James A. Garfield, Political General and President

My new book, Civil War Political Generals of the Blue and Grey, highlights 50 men, 25 on each side, who made varying contributions to their selected side.  Some were superbly talented, some were just plain awful.  For the Union, James A. Garfield, who would later become President, performed well in a limited role early in the war. He is pictured on the front cover of the book at the bottom right. Here is an excerpt from the book about him, and you can find the book and all my other books at my author’s page:


“Garfield was born and raised on Ohio’s Western Reserve, one of the most intensely antislavery regions in the nation.  His family was poor, so Garfield had a number of jobs as a youth, including managing the mules that pulled canal boats.  He later became a lay preacher and worked his way  through Williams College.  He returned to Ohio’s Hiram College, where he became its president in 1857 at the age of 26.  As the secession crisis worsened in the late 1850’s, Garfield met what his biographer calls his “most consequential friend,” Jacob D. Cox.  (Vermilya).  The two intensely anti-slavery Republicans were elected to the Ohio Senate in 1859. Over the next several months they agreed they would fight for the Union, if necessary.  With Cox reading military history in Greek, Latin, and French, they learned the basics of military practice and theory and they organized drilling among the Senators. (Schmiel) 

While Cox became a General and fought in West Virginia, Garfield got a commission as a Colonel of the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry.  Assigned to Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio, Garfield led that regiment and several others to a victory at Middle Creek, Kentucky on January 9, 1862.  Promoted to Brigadier General, his forces played an important role on the second day of the Battle of Shiloh, April 7, pushing back the Confederate advance.  Garfield then became ill, and while recovering was nominated for Congress.  He went to Washington to seek additional  assignments, but the only one he got of consequence was to serve on Fitz-John Porter’s court martial.  He voted for conviction.  During this period Garfield cemented his close friendship with Ohioan Salmon P. Chase.

 Though he was elected to the House in October 1862, he nevertheless chose to accept an assignment as Chief of Staff for William Rosecrans’s Army of the Cumberland since Congress would not meet until December 1863.  “Garfield helped to orchestrate a major Union advance through central Tennessee in the Tullahoma campaign.  At Chickamauga, [September 19-20, 1863] Garfield bravely served his army and his country.” (Vermilya).  But the battle was a disastrous Union defeat .  Afterward Garfield was promoted to Major General, but he resigned to take up his House seat.”


Author: geneofva

Author of "Citizen-General: Jacob Dolson Cox and the Civil War Era," and of seven more Civil War books -- with more to come!!

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