General John Pope

John Pope (1822–1892)

John Pope was a Union general during the American Civil War (1861–1865) with a reputation for outspokenness and arrogance. After serving in the Mexican War (1846–1848) as an engineer, the West Point graduate fought well in the West during 1861 and 1862, prompting U.S. president Abraham Lincoln to transfer him east. There, he exacerbated his already bad relations with Union generals George B. McClellan and Fitz-John Porter by issuing a proclamation trumpeting his own generalship. When he declared that he would make his "headquarters in the saddle," some quipped that he had mistaken his hindquarters for his headquarters, and when he announced a series of hard-war policies aimed at punishing Confederate civilians, Confederate general Robert E. Lee labeled him a "miscreant." At the head of the new Army of Virginia, Pope got the opportunity to confront Lee at the Second Battle of Manassas in August 1862 but was soundly defeated. Pope was transferred to the Dakotas, where he fought against Indians in the aftermath of the Sioux Uprising (1862). During Reconstruction (1865–1877), he held military administrative posts in the South. He died in 1892. MORE...

 

Early Life

Born on March 16, 1822, in Louisville, Kentucky, John Pope was raised in Kaskaskia, Illinois. His father, Nathaniel Pope, served as a prominent federal judge and was friends with Abraham Lincoln. John Pope graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, in 1842, seventeenth in a class of fifty-six, a ranking high enough to earn him assignment to the Army Corps of Engineers. His classmates included the future Confederate general James Longstreet and the Virginia-born, future Union general John Newton.

Pope saw action in the Mexican War as a lieutenant of engineers at the Battle of Monterrey on September 21–24, 1846, and on the staff of U.S. general Zachary Taylor at the Battle of Buena Vista on February 22–23, 1847. On September 15, 1859, he married Clara P. Horton, daughter of Ohio congressman Valentine B. Horton. Pope accompanied President-elect Lincoln on the inaugural train ride from Springfield, Illinois, to Washington, D.C., in February 1861.

The Civil War Years (1861–1862)

Partly as a consequence of his political connections, the ambitious and often arrogant Pope secured a commission as brigadier general of volunteers on June 14, 1861. Assigned to the Department of the West, Pope was a competent but fractious commander who openly schemed against his commanding officer, Union general John C. Frémont. Lincoln fired Frémont for calling for the emancipation of slaves, and Union troops in the area were reorganized into the Department of the Missouri under Major General Henry W. Halleck.

The new commander assigned Pope to lead an expeditionary force against the important Confederate defenses at New Madrid, Missouri, and at Island Number Ten, on the Kentucky-Tennessee border, both along the Mississippi River. (The island was so named because at one time it was the tenth island in the Mississippi River south of the river's junction with the Ohio River.) Pope succeeded brilliantly, capturing both and taking 5,000 prisoners with a loss of just thirty-two of his own men. The following month, at the head of the Army of the Mississippi, Pope participated in the siege and capture of Corinth, Mississippi. His aggressiveness won him praise in the army and in the press, but irritated the cautious Halleck.

After the failure of Union general George B. McClellan's Peninsula Campaign in June 1862, President Lincoln summoned Pope to duty in the East. Pope looked upon his transfer with trepidation, partly because he was comfortable with a friendly group of subordinates in the West—quipped one of them: "Good bye Pope, your grave is made"—and partly because he disdained most of the officers in the East, particularly McClellan and Fitz-John Porter. When informed by U.S. secretary of war Edwin M. Stanton that he would be placed in command of a substantial Union force in the East, Pope objected that "I should be much in the situation of the strange dog, without even the right to run out of the village."

On June 27, 1862, Pope arrived in Washington, a place he described as being overtaken by the "moral odor of sewer gas," and there received command of the Army of Virginia. The force was cobbled together from three Union corps that already had performed poorly against Confederate general Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862, and it did not bode well that Pope detested corps commanders Franz Sigel and Irvin McDowell, while remaining merely indifferent to the third, Nathaniel P. Banks. Pope's feelings were largely reciprocated; indeed, animosity against him was made even worse after he issued a proclamation that impugned the ability of soldiers in the East while trumpeting his own. Porter, for one, spat that "Pope could not quote the Ten Commandments without getting ten falsehoods out of them," and remarked that with the proclamation, Pope "has now written himself down as what the military world has long known, an ass."

The Lincoln administration counted on Pope to pursue a vigorous campaign designed not simply to defeat Confederates but to punish them. This was a shift away from McClellan, who was known for his conservative approach to warfare and his belief that the current conflict should be fought in such a way as to preserve the possibility of conciliation between North and South. In fact, Pope's transfer to the East had been a way for the Republican administration to push its hard-war policies, which the Democrat McClellan opposed, without expending the political capital necessary to oust McClellan entirely.

Pope's General Orders No. 5, issued on July 18, 1862, directed the Army of Virginia to "subsist upon the country," while his General Orders No. 7, issued the same month, held civilians who lived near the sites of guerrilla attacks responsible for damages. Confederates perceived these to be violations of the tradition of honorable warfare, and in response, Robert E. Lee labeled Pope a "miscreant."

The Second Manassas Campaign

Pope took the field in Virginia with two primary objectives: to protect the Shenandoah Valley and Washington, D.C., and to draw Confederate forces away from McClellan, who was extricating his Army of the Potomac from the peninsula of Virginia. Having decisively defeated McClellan in front of Richmond during the Seven Days' Battles in June 1862, Lee now moved to prevent Pope and McClellan from uniting. He instructed Jackson to move against Banks's corps of Pope's army near Culpeper, which resulted in the inconclusive Battle of Cedar Mountain on August 9. After sparring with Pope along the Rappahannock River until August 25, Lee sent Jackson on a flanking march far into the rear of Pope's troops, where, two days later, Jackson destroyed the Union supply depot at Manassas Junction. This compelled Pope to abandon his defensive line along the Rappahannock and move against Jackson, who had taken a strong defensive position on the site of the First Battle of Manassas (1861). 

On August 28, elements of the Army of Virginia clashed with Jackson at Brawner's Farm, and the next day Pope launched several poorly coordinated and unsuccessful assaults against Jackson's front. That afternoon Pope ordered Porter, whose newly arrived corps had come up on his left, to attack Jackson's right flank. Through no fault of Porter's the attack failed to come off, and the fighting ended in a stalemate. On the afternoon of August 30 Pope again ordered Porter to attack Jackson, and again the attack failed. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Pope, Confederate general James Longstreet had reached the battlefield the night before. Lee ordered him to counterattack, and the Confederates drove Pope's army back in a stunning defeat. The best Pope could do was prevent Lee, at the Battle of Chantilly on September 1, from placing the Confederate army between Pope and Washington.

On September 6, 1862, Pope was relieved of command and reassigned to the Department of the Northwest to help suppress a Sioux Indian uprising in Minnesota. Blaming his defeat at Second Manassas on Porter's failure to attack the first day, Pope saw to it that Porter was court-marshaled and dismissed from the army. Pope battled Porter's attempts at rehabilitation until, in 1879, an Army Board of Inquiry concluded that Porter had been unfairly convicted.

Service on the Western Plains

During 1863 and 1864 Pope directed further operations against the Sioux and by 1865 was the U.S. Army's foremost expert on Indian affairs. In February 1865 Union general-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant reassigned him to command of the Military Division of the Missouri, the second-largest geographical command in the United States. In 1867 he was appointed governor of the Reconstruction Third Military District, which included Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, and he vigorously defended the voting rights of African Americans. After a brief stint as commander of the Department of the Lakes in Detroit, Michigan, Pope returned to the Plains and commanded the Department of the Missouri from 1869 until 1883. He was an architect of the Red River War (1874–1875), which subdued the Southern Plains tribes. Blaming white encroachment for Indian troubles, Pope advocated humane treatment of subjugated tribes.

Later Years

After forty-four years of service, Pope retired as a major general in the Regular Army on March 16, 1886. Two years later his wife, Clara Pope, died. He wrote his memoirs for the National Tribune, which serialized the book between February 1887 and March 1891. In his writing, Pope forgave where he felt able and dispatched his enemies, including McClellan, with wit. Of McClellan, Pope wrote that he "admired himself only, and could never bear a rival near that shrine." Pope died in his sleep on September 23, 1892, in St. Louis, Missouri, and was buried there beside his wife in Bellefontaine Cemetery.

"Military critics may dispute as to General Pope's capacity as a general in command of armies in the field," offered the editors of the Army and Navy Journal on his death. "None, however, can deny that he was a faithful servant of his country … deserving [of] … a place in the hearts of his countrymen with those whose ultimate success made them foremost of the leaders of their time."

Time Line

  • March 16, 1822 - John Pope is born in Louisville, Kentucky.
  • 1842 - John Pope graduates from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, seventeenth in a class of fifty-six.
  • September 21–24, 1846 - John Pope, a lieutenant of engineers, distinguishes himself at the Battle of Monterrey during the Mexican War.
  • February 22–23, 1847 - While serving on the staff of U.S. general Zachary Taylor, John Pope distinguishes himself at the Battle of Buena Vista during the Mexican War.
  • September 15, 1859 - John Pope, a West Point graduate and veteran of the Mexican War, marries Clara P. Horton, daughter of Ohio congressman Valentine B. Horton.
  • June 14, 1861 - John Pope secures a commission as brigadier general of volunteers. He is assigned to the Department of the West, where he serves under Union general John C. Frémont.
  • April 8, 1862 - In a nearly bloodless campaign, Union general John Pope captures Island Number Ten on the Mississippi River and takes 5,000 Confederate prisoners.
  • April 29–June 10, 1862 - Union general John Pope, at the head of the Army of the Mississippi, participates in the siege and capture of Corinth, Mississippi. His aggressiveness wins him praise in the army and in the press, but it irritates his commander, the cautious Henry W. Halleck.
  • June 27, 1862 - Union general John Pope assumes command of the Army of Virginia, which has been cobbled together from three Union corps that have already performed poorly against Confederate general Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862.
  • July 18, 1862 - Union general John Pope issues General Orders No. 5, directing the Army of Virginia to "subsist upon the country." His General Orders No. 7 hold Confederate civilians who live near the sites of guerrilla attacks responsible for damages. Confederates perceive these orders to be violations of the tradition of honorable warfare.
  • August 9, 1862 - Union and Confederate troops clash at the Battle of Cedar Mountain. Although outnumbered, Union troops have an advantage in the early part of the fight. Confederate reinforcements eventually counterattack and drive Union troops from the field.
  • August 29–30, 1862 - Confederate general Robert E. Lee withstands John Pope's assault at the Second Battle of Manassas and then drives Pope from the field. One of the most decisive Confederate victories of the war, Lee's triumph is made possible by Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's determined defense, as Jackson's wing bears the weight of Pope's attack.
  • September 6, 1862 - Union general John Pope is relieved of his command of the Army of Virginia following his defeat at the Second Battle of Manassas. He is reassigned to the Department of the Northwest to help suppress a Sioux Indian uprising in Minnesota.
  • 1863–1864 - Union general John Pope directs further operations against Sioux Indians.
  • February 3, 1865 - Union general John Pope assumes command of the Military Division of the Missouri, the second-largest geographical command in the nation.
  • 1867 - General John Pope is appointed governor of the Reconstruction Third Military District, which includes Georgia, Florida, and Alabama. He vigorously defends the voting rights of African Americans.
  • 1869–1883 - General John Pope commands the Department of the Missouri.
  • 1874–1875 - General John Pope helps to plan and oversee the conduct of the Red River War against the Southern Plains Indians.
  • 1879 - A U.S. Army Board of Inquiry concludes that former Union general Fitz-John Porter was unfairly convicted for his actions at the Second Battle of Manassas. Porter had been blamed for defeat in the 1862 battle by Union general John Pope and court-martialed.
  • March 16, 1886 - After forty-four years of service, General John Pope retires from the U.S. Army.
  • February 1887–March 1891 - The National Tribune serializes the memoirs of former Union general John Pope, who forgives old enemies or dispatches them with wit. Of George B. McClellan, Pope writes that he "admired himself only, and could never bear a rival near that shrine."
  • 1888 - Clara Horton Pope, wife of former Union general John Pope, dies.
  • September 23, 1892 - Former Union general John Pope dies of natural causes in St. Louis, Missouri, and is buried there beside his wife in Bellefontaine Cemetery.
Further Reading
Cozzens, Peter. General John Pope: A Life for the Nation. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.
Cozzens, Peter E. and Robert I. Girardi, editors.The Military Memoirs of General John Pope. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1998.
Cite This Entry
APA Citation:
Cozzens, P. John Pope (1822–1892). (2014, January 6). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Pope_John_1822-1892.

MLA Citation:
Cozzens, P. "John Pope (1822–1892)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 6 Jan. 2014. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: January 27, 2010 | Last modified: January 6, 2014


Contributed by Peter Cozzens, the author of sixteen critically acclaimed books on the American Civil War and the Indian Wars of the American West. He also is a foreign service officer with the U.S. Department of State.