John McAllister Schofield was born on September 29, 1831, at Gerry, New York. His parents were Reverend James Schofield, a Baptist minister, and Caroline McAllister. In 1843, Schofield’s family moved to Freeport, Illinois, where Schofield attended public schools.
U.S. Military Academy Cadet
After a brief stint as a surveyor and schoolteacher in Wisconsin, Schofield received an appointment to the United States Military Academy, where he graduated seventh in his class in 1853.
U.S. Army Officer
Following his graduation from West Point, Schofield received a brevet commission as a second lieutenant in with the U.S. Army’s 2ndArtillery, in South Carolina. After two years in the South, army officials promoted Schofield to first lieutenant and reassigned him to West Point, where he served as an assistant professor of natural and experimental philosophy until 1860.
While teaching at the academy, Schofield married Harriet Bartlett in 1857. In 1860, the army granted Schofield a leave of absence, and he took a position as a professor of physics at Washington University, St. Louis. Schofield remained there until the American Civil War began the following year.
The outset of the Civil War found Schofield serving as a major in the 1st Missouri Infantry, charged with mustering Missouri troops. Later in 1861, he served as Assistant Adjutant-General to General Nathaniel Lyon, organizing the forces of the Union Army in Missouri. In August, he commanded the 1st Missouri Volunteer Infantry at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek (August 10, 1861). By the end of the year, the War Department promoted Schofield to brigadier general of volunteers (November 21, 1861).
Troubles with Rank
Throughout 1862 and 1863, Schofield continued his ascension up the Union chain of command, but not without difficulties. He commanded the District of Missouri from June 4 until September 26, 1862. On October 12, 1862, Major General Samuel R. Curtis, commanding the Department of the Missouri, placed Schofield in charge of the newly created Army of the Frontier, even though Schofield’s rank as brigadier general made him ineligible to command an army.
President Abraham Lincoln seemingly resolved that dilemma on November 29 when he nominated Schofield for promotion to major general. The Senate, however, declined to confirm Schofield’s promotion and his term expired on March 4, 1863. As a result, Curtis named Major General Francis J. Herron to command the Army of the Frontier and the War Department ordered Schofield to report to Major General William S. Rosecrans‘ Army of the Cumberland.
Department of the Missouri Commander
On April 20, 1863, Rosecrans assigned Schofield to command the Third Division of Major General George H. Thomas‘ 14th Corps. On May 12, 1863, President Lincoln renominated Schofield for promotion to major general. The next day, the War Department assigned Schofield to replace Curtis as commander of the Department of the Missouri. While in command of the Department of the Missouri (1863-1864), Schofield’s forces captured Fort Smith and Little Rock in Arkansas. Afterward, Schofield assisted Major General Ulysses S. Grant in the Siege of Vicksburg (May 18–July 4, 1863).
Department of the Ohio Commander
On February 9, 1864, officials appointed Schofield as commander of the Department of the Ohio and of the Army of the Ohio, known at that time as the 23rd Army Corps. On May 12, 1864, the Senate finally confirmed Schofield’s appointment as a major general of volunteers.
Schofield commanded the Army of the Ohio throughout Major General William T. Sherman‘s Atlanta Campaign (May 7–September 2, 1864). When Confederate General John Bell Hood‘s Army of Tennessee evacuated Atlanta on September 1, 1864, Sherman pursued Hood for about a month as Hood raided Sherman’s supply lines back to Chattanooga. By November, Sherman convinced Grant to allow him to embark on his March to the Sea. Hood had also changed objectives, launching an offensive back into Tennessee, hoping to draw Sherman out of the Deep South.
Sherman did not take the bait. Instead, he ordered Major General George Thomas to Nashville to defend against Hood, while Sherman set out to “make Georgia howl.” Thomas sent about half of his troops directly to Nashville to prepare for Hood’s invasion. The other half, commanded by Schofield, engaged Hood’s army throughout November at the Battles of Columbia (November 24-29, 1864), Spring Hill (November 29, 1864), and Franklin (November 29, 1864).
Schofield inflicted a major defeat upon the Rebels at Franklin before slipping off to join Thomas at Nashville. Army officials promoted Schofield to brigadier general in the regular army on November 30, 1864, for his leadership at Franklin. Two weeks later, Schofield took part in the Union victory at the Battle of Nashville (December 15-16, 1864), which ended Hood’s offensive, took the Confederate Army of Tennessee out of the war, and virtually ended the last major campaign in the Western Theater.
Department of North Carolina Commander
With the major fighting over in the West, Schofield received a brevet promotion to the rank of major general in the regular army on March 13, 1865. On April 26, 1865, they placed him in command of the Department of North Carolina. Schofield served in that capacity until June 21. When the Civil War ended, Schofield mustered out of volunteer service on September 1, 1866, but he continued to serve in the regular army.
Post-war Army Assignments
After the Civil War, Schofield served as a confidential diplomatic emissary to France from June 22, 1865, to August 16, 1866, negotiating the withdrawal of French troops from Mexico. Upon his return from abroad, Schofield served briefly as Secretary of War under President Andrew Johnson from June 1, 1868, to March 13, 1869. On March 4, 1869, officials promoted Schofield to major general in the regular army. From 1872 to 1873, Schofield worked on a special mission to assess the military value of the Hawaiian Islands and recommended that the United States establish a military base at Pearl Harbor. In 1876 Schofield became Superintendent of the United States Military Academy, where he remained until 1881. Upon leaving West Point, Schofield commanded the Military Division of the Pacific (1882-1883), the Division of the Missouri (1883-1886), and the Division of the Atlantic (1886-1888).
Commanding General of the U.S. Army
On August 14, 1888, officials named Schofield as commanding general of the entire United States Army.
Schofield’s first wife, Harriet, died on December 24, 1888. Three years later he married his second wife, Georgia Kilbourne, in 1891.
Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient
On July 2, 1892, Congress awarded Schofield the Medal of Honor for his “conspicuous gallantry” during the Battle of Wilson’s Creek (August 10, 1861).
Officials promoted Schofield to lieutenant general on February 25, 1895. Later that year, Schofield retired from active service on his sixty-fourth birthday on September 29.
Schofield died from a cerebral hemorrhage on March 4, 1906, in St. Augustine, Florida. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.