Frederick Steele

Frederick Steele, a descendant of one of the founders of Hartford, Connecticut, was born on January 14, 1819, in Delhi, New York. He was graduated from West Point in 1843 in the class which included U. S. Grant. After some garrison duty in New York and Michigan he took part with distinction in the Mexican War, winning the brevets of first lieutenant and captain. With promotion to captain in 1855 and major in 1861, Steele served routinely as an infantry officer in the years before the Civil War in California, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Kansas. He was stationed at Fort Leavenworth in 1861, and his first important activity was as commander of a battalion of Regulars at Wilson's Creek. He was appointed colonel of the 8th Iowa Volunteers on September 23, 1861, and advanced to brigadier general on January 29, 1862. Commanding a division of Curtis' Army of the Southwest, he took part in the campaign in Arkansas in 1862, which resulted in the occupation of Helena. Steele was promoted to major general on March 17, 1863, to rank from the preceding November 29, meanwhile commanding a division of W. T. Sherman's forces in the attack on Chickasaw Bluffs, or "First Vicksburg," and in the capture of Arkansas Post. During the Vicksburg campaign proper he directed a division of the XV Corps. After the surrender of the Confederacy's Mississippi stronghold he was placed in command of the United States forces in Arkansas and ordered to clear the state of organized Rebels who might aid Confederate operations east of the Mississippi River. He drove down through the state, captured Little Rock in September, 1863, and the following spring was directed to collaborate with N. P. Banks in his ill-fated Red River campaign. The overall strategy contemplated the advance of Banks up Red River to Alexandria, Louisiana, with a fleet of gunboats in support, while Steele essayed a movement overland from Little Rock to divert the Confederate defenders and/or support Banks's column. Both operations, through no fault of Steele, eventuated disastrously despite the fact that Steele was able to return his badly decimated troops to Little Rock, after a number of hard-fought engagements. In 1865 he commanded a division under Edward R. S. Canby in the campaign against Mobile. At the end of hostilities he was sent to Texas and was not mustered out of volunteer service until 1867, meanwhile having been appointed colonel of the 20th Infantry. A year later, while in command of the Department of Columbia, he was on leave at San Mateo, California, when he fell from a buggy which he was driving and died on January 12, 1868. He is now buried in Woodlawn Memorial Park, Colma, California.

Previous Page

Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.