Brig. General John Chivington (USA)

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John Milton Chivington

Birthdate: (73)
Birthplace: Lebanon, Warren County, OH, USA
Death: October 4, 1894 (73)
Denver, Denver County, CO, USA (Cancer)
Immediate Family:

Son of Isaac Chivington and Jane Ann Chivington
Brother of Isaac B Chivington; Sarah Elliott and Lewis Chivington

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Brig. General John Chivington (USA)

John Milton Chivington (January 27, 1821 – October 4, 1894) was a 19th century United States Army officer noted for his role in the New Mexico Campaign of the American Civil War and in the Colorado War. He was celebrated as the hero of the 1862 Battle of Glorieta Pass against a Confederate supply train. Later he became infamous for his role in leading the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre of about 150 peacefully encamped Cheyenne and Arapaho, mostly women and children. He was also a member of the Freemasons, and the Masonic Square and Compass is featured prominently on his headstone.

Early life

Chivington was born in Lebanon, Ohio, the son of Isaac Chivington, who had fought under General William Henry Harrison against members of Tecumseh's Confederacy at the Battle of the Thames. Drawn to Methodism, Chivington become a minister. Following ordination in 1844, his first appointment was to Payson Circuit in the Illinois Conference. On the journey from Ohio to Illinois Chivington contracted smallpox. He served the Illinois conference for ten years. In 1853, he worked in a Methodist missionary expedition to the Wyandot people in Kansas, a part of the Kansas–Nebraska Annual Conference. His outspoken views in favor of abolitionism put him in danger, and upon the advice of "Congressman Craig and other friends" Chivington was persuaded to leave the Kansas Territory for the Nebraska Territory.

As a result, the Methodist Church transferred Chivington to a parish in Omaha, Nebraska. This appointment would ultimately disagree[clarification needed] with Chivington, and he would serve it for one year. Concerning Chivington's pastoral abilities, historian James Haynes said: "Mr. Chivington was not as steady in his demeanor as becomes a man called of God to the work of the ministry, giving his minsterial friends regret and even trouble in their efforts to sustain his reputation." On May 8, 1860, Chivington moved with his family to the Colorado Territory, settling in Denver. He was selected as the Presiding Elder (P.E.) of the new Rocky Mountain District and served for two years (1860–62). Controversy would begin to mar Chivington's appointment, who stopped performing his function as P.E. Chivington was not reappointed at the 1862 conference; rather, his name was recorded as "located". According to early Methodist polity, describing a minister as located means that the minister has effectively been retired. Historian of Methodism Isaac Beardsley, a personal friend of Chivington, suggested that Chivington was "thrown out" due to his involvement with the armed forces, an association that would lead to Chivington's name to infamy. Chivington's status as being "located" did not remove him completely from Methodist politics. His name appears as a member of the executive board of Colorado Seminary, the historic precursor of University of Denver and Iliff School of Theology. His name also appears in the incorporation document issued by the Council and House of Representatives of Colorado Territory, which was approved by then governor John Evans.

Civil War

When the Civil War broke out, Colorado Territory governor William Gilpin offered him a commission as a chaplain, but Chivington refused it, saying he wanted to fight. He was commissioned a major in the 1st Colorado Volunteers under Colonel John P. Slough.

During Confederate General Henry Hopkins Sibley's offensive in the East Arizona and New Mexico Territories, Chivington led a 418-man detachment to Apache Canyon. On March 26, 1862, they surprised about 300 Confederate Texans under Major Charles L. Pyron. The startled Texans were routed with 4 killed, 20 wounded and 75 captured, while Chivington's men lost 5 killed and 14 wounded. This small victory raised morale in Slough's army. On March 28, Slough sent Chivington and his men on a circling movement, with orders to hit Sibley in the flank once Slough's main force had engaged his front at Glorieta Pass. Chivington got into position above the Pass, but waited in vain for either Slough or Sibley to arrive. While they were waiting, scouts reported that Sibley's entire supply train was nearby at Johnson's Ranch.

Chivington's command descended the slope and crept up on the supply train. They waited for an hour in concealment, then attacked, driving off or capturing the small Confederate guard detail without any casualties. Chivington ordered the supply wagons burned, and the horses and mules slaughtered. Meanwhile, the Battle of Glorieta Pass was raging at Pigeon's Ranch. Chivington returned to Slough's main force to find it rapidly falling back. The Confederates had won the Battle of Glorieta Pass. Thanks to Chivington and his forces, however, they had no supplies to sustain their advance, and were forced to retreat. Chivington had completely reversed the result of the battle. Sibley's men reluctantly retreated back to Texas, never again to threaten New Mexico.

Chivington earned high praise for his decisive stroke at Johnson's Ranch, even though his discovery of the Confederate supply train was accidental. Critics have suggested that had Chivington returned quickly to reinforce Slough's army when he heard gunfire, his 400 extra men might have allowed the Union to win the battle. Chivington was unusual in becoming a (minor) military hero of the Civil War for an incident in which there were no casualties.

He was appointed colonel of the 1st Colorado Volunteer Regiment of Cavalry in April 1862. The darker side of Chivington was revealed in the complaints of a captured Confederate chaplain, who wrote that Chivington had threatened to kill the prisoners whom he took at Johnson's Ranch. In November 1862, Chivington was appointed brigadier general of volunteers, but the appointment was withdrawn in February 1863.

Sand Creek massacre

A delegation of Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Arapaho Chiefs in Denver, Colorado on September 28, 1864Black Kettle, chief of a group of around 800 mostly Southern Cheyenne, reported to Fort Lyon to surrender and establish peace for his band. After having done so, he and his band, along with some Arapaho under Chief Niwot, or Left Hand, set up camp at nearby Sand Creek, less than 40 miles north, having been assured that by doing so his people would be considered friendly by the government. The Cheyenne Dog Soldiers, who had aggressively led battles against the whites, were not part of this encampment. Assured by the U.S. government's promises of peace, Black Kettle sent most of his warriors to hunt, leaving only 60 men in the village, most of them too old or too young to hunt. A U.S. flag was flown over Black Kettle's lodge, since he had been told "as long as he flew the American flag, he and his people would be safe from U.S. soldiers".

The governor of Colorado had received permission to raise a force to go against the Cheyenne, who had been attacking emigrant settlers. The Third Colorado Cavalry were essentially militia, volunteers who signed up for 100 days. They were put under Chivington's command and he felt pressure to use them before their terms expired at the end of 1864.

After Black Kettle and his band resettled, the commanding officer changed at Fort Lyon to one who was an ally of Chivington. In November, setting out from Fort Lyon, Colonel Chivington and his 800 troops of the First Colorado Cavalry, Third Colorado Cavalry and a company of First New Mexico Volunteers marched nearly to the reservation. On the night of November 28, after camping, soldiers and militia drank heavily and celebrated the anticipated fight. On the morning of November 29, 1864, Chivington ordered his troops to attack. One officer, Captain Silas Soule, believing the Indians to be peaceful, refused to follow Chivington's order and told his men to hold fire. Other soldiers in Chivington's force, however, immediately attacked the village. Ignoring the U.S. flag, and a white flag they raised shortly after the soldiers began firing, Chivington's soldiers massacred the majority of the mostly unarmed Cheyenne. The attack became known as the Sand Creek Massacre.

The U.S. forces lost 15 killed and more than 50 wounded, mostly due to friendly fire (likely caused by their heavy drinking). Between 150 and 200 Indians were estimated dead, nearly all women and children (before a Congressional committee, Chivington testified that his forces had killed 500-600 Indians, and that few of them were women or children. Others testified against him.). A prominent mixed-race Cheyenne witness said that about 53 men and 110 women and children were killed.

With Chivington's declaring his forces had won a battle against hostile Cheyenne, the action was initially celebrated as a victory. Some soldiers displayed Indian body parts as trophies in Denver saloons. However, the testimony of Soule and his men resulted in a U.S. Congressional investigation into the incident, which concluded that Chivington had acted wrongly.

Soule and some of the men whom he commanded testified against Chivington at his U.S. Army court martial. Chivington denounced Soule as a liar. Soule was later murdered by a soldier who had been under Chivington's command at Sand Creek. Some believed Chivington may have been involved.[citation needed]

Chivington was condemned for his part in the massacre, but he had already resigned from the Army. The general post-Civil War amnesty meant that criminal charges could not be filed against him. An Army judge publicly stated that the Sand Creek massacre was "a cowardly and cold-blooded slaughter, sufficient to cover its perpetrators with indelible infamy, and the face of every American with shame and indignation." Public outrage at the brutality of the massacre, particularly considering the mutilation of corpses, was intense. It was believed to have contributed to public pressure to change Indian policy. The U.S. Congress later rejected the idea of a general war against the Indians of the Midwest.

The panel of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War declared:

"As to Colonel Chivington, your committee can hardly find fitting terms to describe his conduct. Wearing the uniform of the United States, which should be the emblem of justice and humanity; holding the important position of commander of a military district, and therefore having the honor of the government to that extent in his keeping, he deliberately planned and executed a foul and dastardly massacre which would have disgraced the verist [sic] savage among those who were the victims of his cruelty. Having full knowledge of their friendly character, having himself been instrumental to some extent in placing them in their position of fancied security, he took advantage of their in-apprehension and defenceless [sic] condition to gratify the worst passions that ever cursed the heart of man. Whatever influence this may have had upon Colonel Chivington, the truth is that he surprised and murdered, in cold blood, the unsuspecting men, women, and children on Sand creek, who had every reason to believe they were under the protection of the United States authorities."

Because of Chivington's position as a lay preacher, in 1996 the United Methodist General Conference expressed regret for the Sand Creek massacre. It issued an apology to the Southern Cheyenne for the "actions of a prominent Methodist".

Later life

Although never punished, Chivington was forced to resign from the Colorado Militia. Public outrage also forced him to withdraw from politics and kept him out of Colorado's campaign for statehood. In 1865 he moved back to Nebraska and became an unsuccessful freight hauler.

After living briefly in California, Chivington returned to Ohio to farm. Later he became editor of a local newspaper. In 1883 he campaigned for a seat in the Ohio legislature, but when his opponents drew attention to the Sand Creek Massacre, he withdrew from the race.

He returned to Denver where he worked as a deputy sheriff until shortly before his death from cancer in 1894. His funeral took place at Trinity Methodist Church, South, modern day Trinity United Methodist Church, and he is interred at Fairmount Cemetery. To the end of his life, Chivington maintained that Sand Creek had been a successful operation. He argued that his expedition was a response to raids on white people. He ignored his betrayal of official agreements for protection of Black Kettle's friendly band. In addition, he overlooked the contribution of the massacre to the Cheyenne, Arapaho and Sioux bands strengthening their alliances and increasing raids on white settlers. Until he died, he always claimed to have been justified in ordering the attack, stating whenever anyone asked how he felt about his actions "I stand by Sand Creek."

In 1887, the unincorporated settlement of Chivington, Colorado was established and named after John Chivington. It was a railroad town on the Missouri Pacific Railroad line, fairly close to the massacre site. It was largely depopulated during the Dust Bowl days of the 1920s and 1930s, although some buildings still remain.


In 2005, the City Council of Longmont, Colorado changed the name of Chivington Drive to Sunrise Drive. They had learned of Chivington's role in the Sand Creek Massacre and did not want to honor him.

In popular culture

Soldier Blue is a 1970 American Revisionist Western movie directed by Ralph Nelson and inspired by events of the 1864 Sand Creek massacre.

James A. Michener loosely based his character Frank Skimmerhorn in the novel Centennial on Chivington.

In The Listening Sky, Dorothy Garlock portrayed Chivington as the father of Jane Love. The book provides background detail on Chivington.

In the TNT mini-series, Into the West, Chivington was portrayed by Tom Berenger.

The American television series Playhouse 90 broadcast "Massacre at Sand Creek" on December 27, 1956. It recounted the massacre and the court-martial of Chivington, but changed the names of those involved. Chivington became John Templeton, played by Everett Sloane.

John Milton Chivington (January 27, 1821 – October 4, 1894) was a former Methodist pastor who served as colonel in the United States Volunteers during the Colorado War and the New Mexico Campaigns of the American Civil War. In 1862, he was in the Battle of Glorieta Pass against a Confederate supply train.

Chivington gained infamy[1] for leading a 700-man force of Colorado Territory militia during the massacre at Sand Creek in November 1864. An estimated 70–163 peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho – about two-thirds of whom were women, children, and infants – were killed and mutilated by his troops. Chivington and his men took scalps and other body parts as battle trophies, including human fetuses and male and female genitalia.[2]

The Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War conducted an investigation of the massacre, but no charges were brought against Chivington or other participants. The closest thing to a punishment Chivington suffered was the effective end of his political aspirations.

Later he became the first Grand Master of Masons of Colorado.[3]

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Brig. General John Chivington (USA)'s Timeline

January 27, 1821
Lebanon, Warren County, OH, USA
October 4, 1894
Age 73
Denver, Denver County, CO, USA