Francis Jay Herron was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on February 17, 1837. He was the third child of John and Clarissa (Anderson) Herron. John Herron was a prosperous pioneer businessman, contractor, lumberman, and coal mine owner in western Pennsylvania.
After receiving his primary education in local schools, Francis Herron briefly attended the Western University of Pennsylvania (University of Pittsburgh). At the age of sixteen, he left school without completing his degree to join the banking firm of Herron & Brothers in Pittsburgh. In 1855, Herron moved to Dubuque, Iowa, where he established a bank with his brothers.
By 1859, increasing violence and sectional disunity on the Western frontier prompted Herron to help organize a militia company known as the “Governor’s Grays.” Subsequently elected captain of the unit, Herron offered its services to President-elect Abraham Lincoln in January 1861. When Lincoln issued his call for volunteers after the Civil War erupted, Herron and his men joined the U.S. Volunteer Army as Company 1 of the First Iowa Infantry. Before the ninety-day unit mustered out of service on August 20, 1861, it took part in the Union defeat at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek on August 10.
Capture, Imprisonment, and Exchange
At the end of his three-month enlistment, Herron joined the 9th Iowa Volunteer Regiment at the rank of lieutenant colonel on September 24, 1861. Five months later, enemy soldiers shot Herron’s horse from under him as he was rallying his troops during the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas (March 7-8, 1862). Herron suffered a broken ankle leading to his capture by Confederate soldiers. The Rebels subsequently imprisoned Herron at Van Buren, Arkansas, until they exchanged him on March 20, 1862.
Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient
Upon returning to his unit, army officials promoted Herron to brigadier general, effective July 16, 1862 (General Orders, No. 93: U.S. War Department, August 2, 1862). Thirty-one-years later, on September 26, 1893, Congress awarded Herron the Medal of Honor, noting that he “Was foremost in leading his men, rallying them to repeated acts of daring, until himself disabled and taken prisoner” during the decisive Union victory at the Battle of Pea Ridge.
Action in Missouri
On August 21, 1862, the U.S. Army issued Special Orders, No. 200 directing Herron to report to Brigadier General John M. Schofield, commanding District of the Missouri, in Saint Louis. When Confederates again began threatening southwest Missouri the War Department issued General Orders, No. 135 on September 19, 1862, re-creating the Department of the Missouri under the direction of Major General Samuel R. Curtis. A few weeks later, on October 12, 1862, Curtis issued General Orders, No. 7 (Department of the Missouri) appointing Brigadier General John M. Schofield to command roughly 15,000 soldiers, “denominated the Army of the Frontier” operating in the department. Schofield selected brigadier generals James G. Blunt, James Totten, and Herron respectively to lead the army’s three divisions.
Success at the Battle of Prairie Grove
On November 20, 1862, due to illness, Schofield temporarily turned over his command to Blunt. A week later, Blunt moved 5,000 of his men into Northwest Arkansas to check a Confederate force headed toward Southern Missouri. Blunt’s men successfully scattered the Rebel force at the Battle of Cane Hill on November 28, 1862.
A week later, Herron (now commanding the second and third divisions of the Army of the Frontier) ordered his men on a forced march of over 110 miles in three days to come to the aid of Blunt’s division at the Battle of Prairie Grove. Herron’s arrival on December 7, 1862, cemented the Federal victory.
Two weeks later, Herron’s men took part in the Union victory at Battle of Van Buren (December 28, 1862), solidifying federal control of Northwest Arkansas.
Army of the Frontier Commander
One month prior to the Battle of Van Buren, President Abraham Lincoln advanced Brigadier General Schofield to the rank of major general, pending approval by the U.S. Senate. On December 29, 1862, the day after the Battle of Van Buren, Schofield returned to Southern Missouri and resumed command of the Army of the Frontier. Soon thereafter, following the recommendation of General Curtis, Lincoln also nominated Blunt and Herron for appointments to major general. When the Senate considered the appointments of the three brigadiers, it confirmed Herron and Blunt but declined to advance Schofield.
The Senate’s rejection of Schofield’s appointment created the awkward situation of two major generals serving under a brigadier general who was not eligible to command an army due to his rank. Curtis resolved the issue on March 30, 1863, by issuing General Orders, No. 24 (Department of the Missouri) naming Herron to supersede Schofield as commander of the Army of the Frontier. The War Department, meanwhile, ordered Schofield to report to Major General William S. Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland, assigned to command the Third Division of Major General George M. Thomas’ Fourteenth Corps. When Herron assumed command of the Army of the Frontier on April 1, 1863, he was the youngest two-star general in the volunteer army to date.
Threat to Resign
On May 12, 1863, President Lincoln again advanced Schofield to the rank of major general pending Senate approval. The next day, the War Department appointed Schofield to replace Curtis as commander of the Department of the Missouri. Herron disliked Schofield and upon learning of his former commander’s promotion, Herron wrote to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton requesting “to be relieved from duty in this department and ordered somewhere else.” Herron then doubled down on his objections by stating that “I cannot consent to serve under General Schofield, and would prefer to have my resignation accepted than be compelled to do so.”
The next day, Stanton called Herron’s bluff, firing back a missive declaring that “Your dispatch threatening to resign rather than serve under General Schofield has been received and shown to the President. He directs me to say that he is unaware of any valid objection to General Schofield . . . .” Stanton warned Herron that “insubordination will be met as insubordination, and that your resignation will be acted upon as circumstances may require whenever it is tendered.” Herron wisely let the matter drop and did not follow through on his threat to resign.
Schofield artfully resolved the conflict with Herron three weeks later when General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck requested Schofield to provide troops to support of Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s operations against Vicksburg. On June 2, 1863, Schofield complied by ordering Herron, along with the second and third divisions of the Army of the Frontier, to join Grant’s offensive. Upon his arrival, Herron’s two divisions merged to form “Herron’s Division” of the 17th Army Corps during the rest of the Vicksburg Campaign. When Vicksburg officials surrendered on July 4, 1863, Ulysses S. Grant selected Herron as one of three Union generals to lead Federal soldiers into the city.
Service in Louisiana
After the fall of the Vicksburg, the War Department transferred Herron’s men to Port Hudson, Louisiana, on July 24, 1863. Two weeks later, on August 7, the department transferred Herron and his division to the 13th Army Corps commanded by Major General Edward Ord. On August 14, 1863, Ord issued General Orders, No. 24 (13th Army Corps) announcing that “The division known as the Army of the Frontier, Major General F. J. Herron commanding, will henceforth be known as the Second Division Thirteenth Army Corps.”
Service in Texas
Herron remained on duty in Louisiana until December 24, 1863, when Major General Nathaniel Banks issued General Orders, No. 322 (Department of the Gulf) stating that “Major General Francis J. Herron, U. S. Volunteers, will proceed without delay to Brownsville, Tex., and report to Major General N. J. T. Dana, U. S. Volunteers, to take command of the Rio Grande frontier of Texas.” Herron arrived in Brownsville on January 3, 1864, and assumed his new duties. During the seven months that he served there, he assisted Mexican President Benito Juarez in preventing the French troops of Emperor Maximilian from establishing a presence along the Rio Grande River.
District of Baton Rouge and Port Hudson Commander
On August 6, 1864, General Banks issued General Orders, No. 209 (Department of the Gulf) announcing that “A military district is hereby created, to be known as the District of Baton Rouge and Port Hudson, including the posts of Baton Rouge and Port Hudson. Major General Francis J. Herron, U. S. Volunteers is assigned to the command, and all troops serving within the district will be subject to his orders.” Herron departed Texas and arrived back in Louisiana by late August 1864.
Northern Division of Louisiana Commander
On February 9, 1865, Banks issued General Orders, No. 8 (Department of the Gulf) assigning Herron to command the Northern Division of Louisiana. Herron assumed his new duties on February 14 and he remained in command of the Northern District until he mustered out of the volunteer army on June 7, 1865.
Post-war Life and Marriage
Following the Civil War, Herron remained in Louisiana for eight years, holding various Reconstruction appointments including tax collector in New Orleans, U.S. marshal, and acting secretary of state. While living in New Orleans, Herron married Adelaide Sophia Flash (Wibray) the widowed mother of three children.
In 1877, Herron moved to New York City to resume his banking career. Regrettably, his business ventures were unsuccessful and he died penniless in a New York tenement house on January 8, 1902. Herron’s remains are buried in Calvary Cemetery, Long Island, New York, next to his wife who passed the previous year.