Howard, Major General Oliver Otis – Civil War

Major General Oliver Otis Howard, US Army, Civil War Veteran and Indian Treaty Negotiator

(Courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions)

Oliver Otis Howard (1830 to 1909) was born in Maine. He graduated 4th in his class at USMA in 1854 and became a 2nd Lieut. in the ordnance department. Howard got his first experience fighting Indians in Florida as chief ordnance officer under Gen. Harney in the Seminole Wars. He then taught mathematics at West Point, planning to retire and become a minister.

His plans to preach were thwarted by the outbreak of the Civil War, and Howard’s position on slavery virtually guaranteed that he would remain in service. He saw action at first Manassas and was made Brig. Gen. of Volunteers. In the spring, advancing on Richmond, his right arm was wounded at Fair Oaks, requiring its amputation. Two months later he was back with his corps in time to fight at Manassas again.

In 1872 Howard was sent to negotiate with Cochise in an effort to end the guerrilla war with the Chiricahua Apaches. Howard succeeded, establishing a reserve in Southeast Arizona, but many thought he gave Cochise too much land and too many concessions. The situation was different in 1877 when he was sent to persuade Joseph and his band of Nez Perce to leave the Wallowa Valley in Oregon to go to the reservation created for them in Lapwai, Idaho. Although Howard agreed with Joseph that his people had never given up their land by treaty, he informed Joseph that the Nez Perce could not live in Oregon any more, there were too many settlers and conflict was going to arise. When Nez Perce warriors killed several white settlers, Howard brought the full force of the U.S. Army to bear against the hold-outs, pursuing Joseph’s band through Idaho into Montana to nearly the Canadian border. After Joseph’s famous surrender, true to his morals, Howard continued to support the Nez Perce claim on their land, though it did little good.

Howard served as superintendent of West Point and commanded several military departments before his retirement in 1894.

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