Major General David S. Stanley was a prominent Union officer and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, who served as commander of the 4th Army Corps in the Western Theater of the American Civil War.
David Sloane (or Sloan) Stanley was born on June 1, 1828, in Cedar Valley, an unincorporated area in southwestern Wayne County, Ohio. He was the second of five children born to John Bratton and Sarah (Peterson) Stanley. Stanley spent his early years helping on the family farm.
At eleven years of age, Stanley went to live with noted Ohio physician Dr. Leander Firestone, who practiced medicine in the village of Congress, a few miles northwest of Stanley’s birthplace. While living with Dr. Firestone, Stanley attended the village school and later the Canaan Academy in nearby Windsor, Ohio. Apparently, Stanley was an able student. Under the aegis of Dr. Livingston and Ohio Congressman Samuel Lahm, he received an appointment to the United States Military Academy.
U.S. Military Academy Cadet
Stanley entered West Point on July 1, 1848. Among his classmates who later became general officers in the Union Army were Henry W. Slocum, Alexander D. McCook, August V. Kautz, and George Crook. Stanley proved to be a talented student, graduating ninth in his class of forty-three cadets on July 1, 1852.
U.S. Army Officer
Following his graduation, army officials brevetted Stanley as a second lieutenant and assigned him to the 2nd U.S. Dragoons. After nine months of training at the Cavalry School for Practice, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Stanley served on a surveying party, charting the route for the Pacific Railroad from Arkansas to California. On September 6, 1853, the army promoted Stanley to the full rank of second lieutenant. For the next few years, Stanley continued to serve in the American West. On March 3, 1855, officials transferred him to the 1st Cavalry and less than one month later, on March 27, and promoted him to first lieutenant. In 1856, the army transferred Stanley and his regiment to “Bleeding Kansas” to help stifle the violent strife between “Free Soilers” and pro-slavery advocates.
On April 2, 1857, Stanley married Anna M. Wright, who he had known since his time at West Point. Their marriage lasted for nearly forty years and produced seven children.
Also in 1857, Stanley had a potential brush with death when his weapon jammed while he was pursuing a Cheyenne warrior near Solomon Fork, Kansas. As his adversary charged at him with a drawn pistol, Stanley drew his sword and hoped to avoid being shot. In the nick of time, future Confederate General J. E. B. Stuart intervened on horseback, striking the warrior with his saber. The Cheyenne’s pistol fired, wounding Stuart in the chest. By that time, another federal officer closed on the unfortunate native and ran him through with his sword. Stuart’s wounds were not very serious, and Stanley survived the incident. Stanley passed the next four years, campaigning against Native Americans, while stationed at various posts in the American West. On March 1, 1861, the army promoted Stanley to the rank of captain.
When the American Civil War erupted, Stanley marched his command from Arkansas to Missouri, which was on the brink of secession. Serving under Major General John C. Frémont, Stanley engaged in federal struggles to drive Confederate partisans, led by Sterling Price and Ben McCulloch, from the state. Early Rebel victories at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek (August 10, 1861) and the Battle of Lexington (September 12-20, 1861) forced Frémont to reorganize his forces. The restructuring benefited Stanley, who the War Department commissioned as a brigadier general in the volunteer army on September 28, 1861. The War Department officially announced his promotion in General Orders, No. 106, issued on December 5, 1861.
Frémont’s independent nature and poor relationships with his superiors eventually cost him his command in the West. By direction of President Abraham Lincoln, the War Department issued General Orders, No. 18, on October 24, 1861, naming Major General David Hunter to replace Frémont as commander of the Western Department. A little over two weeks later, on November 9, 1861, the War Department issued General Orders, No. 97, reorganizing federal forces in the West and assigning Major General Henry W. Halleck to command the newly created Department of the Missouri. It was at about this time that Stanley broke his ankle while mounting an uncooperative horse, causing him to serve in a non-combat role until January 1862.
Army of the Mississippi
When Stanley returned to active duty, officials placed him in command of the 1st Division of Major General John Pope’s Army of the Mississippi. Stanley’s small division comprised four Ohio regiments, the 27th, 39th, 43rd, and 63rd Ohio Volunteer Infantries. Under Pope’s command, Stanley’s Division took part in the Union operations at New Madrid and Island No. 10 (February 28, 1862–April 8, 1862), which helped secure federal control of the Mississippi River down to Fort Pillow in Tennessee. Afterward, Stanley took part in Halleck’s Siege of Corinth, Mississippi (April 29, 1862-May 30, 1862) and in the subsequent pursuit of Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard’s retreating Rebel army.
In June 1862, President Lincoln appointed Pope to command the newly created Army of Virginia. On June 26, Brigadier General William S. Rosecrans succeeded Pope as commander of the Army of the Mississippi. Under Rosecrans’ leadership, Stanley commanded the 2nd Division of the Army of the Mississippi at the Union victory at the Battle of Iuka (September 19, 1862). Afterward, Stanley’s Division returned with the Army of the Mississippi to Corinth, where they successfully defended the town from a Confederate attack at the Second Battle of Corinth (October 3-4, 1862).
Army of the Cumberland Chief of Cavalry
Three weeks after the Second Battle of Corinth, the War Department issued General Orders, No. 168, on October 24, 1862, which re-created the Department of the Cumberland, with Major General William Rosecrans commanding. Almost immediately, Rosecrans began lobbying to expand his cavalry under Stanley’s command. Washington officials quickly complied with Rosecrans’ requests. On November 24, 1862, Rosecrans appointed Stanley as Chief of Cavalry of the Army of the Cumberland.
One month later, Stanley’s cavalry took part in the Union victory at the Battle of Stones River (December 31, 1862-January 2, 1863). His “gallant and meritorious services” during that engagement earned him a brevet promotion to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the regular army. Impressed with Stanley’s performance at Stones River, in February 1863, Rosecrans recommended promoting his cavalry commander to major general of volunteers. Rosecrans’ endorsement proved effective. At the outset of the Tullahoma Campaign (June 24–July 3, 1863), army officials listed Stanley as major general, commanding the cavalry corps. The War Department officially announced Stanley’s appointment to that rank (to date from November 29, 1862) in General Orders, No. 316 on September 18, 1863.
Stanley’s cavalry served as Rosecrans’ eyes and ears as the Army of the Cumberland advanced through Tennessee, but in late summer, Stanley fell ill and missed the Battle of Chickamauga (September 19-20, 1863). While Stanley was away, the War Department issued General Orders, No. 322, which merged the 20th and 21st Army Corps to form the 4th Corps. When Stanley returned to action in November 1863, officials placed him in command of the 1st Division of the 4th Corps and sent north to help relieve Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s troops, who were under siege at Knoxville, Tennessee. On December 3, 1863, officials promoted him to the rank of major in the regular army.
Stanley’s division remained in eastern Tennessee for a few months after Confederate General James Longstreet lifted his siege of Knoxville in December. In May 1864, the army sent the 4th Corps south to join Major General William T. Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign. During the early phases of that campaign, Stanley’s Division took part in operations around Dalton, Georgia (May 7‑13), the Battle of Resaca (May 15), the Battle of Dallas (May 26–June 4), the Battle of Pickett’s Mills (May 27, 1864), the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (June 27, 1864), and the Battle of Peachtree Creek, (July 20, 1864). Stanley received a brevet promotion to the rank of colonel in the regular army for his “Gallant and Meritorious Services at the Battle of Resaca, Ga.”
On July 30, 1864, the War Department issued General Orders, No. 238, announcing Stanley’s appointment to command the 4th Army Corps (to date from July 27), following Major General Oliver O. Howard’s promotion to command of the Army of the Tennessee. Stanley led the 4th Corps throughout the rest of the Atlanta Campaign, including at the Battle of Jonesborough (August 31-September 1, 1864), where he was wounded.
After the fall and occupation of Atlanta, Sherman embarked on his March to the Sea. While he was busy making Georgia howl, Sherman turned the pursuit of Confederate General John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee over to Major General George H. Thomas, commander of the Army of the Cumberland. Hood’s army was moving north toward Nashville, Tennessee, where Thomas had approximately 30,000 Union troops stationed. To the south, 30,000 more Federal troops, under the command of Major General John Schofield, were in pursuit of Hood. Hood had grand dreams of defeating each Union force before they united, wrest Nashville from Union control, and possibly invade Ohio.
Schofield’s army, including Stanley’s 4th Corps, dashed Hood’s dreams when they slipped past the Army of Tennessee at Spring Hill, Tennessee, during the night of November 29, 1864. On the following day, determined to crush Schofield’s force before it could unite with Thomas at Nashville, Hood ordered an all-out assault against Schofield outside of Franklin, Tennessee. Initially, the Confederates exploited a weakness in the center of the Union defenses, but the Federals recovered. Subsequent Rebel attacks on both flanks were also unsuccessful. Repulsed on all fronts, Hood called off the assault after darkness. By 11:00 p.m. that night, Schofield’s army began crossing the Harpeth River and was on its way to Nashville. During the fighting at the Battle of Franklin, near the center of the Union line late in the afternoon, an enemy soldier shot Stanley through the neck, putting him out of action until January 1865.
By the time Stanley returned to his command on January 31, 1865, Thomas and Schofield had decimated Hood’s army at the Battle of Nashville (December 15-16, 1864), sending the defeated Rebels scurrying out of Tennessee and into northern Alabama. After pursuing Hood’s retreating army, Stanley’s corps returned to East Tennessee in the spring of 1865 to prevent Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, which was under assault by the Army of the Potomac at Petersburg, Virginia, from escaping to the west.
On March 13, 1865, Stanley received a brevet promotion to brigadier general in the regular army for “Gallant and Meritorious Conduct” during the Battle of Ruff’s Station, Georgia on July 4, 1864, and a brevet promotion to major general in the regular army for “Gallant and Meritorious Conduct” during the Battle of Franklin on November 30, 1864. In June 1865, the army sent Stanley and his corps to New Orleans, Louisiana en route to Texas, where they spent the rest of the year.
Post-war Assignments and Retirement from Regular Army
Stanley mustered out of volunteer service on February 1, 1866, but he continued his military career as colonel of the 22nd Infantry in the United States Army. For the next twenty-six years, he served at numerous posts, mostly in the American West. Of particular note was an expedition that he led to explore parts of Montana along the Yellowstone River in 1873. Stanley served as commander of the Department of New Mexico from November 3, 1883 to May 1, 1884. While there, the army promoted to the rank of brigadier general on March 24, 1884. On May 8, 1884, officials appointed Stanley as commander of the Department of Texas. Eight years later, the War Department issued General Orders, No. 34, announcing Stanley’s retirement from active service on June 1, 1892. Stanley subsequently moved on to become Governor of the Soldiers’ Home in Washington, DC., from September 13, 1893, until April 15, 1898.
Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient
On March 29, 1893, the United States Congress honored Stanley’s performance at the Battle of Franklin by awarding him the Congressional Medal of Honor. His citation noted that Stanley “At a critical moment rode to the front of one of his brigades, reestablished its lines, and gallantly led it in a successful assault.”
Stanley died of kidney failure (chronic Bright’s Disease) on March 13, 1902, at the age of seventy-three, at his residence in Washington, DC. His remains were interred at the United States Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery at the nation’s capital.