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About Maj. General John C. Robinson (USA)
John Cleveland Robinson (April 10, 1817 – February 18, 1897) had a long and distinguished career in the United States Army, fighting in numerous wars and culminating his career as a Union Army major general in the American Civil War. He was a recipient of the Medal of Honor for valor in action in 1864 near Spotsylvania Courthouse, Virginia, where he lost a leg. After the war, he was elected as Lieutenant Governor of New York and served two terms as the president of the Grand Army of the Republic.
Early life and career
Robinson was born in Binghamton, New York. Robinson was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. He was a non-graduating member of the Class of 1839, leaving the academy to study law. After a year as a civilian, he rejoined the army in October 1839 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 5th U.S. Infantry.
Robinson traveled to Corpus Christi, Texas, in September 1845 to join Gen. Winfield Scott and the Army of Occupation as a regimental and brigade quartermaster. In June 1846, Robinson was promoted to first lieutenant and served in the Mexican-American War, fighting with distinction in the Battle of Monterey. He also was in action at the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. He was commissioned as a captain in August 1850 and served in various garrisons. He led troops in several engagements against hostile Indians in Texas in 1853–54.
In 1856, Robinson went into combat again, serving in Florida during the Third Seminole War, where he furthered his military record of bravery and efficient services. He led a seriers of expeditions against the Seminoles in the Everglades and Big Cyprus Swamp.
At the close of the Seminole War, he was assigned command of Fort Bridger and sent to the Utah Territory. In 1857–58, he served at Camp Floyd during the Utah War. Camp Floyd the largest concentration of US Troops at any post prior to the Civil War. While stationed in the desolate Utah Territory he petitioned, with others, the Grand Lodge of Missouri to establish a Lodge in the Utah Territory. It was granted the March 6, 1859, Rocky Mountain #205 under dispensation from Missouri, and Cpt. Robinson the first Worshipful Master of the first Lodge in Utah. In the late 1850s, he was ordered back east to assume command of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, Maryland was a border state, remaining loyal to the Union despite being a Southern slave state. Secessionists planned to seize Fort McHenry, but Robinson made it appear that reinforcements were imminent for his small 60-man garrison, and was able to retain control of the fort.
Robinson was soon sent to Detroit as an army recruiting officer, and for a short time, assisted Governor William Dennison in raising troops in Columbus, Ohio. In September 1861, he was appointed as colonel of the 1st Michigan Infantry, a regiment he helped recruit. That autumn, he was also promoted to major of the 2nd U.S. Infantry in the regular army, concurrent with his assignment in the volunteer army. Within a few months, he was commanding a brigade of volunteers at Newport News, Virginia.
With his vast combat experience and with the growing need in the expanding army for senior officers, he was promoted again on April 28, 1862, this time as a brigadier general of volunteers, and was transferred soon afterwards to the Army of the Potomac, where he assumed command of a brigade in the division of Philip Kearny in the III Corps. He served with distinction during the Peninsula Campaign, particularly at the Seven Days Battles. General Kearny lavishly praised Robinson in his official report.
"I have reserved General Robinson for the last. To him this day is due, above all others in this division, the honors of this battle. The attack was on his wing. Everywhere present, by his personal supervision and noble example he secured for us the honor of victory."
He also fought that year during the Northern Virginia Campaign at the Second Battle of Bull Run, but missed the Maryland Campaign as his brigade was not present. He next fought at the Battle of Fredericksburg. He was transferred to command of second division I Corps in time to participate in Chancellorsville in 1863.
During the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, Robinson commanded a division in the I Corps north of the borough of Gettysburg. He and his men fought well on July 1, but eventually had to retire through the streets of the town under the pressure of overwhelming numbers. For his valor and meritorious performance at Gettysburg, he was brevetted as a lieutenant colonel in the regular army. He was again brevetted, this time to colonel in the regular army, for his efforts during the Mine Run Campaign and the 1864 Battle of the Wilderness. In the latter battle, Robinson commanded second division in the reorganized V Corps, which was composed of his old division plus a brigade of Maryland troops.
Robinson presided over the court-martial of Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Rowley for his conduct at Gettysburg.
After the war he received a Medal of Honor for his actions during a preliminary action to the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, the fight at Alsop's farm at Laurel Hill, Virginia, on May 8, 1864. According to the official citation, Robinson "placed himself at the head of the leading brigade in a charge upon the enemy's breastworks; was severely wounded." He was brevetted as a major general in the regular army. However, having been shot through the left knee and permanently disabled following its amputation at the thigh, Robinson never returned to field duty after Alsop's Farm. He performed administrative duty as a district commander in the Department of the East for the rest of the war.
Robinson remained in the army following the cessation of hostilities and was assigned command of the Freedman's Bureau in Federally-occupied North Carolina. In July 1866, he was promoted to full colonel in the regular army, and mustered out of the volunteer army on September 1, 1866. In 1867, he was promoted to command of the Military Department of the South. The following year, he was again reassigned, this time to lead the Department of the Lakes. Robinson retired from the U.S. Army on May 6, 1869, receiving a full commission to the rank of major general.
Robinson, as with many leading political and social figures of his day, was a Freemason, becoming a member of Binghamton Lodge #177 and rising through its ranks.
Robinson, long a popular figure in New York, was elected Lieutenant Governor of New York in 1872, serving under Republican Governor John A. Dix. Robinson was active in veterans affairs, and became the president of the national Grand Army of the Republic from 1877–79. A decade later, he was elected as president of the Society of the Army of the Potomac. In his elder years, Robinson lost his eyesight and became totally blind.
He died at home at the age of 79 and was buried in Plot Section D, Lot 12 at Spring Forest Cemetery in Binghamton, Broome County, New York.
A bronze statue of Robinson stands in Gettysburg National Military Park near Oak Ridge.
Medal of Honor citation
Rank and Organization:
Brigadier General, U.S. Volunteers. Place and date: At Laurel Hill, Va., May 8, 1864. Entered service at: Binghamton, N.Y. Birth: Binghamton, N.Y. Date of issue: March 28, 1894.
Placed himself at the head of the leading brigade in a charge upon the enemy's breastworks; was severely wounded.