Skip to content

Oliver Otis Howard

November 8, 1830 – October 26, 1909

Born in Leeds, Maine, Oliver O. Howard had graduated from Bowdoin College and was fourth in his class at West Point before teaching math at the military academy. At the outset of the Civil War, Howard, an abolitionist, was made a colonel in command of the 3d Maine Regiment. After leading a brigade at the 1st Battle of Bull Run, Howard was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers in September 1861.

At the June 1, 1862, Battle of Seven Pines, Howard led a brigade against superior numbers in a heated battle. The picture of bravery, Howard stayed in the thick of battle leading and animating his men. Even though two horses were shot from under him and his right arm was shattered by two bullets, he continued to spur on his men until the Confederates retreated. Howard’s arm was amputated and he eventually received the Medal of Honor for his bravery at Seven Pines.

Howard was promoted to major general of volunteers in November 1862 after he led a division at Sharpsburg and Fredericksburg. In charge of the XI Corps at Chancellorsville, Howard and his men were severely routed by Gen. Stonewall Jackson and his Rebel troops. On July 1, 1863, at the Battle of Gettysburg. Howard was briefly the overall commander. His troops were again forced back, but Howard had the presence of mind to select Cemetery Hill to retreat to and anchor Union forces. He commanded the 4th Corps in the Atlanta campaign, and the Army of the Tennessee in the devastating March to the Sea and through the Carolinas.

On May 12, 1865, Howard was chosen to head the Freedmen’s Bureau. Though he was honest and a devout champion of former slaves, the agency was riddled with corruption. Howard faced a court of inquiry in 1874 because of his corrupt subordinates in the bureau, but he was cleared of all charges.

Howard continued to serve the army as a commander and was also superintendent of West Point. He retired in 1894.

Fascinating Fact: Howard established a bank for blacks and Howard University in Washington, D.C.