Gordon Granger was born in the town of Joy, in Wayne County, New York, on November 6, 1822. He was the only son and eldest of three children of Gaius and Catherine (Taylor) Granger. Granger’s father was a farmer and a sawmill owner. Granger’s mother died when he was three years old, and he spent much of his youth with his paternal grandparents. Granger attended the local one-room school and taught school for two years before receiving an appointment to the United States Military Academy.
Granger entered the U.S. Military Academy on July 1, 1841, and graduated on July 1, 1845, ranked thirty-fifth in his class of forty-one cadets. Among his classmates were future Union generals William F. “Baldy” Smith, Thomas J. Wood, Fitz-John Porter, and future Confederate General Kirby Smith.
U.S. Army Officer
Following his graduation, Granger received a brevet promotion as a second lieutenant with the 2nd U.S. Infantry. During the next two years, he served in garrison at Detroit Barracks and at Jefferson Barracks. Shortly before the outbreak of the Mexican-American War, army officials transferred Granger to the U.S. Mounted Rifles on July 17, 1846.
During the Mexican-American War, Granger fought in the army, under the command of Winfield Scott. He took part in the Siege of Veracruz (March 9-29, 1847), the Battle of Cerro Gordo (April 17-18, 1847), the Battle of Contreras (August 19-20, 1847), the Battle of Churubusco, (August 20, 1847) the Battle of Chapultepec (September 12-13, 1847), and the occupation of Mexico City on September 14. During the war, the army promoted Granger to second lieutenant on May 29, 1847, brevetted him to first lieutenant on August. 20, 1847 (for Gallant and Meritorious Conduct in the Battles of Contreras and Churubusco), and brevetted him to captain on September 13, 1847 (for Gallant and Meritorious Conduct in the Battle of Chapultepec).
Service in the West
Following the Mexican-American War, Granger served for roughly thirteen years in the American West, mostly in Texas and New Mexico, except for a trip to Europe during 1851 and 1852. On May 24, 1852, the army promoted Granger to first lieutenant.
When the Civil War erupted, the War Department commissioned Granger as a lieutenant colonel in the volunteer army and assigned him to mustering duty in Ohio. Granger served on the staff of Major General George B. McClellan from April 23 to May 31, 1861. On May 5, the army promoted him to the rank of captain in the regular army.
Battle of Wilson’s Creek
In June 1861, officials promoted Granger to the staff of Major Samuel D. Sturgis in Missouri. While there, he took part in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek on August 10, 1861, for which he received a brevet promotion to major, “for Gallant and Meritorious Conduct.” During a brief term as commander of the St. Louis Arsenal, from September 1 to December 31, 1861, army officials promoted Granger to the rank of colonel with the 2nd Michigan Volunteer Cavalry on September 2, 1861.
Army of the Mississippi
During the next spring, officials placed Granger in command of the Cavalry Division of the newly created Army of the Mississippi, under the command of Major General John Pope. On March 14, 1862, the Army of the Mississippi forced the withdrawal of Confederate troops from New Madrid, Missouri to Island No. 10 on the Mississippi River. Then, with the help of Flag Officer Andrew Hull Foote’s naval forces, the Yankees subdued the Confederate garrison on the island on April 7, 1862, taking nearly 7,000 prisoners, while suffering fewer than 100 casualties. Pope’s victory gave the Union control of the river as far south as Memphis, Tennessee. During the operation, the War Department promoted Granger to brigadier general of volunteers on March 26, 1862.
Siege of Corinth
On April 17, 1862, Pope’s command sailed to Hamburg Landing on the Tennessee River and joined the Union advance upon Corinth, Mississippi. The Army of the Mississippi, including Granger’s cavalry division, took part in the Siege of Corinth from April 29 to May 30, 1862, serving on the extreme left of the Union lines. Later that summer, Granger briefly commanded the 5th Division and Cavalry of the Army of the Mississippi from August 1 to September 5, 1862.
Army of Kentucky and District of Central Kentucky Commander
On September 17, 1862, the War Department promoted Granger to major general of volunteers. A few weeks later, on October 7, 1862, Major General Horatio G. Wright, commanding the Department of the Ohio, issued Special Order No. 51. Wright’s order appointed Granger to command the newly created Army of Kentucky, which included, “all of the forces now operating in Kentucky on the line of the Licking River, extending from the Ohio River southward in the direction of Lexington.” Wright specified that “As new regiments, detachments, batteries, &c, arrive from the several states of this department they will be incorporated into and organized with the forces of his command already assembled.” By the end of the month, Granger reported that he had 19,751 enlisted men and 939 officers present for duty. On November 17, 1862, the War Department expanded Granger’s authority to include command of the District of Central Kentucky.
First Battle of Franklin
On January 20, 1863, Wright sent Granger and most of the Army of Kentucky, “to the Department of the Cumberland, to operate with the forces within that department.” Granger’s men fought at the Battle of Thompson’s Station in Williamson County, Tennessee on March 5, 1863. One month later, the Army of Kentucky defeated Confederate General Earl Van Dorn’s forces at the First Battle of Franklin (also known as the Battle of Harpeth River) on April 10, 1863.
On June 8, 1863, Major General William S. Rosecrans, commanding the Department of the Cumberland, issued Special Field Order No. 156, reorganizing most of the units comprising the Army of the Kentucky. Many of the soldiers remained under Granger’s command as the Reserve Corps of the Army of the Cumberland. Later that summer, Granger’s forces took part in the Tullahoma Campaign (June 24–July 3, 1863), and drove the Confederate Army of Tennessee, under command of General Braxton Bragg, out of Middle Tennessee. During the campaign, the War Department also placed Granger in charge of the District of the Cumberland. He served in that capacity from June 24 to October 10, 1863.
Battle of Chickamauga
After the Tullahoma Campaign, Rosecrans continued to pursue Bragg, forcing him to move to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Rosecrans’s constant pressure eventually forced Bragg out of Chattanooga and into northern Georgia. Determined to recapture the city, Bragg reversed his retreat and surprised Rosecrans’s forces near Chickamauga Creek on September 18. On the next day, a major battle erupted, forcing the Federals to fall back. On September 20, the left end of the Union line broke, driving Rosecrans and one-third of his army from the field. When Major General George H. Thomas took command of the remaining soldiers and began restoring order, Granger, without orders, reinforced Thomas. Granger’s assistance enabled the Union forces to retreat in good order, helping stave off a complete rout. For his gallant actions during the Battle of Chickamauga, Granger was brevetted to lieutenant colonel in the regular army.
Bragg’s victory at Chickamauga forced Rosecrans back to Chattanooga, where his forces occupied the defensive works previously constructed by the Rebels. Bragg seized the high ground overlooking Chattanooga (Lookout Mountain, Seminary Ridge, and Raccoon Mountain) and laid siege to the city. During the investment, Rosecrans issued Special Field Order No. 269, reorganizing the troops under his command on October 9, 1863. Rosecrans placed Granger in command of the newly created 4th Army Corps.
In late November 1863, Major General Ulysses S. Grant, who had replaced Rosecrans as commander of the Union forces at Chattanooga, ordered an assault on Bragg’s army to end the siege. Late in the afternoon of November 24, Grant ordered the Army of the Cumberland, commanded by Major General George H. Thomas, to advance against the center of the Confederate line entrenched on Missionary Ridge. Grant’s orders were for Thomas’s men, which included Granger’s corps, to seize the Southern rifle pits at the bottom of Missionary Ridge. Thomas’s men, however, proved to be unstoppable. After capturing the Rebel rifle pits, they proceeded, against their original orders, to drive the Confederates off of Missionary Ridge, forcing Bragg’s army to retreat, finishing the Battle of Chattanooga. After the conflict, the army brevetted Granger to colonel in the regular army, “for Gallant and Meritorious Conduct in the Battle of Chattanooga.”
Following the breakout from Chattanooga, Grant sent Granger and his corps north towards Knoxville as part of a 25,000-man Union force commanded by Major General William T. Sherman. Sherman’s orders were to relieve two federal corps commanded by Major General Ambrose Burnside that Confederate General James Longstreet was besieging at Knoxville. With Sherman’s forces at his rear and after suffering defeats at the Battle of Campbell’s Station (November 16, 1863) and at the Battle of Fort Sanders (November 29, 1863), Longstreet ended his siege on December 4, 1864, and headed for western Virginia. When Sherman returned to Chattanooga, he left Granger in Knoxville, where he remained until April 11, 1864.
Relieved of Command
Some historians and some of Granger’s contemporaries believed his abrasive nature hindered the advancement of his military career. That seemed to be especially true in his relations with Grant and Sherman. There is some conjecture that Grant and Granger may have developed a mutual dislike during their days at West Point. For whatever reason, Sherman did not include Granger in the plans for his Atlanta Campaign. Despite Granger’s stellar military record, Sherman wrote to Grant on April 2, 1864, requesting that Grant relieve Granger of his command of the 4th Corps, for reasons not specified. Grant acted quickly and replied to his friend two days later that President Lincoln had approved Sherman’s request. On April 4, 1864, the U.S. War Department issued General Order No. 144, announcing that “Maj. Gen. G. Granger is relieved from command of the Fourth Army Corps, and Maj. Gen. O. O. Howard is assigned in his stead.”
Granger went without an assignment for the next few months. By June 30, 1864, Granger was in danger of being mustered out of volunteer service because he did not have a command. The intercession of friends in Congress — James A. Garfield in particular — prompted the War Department to give Granger a relatively obscure assignment as a division commander under Major General Edward R. Canby in the Military Division of the Mississippi.
Serving under Canby, Granger took part in operations against Fort Gaines (August 4‑8, 1864), and the siege and bombardment of Fort Morgan (August 10‑22, 1864). Following those victories, Granger’s stock had risen and the War Department placed him in command of the District of West Florida and Southern Alabama (Department of the Gulf), from September 12, 1864, through February 26, 1865.
13th Army Corps Commander
Despite his successes, Granger remained on Grant’s blacklist. On January 18, 1865, Grant wrote to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck, “It will not do for Canby to rely on either Granger or Hurlbut as first in command of any important campaign.” Halleck informed Canby on January 19, that, “The lieutenant-general directs me to say that he does not regard General Granger or General Hurlbut as proper for the chief command of the expedition.” Despite Grant’s reservations, on February 18, Canby issued General Order No. 20 (Military District of West Mississippi), placing Granger in command of the reorganized 13th Army Corps. Granger commanded his corps during the siege and capture of Fort Spanish (March 27-April 8, 1865) and of Fort Blakely (April 2-9, 1865), which eventually led to the occupation of Mobile, Alabama. Historians often cite the storming of Fort Blakely as the last major infantry action of the Civil War east of the Mississippi River. For his leadership in those engagements, The army later brevetted Granger as a brigadier general in the regular army, effective March 13, 1865.
Department of Texas Commander
When the war ended, the War Department placed Granger in command of the Department of Texas on June 10, 1865. Upon arriving at Galveston on June 19, Granger issued General Order No. 3 (Department of Texas) that declared:
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.
Granger’s declaration of freedom in Texas set off jubilant celebrations among former slaves and served as the progenitor of modern-day Juneteenth celebrations across America. While Granger’s message and subsequent leadership provoked exuberance among blacks, he was unpopular among white Texans. After six months in command of the Department of Texas, the army relieved Granger of his command on August 6, 1865.
Post-war Regular Army Service
The War Department placed Granger in command of the Department of Kentucky on August 12, 1865. He served in that capacity until January 15, 1866, when he mustered out of the volunteer army. After leaving volunteer service, Granger remained in the regular army. On July 28, 1866, the army promoted him to colonel of the 25th Infantry. While serving in that capacity, Granger’s health began to deteriorate. Following an extended leave of absence, the War Department placed him in command of the District of Memphis from September 1, 1867, to February 18, 1868. After another long leave of absence, Granger resumed his command in Memphis from October 6, 1868, to March 1869.
On July 14, 1869, Granger married Maria Letcher, who was twenty years his junior. Their marriage produced one son and one daughter, both of whom died in infancy.
Death in New Mexico
On December 15, 1870, army officials assigned Granger to the 15th Infantry and ordered him to the New Mexico Territory. On October 31, 1875, the War Department placed him in command of the District of New Mexico. Granger served in that capacity until January 10, 1876, when he died after suffering a stroke in Santa Fe.
Granger is buried at Lexington Cemetery, Lexington, Kentucky.