BORN: 1797 in Boston, MA.
DIED: 1863 in Syracuse, NY.
(On his deathbed drank a toast to the United States/ Died of pneumonia).
CAMPAIGNS: Peninsula, South Mountain, Antietam, Seven Pines, and Fredericksburg.
(Oldest active core commander serving in the Civil War.)
Edwin Vose Sumner was born in Boston , Massachusetts, on January 30, 1797. In 1819, he was commissioned a 2d lieutenant in the Regular Army, and served on the frontier. Sumner served under Gen. Winfield Scott in the Mexican War, and was wounded and brevetted. Appointed acting governor of New Mexico Territory; he later commanded Fort Leavenworth in 1856, fought against the Cheyennes in 1857 and led the Department of the West in 1858. Sumner accompanied President-elect Lincoln from Springfield to Washington, D.C. in 1861, and was appointed brigadier general on March 16 of that year. He led the II Corps in the Peninsula Campaign, South Mountain and Antietam. Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan praised Sumner's leadership in the Battle of Seven Pines, and Sumner was promoted to major general to rank from July 5, 1862. After leading troops in the Battle of Fredericksburg, he was criticized for his strategies at the Battle of Antietam. Sumner was the oldest active corps commander in the Civil War, and was disturbed by the criticism leveled at him. Thus, he asked to relieved from duty. He was assigned to the Department of Missouri. On his way, he contracted pneumonia, and died in Syracuse, New York, on March 21, 1863.

Photo, Print, Drawing Major General E. V. Sumner and staff

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  • Author : William Richard Cutter
  • Publisher : Genealogical Publishing Com
  • Release Date : 1996
  • Genre: Reference
  • Pages : 2366
  • ISBN 10 : 9780806346120
  • Author : Eric Grynaviski
  • Publisher :
  • Release Date : 2018-03-15
  • Genre: History
  • Pages : 300
  • ISBN 10 : 9781107162150

Explores how people at the margins of American politics (America's middlemen) have historically shaped war, peace, expansion, and empire.

Edwin Vose Sumner

Edwin Sumner

From the Peninsula to Maryland: Sumner's role in the summer of 1862

When David E. Twiggs was removed from command in March 1861, Abraham Lincoln chose Edwin Sumner as his replacement, appointing him as one of only three brigadier generals in the regular army. This made Sumner the first new Union general created by the secession crisis.

Sumner was initially dispatched to the Department of the Pacific in California, which meant he took no part in the 1861 campaigns. He was, however, brought back east to command a division in November 1861. This meant that Sumner was ideally positioned to take command of one of the new corps when the Army of the Potomac was reorganized in the spring of 1862. Although he was the oldest general in the Army of the Potomac, Sumner led the II Corps throughout the Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days Battles.

Despite performing poorly during the Battle of Williamsburg on May 5, Sumner's initiative in sending reinforcements across the dangerously rain-swollen Chickahominy River prevented a Union disaster at the Battle of Seven Pines and garnered Sumner a brevet promotion to Major General.

When the Army of the Potomac pulled away from Richmond, Sumner's II Corps sailed from Fort Monroe back to Washington, where they awaited orders. On August 27 Halleck extracted a promise from McClellan to immediately advance Sumner's and Franklin's corps to support Pope at Manassas, but later that same day McClellan cancelled the orders of march. He instead held Sumner in Washington for the next three days while the Second Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) was being fought.

On the 29th Halleck again ordered Franklin and Sumner to march to Pope's assistance early in the morning, but though Franklin moved his men to Annandale, Sumner's corps did not even leave the Washington fortifications.
Sumner remained in Washington until midday on August 30, when his corps finally began marching toward Centreville, arriving on the 31st, the day after the Second Battle of Manassas had ended.

Sumner found himself in the center of controversy in the aftermath of the Battle of Antietam. When he saw the developing fight between the Union I and XII Corps and Jackson's Confederates on the morning of September 17, without waiting for orders Sumner ordered John Sedgwick's division to push forward into the West Woods even as William French's division pushed toward the Confederate center. Though French's attack met with some success, the advance of Sedgwick's division was devastated by a Confederate counterattack, and Sedgwick and his men were forced to retreat back to the position from whence they had started their advance, sustaining over 2,200 casualties.

This action has earned Sumner criticism for numerous reasons: the recklessness of the attack, his lack of coordination with the other corps commanders, personally accompanying Sedgwick's division into the fight, poor reconnaissance of the area before moving forward, his failure to secure his flanks as the division advanced, and losing contact with and control of French's division during the advance.

Edwin V. Sumner Jr. began his military career shortly after the outbreak of the American Civil War, when he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 1st U.S. Cavalry Regiment on August 5, 1861. [1] He was promoted to first lieutenant on November 12, 1861. [1] He served as aide de camp to Major General George Stoneman between January 1863 and August 1863. [1] He was promoted to major of volunteers on May 19, 1863. [1] He was mustered out of the volunteers on August 15, 1863. [1]

On September 23, 1863, Sumner was appointed a captain in the Regular Army. [1] He served as an Assistant Inspector General of the cavalry in the Army of the James in 1864 until July 21, 1864. [1] He was appointed brevet major in the regular army for his service at the Battle of Todd's Tavern. [1] He served as an Assistant Inspector General of the cavalry in the Department of West Virginia starting July 21, 1864. [1]

On September 8, 1864, he was appointed colonel of the 1st Regiment New York Mounted Rifles. [1] He commanded the 3rd Brigade of the Cavalry Division, XVIII Corps (Union Army), Army of the James between February 5, 1865 and March 28, 1865. [1]

Sumner was mustered out of the volunteers and reverted to his Regular Army rank of captain on September 29, 1865. [1]

On January 13, 1866, President Andrew Johnson nominated Sumner for appointment to the grade of brevet brigadier general of volunteers, to rank from March 13, 1865, and the United States Senate confirmed the appointment on March 12, 1866. [2]

After the Civil War, Sumner served in the Indian Wars. He was appointed major in the 5th U.S. Cavalry Regiment, March 4, 1879, lieutenant colonel in the 8th U.S. Cavalry Regiment, April 15, 1890, and colonel of the 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment, November 10, 1894. [1]

In 1890, he was elected a member of the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati by right of his collateral descent from Major Job Sumner, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War.

At the beginning of the Spanish–American War, he was appointed brigadier general of Volunteers on May 27, 1898 and was discharged from the Volunteers on February 24, 1899. [1]

Sumner was promoted to brigadier general in the Regular Army on March 27, 1899 and retired from the United States Army three days later after 37 years of service. [1]

He was married to Margaret Forster, the daughter of General John Forster (1777–1863). His brother was Major General Samuel S. Sumner. [3]


Sumner was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Elisha Sumner and Nancy Vose Sumner. His early schooling was in Milton Academy in Milton, Massachusetts. ΐ] In 1819, after losing interest in a mercantile career in Troy, New York, he entered the United States Army as a second lieutenant in the 2nd US Infantry Regiment on March 3, 1819. He was promoted to first lieutenant on January 25, 1825. Sumner's military appointment was facilitated by Samuel Appleton Storrow, Judge Advocate Major on the staff of General Jacob Jennings Brown of the Northern department. (Storrow had previously served as a mentor to Sumner in Boston.) In recognition of their long-standing friendship, Sumner would later name one of his sons Samuel Storrow Sumner. Α]

He married Hannah Wickersham Foster (1804–1880) on March 31, 1822. They had six children together: Nancy, Margaret Foster, Sarah Montgomery, Mary Heron, Edwin Vose Jr., and Samuel Storrow Sumner. His son Samuel was a general during the Spanish-American War, Boxer Rebellion, and the Philippine-American War. Sumner's daughter, Mary Heron, married General Armistead L. Long in 1860.

Sumner later served in the Black Hawk War and in various Indian campaigns. On March 4, 1833, he was promoted to the rank of captain and assigned to command B Company, the U.S. Dragoon Regiment (later First US Dragoons), immediately upon its creation by Congress. In 1838, he commanded the cavalry instructional establishment at Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania. He was assigned to Ft. Atkinson, Iowa Territory, from 1842 until 1845. He was the fort's commander during most of that period. He was promoted to major of the 2nd Dragoons on June 30, 1846. During the Mexican-American War, Sumner was brevetted for bravery at the Battle of Cerro Gordo (to lieutenant colonel). It was here that he gained the nickname "Bull Head" because of a story about a musket ball that bounced off his head during the battle. At the Molino del Rey he received the brevet rank of colonel. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 1st US Dragoons on July 23, 1848. He served as the military governor of the New Mexico Territory from 1851–53, and was promoted to colonel of the 1st U.S. Cavalry on March 3, 1855. In 1856 Sumner commanded Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and became involved in the crisis known as Bleeding Kansas. In 1857, as commander of the 1st Cavalry Regiment (1855), he led a punitive expedition against the Cheyenne. Β] and in 1858 he commanded the Department of the West. On January 7, 1861, Sumner wrote to President-elect Abraham Lincoln, advising him to carry a weapon at all times. Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott assigned Sumner as the senior officer to accompany Lincoln from Springfield, Illinois, to Washington, D.C., in March 1861. Γ]

Sumner, Edwin Vose

Sumner, Edwin Vose ( 30 January 1797–21 March 1863 ), soldier , was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Elisha Sumner and Nancy Vose. Sumner initially pursued a mercantile career in Troy, New York, but entered the army as a second lieutenant in the Second U.S. Infantry in 1819. In 1822 he married Hannah W. Foster they had nine children. He became a first lieutenant on 25 January 1823 and continued to serve in the Second U.S. Infantry until he was promoted to captain on 4 March 1833 and assigned to the recently constituted Regiment of Dragoons (designated the First Regiment of Dragoons upon organization of a second regiment). For the next thirteen years, most of his time was spent on the frontier.

Sumner distinguished himself during the Mexican War. He first saw action as a major in Colonel Stephen Watts Kearny ’s Army of the West on the march from Fort Leavenworth that led to the capture of Santa Fe and occupation of much of New Mexico. Sumner remained in New Mexico when Kearny, now a general, pushed on to California. Promoted to major to rank from 30 June 1846, Sumner was assigned to the Second Dragoons, led by Colonel William S. Harney . The opinionated major general Winfield Scott did not appreciate Harney and sought to assign him to Major General Zachary Taylor ’s army, which was to preserve the status quo in northern Mexico while Scott carried the war from Veracruz into the Valley of Mexico. Such action promised to promote Sumner’s fortunes at the expense of Harney’s. Scott’s machinations failed, and Harney and Sumner remained with the Second Dragoons. However, relations between the pair were soured.

The arrival in Mexico of the Regiment of Mounted Riflemen, organized at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, in mid-October, was fortunate for Sumner. Most of the new unit’s officers lacked military background, and the riflemen needed strong and experienced leadership. Sumner was detached from the dragoons and given this mission. He enhanced his career during Scott’s campaign, first leading the Mounted Rifles and then as commander of the Second Dragoons, his rival Harney having been elevated to brigadier. Sumner was wounded at Cerro Gordo 18 Apr. when a musket ball bounced off his skull, resulting in the sobriquet “Bull.” The troops, awed by his booming voice, lengthened the name to “Bull o’ the Woods.” He was brevetted lieutenant colonel for gallantry at Cerro Gordo and colonel for his leadership at Molino de Rey (8 Sept.).

Sumner was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the First Dragoons on 13 July 1848, and in late spring 1851, while posted at Jefferson Barracks, he was named commander of the Ninth Military District, which included the territory of New Mexico. Accompanied by more than 600 recruits to bring up to strength the units in a department beset with American Indian trouble and friction between the Anglos and Hispanics, Sumner reached Santa Fe on 19 July. During his twenty-three months in New Mexico, he established several new posts, the most important being Fort Union reorganized the department calmed civil strife and used force to overawe the Indians. Contemptuous of civil officials, Sumner bulldozed them in many ways, from bold usurpation of executive authority to such petty harassments as withholding transportation and military escorts. Governor James S. Calhoun broke under the strain and, on 26 May 1852, departed from Fort Union and died on the Santa Fe Trail four weeks later while en route to his home in the “States.” Until the arrival on 9 September of Calhoun’s replacement, Sumner acted as territorial governor, only to be chastised by the War Department for exceeding his authority. On 1 June 1853 the War Department, heeding an outcry by civil authorities against Sumner, replaced him, and he took leave pending a new assignment. His successor complained to the War Department that Sumner’s “energies have been misapplied, and he has left the Department in an impoverished and crippled condition, wanting in many of the essentials for undertaking a successful enterprise.”

On 3 March 1855 Sumner was promoted to colonel and selected by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to command and organize the First U.S. Cavalry, one of two elite regiments authorized by Congress to bring peace and order to the western frontier. The First Cavalry was ordered to Fort Laramie that autumn, but Sumner, worried about his horses, aborted the expedition after marching his regiment 400 miles from headquarters at Fort Leavenworth. Harney—his immediate superior—pressed charges of disobedience, but the War Department sustained Sumner.

In 1856, as post and regimental commander, Sumner became embroiled in a no-win situation as he sought to keep peace and order between Free Soilers and border ruffians fighting for political control of Kansas Territory. In 1857 an uneasy peace came to Bleeding Kansas, enabling Sumner and his command to vigorously campaign against the Cheyenne and defeat them on 29 July in a charge at the Solomon River. In 1858 Sumner succeeded Harney as commander of the Department of the West, headquartered in St. Louis, a post he held until the winter of 1860–1861.

In February 1861, as the southern states seceded, Sumner was one of three army officers that accompanied President-elect Abraham Lincoln on his train trip from Springfield, Illinois, to Washington, D.C. Upon the dismissal of David E. Twiggs from the service, Sumner was promoted to brigadier general on 16 March 1861, becoming one of three regular army brigadiers. One week later he was ordered to San Francisco to relieve Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston as commander of the Department of the Pacific. Traveling by way of Panama, Sumner held this post until 20 October, when he returned to the East Coast. Reporting to Major General George B. McClellan on 25 November, Sumner was assigned to command one of the Army of the Potomac’s twelve infantry divisions. President Lincoln, becoming increasingly disenchanted with McClellan and his failure to boldly seize the initiative, issued orders in March 1862 for the Army of the Potomac to be organized into five corps. Sumner was given command of the Second, and he thereby became the oldest corps commander in the Army of the Potomac.

Sumner and his three-division corps accompanied McClellan to the Peninsula in early April and participated in the siege of Yorktown (5 Apr.–3 May). The Confederates evacuated their Yorktown-Warwick line on the night of 3–4 May, and McClellan placed Sumner, the army’s senior corps commander, in charge of pursuing the enemy up the Peninsula. At Williamsburg (5 May), elements from two Union corps battled the Confederate rear guard, and Sumner for the first time commanded tens of thousands of troops in battle. He failed to measure up to the challenge, and Union attacks were uncoordinated and piecemeal. However, at Seven Pines on 31 May, Sumner’s vigorous leadership in taking his corps across the rain-swollen Chickahominy River at Grapevine Bridge and engaging and hurling back the left wing of Joseph E. Johnston ’s army at Fair Oaks saved the Army of the Potomac from disaster. Sumner’s gallantry and meritorious conduct at Fair Oaks earned him a brevet to major general, to date from 31 May.

During the Seven Days’ battles, Sumner commanded Union forces at Savage’s Station (29 June), Glendale (30 June), and Malvern Hill (1 July)—battles in which the Federals inflicted heavy casualties on the Army of Northern Virginia, now led by Robert E. Lee . Sumner then urged the Army of the Potomac to counterattack, but he was overruled, and McClellan’s retreat continued. Sumner was promoted to major general of volunteers to rank from 4 July 1862.

In the second half of August the Army of the Potomac was redeployed from the Peninsula to northern Virginia. Arriving too late to participate in the second battle of Manassas (29–30 Aug.), Sumner next fought the foe at Antietam (17 Sept.), which was a disaster for him and the Second Corps. Fighting his three divisions piecemeal, he saw two of them beaten in detail before the third routed the foe from Bloody Lane. Like a colonel of cavalry, he led his front division into the West Woods ambush instead of taking a position from which he could coordinate the corps’s movements. At a critical moment in the day, the usually brave Sumner lost his nerve and held back a fresh Union corps ready to attack.

At Fredericksburg that December, Sumner commanded the Right Grand Division, consisting of the Second and Ninth corps. He did not cross the Rappahannock and bore no responsibility for the slaughter of his troops as they charged the Confederates posted behind the stone wall fronting Marye’s Heights. Learning that Joseph Hooker , his junior in rank, had been named to lead the Army of the Potomac, Sumner, at his request, was relieved of duty with that army on 26 January 1863. While at his home in Syracuse, New York, preparing to leave for his next command, the Department of the Missouri, he suffered a fatal heart attack.


For further information on Sumner see George B. Grinnell, The Fighting Cheyenne (1915) P. G. Lowe, Five Years a Dragoon (1906) Leo A. Oliva, Fort Union and the Frontier Army in the Southwest (1993) Justin H. Smith, The War with Mexico (2 vols., 1919) Robert M. Utley, Frontiersmen in Blue: The United States Army and the Indian, 1848–1865 (1967) Francis A. Walker, History of the Second Army Corps in the Army of the Potomac (1887) Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders (1964) and The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (128 vols., 1880–1901). An obituary is in the New York Herald, 22 Mar. 1863.

On the Peninsula

As the Army of the Potomac neared Richmond, it was attacked at the Battle of Seven Pines by General Joseph E. Johnston's Confederate forces on May 31. Outnumbered, Johnston sought to isolate and destroy the Union III and IV Corps which were operating south of the Chickahominy River. Though the Confederate assault did not materialize as initially planned, Johnston's men put Union troops under heavy pressure and ultimately flanked the southern wing of IV Corps. Responding to the crisis, Sumner, on his own initiative, directed Brigadier General John Sedgwick's division across the rain-swollen river. Arriving, they proved critical in stabilizing the Union position and turning back subsequent Confederate attacks. For his efforts at Seven Pines, Sumner was brevetted to major general in the regular army. Though inconclusive, the battle saw Johnston wounded and replaced by General Robert E. Lee as well as McClellan halt his advance on Richmond.

Having gained the strategic initiative and seeking to relieve pressure on Richmond, Lee attacked Union forces on June 26 at Beaver Dam Creek (Mechanicsville). Beginning the Seven Days Battles, it proved a tactical Union victory. Confederate attacks continued the next day with Lee triumphing at Gaines' Mill. Beginning a retreat toward the James River, McClellan complicated the situation by frequently being away from the army and not appointing a second-in-command to oversee operations in his absence. This was due to his low opinion of Sumner who, as senior corps commander, would have received the post. Attacked at Savage's Station on June 29, Sumner fought a conservative battle but succeeded in covering the retreat of the army. The following day, his corps played a role in the larger Battle of Glendale. In the course of the fighting, Sumner received a minor wound in the arm.

Legends of America

On October 31, 1862, Congress authorized the establishment of the military Fort Sumner at Bosque Redondo, to protect a new Indian Reservation situated on 40 square miles of land. The post was named for General Edwin Vose Sumner who died as the new fort was being built.

Though some officers discouraged the selection of Bosque Redondo as a site because of its poor water and minimal provisions of firewood, it was established anyway. It was to be the first Indian reservation west of Indian Territory (Oklahoma,) with plans to turn the Apache and Navajo Indians into farmers with irrigation from the Pecos River. They were also to be “civilized” by going to school and practicing Christianity.

To accomplish their plan, the U.S. Army made war on the Mescalero Apache and Navajo Indian tribes, destroying their fields, orchards, houses, and livestock. The Apache and Navajo, who had survived the army attacks, were then starved into submission. During a final standoff at Canyon de Chelly in Arizona, the Navajo surrendered to Kit Carson and his troops in January 1864. Carson ordered the destruction of their property and organized the Long Walk to the Bosque Redondo reservation, already occupied by Mescalero Apache.

Before long, a small settlement grew up around the military post that was populated not only by soldiers but also by ranchers, stockmen, and businesses supporting the fort.

However, from the beginning, the reservation was unsuccessful due to poor planning on the part of the government, as the Navajo and Apache had a long history of warfare. Once the Navajo were placed with the Apache on the same reservation, one can only imagine the conflicts that arose between the two tribes.

The ill-planned site, named for a grove of cottonwoods by the river, turned into a virtual prison camp for the Indians. The brackish Pecos water caused severe intestinal problems in the tribes and disease ran rampant. Armyworm destroyed the corn crop, and the wood supply at the Bosque Redondo was soon depleted. Most of the Mescalero Apache eluded their military guards and abandoned the reservation on November 3, 1865 but, for the Navajo, another three years passed before the United States Government recognized that their plan for Americanizing the Indians had failed. On June 1, 1868, the Indians were allowed to return to their former homes and shortly thereafter, Fort Sumner closed forever.

In 1870 the old Fort Sumner buildings were sold to Lucien B. Maxwell, the former owner of the largest land grant in U.S. History. After paying some $5,000 for portions of the surrounding land and its buildings, Maxwell relocated his family from northeast New Mexico and refurbished the buildings into proper housing.

Lucien Maxwell soon turned over his affairs to his son Peter and passed away a few years later. When Billy the Kid arrived on the scene, Peter Maxwell and Billy became friends. On July 14, 1881, Sheriff Pat Garrett found Billy the Kid in a bedroom of the Maxwell home, ending the life of the teenage outlaw.

Billy the Kid was buried in the military cemetery at Fort Sumner along with two of his outlaw friends – Charlie Bowdre and Tom O’Folliard.

By 1884, Mrs. Lucien B. Maxwell and her son Peter had disposed of their old fort holdings.

When the railroad began to be built in the area in 1905, the 150 residents of Fort Sumner began to move their businesses and buildings some seven miles to the northwest to where the settlement of Sunnyside already existed.

In the beginning, there were two towns, Sunnyside and Fort Sumner. However, the Sunnyside Review reported on April 17, 1909, that the two side-by-side towns had resolved their differences and merged to become one town called Fort Sumner. The Sunnyside post office, which had been in operation since 1905, was changed to the Fort Sumner post office.

In 1910, Fort Sumner was incorporated as a village and when De Baca County was established in 1917, Fort Sumner was designated as the county seat, where it remains today.

By 1940, Fort Sumner had reached a population of almost 2,000 residents with its chief industries being cattle and sheep ranching and farming of alfalfa, sweet potatoes, apples, grapes, and melons.

Though its population has since dropped to about 1,300 souls, Fort Sumner has a lot to offer in its history and surrounding recreational areas. While in this friendly western village, you can take a pleasant stroll along the historic Pecos River, visit the Billy the Kid Museum or see the historical WPA Murals located in the De Baca County Courthouse.

Seven miles southeast of town you will find the old Fort Sumner Museum and Cemetery, which hold’s Billy the Kid’s grave. Also there, is the Fort Sumner State Monument, including a visitor center that memorializes the Navaho’s Long Walk and the story of the Bosque Redondo Indian Reservation. The Museum and Memorial are located four miles east on U.S. Highway 60/84 and south three miles on Billy the Kid Road.

In the surrounding area water sports are also plentiful upon the Pecos River, at Sumner Lake State Park 16 miles northeast of Fort Sumner, and Bosque Redondo Lake, located five miles southeast of town.

Fort Sumner, New Mexico is located on U. S. Highway 60 halfway between Albuquerque and Lubbock, Texas, 160 miles each way.

Edwin Vose Sumner 1797 to 1863. American General on Union side during Civil War. From painting by Alonzo Chappel.

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