James Abram Garfield
General & President
James Abram Garfield, twentieth President of the United States, was born on a pioneer farm in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, on November 19, 1831. Rendered fatherless as an infant, his early life was marked by deprivation, unceasing toil, and the ambition to obtain an education and better himself. He was graduated from Williams College in 1856, served as a schoolmaster, and in 1859 was elected to the Ohio senate as a Republican and ardent free-soiler. There he distinguished himself as a fluent and persuasive speaker and debater. With the advent of civil war, he aided in the recruitment of the 42nd Ohio, of which he was made lieutenant colonel in August, 1861, and colonel in December. Garfield's principal distinction as a soldier was his zeal in mastering the profession and his willingness to study the manuals. Having impressed his superiors by his ability to turn recruits into soldiers, he was sent to D. C. Buell's army in Kentucky. Buell gave him command of a brigade and sent him to the Big Sandy Valley, where in January, 1862, he won an unimportant engagement over West Point Confederate Humphrey Marshall, an inept commander. Nevertheless, Garfield was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers to rank from January 11, 1862; he fought under Buell on the second day at Shiloh, when the latter rescued U. S. Grant and W. T. Sherman; and took part in the siege of Corinth in the division of T. J. Wood. From that time until autumn he was plagued by ill health but on November 17, 1862, was named to the military commission which drove Major General Fitz John Porter from the service. The following spring Garfield became chief of staff to General William S. Rosecrans, who was commanding the Army of the Cumberland. At the disastrous battle of Chickamauga Rosecrans, the army commander, was completely discredited, but his chief of staff was awarded a promotion to major general. This appointment was made after Ohio elected Garfield to the U. S. House of Representatives. Garfield served nine terms in the House; he was elected to the Senate at the same time he was nominated for the presidency. (To describe his alleged complicity in the Credit Mobilier and DeGolyer scandals and the complexities attending his election to the presidency and the choice of his Cabinet, is beyond the scope of this volume.) Four months after his inauguration on July 2, 1881, he was shot down in the Washington railroad depot, while en route to Williamstown for commencement exercises, by a mentally unbalanced office-seeker named Charles J. Guiteau. The ball, according to contemporary accounts, "entered by the back, fractured a rib, and lodged deep in the body." Amazingly enough, the President was kept alive for eleven weeks, surviving both the heat of midsummer Washington and removal to Elberon, New Jersey, on September 6. He succumbed there on September 19 and, after funeral obsequies reminiscent of Abraham Lincoln's, was buried in Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio.
Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.