Schofield, John McAllister

Encyclopedia entry by ,
Combat Studies Institute, Army University

Biographical Information:

Portrait of John M. Schofield. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

  • Date of birth: September 29, 1831
  • Place of birth: Gerry, New York
  • Claim to fame: A senior Union Army officer turned Army of the Frontier commander during the Civil War
  • Date of death: March 4, 1906
  • Place of death: St. Augustine, Florida
  • Final resting place: Arlington National Cemetery

John M. Schofield served as the senior Union Army officer in Missouri during part of the war, as both commander of the Army of the Frontier and the Department of Missouri. His service was checkered but generally effective; he was accused of being too lenient with Confederate bushwhackers even though he had effectively opposed them in battle and supported General Order No. 11, which ordered the depopulation of a portion of the border. He went on to a very successful postwar career, culminating in service as the commanding general of the Army from 1888 to 1895.

Schofield graduated from West Point near the top of his class in 1853 and served briefly in Florida and as a philosophy instructor at his alma mater. He left the Army and was working as a professor at Washington University in St. Louis when war erupted. He quickly returned to service, recruiting loyal soldiers for state service and participating in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, for which he was later awarded the Medal of Honor. He ascended to command of the Army of the Frontier and led that organization, the main federal army in the Trans-Mississippi theater, through the winter of 1862-63. After Confederate forces had been pushed away from the Arkansas-Missouri border at the Battle of Pea Ridge, his force prevented their return at the Battle of Prairie Grove in northwestern Arkansas, although Schofield missed the battle, and subsequent laurels, due to a bout of typhoid. He attempted to control the unconventional war raging within the state but was accused of being too lenient with irregular Confederate forces.

Unusually, Schofield initiated his Medal of Honor award himself, while serving as acting Secretary of War in 1868 after President Andrew Johnson fired Edwin Stanton. The award was finally approved in 1891, during Schofield’s tenure as Chief of Staff of the Army.

Schofield was a moderate throughout his political career and sought to steer a middle course in his administration of wartime Missouri. Predictably, this led to criticism from both sides. After Quantrill’s devastating raid on Lawrence, Kansas, radicals accused him of supporting the transfer of too many units from Kansas to other theaters, leaving Lawrence unnecessarily exposed to attack, and conservatives decried the harsh response which allowed federal forces to treat the guerillas as criminals rather than combatants. He supported the issue of General Order No. 11, which depopulated four border counties in Missouri, (Bates, Cass, Jackson, and Vernon) ostensibly to protect loyal residents from reprisals by jayhawkers but also to deny sanctuary to bushwhackers. The order resulted in widespread destruction and devastation in the affected area. Generally, though, Schofield resisted calls for harsher reprisals that might have further enflamed passions. His unpopularity with both sides eventually led to his reassignment.

In 1864, he joined William T. Sherman’s forces in Georgia and led one of the three federal armies in the Atlanta Campaign and subsequent “March to the Sea.” Detached to protect the federal position in Tennessee, he successfully fought John Bell Hood’s remnants at the Battles of Franklin and Nashville. After the war, he served as military governor of Virginia, briefly as secretary of war during Edwin Stanton’s dismissal, which eventually resulted in President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment proceedings for violation of the “Tenure in Office Act,” and eventually rose to the position of commanding general, the highest military position in the Army. He is remembered as a noted reformer and advocate of U.S. expansion. Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, is named in his honor for his recommendation to formally annex the islands.

Suggested Reading: 

Connelly, Donald B. John M. Schofield and the Politics of Generalship. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

Schofield, John M. Forty-Six Years in the Army. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998, repr.

Cite this page: 
Rein, Christopher. "Schofield, John McAllister" Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict, 1854-1865. The Kansas City Public Library. Accessed Mar, 30, 2017 at http://civilwaronthewesternborder.org/encyclopedia/schofield-john-mcallister

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