Robert Cumming Schenck

Robert Cumming Schenck, a celebrated nineteenth-century figure almost unknown today, was born on October 4, 1809, in the Ohio River village of Franklin which his father is said to have founded. Aside from his connection with the Civil War, in which he attained the rank of major general, his talents won him eight terms in Congress, eight years as principal diplomatic representative of the United States in South America and to the Court of St. James, membership on the Alabama Claims Commission, and a reputation for being an authority on draw poker. He was graduated from Miami University in 1827, began the practice of law in Dayton, was elected to the Ohio legislature in 1840, and to Congress in 1842, as a Whig. After serving four terms in Congress, Schenck was made minister to Brazil by President Filmore; he held this position until 1853. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Schenck, who had campaigned enthusiastically for Abraham Lincoln, was made a brigadier general of volunteers on June 5, 1861, to rank from May 17. He commanded a brigade of General Daniel Tyler's division at First Manassas and saw service in the Shenandoah Valley the following spring during Stonewall Jackson's famous campaign. At Second Manassas he led the 1st Division of Si-gel's I Corps of the Army of Virginia and was disabled for further field service by a wound in the arm. He was made major general to rank from August 30, 1862, and commanded the Middle Department and VIII Corps at Baltimore until he resigned on December 5, 1863, to sit again in Congress. In the ensuing eight years Schenck occupied the powerful chairmanship of the committee on military affairs, and later of ways and means. Failing of reelection in 1870, he was sent by President Grant as minister to London, where he took part in settling the claims arising from the exploits of Raphael Semmes and his Confederate raider. In 1876 Schenck gave permission for the use of his name in the sale of stock in England for a Utah silver mine of which he was a director; this brought about his resignation and return to the States. He resumed the practice of law in Washington, meanwhile acquiring the reputation of being an authority on draw poker—a subject about which he wrote a treatise. General Schenck died in Washington on March 23, 1890, and was buried in Woodland Cemetery, Dayton, Ohio.

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