John Newton, whose ancestors had lived in Norfolk, Virginia, for almost two centuries, was born there August 25, 1822. He was the son of Thomas Newton, who represented his district in Congress for twenty-nine years. He was graduated second in the class of 1842, which included such illustrious names as W. S. Rosecrans, G. W. Smith, Mansfield Lovell, A. P. Stewart, John Pope, Seth Williams, Abner Doubleday, D. H. Hill, George Sykes, R. H. Anderson, Lafayette McLaws, Earl Van Dorn, and James Longstreet—to name only the more prominent. Assigned to the Corps of Engineers, his antebellum service was entirely in that branch. His only field service was in the Mormon Expedition of 1858. Newton was made a brigadier general of volunteers on September 23, 1861, and during the ensuing winter employed his acknowledged talents on the Washington defenses. As George B. McClellan's Peninsular campaign got under way, Newton transferred from staff to line and commanded a brigade of Slocum's division of the VI Corps there and in the Maryland campaign, which culminated in the drawn battle of Sharpsburg. Shortly afterward Newton was assigned to divisional command and at Fredericksburg suffered only nominal losses in the course of a fight which was a bloody repulse for the Federals. At this juncture he took it upon himself, along with others, to express directly to President Lincoln his distrust of Ambrose E. Burnside, who was commanding the Army of the Potomac. As a result of this he was included in the list of seven generals whom Burnside wished dismissed as a condition of his remaining in command. Lincoln relieved Burnside instead, but Newton's subsequent testimony before the Joint Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War on this matter seems to have militated against the confirmation of his appointment as major general of volunteers, a grade to which he was advanced on March 30, 1863. Certainly his accomplishments on the field of battle left little to be desired. He was conspicuous in storming Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg during the campaign of Chancellorsville, and at Gettysburg he was selected by George G. Meade to direct the I Corps after the death of John F. Reynolds, even though he belonged to a different corps. After the corps was broken up and reassigned, he went to the western army under Sherman and served with distinction in the Atlanta campaign in command of a division in Howard's IV Corps of the Army of the Cumberland. After the fall of Atlanta proper Newton commanded the District of West Florida until war's end. His substantive grade of major general of volunteers was revoked as of April 18, 1864; at the end of the war, however, he was brevetted major general in both the regular and volunteer services. In the postbellum years he had a most distinguished career in the Corps of Engineers, becoming Chief of Engineers with rank of brigadier general on March 6, 1884. During this period his most notable exploit was the removal by blasting of two of the major hazards to navigation in New York's East River—a project in which he was aided by the ex-Confederate major general, Mansfield Lovell. General Newton was retired in 1886 and died at his New York residence May 1, 1895. He was buried at West Point.
Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.