Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

John M. Schofield (1868–1869): Secretary of War

John McAllister Schofield was born in 1831 in Gerry, New York. Because his father was a missionary, Schofield attended a number of schools, ultimately working as a surveyor in northern Wisconsin and as a teacher in Oreco, Wisconsin.

In 1849, Schofield began his studies at West Point, graduating in 1853. Following graduation, Schofield served two years in Georgia and Florida with the Second and First Artillery, respectively. He then returned to West Point, this time as a teacher in natural and experimental philosophy, before becoming a teacher of physics at Washington University in 1857.

With the onset of the Civil War, Schofield served as a mustering officer in Missouri, then as a major in the First Missouri Volunteer Infantry. In 1862, he joined the command of the Army of the Frontier, and in 1863 took command of the Department of the Missouri. Schofield enjoyed an illustrious military career, serving under William Tecumseh Sherman during the general’s famed March to the Sea, rising to the rank of major general, brigadier general, and brevet major general by 1865.

Following the cessation of hostilities, Schofield served as commander of North Carolina until a regular government could be reinstituted. He then was tapped by Secretary of State William Seward to negotiate a deal with the French in support of U.S. policies regarding Mexico. He succeeded and, following his return from France in 1868, was named as commander of the Department of the Potomac.

Schofield assumed control of the War Department for President Andrew Johnson in June 1868, following the President’s controversial dismissal of former war secretary Edwin M. Stanton. Schofield served only until March 1869, after which he spent almost three decades in the military, commanding the Division of the Pacific, serving as superintendent of West Point (1876-1881), and commanding the United States Army from 1888 to 1895, the year he retired from the military as lieutenant general. John McAllister Schofield died in 1906.