See a full text list of Biographies
  Name:  John Pope
  Born:  March 16, 1822
  Died:  September 23, 1892

  Complete HarpWeek Biography:

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

John Pope was a career military man who served as a Union general during the Civil War and was decisively defeated at the second battle of Bull Run (Manassas) in August 1862.  As a lawyer, Abraham Lincoln had argued cases before his father, Nathaniel Pope, a U.S. District Court judge in Illinois.

John Pope was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 16, 1822, to Nathaniel Pope and Lucretia Backus Pope.  He attended the United States Military Academy at West Point from 1838 until 1842, when he graduated 17th in his class.  For the next four years, he worked as a surveyor for the Corps of Topographical Engineers at the rank of brevet second lieutenant.  In May 1846, he was promoted to second lieutenant and soon transferred to fight in the newly declared war against Mexico.  For his valor at the battles of Monterey and Buena Vista, respectively, he received promotion to brevet first lieutenant (September 1846) and captain (February 1847).

Pope returned to survey duty after the war, serving in the Minnesota Territory (1849), as chief topographical engineer in the New Mexico Territory (1851–1853), and as leader of the survey for the southernmost possible route of the transcontinental railroad (1853–1859).  The latter assignment went through the dry Llano Estacado (“Staked Plains”) at the Texas–New Mexico border, which provoked Pope’s unsuccessful attempt to provide a source of water through artesian wells.  In 1859, he was reassigned to lighthouse duty in Cincinnati.  On September 15 of that year he married Clara Pomeroy Horton; they later had five children.

In February 1861, Pope was one of the escorts on President–Elect Abraham Lincoln’s trip to Washington, D.C. With the outbreak of the Civil War on April 15, Pope became mustering officer in Chicago.  On May 17, he was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers, and was reassigned on July 29 to General John C. Fremont’s Department of the West in Missouri.  In March and April 1862, Pope commanded the Army of the Mississippi, which, in conjunction with Commodore Andrew Foote’s naval flotilla, captured New Madrid, Missouri, and Island No. 10 to give the Union control of the Mississippi River southward to Memphis.  On March 21, he was commissioned a major–general.  In May, his army formed General Henry Halleck’s left wing on the march to and siege of Corinth, Mississippi.

With his military success in the Western Theater, Pope was named on June 26, 1862, to command the newly formed Army of the Virginia, fulfilling the ambition of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to replace the Democratic General George B. McClellan with an anti–slavery Republican.  Pope’s assignment was to protect Washington, D.C., while also diverting Confederate resources to the Shenandoah Valley and away from McClellan’s Peninsula campaign toward Richmond.  On July 14, Pope was commissioned a brigadier general and his Army of the Virginia began incorporating soldiers from McClellan’s failed Peninsula campaign.  Pope’s personal bragging, unfavorable comparison of Eastern Theater soldiers to Western Theater soldiers, and friction with fellow generals undermined his ability to lead.

General Robert E. Lee tricked Pope by dividing Confederate troops between Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and James Longstreet.  Instead of retreating to Washington, Pope stayed to fight and was decisively defeated at the Second Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) on August 29–30, 1862.  An intense, lingering controversy of the battle arose when Major General Fitz–John Porter disobeyed Pope’s directive to attack Longstreet, arguing that the order was suicidal.  In January 1863, Porter, a Democrat and protégé of McClellan’s, was dismissed from military service on the grounds of insubordination by a military court consisting mostly of Republican generals.  Porter was found not guilty at a retrial in 1879, and in 1886 was placed on the retired list. 

Despite Pope’s attempt to shift the blame after the Second Battle of Bull Run (Manassas), he was relieved of command on September 5, 1862, and his troops were absorbed into McClellan’s Army of the Potomac.  For the next two years, Pope commanded the Department of the Northwest in the Minnesota and Dakota territories, where he led several campaigns against the Sioux Indians.  In early 1865, he became commander of the Division of the Missouri at St. Louis.  In March of that year he was awarded the rank of brevet major general.

In 1867, Pope was assigned to oversee Reconstruction in the Third Military District, which comprised Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.  In 1868–1870, he was stationed in Detroit as commander of the Department of the Lakes.  While commander of the Department of the Missouri (1870–1883), he established the first schools specifically dedicated to training infantry and cavalry, as well as directed campaigns against various Plains Indian tribes.  In 1882, he was given the rank of major general.  The next year, he was reassigned to San Francisco to command of the Division of the Pacific.  In 1886, he retired and moved to St. Louis.  John Pope died on September 23, 1892, while visiting his brother–in–law in Sandusky, Ohio.

Sources consulted:  O.L.S., Jr., “Pope, John,” Dictionary of American Biography, pp. 76–77; Walter N. Trenerry, “Pope, John,”–00627.html, American National Biography Online Feb. 2000; Frank N. Schubert, Vanguard of Expansion:  Army Engineers in the Trans–Mississippi West, 1819–1879, Chapter VI:  “The Pacific Railroad Surveys,” History Division, Office of Administrative Services, Office of the Chief of Engineers,; “John Pope,” Mr. Lincoln’s White House, The Lincoln Institute under a grant from The Lehrman Institute.


Website design © 1998-2006 HarpWeek, LLC
All Content © 1998-2006 HarpWeek, LLC
Do not use any materials on this website without express written permission from HarpWeek, LLC
Please submit questions to [email protected]