Oliver Otis Howard (1830-1909)

Oliver Otis Howard (November 8, 1830 - October 26, 1909) was a career U.S. Army officer and general in the American Civil War, also noted for his post-Civil War battles against the Western Indian tribes. His most famous campaign was against the Nez Perce tribe. He also founded Howard University.

Howard was born in Leeds, Maine. He was educated at Bowdoin College, but later attended the U.S. Military Academy, graduating in 1854 as a second lieutenant of ordnance. After two years in the army, he returned to civilian life as a mathematics instructor at West Point. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he was commissioned a colonel in the 3rd Maine Infantry. He served at the First Battle of Bull Run and then joined George B. McClellan's Army of the Potomac for the Peninsula Campaign.

On June 1, 1862, while commanding a 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.) General 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 General 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 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 Major General 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.

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, Francis Barlow, was exploited by the Confederate Corps of 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 Major General Winfield S. Hancock about who was in command of the defense. Hancock had been sent by Major General 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 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 (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 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 Braxton Bragg. In July, 1864, following the death of General James B. McPherson, Howard became commander of the Army of the Tennessee, fought in the Atlanta Campaign, and led the right wing of William Tecumseh Sherman's famous March to the Sea, through Georgia and then the Carolinas.

After the Civil War, Howard served as Commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau, and then went west to Oregon's Fort Vancouver, where he fought in the Indian Wars, particularly against the Nez Perce, with the resultant surrender of Chief Joseph. He retired from the United States Army in 1894 with the rank of major general.

General Howard is probably best remembered for founding Howard University. As Commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau, Howard was known for promoting the welfare and education of slaves and freedmen. 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 African-American ministers. Interest was sufficient, however, in creating an educational institute for areas other than the ministry. The result was the Howard Normal 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 also founded Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee, in 1895.

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).

Oliver Howard died in Burlington, Vermont, on October 26, 1909 and is buried there in Lake View Cemetery.