on June 17, 1861, a reconnaissance by railroad cars, his troops were fired upon and several wounded as they approached the town of Vienna, Virginia. General Schenck disembarked his soldiers and attacked the enemy. The engineer ran off with the train, and left his little handful of men at the mercy of four or five times their number. But the enemy believed these troops the advance-guard of a large force, and they ran, instead of capturing the Union troops. General Scott's subsequent investigation into what had become known as "the Vienna affair," found it highly creditable to General Schenck, except the railroad part, which was attributed to General Daniel Tyler (a West Point officer). Nevertheless, the affair was used to discredit Schenck.

General Schenck's next appearance was at the First Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861, where he commanded a brigade in Gen. Daniel Tyler's division, and when the order for retreat was given, Gen. Schenck, forming his brigade, brought off the only portion of that great army that was not resolved into the original elements of a mob. He was subsequently in command under William Rosecrans in West Virginia, and under John C. Fremont in the Luray Valley. He took part in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862, the Battle of Cross Keys and was, for a time, commander of the First Army Corps, in General Franz Sigel's absence. Ordered to join the Army of Virginia, then under General John Pope, fighting at heavy odds against Lee's large army, he joined it just before the second Bull Run battle, and was in the thick of the fighting of the two days that followed, being severely wounded on the second day, and his right arm permanently injured. He was promoted to major general September 18, 1862 postdated from August 30, 1862.

He was unfit for field duty for six months, but was assigned to the command of the Middle Military Department, embracing the turbulent citizens of Maryland, repressing all turbulence and acts of disloyalty or any complicity with treason. General Schenck was not popular with the disloyal portion of the inhabitants of Maryland. In December 1863, he resigned his commission to take his seat in Congress.

Postbellum activities

Robert C. Schenck - Brady-Handy.jpg

He had been elected by a large majority over Copperhead Democrat Clement Vallandigham, from the Third Congressional District (Dayton) of Ohio. He was at once made House Chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs. It was said that in military matters he was the firm friend of the volunteer, as against what he thought the encroachments and assumptions of the regulars; the remorseless enemy of deserters; a vigorous advocate of the draft, and the author of the disfranchisement of those who ran away from it; the champion of the private soldiers and subordinate officers. He was re-elected to the Thirty-Eighth, Thirty-Ninth, Fortieth and Forty-First Congresses, and from his position was a leader of the House, including service as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

Failing re-election by just fifty-three votes in 1870, Schenck was appointed by President Ulysses Grant as Minister to the United Kingdom, and he sailed for England in July 1871. As a member on the Alabama Claims Commission, he took part in settling the claims arising from the exploits of Raphael Semmes and his Confederate raider.

At a royal party in Somerset, Ambassador Schenck was attending a reception hosted by Queen Victoria, when he was persuaded to write down his rules for poker by a duchess. She privately printed the rules for her court. Although several American books had previously discussed the game, this was the first book to deal solely with draw poker published on either side of the Atlantic. The game quickly became popular in England, where it was universally known as "Schenck's poker."

In October 1871, Schenk gave permission for the use of his name in the sale of stock in England for the Emma silver mine, near Alta, Utah, and became a director of the mining company. Seeing the American minister's name connected with it, British people invested heavily. The Emma mine paid large dividends for a brief time while company insiders sold their shares, but then share prices crashed when it was learned that the mine was exhausted. Schenck was blamed and was ordered home for investigation. He resigned his post in the spring of 1875. A congressional investigation concluded that he was not guilty of wrong-doing but that he had shown very bad judgment in lending his name and office to promote any such scheme.[1]

Upon his return from England later that year, he resumed his law practice in Washington, D.C. He also published a book on draw poker, Draw. Rules for Playing Poker (Brooklyn: Privately printed, 1880. 16mo, 17 pages)

He died in Washington, D.C., in 1890, aged 80, and was interred in Woodland Cemetery, Dayton, Ohio.

General Schenck was an accomplished scholar, thoroughly informed on international and constitutional law, well versed in political history, and familiar with the whole range of modern literature, English, French and Spanish.

See also

References

  • Robert C. Schenck at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress Retrieved on 2008-10-18
  • Brockett, L. P. (1872). Men of Our Day; or Biographical Sketches of Patriots, Orators, Statesmen, Generals, Reformers, Financiers and Merchants, Now on the state of Action: Including Those Who in Military, Political, Business and Social Life, are the Prominent Leaders of the Time in This Country. Philadelphia: Ziegler and McCurdy. OCLC 4472179.  
  • Conover, Frank, ed. (1897). Centennial Portrait and Biographical Record of the City of Dayton and of Montgomery County, Ohio. Chicago: A. W. Bowen & Co.. OCLC 33023331.  
  • Joyner, Fred B. (July 1949). "Robert Cumming Schenck, First Citizen And Statesman Of The Miami Valley". Ohio History (Ohio Historical Society) 58 (3): 245–359. OCLC 4912349. ISSN 0030-0934.  
  • Warner, Ezra J. (1964). Generals In Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. OCLC 445056.  
  • "Robert Cumming Schenck". Ohio History Central: An Online Encyclopedia of Ohio History. Ohio Historical Society. 2005. http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/entry.php?rec=332. Retrieved 2007-08-27.  
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Patrick Gaines Goode
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Ohio's 3rd congressional district

March 4, 1843–March 3, 1851
Succeeded by
Hiram Bell
Preceded by
Clement Vallandigham
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Ohio's 3rd congressional district

March 4, 1863–January 5, 1871
Succeeded by
Lewis D. Campbell
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
David Tod
United States Minister to Brazil
August 9, 1851–October 8, 1853
Succeeded by
William Trousdale
Preceded by
J. Lothrop Motley
United States Minister to Great Britain
1871–1876
Succeeded by
Edwards Pierrepont
Military offices
Preceded by
John E. Wool
Commander of the VIII Corps (ACW)
December 22, 1862 - March 12, 1863
Succeeded by
William W. Morris
Preceded by
William W. Morris
Commander of the VIII Corps (ACW)
March 22, 1863 - August 10, 1863
Succeeded by
William W. Morris
Preceded by
Gordon Granger
Commander of the VIII Corps (ACW)
August 31, 1863 - September 22, 1863
Succeeded by
William W. Morris
Preceded by
Erastus B. Tyler
Commander of the VIII Corps (ACW)
October 10, 1863 - December 5, 1863
Succeeded by
Henry H. Lockwood
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