Five Ohio-born Civil War veterans
later became President of the United States. William Tecumseh
Sherman might have been a sixth, but he famously refused to be
nominated. The first was Ulysses S. Grant, the victorious hero
general-in-chief who captured three Confederate armies and who
served two terms as the 18th President succeeding Andrew Johnson,
the assassinated Abraham Lincoln’s second Vice President. Grant, of
course, deserves separate treatment by himself and also began his
Civil War career in Illinois, not Ohio.
Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd
President, was the grandson of President William Henry Harrison
(“Old Tippecanoe”), the first president to die in office. Benjamin
Harrison, son of a U.S. Congressman, moved to Indianapolis to
practice law with the brother of General Lew Wallace (of 'Ben Hur'
fame) and was more associated with Indiana than Ohio. He commanded
the 70th Indiana Volunteers and distinguished himself at the battle
of Peach Tree Creek outside Atlanta in 1864 against Hood. He won the
Republication nomination in 1888 over the U.S. Senator from Ohio,
John Sherman, the general’s brother. He defeated incumbent Grover
Cleveland, who had been the first Democratic president elected since
the Civil War, even though he had received fewer popular votes. He
was defeated in his re-election bid in 1892 by his predecessor
Grover Cleveland. Curiously, Harrison’s granddaughter by his second
wife would marry the great grandson of President James Garfield.
This article will recount the Civil
War experiences of the remaining three Ohioans and also add some
information about their presidencies, two of which were cut short by
Rutherford B. Hayes
graduate of Kenyon College and Harvard Law School, Hayes was a
Cincinnati lawyer in 1861. He and his home guard company, mostly
comprised of members of the city’s Literary Club, enlisted, with
Hayes becoming a captain, in the 23rd OVI, commanded by William
Rosecrans. Hayes would later succeed him as colonel of the regiment
(with two companies from Cleveland). A diarist, he wrote almost
daily about his experience.
The 23rd saw its first action in
September, 1861 in West Virginia. On May 10, 1862, serving under
Jacob Cox in West Virginia, Hayes suffered the first of four wounds
that he received during the war. James Monroe is the only other
American president who was wounded in battle.
Transferred to the Army of the
Potomac under George McClellan, Cox’s Kanawha Division led the
attack at Fox’s Gap at South Mountain on September 14, 1862, where
Hayes was again wounded leading the 23rd. Hayes was subsequently
promoted to brigade commander in the Kanawha Division. His
next action was to pursue John Hunt Morgan in his July, 1863 cavalry
raid in Ohio, engaging him shortly before his capture at
Back in West Virginia and now
serving under fellow Ohioan George Crook, Hayes’ brigade took part
in the 1864 campaigns in West Virginia and then in the Shenandoah
Valley under generals David Hunter and Phil Sheridan. At Kernstown
in July, Hayes was credited with enabling Crook’s force to escape
from Jubal Early. During the course of this battle, Hayes received
his third wound. He also was a hero at Opequon (Third Winchester) in
September, taking over command of his division when its commander
was wounded. Hayes’s troops then participated in Crook’s successful
flanking movement at Fisher’s Hill. Hayes and his wife Lucy named
their fifth son, born a week following this battle, after George
Elected to Congress on October 18,
1864, Hayes was to play a more humbling role the next day at Cedar
Creek. His division was routed by John Gordon’s surprise attack and
Hayes was wounded for the fourth time (and had his horse killed
under him). After Sheridan’s successful counter-attack and rout of
Early, Hayes was promoted to major general. He was preparing to
attack Lynchburg when Lee surrendered at Appomattox.
After serving in Congress, Hayes
returned home to be elected Governor of Ohio in 1867, serving three
terms and helping to found Ohio State University. At the Republican
convention in Cincinnati in 1876 (the centennial anniversary of the
United States), favorite son Hayes won the nomination over two
contending rivals. He won the presidency that fall over Democrat
Samuel Tilden, reform governor of New York, in one of the most
controversial elections in American history. Despite Tilden’s edge
in the popular vote, on a straight party line vote (including
Garfield’s), a special Congressional commission awarded disputed
elections in Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina to Hayes, giving
him 185 electoral votes to Tilden’s 184.
Opponents called Hayes “Rutherfraud.”
Allegedly, Democrats did not dispute this outcome based on an
agreement that Hayes would withdraw the remaining federal troops
from the South, formally ending Reconstruction. Hayes did. In
addition, he used federal troops to end the 1877 railroad strike and
unsuccessfully campaigned for civil service reform. With his wife’s
approval, he banned alcohol in the White House, earning her the
nickname “Lemonade Lucy.” True to his campaign pledge, he served
only one term.
James A. Garfield
last president born in a log cabin (in Orange, now Moreland Hills),
a graduate of Williams College, Garfield was a college president and
Ohio state senator (rooming in Columbus with future fellow general,
Jacob Cox) when the war began.
After being rebuffed in his
attempts to be elected colonel of two Ohio volunteer regiments, he
was appointed by the governor to head (and recruit) the 42nd OVI.
With a small force of Ohio and Kentucky volunteers, Garfield
defeated a similar Confederate force in the mountains of
southeastern Kentucky in January, 1862. This resulted in his
promotion to Brigadier General, commanding a brigade in Don Carlos
Buell’s Army of the Ohio. Serving as the rearguard, it was not
engaged in the second day’s battle at Shiloh.
Elected to Congress in the fall of
1862, his next military assignment was to replace the chief of staff
of the Army of the Cumberland (now commanded by William Rosecrans,
former commander of the 23rd OVI), who had been killed at the battle
of Stone’s River. Garfield was instrumental in the successful
Tullahoma campaign that forced Braxton Bragg’s army out of
Chattanooga. At Chickamauga, Garfield gained fame by leaving the
departing Rosecrans, after Longstreet’s breakthrough on the second
day, and riding to join George Thomas on Snodgrass Hill.
Promoted to Major General, Garfield
resigned from the army in December, 1863 to take his seat in
Congress as its youngest member. A leader in the postwar Republican
party, he became a dark horse compromise candidate at the 1880
Republican Chicago convention that denied Ulysses Grant a third
presidential nomination. Instead, Garfield was nominated on the 36th
ballot. His unlikely running mate was New Yorker Chester Arthur, the
collector of customs previously fired by Hayes for incompetence and
Garfield barely beat former Union
Civil War hero Winfield Scott Hancock in the popular vote, but
easily won the electoral college vote. Garfield is the only minister
and the only member of the U.S. House of Representatives ever
directly elected president.
During his brief time as the 20th
president, Garfield was occupied with the conflict between party
patronage demands and reformer opposition. While awaiting a train in
Washington, D.C., accompanied by Secretary of State James Blaine and
Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln, on July 2, 1881, Garfield was
shot in the back by a disappointed office seeker, Charles Guiteau.
Due to blood poisoning caused by his doctors' probing for the bullet
that entered his body, Garfield died after lingering for 79 days.
Ironically, his successor – Chester Arthur, the party hack – signed
the Pendleton Act, creating civil service reform.
Garfield is buried in Lakeview
Cemetery in Cleveland Heights. The Garfield Monument there was
dedicated in 1890.
the age of 18, William McKinley of Poland (near Youngstown) enlisted
as a private in the regiment commanded by Rutherford B. Hayes – the
23rd OVI. Befriended by Hayes, McKinley, now a sergeant and
quartermaster, gained renown at the battle of Antietam on September
17, 1862 by carrying rations under fire to Ambrose Burnside’s Ninth
Corps. McKinley later became a staff officer, ending his military
career in the Shenandoah Valley as a major.
Postwar, McKinley became a lawyer
in Canton and then Stark County prosecutor. He served in the U.S.
House of Representatives during 1877-1891. He was best known for the
McKinley Tariff Act of 1890, arguably leading to the Democratic
landslide election victory that year and causing the 1893
McKinley was elected Ohio Governor
in 1891 and left in 1896 to run for president, with Cleveland
industrialist and U.S. Senator Mark Hanna as his campaign manager.
Hanna was a powerful fundraiser and also employed new advertising
techniques in McKinley’s successful front porch campaign against
Democratic western populist William Jennings Bryan (who delivered
the “Cross of Gold” speech arguing for a free silver currency
The 25th president was the last
Civil War veteran to hold this office. During his first term,
despite his opposition to demands for the liberation of Cuba from
the Spanish empire, after the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana
harbor, McKinley presided over the Spanish-American War. This led to
our conquest of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. In the
Philippines, the U.S. then had to fight another war lasting 14 years
to subdue native guerillas opposed to the American occupation. The
United States also annexed Hawaii.
With war hero and former New York
Governor Theodore Roosevelt as his new running mate, McKinley easily
won re-election in 1900 over Bryan in a rematch. On September 5,
1901, at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, McKinley was shot
at a public reception by anarchist Leon Czolgosz, a former Cleveland
resident. He died from gangrene after complications from surgery
eight-days later, allowing Teddy Roosevelt to become president, to
the great dismay of Mark Hanna. One of James Garfield’s sons served
as the Secretary of the Interior under Roosevelt. In memory of
McKinley who wore one daily, the red carnation was later named
Ohio’s state flower.
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Armstrong, William. 2000. Major
McKinley: Major McKinley: William McKinley & the Civil War. Kent State University
Perry, James M. 2003. Touched With Fire: Five Presidents and the Civil War Battles That Made Them. New
York: Public Affairs.
Peskin, Allan. 1978. Garfield: A Biography. Kent State University Press.
Williams, T. Harry. 1965. Hayes of the Twenty-third: The Civil War Volunteer Officer. New York: Knopf.
Civil War titles at the Roundtable Bookstore