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O. O. Howard

O. O. Howard

Federal (USA)

Brigadier General

Oliver Otis Howard

(1830 - 1909)

Home State: Maine

Education: Bowdoin College (1850), USMA, Class of 1855

Command Billet: Brigade Commander

Branch of Service: Infantry

Unit: 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, 2nd Corps


see his Battle Report

Before Antietam

Born in Maine in 1830, Howard received his education at Bowdoin College (1850), then attended West Point, graduating in 1855. After two years in service, including action in the Seminole Wars in Florida, he became a mathematics professor at the Academy. He was on the verge of switching careers to become a minister when the Civil War erupted - at which time he resigned his Regular Army commission and became colonel of the Third Maine Volunteers.

Howard fought at Bull Run (July 1861) and accompanied George McClellan on his Peninsular Campaign. During the battle at Fair Oaks (May 1862), Howard was shot through the elbow and had to have his right arm amputated. He was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Fair Oaks.

On the Campaign

In his autobiography published in 1907, he compared the military achievements of the two opposing commanding officers, George McClellan and Robert E. Lee:

Lee's generalship at Antietam could not be surpassed; but while McClellan's plans were excellent, the tactical execution was bad. Had all of the right column been on the spot where the work was to begin, Sumner, seizing Stuart's heights by the Potomac, could have accomplished the purpose of his heart - to drive everything before him through the village of Sharpsburg and on to Burnside's front. Of course, Burnside's move should have been vigorous and simultaneous with attacks on the right. McClellan so intended. we had, however, a technical victory, for Lee withdrew after one day's delay and recrossed the Potomac.

General Howard was in command of the Second Brigade of the 2nd Division of Major General Sumner's II Corps, and relieved Brigadier General Sedgwick in command of the Division when that General was wounded in his attack on the Confederate positions in and around the West Woods.

The rest of the War

Continuing command of Division he fought at Fredericksburg (December, 1862), in command of the Eleventh Army Corps at Chancellorsville (May, 1863) - where his Corps was routed by Stonewall Jackson's flank attack - and Gettysburg (May, 1863) - where he was driven back with heavy losses to Cemetery Hill on the first day, after relieving General Reynolds. Promoted to the rank of Major General, Howard commanded the Army of Tennessee under William T. Sherman during his Atlanta Campaign in 1864.

After the War

After the war, he was appointed head of the Freedman's Bureau, which was designed to protect and assist the newly-freed slaves. In this position, Howard quickly earned the contempt of white Southerners and many Northerners for his unapologetic support of black suffrage and his efforts to distribute land to African-Americans. He was also fearlessly candid about expressing his belief that the majority of white Southerners would be happy to see slavery restored. He even championed freedom and equality for former slaves in his private life, by working to make his elite Washington, D.C., church racially integrated and by helping to found an all-black college in the District of Columbia, which was soon named Howard University in his honor.

In 1872, Howard brought a similar courage and sense of commitment to the American West when he was dispatched by the Grant administration to meet with the Chiricahua Apache leader Cochise and bring an end to his decade-long guerilla war against American settlers. Travelling almost alone, Howard entered the Apache chief's stronghold and secured a peace agreement by promising him a reservation of his own choosing. Other generals and public officials condemned what they saw as the overly generous terms of this agreement, but Howard's promise was upheld by an executive order which set aside nearly the whole southeastern corner of the Arizona Territory as a Chiricahua reservation on which Cochise and his people could live with little meddling from the army.

Five years later, in 1877, Howard faced a different situation in Oregon, where he was sent to persuade a Nez Perce band led by Chief Joseph to leave their homeland in the Wallowa Valley for the reservation assigned to them in Lapwai, Idaho. Howard found himself agreeing with Joseph that his people had never signed a treaty giving up their homeland, but in Howard's view this did not change the fact that eastern Oregon was no longer a place where Indians could roam free.

After his offer to purchase the valley was rejected, Howard made it clear that he would use force to move the Nez Perce as he had been commanded. And despite his sympathies for Joseph's band, he did not hesitate to send his troops against them when Nez Perce warriors killed several white settlers in the area. Nonetheless, Howard never lost sight of the underlying moral issue in this confrontation, and after Joseph's surrender, he was outspoken among those officers who argued without success that his band should be allowed to return to their home.

Howard's military career after the Nez Perce War included serving as superintendent of West Point (1880-82) and as the commanding officer of the Department of the Platte and the Division of the East.

In his later years and after his retirement from the army in 1894, he wrote several books on military and Indian affairs, including Nez Perce Joseph (1881), Autobiography (1907), My Life and Experiences Among Hostile Indians (1907) and Famous Indian Chiefs I Have Known (1908). Howard died in 1909.
(text above from PBS on The West).

More on the Web

An article from PBS about his career, and a brief bio at Spartacus.


11/8/1830; Leeds, ME


10/26/1909; Burlington, Vermont; burial in Lakeview Cemetery, Burlington, Vermont