November 2, 1880 was an important day in American history. Across the United States, the final votes were being cast to determine who would become the 20th President of the United States. James Abram Garfield, a longtime member of the United States House of Representatives and a former Major General in the Union army, was the Republican candidate, while Winfield Scott Hancock, himself a former Major General as well, was the Democratic nominee. Over 9 million votes were cast for president that year, representing 78% of the eligible electorate, the highest number of voters to turnout up to that time in American history. Once all the votes were finally tabulated, James Garfield of Ohio was the victor.
Garfield spent that day at his farm in Mentor, Ohio, greeting well wishers and handling his daily business of overseeing his farm. That night, he was in the small campaign office behind his home, receiving updates on the polls from across the country. When he retired for the evening at 3 a.m., Garfield had heard good news regarding the results of voting in the Northern states. By the morning of November 3, Garfield knew for certain that he had been elected President of the United States.
Garfield's election to the presidency was the crowning achievement of his life. Unfortunately, his grand story of rising from poverty and a log cabin all the way to the White House is marred by its tragic ending. Nine months to the day after his election, President Garfield was shot twice in a train station in Washington, DC on July 2, 1881. One bullet hit his arm, and the other lodged in his back. He did not die from his wounds right away. Instead, he suffered immensely for several months while doctors did everything within their power to treat him and remove the assassin's bullet from his back. Ultimately, their efforts were unsuccessful, only augmenting the infection and effects of his wound. On September 19, 1881, Garfield succumbed to his wounds, making him the second president to die from assassination.
While these events are no doubt historic and important, they often overshadow other parts of Garfield's life and legacy. Eighteen years to the day before his death, Garfield was a general in the Union army, serving as the Chief of Staff for the Army of the Cumberland at the Battle of Chickamauga, one of the great battles of the American Civil War. Garfield's Civil War service, at Chickamauga and elsewhere, is often a footnote in his life story. Far from a small piece of his story, Garfield's Civil War career was essential to who he was and to his rise to the presidency.
I am pleased to announce that today, on the 135th anniversary of Garfield's election to the presidency, my new book James Garfield and the Civil War: For Ohio and the Union is now available. Today is the official publication date for the book, and in it, I hope to tell a part of James Garfield's story which has languished in obscurity for far too long. The book is not an exhaustive look at Garfield's life on a day by day basis, but rather, it tells the story of his Civil War career, placing the future president in the larger events of the war from 1861 to 1865, focusing on his service in recruiting the 42nd Ohio, commanding troops in the field in Kentucky and Tennessee, taking part in political fights in Washington, serving as the Chief of Staff for the Army of the Cumberland in 1863, and ultimately taking his strong views about preserving the Union and abolishing slavery to the halls of Congress. Garfield's Civil War service saw him take part in several of the grand campaigns and battles of the war. He crossed paths with leading figures like Don Carlos Buell, William Rosecrans, George Thomas, Edwin Stanton, Salmon Chase, and Henry Halleck. Along the way, Garfield made friends and enemies, and he experienced his share of highs and lows during the war. Like all veterans, his Civil War service lingered with him through the rest of his days. Even when he was the Republican nominee for president, many still knew him first and foremost as "General Garfield."
I hope you enjoy the book! I will be doing several book talks and signings in Northeast Ohio this upcoming weekend and next week. If you are in the area, I hope to see you there!
Our Country's Fiery Ordeal
A blog about the American Civil War, written and maintained by historian Daniel J. Vermilya, author of The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (History Press, 2014) and James Garfield and the Civil War (History Press, 2015)
Dedicated to my great-great-great grandfather, Private Ellwood Rodebaugh, Company D, 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, killed at the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.
"And may an Overuling Providence continue to cause good to come out of evil, justice to be done to all men where injustice has long prevailed, and finally, peace, quiet, and harmony to come out of this terrible confrontation and our country's fiery ordeal." -- Albert Champlin, 105th Ohio, Diary entry of June 19, 1864 (Western Reserve Historical Society)