Ben Boulden of the Times Record writes:
Frederick Steele was a United States Volunteers major general and the commander of the Department of Arkansas in the Civil War. Union forces under his command took military control of the northern half of the state in September 1863. Faced with immense military and political problems as a result of the continuing war, however, Steele failed in his larger mission of politically and militarily stabilizing the state.
Frederick Steele was born on January 14, 1819, in Delhi, New York, the son of Nathaniel Steele III and his second wife, Dameras Johnson. Frederick Steele never married or had children. Little is known of Steele’s early years. He entered West Point in 1839. A friend and classmate of Ulysses S. Grant, he graduated in 1843 and was commissioned a second lieutenant. He served in the Mexican War from 1847 to 1848, then in California and Pennsylvania and at various posts in the West until the Civil War.
Appointed a major with the Eleventh Infantry on May 14, 1861, Steele commanded a brigade that saw action in Missouri at Dug Springs and the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. On September 23, he was appointed colonel of the Eighth Iowa Volunteers, and he received his appointment as brigadier general on January 29, 1862.
Steele assumed command of the First Division in Major General Samuel Ryan Curtis’s Army of the Southwest on May 9, 1862, and he participated in the subsequent invasion of Arkansas. Curtis’s objective was to occupy Little Rock (Pulaski County), but a lack of supplies and the growing Confederate guerrilla resistance forced him to abandon that objective and march to Helena (Phillips County), where he could be resupplied from the Mississippi River.
During the first half of 1863, Steele commanded an army corps that took part in the expedition to the Yazoo River, the assault on Chickasaw Bluffs, and the capture of Arkansas Post (Arkansas County) on January 11. On May 17, he was promoted to major general and assumed control of a division that served in the Vicksburg Campaign. In July 1863, he was given command of Union forces in Arkansas with orders to clear the state of organized Rebels.
Union forces under Steele took Little Rock on September 10. Until his reassignment on December 22, 1864, the only significant military action that Steele had been in command of was the Red River expedition. The objective in that expedition was to defeat Confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith and consolidate Union control of Arkansas and Louisiana. Hampered by supply problems and guerrilla activity, Steele retreated to Little Rock to avoid being surrounded by Confederates, fighting battles at Jenkins’ Ferry and Marks’ Mills, in which the Third Division received heavy losses.
[One September 10, 1863, a 15,000 man Union force under the command of Major General Frederick Steele captured the strategic town of Little Rock, Confederate capital of Arkansas that had a population of a few thousand at the beginning of the American Civil War, soon to be swelled by soldiers and refugees. Just days before the troops in blue arrived, two Confederate generals had fought a duel outside of town — resulting in one death (that of President James K. Polk’s nephew, Brigadier General Lucius “Marsh” Walker). ]
Union political and military authority had always been weak outside the garrison towns of Fort Smith, Little Rock, and Helena; that authority was made even weaker after the Red River campaign. This, coupled with the rejection of the credentials of the Arkansas congressional delegation in the summer of 1864, led President Abraham Lincoln to remove Steele from command.
Lincoln assigned Steele a political mission in Arkansas, which met with failure similar to that of the Red River campaign. The mission involved working with Arkansas unionists to recreate a loyal state government and to send to Washington a congressional delegation that the Republican Congress would accept. A conservative Democrat who opposed emancipation, Steele showed little enthusiasm for the task. His “conciliatory policy” toward former Confederates and Confederate sympathizers undermined the confidence unionists had in Steele and undercut the unionist movement in the state, preventing Steele from realizing Lincoln’s goal of restoring loyal government.
Steele went on to command forces in Alabama, Florida, and Louisiana during the rest of the war. From December 1865 to November 1867, he commanded the Department of the Columbia (Pacific Northwest). While on leave of absence in San Mateo, California, he died, apparently of a stroke, on January 12, 1868, and was buried in Colma, California.
For additional information:
- Frederick Steele Papers. Special Collections. University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas.
- Frederick Steele Papers, 1845–1865. Special Collections and University Archives. Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, California.
- Palmer, Patricia J. Frederick Steele: Forgotten General. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Libraries, 1971.
This entry, originally published in Arkansas Biography: A Collection of Notable Lives, appears in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture in an altered form. Arkansas Biography is available from the University of Arkansas Press.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Frederick Steele (January 14, 1819 – January 19, 1868) was a career military officer in the United States Army, serving as amajor general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He was most noted for his successful campaign to retake much of secessionist Arkansas for the Union cause.
Steele was born in Delhi, New York. He was an 1843 graduate of West Point, and later served in the Mexican-American War, where he participated in many engagements. Steele was meritoriously mentioned for distinguished bravery, and was promoted to first lieutenant in June 1848. He served in California during the Yuma War until 1853, and then principally in Minnesota Territory, Kansas Territory, and Nebraska Territory until the Civil War, receiving his captain’s commission on February 5, 1855.
On May 14, 1861, Steele was appointed major in the 11th U.S. Infantry and fought at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. On September 23, 1861, he became colonel of the 8th Iowa Infantry. On January 30, 1862, Steele was appointed brigadier general of U.S. volunteers, to rank from January 29, 1862. He commanded the District of Southeast Missouri, but following the Union victory at the Battle of Pea Ridge he took command of the 1st Division in the Army of the Southwest and briefly commanded the army from August 29 to October 7, 1862. On March 17, 1863, President Lincoln appointed Steele major general of volunteers, to rank from November 29, 1862. The President sent the nomination to the U.S. Senate on March 6, 1863 and the Senate confirmed it on March 13, 1863.
Steele’s division was transferred to the Army of the Tennessee becoming the 11th Division in the XIII Corps. He fought at theBattle of Chickasaw Bayou in December 1862 and in the Battle of Arkansas Post in January 1863. His division was renamed the 1st Division in Major General William T. Sherman’s XV Corps during the Siege of Vicksburg.
On August 26, 1863, after the fall of Vicksburg, Steele received a brevet promotion to colonel in the U.S. Army. On July 27, 1863, he was placed in command of the Army of Arkansas. His army successfully captured Confederate-held Little Rock in September 1863 and subsequently pushed official Union boundaries south through the state. He was assigned command of VII Corps in the Department of Arkansas in the Trans-Mississippi Theater, holding command from January 6, 1864, to December 22, 1864. On March 23, 1864, Steele began his march with eight thousand soldiers from Little Rock south to Arkadelphia, where he was joined by John M. Thayer, who commanded another four thousand troops. Steele then led the ill-fated Camden Expedition in the spring of 1864, considered by many in the War Department as the greatest Federal military disaster of the Civil War in Arkansas.
Steele led a force of African American soldiers, officially designated the “Column from Pensacola”, in Major General Edward Canby‘s Army of West Mississippi between February 18, 1865 and May 18, 1865. His troops fought at the battles of Spanish Fort and Fort Blakely.
On April 10, 1866, President Andrew Johnson nominated Steele for appointment to the brevet rank of brigadier general in the regular army, for services in the capture of Little Rock, to rank from March 13, 1865, and the U.S. Senate confirmed the appointment on May 4, 1866. On June 30, 1866, President Andrew Johnson nominated Steele for appointment to the brevet rank of major general in the regular army, for the Siege of Vicksburg and services during the war, to rank from March 13, 1865 and the U.S. Senate confirmed the appointment on July 25, 1866.
Steele was transferred to Texas in June 1865 and placed in command of United States forces along the Rio Grande. He subsequently commanded the Department of the Columbia from December 1865 until November 1867, when he took a leave of absence for health reasons. On July 28, 1866, Steele had been appointed to the permanent grade of colonel of the 20th U.S. Infantry Regiment. Meanwhile, he had been mustered out of the volunteer service on March 1, 1867.
A monument to Steele stands on the Vicksburg National Military Park.
- ^ Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher, Civil War High Commands. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8047-3641-3. p. 729
- ^ a b c Eicher, 2001, p. 705
- ^ John D. Winters, The Civil War in Louisiana, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1963, ISBN 0-8071-0834-0, pp. 325, 334, 336
- ^ a b c d Eicher, 2001, pp. 507–508
- ^ Eicher, 2001, p. 737
- ^ Eicher, 2001, p. 709
- This article incorporates text from the public domain Appletons’ Cyclopædia of American Biography.
- Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher, Civil War High Commands. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
- Winters, John D. The Civil War in Louisiana. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1963. ISBN 0-8071-0834-0.