About George Stoneman, Jr.
George Stoneman, Jr. (August 8, 1822 – September 5, 1894) was a career United States Army officer, a Union cavalry general in the American Civil War, and the 15th Governor of California between 1883 and 1887.
Stoneman was born on a family farm in Busti, New York, the first child of ten. His parents were George Stoneman, Sr., a lumberman and justice of the peace, and Catherine Rebecca Cheney. He studied at the Jamestown Academy and graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1846; his roommate at West Point was future Confederate General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. His first assignment was with the 1st U.S. Dragoons, with which he served across the West and in California. He was the quartermaster of the Mormon Battalion, which marched from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to San Diego, California. He fought in the Yuma War and was responsible for survey parties mapping the Sierra Nevada range for railroad lines. After promotion to captain of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry in March 1855, he served mainly in Texas until 1861.
Civil War service
At the start of the Civil War Stoneman was in command of Fort Brown, Texas, and refused the order of Maj. Gen. David E. Twiggs to surrender to the newly established Confederate authorities there, escaping to the north with most of his command. Returning east, he served as a major of the 1st U.S. Cavalry and then adjutant to Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan in western Virginia. As the cavalry was being organized in the Army of the Potomac, he commanded the Cavalry Reserve and then the Cavalry Division, with the title Chief of Cavalry. He was promoted to brigadier general on August 13, 1861. He did not relate well to McClellan, who did not understand the proper use of cavalry in warfare, relegating it to assignment in small units to infantry brigades. This organization fared poorly in the Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days Battles of 1862, where the centralized Confederate cavalry under Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart seriously outperformed their Union counterparts.
On November 22, 1861, Stoneman married Mary Oliver Hardisty of Baltimore. They eventually had four children.
After the Peninsula, Stoneman was an infantry commander, commanding a division in the II Corps and the III Corps. At the Battle of Fredericksburg, Stoneman commanded the III Corps. He was promoted to major general of volunteers on November 29, 1862. However, following Fredericksburg, a new commanding general took over the Army of the Potomac: Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker. Hooker had a better understanding of the strategic value of a centralized Cavalry Corps and he named Stoneman to lead it. The centralized corps could undertake long raids into enemy territory, destroying supplies, and gathering intelligence about the enemy forces. They were not subject to the commanders of small infantry units.
The plan for the Battle of Chancellorsville was strategically daring. Hooker assigned Stoneman a key role in which his Cavalry Corps would raid deeply into Robert E. Lee's rear areas and destroy vital railroad lines and supplies, distracting Lee from Hooker's main assaults. However, Stoneman was a disappointment in this strategic role. The Cavalry Corps got off to a good start in May 1863, but quickly bogged down after crossing the Rapidan River. During the entire battle, Stoneman accomplished little and Hooker considered him one of the principal reasons for the Union defeat at Chancellorsville. Hooker needed to deflect criticism from himself and relieved Stoneman from his cavalry command, sending him back to Washington, D.C., for medical treatment (chronic hemorrhoids, exacerbated by cavalry service), where in July he became a Chief of the U.S. Cavalry Bureau, a desk job. A large cavalry supply and training depot on the Potomac River was named Camp Stoneman in his honor.
In early 1864, Stoneman was impatient with garrison duty in Washington and requested another field command from his old friend Maj. Gen. John Schofield, who was in command of the Department of the Ohio. Although originally slated for an infantry corps, Stoneman assumed command of the Cavalry Corps of what would be known as the Army of the Ohio. As the army fought in the Atlanta Campaign under Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, Stoneman and his aide, Myles Keogh, were captured by Confederate soldiers outside Macon, Georgia, becoming the highest ranking Union prisoner of war. He was a prisoner for three months.
Stoneman was exchanged relatively quickly based on the personal request of Sherman to the Confederates and he returned to duty. In December 1864, he led a raid from East Tennessee into southwestern Virginia. He led raids into Virginia and North Carolina in 1865, took Salem and other towns, destroyed Moratock Iron Furnace (a Confederate foundry) and at Salisbury attempted to free about 1,400 prisoners, but the prisoners had been dispursed by the time he arrived in Salisbury. In recognition of his service, he was brevetted major general in the regular army. His command nearly captured Confederate president Jefferson Davis during his flight from Richmond, Virginia. In June 1865, he was appointed commander of the Department of Tennessee and administered occupied Memphis. The Memphis riots broke out among the still rebellious citizens who were angry at the presence of black Federal soldiers in the military government. Stoneman was criticized for inaction and was investigated by a congressional committee, although he was exonerated.
In 1866, Stoneman became opposed to the radical policies of Reconstruction and joined the Democratic Party. As he administered the military government in Petersburg, Virginia, he established a reputation of applying more moderate policies than some of the other military governors in Reconstruction, which eased some of the reconciliation pain for Virginians. He mustered out of volunteer service, in September 1866, and reverted to his regular army rank of lieutenant colonel. He took command of the Department of Arizona, First Military District, headquartered at Drum Barracks. He was a controversial commander in that role because of his dealings with Indian uprisings and he was relieved of his command in May 1871.
Stoneman moved to California, the place of which he had dreamed since his service as a young officer before the war. He and his wife settled in the San Gabriel Valley on a 400-acre (1.6 km2) estate called Los Robles, which is now a state historical landmark. He was a state railroad commissioner from 1876 to 1878. In 1882, he was elected governor of California as a Democrat and served a single four-year term. He was not renominated by his party for a second term. After his house was destroyed by fire, an event rumored to be the work of his political enemies, Stoneman was broken financially and in poor health. He returned to New York State for medical treatment. He died following a stroke in Buffalo, New York, and is buried in the Bentley Cemetery in Lakewood, New York.
Stoneman has been memorialized by songwriter Robbie Robertson of The Band, whose 1969 rock and roll song, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", referred to one of Stoneman's 1865 raids:
Virgil Caine is the name, and I served on the Danville train, Till Stoneman's cavalry came and tore up the tracks again ...
Stoneman is not mentioned in several Joan Baez recordings of the song; her interpretation substitutes "so much" for "Stoneman's".
Stoneman Avenue in Alhambra, California, was named in his honor. Camp Stoneman, near Pittsburg, California, was the place from where many soldiers shipped out to the Pacific Theater in World War II and the Korean War, and is remembered by Stoneman Elementary School. Stoneman Elementary School in San Marino, California, is built on Stoneman's Los Robles Ranch Property. Stoneman Bridge, in Yosemite Valley, is named in his honor.