|Oliver Otis Howard
|November 8, 1830 – October 26, 1909
|Place of birth
|Place of death
|United States Army
|Years of service
|1854 – 1894
Army of the Tennessee
United States Military Academy
|American Civil War
* First Battle of Bull Run
* Battle of Seven Pines
* Battle of Antietam
* Battle of Chancellorsville
* Battle of Gettysburg
* Battle of Chattanooga
* Atlanta Campaign
* Sherman's March to the Sea
* Carolinas Campaign
|Medal of Honor
|President, Howard University
Oliver Otis Howard (November 8, 1830 – October 26, 1909) was a career U.S. 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.
Howard was born in Leeds, Maine, the son of Rowland Bailey Howard and Eliza Otis Howard. He attended North Yarmouth Academy in Yarmouth, Maine, graduated from Bowdoin College in 1850, 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 in 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 earned 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.
Howard was appointed colonel of the 3rd Maine Infantry regiment 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.) 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 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.
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 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.
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 Oregon'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 retired from the United States Army in 1894 with the rank of major general.
General Howard is also remembered for playing a role in founding Howard University, which was incorporated by Congress in 1867. 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 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, for the education of the "mountain whites."
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.
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 the 1950 film Broken Arrow, General Howard is a character, played by Basil Ruysdael, that the hero Tom Jeffords (played by Jimmy Stewart) has heard of as "the Christian General". The Howard character says that his troops call him "Bible-reading Howard". On questioning by Jeffords about the biblical implications for the Indians, Howard condemns racism, saying that the Bible "says nothing about pigmentation of the skin."
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.