American Civil War: Brigadier General Robert H. Milroy

Robert Milroy in the Civil War
Brigadier General Robert H. Milroy. Photograph Source: Public Domain

 Robert H. Milroy - Early Life & Career:

Born June 11, 1816, Robert Huston Milroy spent the early part of his life near Salem, IN before moving north to Carroll County, IN.  Interested in pursuing a military career, he attended Captain Alden Partridge’s Military Academy in Norwich, VT.  A strong student, Milroy graduated first in the Class of 1843.  Moving to Texas two years later, he then returned home to Indiana with the beginning of the Mexican-American War.

  Possessing military training, Milroy earned a commission as a captain in the 1st Indiana Volunteers.  Traveling to Mexico, the regiment participated in patrol and guard duty before their enlistments expired in 1847.  Seeking a new profession, Milroy attended law school at Indiana University and graduated in 1850.  Moving to Rensselaer in northwest Indiana, he commenced a career as a lawyer and eventually became a local judge.

Robert H. Milroy - The Civil War Begins:

Recruiting a company for the 9th Indiana Militia in the fall of 1860, Milroy became its captain.  Following the attack on Fort Sumter and beginning of the Civil War, his status quickly changed.  On April 27, 1861, Milroy entered federal service as colonel of the 9th Indiana Volunteers.  This regiment moved to Ohio where it joined Major General George B. McClellan's forces which were preparing for a campaign in western Virginia.

  Advancing, McClellan sought to protect the vital Baltimore & Ohio Railroad as well as open a possible line of advance against Richmond.  On June 3, Milroy's men took part in the victory at the Battle of Philippi as Union forces sought to reclaim railroad bridges in western Virginia.  The following month, the 9th Indiana returned to action during the fighting at Rich Mountain and Laurel Hill.

Robert H. Milroy - Shenandoah:

Continuing to serve in western Virginia, Milroy led his regiment when Union troops defeated General Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Cheat Mountain on September 12-15.  Recognized for his effective performances, he received a promotion to brigadier general which was dated to September 3.  Ordered to Major General John C. Frémont's Mountain Department, Milroy assumed command of the Cheat Mountain District.  In the spring of 1862, he took the field as a brigade commander as Union forces sought to defeat Major General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley.  Having been beaten at the First Battle of Kernstown in March, Jackson withdrew up (south) the valley and received reinforcements.  Pursued by Major General Nathaniel Banks and threatened by Frémont who was advancing from the west, Jackson moved to prevent the two Union columns from uniting. 

Commanding the lead elements of Frémont's army, Milroy learned that Jackson's larger force was moving against him.  Withdrawing over Shenandoah Mountain to McDowell, he was reinforced by Brigadier General Robert Schenck. This combined force unsuccessfully attacked Jackson at the Battle of McDowell on May 8 before retreating north to Franklin.

  Joining with Frémont, Milroy's brigade fought at Cross Keys on June 8 where it was defeated by Jackson's subordinate, Major General Richard Ewell.  Later summer, Milroy received orders to bring his brigade east for service in Major General John Pope's Army of Virginia.  Attached to Major General Franz Sigel's corps, Milroy mounted multiple attacks against Jackson's lines during the Second Battle of Manassas.  

Robert H. Milroy - Gettysburg & Western Service:

Returning to western Virginia, Milroy became known for his harsh policies toward Confederate civilians.  That December, he occupied Winchester, VA under the belief the it was critical for the protection of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.  In February 1863, he assumed command of the 2nd Division, VIII Corps and received a promotion to major general the following month.

  Though Union general-in-chief Major General Henry W. Halleck did not favor the advanced position at Winchester, Milroy's superior, Schenck, did not order him to withdraw closer to the railroad.  That June, as Lee moved north to invade Pennsylvania, Milroy and his 6,900-man garrison, held at Winchester in the belief that the town's fortifications would deter any attack.  This proved incorrect and on June 13-15, he was driven from the town with heavy losses by Ewell.  Retreating towards Martinsburg, the battle cost Milroy 3,400 men and all of his artillery.  

Removed from command, Milroy faced a court of inquiry over his actions at Winchester.  This ultimately found him innocent of any wrongdoing during the defeat.  Ordered west in the spring 1864, he arrived at Nashville where he commenced recruiting duties for Major General George H. Thomas' Army of the Cumberland.  He later assumed command of the defenses along the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad.  In this capacity, he led Union troops to victory at the Third Battle of Murfreesboro that December.  Effective in the field, Milroy's performance was later complimented by his superior, Major General Lovell Rousseau.  Remaining in the west for the rest of the war, Milroy later resigned his commission on July 26, 1865.

Robert H. Milroy - Later Life:

Returning home to Indiana, Milroy served as a trustee of the Wabash & Erie Canal Company before accepting the post of superintendent of Indian Affairs in the Washington Territory in 1872.

  Leaving this position three years later, he remained in the Pacific Northwest as an Indian agent for a decade.  Milroy died in Olympia, WA on March 29, 1890, and was buried at Masonic Memorial Park in Tumwater, WA.

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