A prominent Union cavalry officer, Major General George Stoneman commanded the cavalry corps of the Army of the Potomac and the cavalry corps of the Army of the Ohio.
George Stoneman was born on August 8, 1822, on his family's farm in Chautauqua County, near Busti (later incorporated as the village of Lakewood), New York. Stoneman was the first of ten children (eight of whom reached adulthood) of George and Catherine Rebecca (Cheney) Stoneman. Stoneman's father was a locally prominent lumberman who also served as a justice of the peace.
Young Stoneman was educated at the Jamestown Academy, in Jamestown, New York, until the age of 18. In 1842, he entered the United States Military Academy where he roomed with future Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. Among Stoneman's other classmates were future Union General George B. McClellan, and future Confederate General George E. Pickett. Stoneman graduated from the Academy in 1846, ranked 33rd out of his class of 59 cadets.
Following his graduation from West Point, Stoneman was brevetted as a second lieutenant with the 1st Dragoons, on July 1, 1846. He served with the Mormon Battalion during the Mexican-American War (1846 – 1848), although he did not see any combat action against Mexican soldiers. The battalion, which consisted of more than 500 Mormon volunteers, was established in 1846 and was instrumental in helping the United States secure much of the Southwest and California.
Stoneman was promoted to the full rank of second lieutenant on July 12, 1847, as he continued to serve in the far west. From 1850 to 1853, he participated in the Yuma War as he helped with mapping the Sierra Nevada mountain range for railroad construction. On July 25, 1854, Stoneman was promoted to first lieutenant. Less than a year later, on March 3, 1855, he was promoted to captain and reassigned to the 2nd U.S. Cavalry in Texas. In 1858, Stoneman took a leave of absence to travel in Europe. Returning to duty in 1859, Stoneman was again stationed in Texas where he campaigned against Juan Cortina's Mexican marauders who were engaged in guerrilla warfare against the United States Army.
When the Civil War began, Stoneman was in charge of Fort Brown, Texas, serving under Major General David E. Twiggs, commander of the Department of Texas. When Twiggs, who was a southern sympathizer, ordered Stoneman to surrender his command to the Confederacy, Stoneman refused, instead escaping with most of his troops via the Gulf of Mexico.
Stoneman returned east and was assigned to the defenses of Washington, D.C. in May 1861. On May 9, he was promoted to major and assigned to the 1st Cavalry. On June 20, George B. McClellan selected Stoneman to serve as his adjutant in Western Virginia. A few weeks later, on August 13, Stoneman was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers and appointed as Chief of Cavalry of the Army of the Potomac.
On November 22, 1861, Stoneman married Mary Oliver Hardisty of Baltimore. Their marriage produced four children.
Stoneman continued in his position as Chief of Cavalry of the Army of the Potomac throughout McClellan's Peninsula Campaign (March 17–August 14, 1862). After the failed campaign, McClellan placed Stoneman in charge of the 1st division of the army's 3rd infantry corps on September 10, 1862, replacing Major General Philip Kearny who was killed on September 1 during the Battle of Chantilly. The 3rd corps was so decimated by its action during the Peninsula Campaign and the Northern Virginia Campaign that it was ordered into the defenses at Washington during the Maryland Campaign and, thus, missed the Battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862). On November 15, 1862, Stoneman was promoted to command the 3rd corps, replacing Major General Samuel P. Heintzelman who was relieved of duty with the Army of the Potomac on October 30. Stoneman was promoted to major general of volunteers on November 29, 1862.
Stoneman commanded the 3rd corps during the Battle Fredericksburg (December 11–15, 1862), but the unit was not heavily engaged. Still, he was brevetted to the rank of colonel in the regular army effective December 13, 1862, for "Gallant and Meritorious Services at the Battle of Fredericksburg."
Following the Federal defeat at Fredericksburg, Major General Joseph Hooker replaced Major General Ambrose Burnside as commander of the Army of the Potomac. February 5, 1863, Hooker reorganized the army, centralizing his horsemen and creating a cavalry corps consisting of three divisions. Hooker chose Stoneman to command the new corps.
When Hooker began his 1863 spring offensive, which would culminate at the Battle of Chancellorsville (April 30 – May 6), he sent Stoneman on a major raid behind enemy lines near Fredericksburg. Stoneman's Raid of 1863 began on April 13 when the cavalry commander led 10,000 Federal troopers out of the main camp of the Army of the Potomac near Falmouth, Virginia, with orders to sever the Army of Northern Virginia's supply lines, thereby forcing them to abandon their defenses at Fredericksburg. Two days later, torrential rains began falling, making the Rappahannock River impassable. Stoneman was unable to begin his crossing of the Rappahannock until April 27, placing Hooker's plan far behind schedule. Once across the river, Stoneman was able to destroy some railroad lines between Richmond and Fredericksburg, but he was unable to completely sever the Rebel supply lines. Losing contact with Hooker on April 30, he did not rejoin the army until May 7, after the Battle of Chancellorsville.
Eager to find a scapegoat for the Federal defeat at Chancellorsville, and deflect criticism from himself, Hooker placed much of the blame on Stoneman. On June 7, 1863, Hooker sacked Stoneman and placed Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton in charge of the cavalry corps. Stoneman was sent back to Washington where he went on sick leave from June 10 to July 20, to receive medical treatment for a severe case of hemorrhoids, which was aggravated by his prolonged service on horseback. On July 28, Stoneman was assigned to a desk job in the nation's capital as Chief of the Cavalry Bureau.
On January 29, 1864 Stoneman secured another field assignment as commander of the cavalry corps of the 23rd Army Corps. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in the regular army on March 30, 1864, and assigned to command the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Ohio. While participating in Major General William T. Sherman's Atlanta Campaign (May 7 - September 2, 1864), Stoneman was captured on July 31 at Clinton, Georgia while leading an unsuccessful raid to free Federal soldiers from the infamous Andersonville prison. The highest ranking Union officer captured during the war, Stoneman was exchanged after three months of captivity, on October 27, for Confederate Brigadier General Daniel C. Govan.
After his release, Stoneman served temporarily as commander of the Department of the Ohio during November 1864. In December, he led a raid into Southwestern Virginia during which his troopers captured and destroyed the vital Rebel saltworks at Saltville, Virginia. Upon his return, he served briefly as commander of the District of East Tennessee, from February 14 to March 20, 1865. On March 13, Stoneman was brevetted to major general in the regular army "for Gallant and Meritorious Services in the Field during the Rebellion."
On March 20, 1865, Stoneman led roughly 4,000 troopers out of Knoxville on an expedition into western North Carolina and Virginia. Known as Stoneman's Raid of 1865, the foray coincided with Sherman's more-publicized march through the eastern Carolinas. Like Sherman, Stoneman's aim was to demoralize Southern sympathizers by implementing the slash-and-burn practices of "total war." Traveling more than 2,000 miles in 38 days, Stoneman's troopers destroyed hundreds of miles of railroad, and sacked the towns of Statesville, Lincolnton, Taylorsville, and Asheville, North Carolina. The controversial invasion did not end until Stoneman's return to Tennessee on April 26, the same day Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered to Sherman.
Upon his return, Stoneman held several administrative assignments. From June 27, 1865, to June 5, 1866, he served as commander of the Department of Tennessee. During his tenure in that position racial riots erupted in Memphis on May 1 – 3, 1866, resulting in the death of 46 blacks and 2 whites, in addition to multiple instances of rape, robbery, and arson in predominantly black neighborhoods. Stoneman was later investigated (and exonerated) by Congress for failing to deploy Federal troops to quell the violence until the third day. On July 28, 1866, Stoneman was promoted to the full rank of colonel in the regular army.
After the Civil War ended, Stoneman commanded the District of Petersburg from December 17, 1866, to June 1, 1868. Although he became a member of the Democratic Party and opposed Radical Reconstruction policies, Stonemen commanded the First Military District from June 2, 1868, to March 31, 1869.
In 1869, Stoneman was transferred to the West where he commanded the District of Arizona, (August 16, 1869 – May 2, 1870) and the Department of Arizona, (May 3, 1870 – June 4, 1871). His controversial handling of Indian uprisings resulted in his dismissal on June 4. On August 16, 1871, the Board to Retire Disabled Officers granted Stoneman a disability retirement, at his brevetted rank of major general, due to the severe case of hemorrhoids from which he still suffered. Three days later, President Grant revoked the disability allowance and Stoneman was forced to retire at his regular army grade of colonel
Stoneman moved to California where he became a rancher on a 400-acre estate in the San Gabriel Valley, near Los Angeles. He also served as a state railroad commissioner from 1876 to 1878. In 1882, voters elected Stoneman as Governor of California for one four-year term from January 10, 1883, to January 10, 1887. Under terms of the California state constitution, Stoneman had to waive his military pension to serve as governor, an action he would later regret. At the conclusion of his term, the Democratic Party did not renominate Stoneman due to political tensions over railroad and water issues.
Stoneman's last years were not happy ones. On July 17, 1885, his uninsured house burned to the ground with all of his possessions, leaving him impoverished. On February 9, 1891, after much political maneuvering, Congress passed special legislation reinstating Stoneman's retirement benefits. Stoneman moved his family to Los Angeles where his wife was implicated in an alleged extra-marital affair. Possibly to escape the resulting notoriety, Stoneman traveled to Buffalo, New York to visit his sister, Charlotte S. Williams, wife of New York Senator Benjamin H. Williams, in 1891. As his health deteriorated, he decided to stay in New York, never returning to his family in California.
Stoneman suffered a stroke in April 1894, from which he never recovered. He died on the morning of September 5, 1894. Stoneman was buried at Bentley Cemetery in Lakewood, New York, following funeral services in Buffalo.
Cite this Entry
"George Stoneman," Ohio Civil War Central, 2022, Ohio Civil War Central. 16 May 2022 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=1031>
"George Stoneman." (2022) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved May 16, 2022, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=1031
- Alfred Pleasonton
- Ambrose E. Burnside
- Army of Northern Virginia
- Army of the Ohio 1861 - 1862
- Army of the Potomac (USA)
- Atlanta Campaign
- Battle of Antietam
- Battle of Chancellorsville
- Battle of Chantilly
- Department of the Ohio
- General Orders, No. 316 (U.S. War Department)
- General Orders, No. 34 (U.S. War Department) (1864)
- General Orders, No. 96 (U.S. War Department) (1863)
- George B. McClellan
- Joseph E. Johnston
- Joseph Hooker
- Maryland Campaign
- Mexican-American War
- Northern Virginia Campaign
- Peninsula Campaign
- Philip Kearny
- William T. Sherman
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