Today in History:

John Pope

(by Tyler Howat )

John Pope (March 16, 1822-September 23, 1892)John-Pope

Early Life

John Pope was born in Louisville, Kentucky into the family of Nathaniel Pope, "a prominent Illinois judge who was also a close friend of Abraham Lincoln," on March 16, 1822 (Frederiksen 1541).

Pre-Civil War
Entering the Military Academy at West Point in 1838, Pope graduated from the institution seventeenth in his class of fifty-six students as a second lieutenant in the Topographical Engineers. His first assignment was surveying the United States-Canadian border, until the outbreak of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) when he was stationed in Texas under General Zachary Taylor.

While participating in the war with Mexico, Pope quickly earned promotions, rising through the ranks. He gained the rank of first lieutenant for his actions at the Battle of Monterrey (September 21-24, 1846) and then the rank of captain following the Battle of Buena Vista (February 22-23, 1847). After the conclusion of the war with Mexico, Pope returned to his surveying duties, notably "[demonstrating] the navigability of the Red River" and working as the chief engineer of the Department of New Mexico from 1851-1853 (Frederiksen 1542). After his work with New Mexico, he began assessing a route for the new Pacific Railroad until the eruption of the War Between the States in 1861.

Civil War
In January of 1861, after Abraham Lincoln was elected, "[Pope] was still a Captain when the rebellion broke out, and was one of the officers appointed by the War Department to escort President Lincoln to Washington" from Illinois (Harper's Weekly). At first, Pope offered his services to President Lincoln as an aide, but his military experience was needed on the battlefield and he received an appointment and promotion to brigadier general of volunteers in June, where he prepared and organized recruits in Illinois for service in the brewing conflict.

In July, Pope served under Major General John C. Frémont in Missouri, whose jurisdiction was Union territory west of the Mississippi. After a short time, Pope was given command of the District of North and Central Missouri as well as part of the operations through the Mississippi River.

Pope did not have a good relationship with his commanding officer, Maj. General Frémont, and actively worked to have Frémont removed from command, which Frémont discovered. These actions widely marred Pope's reputation and many saw Pope as "[s]omewhat of a braggart by nature" (Frederiksen 1542). Frémont was ultimately replaced by Major General Henry W. Halleck on November 2, 1861, who took notice of Pope after his capture of about 1,200 of Confederate General Sterling Price's troops in Blackwater, Missouri.


Pope was then given command of the Army of the Mississippi, about 25,000 troops on February 25, 1862. Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard fortified Island Number 10 on the Mississippi River at the Kentucky Bend, which was adjacent to the Confederate-held city of New Madrid. Pope swooped down on New Madrid on February 28, 1862, and on March 3rd he laid siege to the city, capturing it on May 14th.


Once Pope gained control of the city, they turned their attention to Island Number 10, taking advantage of portions of the Union Navy's ironclad fleet to bombard and overwhelm the island. "The siege might have been indefinitely prolonged but for "a transverse movement" undertaken by General Pope. He cut a canal through the swamp and bayou, through which a gun-boat and transports were sent to him from above. This enabled him to cross the river, and to bag the entire rebel army at Island No. 10" (Harper's Weekly). Brigadier General William W. Mackall surrendered the Confederate control of Island Number 10-including the 7,000 troops stationed there-on April 8th. This victory, directed by Pope, led to significant victories along the Mississippi, which also led to Pope's promotion to major general.


In June of 1862, Pope was given command of the Union Army of Virginia-fresh from setbacks during the Shenandoah Valley campaign-though when Frémont discovered that he would be subordinate to Pope, he resigned his commission and Pope was subsequently promoted to brigadier general in the regular Federal Army. When he took command, he distributed a message attempting to boost the morale of his troops:

"Let us understand each other. I have come to you from the West, where we have always seen the backs of our enemies; from an army whose business it has been to seek the adversary and to beat him when he was found; whose policy has been attack and not defense. In but one instance has the enemy been able to place our Western armies in defensive attitude. I presume that I have been called here to pursue the same system and to lead you against the enemy. It is my purpose to do so, and that speedily. I am sure you long for an opportunity to win the distinction you are capable of achieving. That opportunity I shall endeavor to give you. Meantime I desire you to dismiss from your minds certain phrases, which I am sorry to find so much in vogue amongst you. I hear constantly of "taking strong positions and holding them," of "lines of retreat," and of "bases of supplies." Let us discard such ideas. The strongest position a soldier should desire to occupy is one from which he can most easily advance against the enemy. Let us study the probable lines of retreat of our opponents, and leave our own to take care of themselves. Let us look before us, and not behind. Success and glory are in the advance, disaster and shame lurk in the rear. Let us act on this understanding, and it is safe to predict that your banners shall be inscribed with many a glorious deed and that your names will be dear to your countrymen forever"-(Martin 35)


Furthermore, Pope ordered that citizens working against the Union were to be shot as spies, infuriating the Confederate military. General Robert E. Lee took it upon himself to defeat Pope, and added General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's forces to take on Pope. "The rebels became so furious with him that they denounced him by general order, in which they declared that if he or any of his officers were taken prisoners, they would be treated as common felons. Instead of being cowed by such an announcement, it, only added vigor to his al-ready vigorous plans" (Harper's Weekly). Jackson's troops overwhelmed the forces of Major General Nathaniel Banks at the Battle of Cedar Mountain (or Slaughter Mountain-August 9, 1862).

Lee then took out Pope's base of supply at Manassas Station, diverting Pope to eventually encounter the combined forces of Generals Lee, Longstreet, and Jackson at the Second Battle of Manassas, or the Second Battle of Bull Run (August 28-30, 1862), which was a decisive Confederate victory.

Pope was blamed for the appalling defeat, and indignantly denied wrongdoing, placing blame on a subordinate officer, Major General Fitz John Porter, who was discharged after a court-martial. Pope was not safe from repercussions, however. He was relieved of command on September 21, 1862 and General McClelland's Army of the Potomac absorbed the Army of Virginia within a fortnight. Following his disgrace, Pope was relegated to command of the Department of the Northwest in Minnesota, managing conflicts with the Sioux, where he remained until the close of the war.


Post Civil War

In 1867, Pope took command of the Third Military District, headquartered in Atlanta, where he "[issued] orders allowing blacks to serve on juries, ordering Mayor James Williams to remain in office another year, and banning city advertising in newspapers that don't favor reconstruction" ( At the end of the year, President Andrew Johnson removed Pope from Atlanta in lieu of General George G. Meade.

In 1879 Pope was further embarrassed when General Fitz John Porter was exonerated from wrongdoing and that the defeat at Manassas was due to Pope's lack of information.

He then commanded the Department of the Missouri from 1870-1883, continuing the work he began in Minnesota. He retired from the military in 1886, and died outside Sandusky, Ohio on September 23, 1892.

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