Five Civil War Generals Who Went on to Fight in the Indian Wars

Council between General Crook and GeronimoCouncil between General Crook and Geronimo. (Photo: Library of Congress)

1) William Tecumseh Sherman
(February 8, 1820-February 14, 1891)

A right-hand man to U.S. Grant, Sherman is most famous for the march from Atlanta to the Sea that devastated a fifty-mile wide swath through three hundred miles of Georgia, bisecting the Confederacy and undermining southerners’ willingness to keep fighting. But as soon as the war in the East was fairly over, Grant moved Sherman to the Plains to protect the Bozeman Trail and the new Union Pacific Railroad lines in what would later become the Department of the Missouri. In 1866, frustrated when Lakota defended their land, Sherman called for their “extermination.” It was Sherman’s idea to force Plains Indians onto giant reservations in the Southwest (now Oklahoma) and Northwest (now South Dakota) to move them away from the route of the Union Pacific.

2) Oliver Otis Howard
(November 8, 1830-October 26, 1909)

A career army officer, Howard lost his right arm at the Battle of Fair Oaks in 1862, an engagement for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Howard was known as “The Christian General,” a reputation that helped recommend him to run the postwar Freedmen’s Bureau to help southerners make the transition from a slave-based economy to one based on free labor. Howard moved from the South to the Department of the Columbia in 1874, where in 1877 he pursued Chief Joseph and a band of Nez Perce for more than 1000 miles to force them onto a reservation. This was the so-called Nez Perce War.

3) Philip H. Sheridan
(around March 6, 1831-August 5, 1888)

A career army officer, Sheridan began the Civil War as a staff officer but by 1862 was commanding cavalry. He was promoted to major general for his actions at the Battle of Stones River in December 1862. In 1864, Grant appointed him to command the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac. After the Civil War, Sheridan oversaw Reconstruction in Texas before Grant appointed him commander of the Department of the Missouri. In 1868-1869, he attacked the Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Comanche; in 1874-1875 he oversaw the Red River War that ended with Comanche defeat. He was also the officer in charge of the advances on the Lakota in 1875-1877.

4) George Crook
(September 8, 1830-March 21, 1890)

Crook was a career army officer who commanded an Ohio regiment at the beginning of the Civil War. He fought throughout the war, but participated in few famous battles aside from Antietam and Appomattox Court House. He did, however, get to know Philip Sheridan, which would matter after 1867, when he was assigned to the West, where Sheridan commanded the Department of the Missouri. Most famously, Crook fought the Apaches in the early 1870s, then the Lakota at the June 1876 Battle of the Rosebud (which knocked his men out of the rest of that summer’s fighting). In 1882, he was transferred back to Arizona to find Geronimo and his band of Apaches. A steady man, Crook fought Indians but also tried desperately to get the government to live up to the promises it had made to the tribes. As Lakota leader Red Cloud said: “He, at least, never lied to us.”

5) Nelson A. Miles
(August 8, 1839-May 15, 1925)

Miles volunteered as a private in 1861, and fought at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House. Wounded four times, he received the Medal of Honor for his actions at Chancellorsville (where he was wounded in the neck and abdomen). Always eager for promotion, Miles jumped through the ranks of volunteers. After the war, he was appointed a colonel in the regular army. In 1875, he commanded troops that fought Kiowa, Comanche, and Southern Cheyenne in the Red River War. For the next two years, he chased Lakota after the Battle of Little Big Horn. In 1877, he fought the Nez Perce under Chief Joseph. In 1885, now a brigadier general, he was appointed the head of the Department of the Missouri. In 1886, he captured Geronimo. Again promoted, in 1890 he commanded the Division of the Missouri and oversaw the troop mobilization that led to the Wounded Knee Massacre, a disaster that destroyed Miles’s hopes for a presidential nomination.

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