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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

General R.C. Schenck Early Military Hero

Dallas Bogan on 27 July 2004
Dallas Bogan, Warren County, Ohio and Beyond (Bowie Maryland: Heritage Press, 1979) page 194
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

General Robert Cumming Schenck was born in Franklin, Warren County, Ohio, on October 4, 1809. His father, Gen. William C. Schenck, co- founder of Franklin, Ohio, was an officer in the Northwestern Army under Gen. William Henry Harrison, and afterward served as a member of the General Assembly of the State.
After his father's death in January 1821, Robert was placed under the guardianship of Gen. James Findlay of Cincinnati, but continued to live with his mother at Franklin until his fifteenth year.
He entered the sophomore class at Miami University in November 1824. He graduated in September 1827, and remained at Oxford extending his studies. He was also employed part-time as tutor of French and Latin until 1830, when he received his master's degree.
In November he entered into the practice of law at Dayton, Ohio. He was elected to the Ohio Legislature in 1840, and was two years later elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, serving four terms.
Resigning this position in 1851, our subject accepted, under President Fillmore, the position of Minister of Brazil, this tenure lasting two years. During his term in Congress, he was soon recognized as an anti-slavery Whig. The ability to speak his mind of other opponents allowed many avenues in which he could attack his political foes. Being of a proud nature, Mr. Schenck was too tempered to adapt to the already proven political ring.
In September 1859, a meeting was held in Dayton to discuss the political views of the period. Earlier that day Abraham Lincoln had made a speech at the same location. The evening was Robert C. Schenck's time to back Mr. Lincoln's bid for the Presidency. This was the first time the future President spoke before any large assembly concerning the nation's highest office. Schenck referred to Mr. Lincoln as an honest, sensible man, and said that a nomination should be at hand.
At the beginning of the Civil War Schenck immediately offered his services to the Union. Lincoln commissioned him Brigadier General of volunteers. His Washington enemies immediately pounced upon this selection as a political appointment. Their quarrel was that the Indian fighters in the West were better suited for a command than a politician. News sources wrote that one who had no military experience should start at the bottom and work his way up.
General Schenck's first test came on June 17, 1861, when he was ordered to take possession of the Louden and Hampshire Railroad as far as Vienna, VA. With the odds against him, he acted with so much coolness that the Confederates were impressed with the belief that a heavy force must be in reserve, and accordingly they withdrew.
At the battle of First Bull Run on July 21, 1861, Gen. Schenck commanded the First and Second Ohio (both had companies from Warren County), the Second New York, and a battery of six-pounder cannons. He was stationed on the Warrenton Road near the Stone Bridge. About 4 p.m., being left in command by Gen. Tyler, he determined to clear the abattis from the bridge and march to the relief of some of the Union forces that were severely pressed. He quickly moved forward two twelve pounders and a company of men, the obstructions being promptly removed. At this moment the order came to retreat and Gen. Schenck, forming his brigade, brought off the only portion of that army that was not absorbed in the element of mob retreat.
General Beauregard, in his official report, gives as one of the reasons pursuit was not made was that he was satisfied large reinforcements held the Warrenton Road. He had no evidence of this other than Gen. Schenck's bold demonstration and orderly retreat.
A brigade assignment was next in store for Gen. Schenck, who was commanding in western Virginia under Gen. Rosecrans. He was actively engaged in several campaigns on the Kanawha and New Rivers.
Due to the death of Gen. Lander, the General was ordered to Cumberland, Md., and upon arrival found everything in a state of confusion. The town was crowded with the sick and wounded, the troops being in a serious degree of disorder. The administrative abilities of the General soon restored order. General Schenck successfully defeated the Confederates on several different points such as Moorefield, Petersburg, Franklin and other important junctures.
At the battle of Cross Keys, he was assigned to the right of the line, and the Confederates in heavy force immediately tried to flank his position. This attempt was met promptly and was repulsed, the enemy falling back in confusion under well-directed artillery fire. Until about 3 p.m., the right continued to press the enemy, in no instance giving back or losing any part of the field assigned it. After the left gave way, Gen. Fremont ordered Generals Schenck, Milroy and Cluseret to fall back to the position first occupied in the morning. This was done slowly and in good order. General Fremont, upon being relieved of his command, turned the duties over to Gen. Schenck. During the absence of Gen. Sigel, he had command of the First Corp of Virginia.
At the battle of Second Bull Run, Gen. Schenck suggested to Gen. Sigel that good water could be found at Bull Run rather than at Manassas. Upon this suggestion, Gen. Pope directed the army to Bull Run instead of Manassas. In the two days fight that followed, Schenck's division took an active part.
On the second day of the battle, the General suffered a crippling wound to the right wrist, his sword being thrown quite some distance from him. With the battle position clearly exposed, the General refused to be carried off the field until his sword had been recovered. He was removed to the hospital in Washington, his right arm being impaired the rest of his life. Shortly thereafter he received an appointment to Major General of volunteers.
On December 5, 1863, Gen. Schenck resigned his commission to take a seat in the Lower House of Congress. He had been elected from the Third Ohio Congressional District in 1862, defeating Clement L. Vallandigham, the famed Copperhead.
Gen. Schenck continued his political career in Washington and was involved in the impeachment procedure of President Andrew Johnson. The General died in the District of Columbia, March 23, 1890, and is buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio.

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