Born to Rowland Bailey Howard and Eliza Otis Howard in Leeds, Maine, Oliver would first graduate from Bowdoin College in 1850 and then from the United States Military Academy with the class of 1854 at 23 years of age. In 1855, he married Elizabeth Anne Waite. The couple would eventually have seven children.
Howard would serve in the Seminoles War in Florida in 1857 and would become a devout Christian at this point. He considered giving up the military and becoming a minister, but then the Civil War broke out. Oliver went from the rank of lieutenant in Florida to become a major when the Civil War began. Oliver soon was promoted to Colonel and temporarily commanded a brigade at the First Battle of Bull Run. He became a brigadier general in September of 1863. Known as "The Christian General" for his command style, he led his brigade during the Peninsula Campaign where, during the Battle of Fair Oaks, he was shot twice in his right arm leading to it being amputated. General Oliver Howard would win the Medal of Honor for his heroics at Fair Oaks.
An interesting side note: Upon hearing of Oliver's loss of his right arm, Brigadier General Philip Kearny, who had lost his left arm in battle, visited Howard and joked that they would be able to shop for gloves together.
Howard recovered quickly enough to command his brigade during the Battle of Antietam where he was promoted to the rank of Major General.
General Howard then suffered two significant military setbacks, one at Chancellorsville when his command on the Union forces' right flank was overrun in a surprise attack by Confederate General Stonewall Jackson, and a second time during the Battle of Gettysburg where his command was routed by Confederate General Ewell and retreated through the streets of Gettysburg. Consequently General Meade was unhappy and relieved Howard of his command which led to a controversy that has lasted for years concerning Meade's command practices.
As commander of the XI Corps, General Howard, along with General Henry Slocum and his XII corps, were transferred to the Western Theater of the war late in 1863, where they joined the Union Army of Tennessee under General Joe Hooker. Howard would lead his corps in the Battles of Chattanooga and eventually was promoted to the commanding officer of the Army of Tennessee. He served under General William Tecumseh Sherman during his famous "March to the Sea" through Atlanta to Savannah and then during the pivot north in late 1864 to push towards Virginia through the Carolinas.
After the war, Oliver Howard became the commissioner of the Army's Freedmen's Bureau. He stayed in this capacity for nine years. During this time Howard worked to integrate the freed slaves of the south into society. Among his accomplishments he devised far-reaching programs and guidelines including social welfare in the form of rations, schooling, courts, and medical care. Until President Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson, left office in 1869, he made life difficult for the General. Johnson wasn't in favor of Howard's programs. Thanks to a Congress led by radical Republican reformists, Howard wielded enormous power to carry out his mandate. In the General's own words he described this power as, "...Almost unlimited authority gave me scope and liberty of action... Legislative, judicial and executive powers were combined in my commission." President Johnson, on the other hand, described Howard's power as that of an absolute monarch.
In 1872, Howard was sent to the Arizona Territory to negotiate a peace with the Apache Chief Cochise. The two were able to hammer out an agreement in October of that year. In 1874 Howard was then sent to Fort Vancouver in the Washington Territory where he fought in yet another Indian war against Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce tribe. Subsequently, Howard served as superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point for a year (1881–82). He was then moved to commander of the Department of the Platte from 1882 to 1886 and the Military Division of the Pacific from 1886 to 1888. From 1888, his final command was of the Department of the East (Military Division of the Atlantic) at Fort Columbus on Governors Island in New York Harbor, encompassing the states east of the Mississippi River. He retired from the United States Army at that posting in 1894 with the rank of major general. Through the years General Oliver Howard garnered many awards for his achievements, not the least of which was the French government making him a chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1884.
In 1867, the General was also instrumental in developing a university for black people located in Washington D.C. That university bears his name to this day.
|O. O. Howard 1908|
Howard passed away in 1909 at 78 years of age.
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