Edwin V. Sumner (1797-1863)

Edwin Vose "Bull Head" Sumner (January 30, 1797 - March 21, 1863) was a U.S. Army officer who became a Major General and the oldest field commander of any Army Corps on either side during the American Civil War. His nickname "Bull Head" came from a legend that a musket ball once bounced off his head.

Sumner was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 30, 1797, to father Elisha Sumner and mother Nancy Voss. As a child he attended West school, then Billercia school and later the Milton Academy. Upon completing his education, he entered into a mercantile career in Troy, New York. In 1819 he entered the United States Army as a Second Lieutenant.

He married Hannah Wickersham Foster (1804-1880) on March 31, 1822. They would have six children together: Nancy, Margaret Foster, Sarah Montgomery, Mary Heron, Edwin Vose Jr., and Samuel Storrow Sumner.

Sumner later served in the Black Hawk War and in various Indian campaigns. On March 4, 1833, he was promoted to the rank of Captain and assigned to the First Dragoons Regiment, immediately upon its creation by Congress.

In 1838 he commanded the cavalry instructional establishment in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

During the Mexican War, he served under Colonel Stephen W. Kearny's Army of the West and on June 30, 1846, was promoted to the rank of major. For his bravery at Molino del Rey he received the brevet rank of Colonel.

On July 13, 1848, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel of the First Dragoon Regiment and became commander of the Ninth Military District in the territory of New Mexico. From May 26 to September 9, 1852, he served as the acting territorial governor.

From 1851 to 1853, Sumner was Military Governor of the Territory of New Mexico.

He sent on special duty to Europe in 1853, with special reference to an improvement in his particular arm of the service.

He was promoted to the rank of colonel on March 3, 1855, and assigned to the command of the First U.S. Cavalry Regiment that was stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas Territory.

In 1855 and 1856, he commanded in Kansas. During his service at Fort Leavenworth, he engaged in the pacification of the Cheyenne Indians in the west and in efforts to keep the peace among the proslavery and free-state partisans operating in the eastern part of the territory. The latter duty brought Colonel Sumner and the regularly army into the difficult task of acting as arbitrator in political affairs. Two instances in particular demonstrated the army's role as mediator in civilian disputes of political origin. The first was the deployment of the regular army to restore peace following the battle of Black Jack in the late spring of 1856. The free-state forces under the command of Captains Samuel T. Shore and John Brown had during the battle captured the proslavery commander (Captain Henry C. Pate) and several of his irregular forces. Colonel Sumner was ordered by Governor Wilson Shannon to gain the release of the captives and restore peace to the area around Baldwin City in present-day Douglas County. After a brief stand off between regular army forces and free-state irregular forces that was accompanied by intense negotiations, Sumner secured the release of the proslavery prisoners and at least momentarily restored order to the embattled region. However, more civil unrest soon followed, and on July 4, 1856, Colonel Sumner was called out by Governor Shannon to disperse the free-state legislature meeting at Topeka. In a show of military force Sumner was able to force the free-state legislature to disband. An uneasy peace reigned in the eastern part of the territory the following year, so the colonel vigorously campaigned against the Cheyennes, bringing his direct involvement in Bleeding Kansas to an end.

In 1857 he commanded an expedition against the Cheyenne Indians.

In the year of 1858 Sumner succeeded Brigadier General William S. Harney in command of the Department of the West and was posted to St. Louis, Missouri.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Sumner was sent to replace Albert Sidney Johnston in command on the Pacific coast. He thus took no part in the first campaign of the Civil War.

In autumn of 1861, he was brought back east to command a division, and soon afterwards, as a Major General U.S.V., a corps in the Army of the Potomac, being organized by George B. McClellan. The II Corps, commanded during the war by Sumner, Darius N. Couch, Winfield Scott Hancock, and Andrew A. Humphreys, had the deserved reputation of being the best in the Eastern Theater.

Sumner, who was by far the oldest of the generals in the Army of the Potomac, led his corps throughout the Peninsula Campaign, was wounded at Glendale during the Seven Days Battles, received the brevet of Major General U.S.A., and was again wounded in the Battle of Antietam.

When Ambrose Burnside succeeded to the command of the Army of the Potomac, he grouped the corps in "grand divisions," and appointed Sumner to command the right grand division. In this capacity the old cavalry soldier took part in the disastrous Battle of Fredericksburg, in which the II Corps suffered most severely.

Soon afterwards, on Hooker's appointment to command the army, Sumner was relieved at his own request. He traveled to his home in Syracuse, New York, where he suffered a fatal heart attack on March 21, 1863. He is buried in Section 8, Lot 1 of Oakwood Cemetery in Syracuse. His son, Samuel S. Sumner was general during the Spanish-American War, Boxer Rebellion and the Philippine-American War