Oliver O. Howard
June 1, 2012
There were no campfires. There were no tents. There was no moonlight.
On the night of May 31, 1862, there was rain, and mud, and two armies of more than 40,000 men within speaking distance of each other in the Virginia lowlands near the Chicahominy River.
Maine’s Oliver O. Howard was on the scene, his brigade sent by Union General George McClellan as reinforcements following a day when the Confederate Army under the command of Joseph E. Johnston had attacked the Northern troops at Fair Oaks Station, and stopped their march toward Richmond.
As they lay in the mud that night, both armies knew what June 1 would bring – more fighting, more dying. With its reinforcements in position, the Union army withstood the Confederate assault in what was – up to that time – the largest battle in the war.
Afterwards, neither side could claim victory, although both did.
Each army sustained heavy losses.
The Confederate army suffered more than 6,000 casualties, including nearly 1,000 soldiers killed. The Union army lost an eighth of its size – more than 5,000 men killed, wounded, captured, or missing.
One of the Union casualties was Howard.
In leading his men in a counterattack, Howard was struck twice by bullets in his right arm. The wounds were so severe that surgeons had to amputate the arm. It would be years later (1893) that Howard would be formally recognized for his heroism in the battle. He was awarded the Medal of Honor.
At the time, however, he needed to recuperate. Rather than stay in a hospital, Howard had the right sleeve of his uniform stitched, and he returned to Maine where he spent a month traveling through the state speaking about his exploits and recruiting enlistees for the Army of the Potomac.
He returned to the front in late summer, in time to lead his brigade at the battle of Antietam, on September 17, 1862. Following that battle he was given command of a division in the Army’s II Corps, and then was promoted to the rank of major general in November.
- An amputee, Howard could have retired from the army. Why did he return?