- The Washington Times - Friday, June 2, 2006


By Donald B. Connelly, The University of North Carolina Press, $49.95, 471 pages, illlus.

John McAllister Schofield might be the most underrated general of the Civil War. His meticulous and cautious nature earned him praise, victories and the exulted rank of lieutenant general, but his lack of notoriety and elan relegated him to historical anonymity.

Having started inauspiciously in 1849 as a last-minute replacement as a West Point cadet, he retired at the pinnacle of his profession, in the heady company of George Washington and Ulysses S. Grant, as America’s sixth lieutenant general.

In “John M. Schofield and the Politics of Generalship,” Donald B. Connelly masterfully narrates how this judicious and quiet general deftly combined intellect, a sense of fairness and political shrewdness to navigate through 4½ decades of political and military minefields.

At West Point, Schofield miraculously averted dismissal after collecting an astounding 196 demerits (maximum allowed: 200) and being court-martialed for disorderly conduct, disobedience of orders and neglect of duty.

These deficiencies, however, did not interfere with his impressive ranking of seventh (of 55 cadets), besting fellow cadets Philip H. Sheridan (35th) and John Bell Hood (44th) in the class of 1853. Schofield acknowledged that what he needed to learn “was not so much how to command as how to obey.”

Schofield spent the early years of the war in Missouri with the military assignment to fight and defeat ferocious guerrilla bands. He received the Medal of Honor and commendations for demonstrating “conspicuous courage” and “coolness and equanimity” for his actions at Wilson’s Creek, a small but very bloody battle.

A newspaper glowingly effused: “A braver soldier does not live.” His political assignment to balance Missouri’s goal of protecting its borders along with the national government’s goal of defeating the Confederacy guaranteed a situation Connelly characterizes as “tailor-made for dissension and abuse.”

Schofield got some unsolicited advice from someone at a very high level, abundantly experienced at being attacked simultaneously by every side — President Lincoln, who counseled: “It is a difficult role, and so much greater will be the honor if you perform it well. If both factions, or neither, shall abuse you, you will, probably, be about right. Beware of being assailed by one and praised by the other.”

Schofield succeeded, and in the process, he drastically reduced the number of guerrilla bands from thousands early in the war to several dozen by 1864. He must have been abused just about enough by all factions to earn Lincoln’s praise: “I affirm with confidence that no commander of that department has, in proportion to his means, done better than General Schofield.”

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and Gen. William T. Sherman also took note of the young general’s work. Stanton thought Schofield “earnest, faithful and able”; Sherman remarked that Schofield “did not allow himself to be used by a political faction.”

Schofield was next promoted to command of the Army of the Ohio, where his steady and reliable efforts leading the left wing of the Atlanta Campaign built the foundation for a lifelong friendship with Sherman.

Schofield subsequently performed infallibly in various demanding assignments, including fighting guerrilla bands in Tennessee and carrying out his duties as military commander in Virginia during Reconstruction.

Eighteen sixty-eight found Schofield at ground zero in the brutal collision of the military, politics and the Constitution: the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson. As an acceptable alternative for all sides to replace Stanton, Schofield probably had a hand in averting Johnson’s removal from the presidency. As Johnson’s secretary of war, Schofield was guided by his usual steadiness and fairness through the high-level brawl, in which the fighting could not have been nastier.

His self-proclaimed “biggest mistake” was accepting the duties of commander of West Point in 1876. He was assigned the thorny task of chairing the review of the 1862 court-martial proceedings of Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter, who had been convicted and removed from the Army after his abysmal performance at Second Bull Run.

Coincidentally, Porter was one of two officers who had voted to expel cadet Schofield from West Point many years earlier. This politically charged proceeding to restore or destroy reputations included testimony from Joshua Chamberlain and James Longstreet. In the end, Porter got his reputation back and Schofield got past another potential disaster with his calm and customary proficiency.

Another incident resulted in a highly uncharacteristic stain to Schofield’s reputation. On April 6, 1880, Johnson Whittaker, the only black cadet then enrolled at West Point, was found tied, beaten and unconscious on the floor.

Instead of doing the right thing, Schofield was derelict in his duties. He shamefully rushed to the judgment that Whittaker had inflicted the wounds on himself in a drastic attempt to avoid academic dismissal. At the time, Whittaker was close to failing a course for the second time.

Schofield, who died in 1906 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, made numerous contributions to the Army over a stellar 46-year career. He consistently pushed for reforms to improve the morale and performance of the Army, including increasing soldiers’ pay and benefits, treating them more fairly and providing more training. These efforts, which made the Army a more professional organization and one ready for the 20th century, constituted Schofield’s most important achievement.

Researchers, writers and scholars of the Civil War will be most appreciative of this marvelously researched and documented study of Schofield’s ability to balance the often conflicting demands of politics and the military.

Paul N. Herbert, who lives in Fairfax, is a frequent contributor to the Civil War page. He can be contacted at [email protected]cox.net.

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