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Edwin V. Sumner , 1797-1863

Materials relating to Edwin V. Sumner

Photograph of Edwin V. SumnerEdwin Vose Sumner was born on January 30, 1797, in Boston, Massachusetts. As a child he attended West school, then Billercia school and later the Milton Academy. Upon completing his education, he entered into a mercantile career in Troy, New York.

Not finding a business career particularly interesting, he joined the U.S. Army in 1819 as a second lieutenant. On March 4, 1833, he was promoted to the rank of captain and assigned to the First Regiment of Dragoons. During the Mexican War, he served under Colonel Stephen W. Kearny’s Army of the West and on June 30, 1846, was promoted to the rank of major. Then on July 13, 1848, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel of the First Dragoon Regiment and became commander of the Ninth Military District in the territory of New Mexico. From May 26 to September 9, 1852, he served as the acting territorial governor. Afterward, he was promoted to the rank of colonel on March 3, 1855, and assigned to the command of the First U.S. Cavalry Regiment that was stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas Territory.

During his service at Fort Leavenworth, he engaged in the pacification of the Cheyenne Indians in the west and in efforts to keep the peace among the proslavery and free-state partisans operating in the eastern part of the territory. The latter duty brought Colonel Sumner and the regularly army into the difficult task of acting as arbitrator in political affairs. Two instances in particular demonstrated the army’s role as mediator in civilian disputes of political origin. The first was the deployment of the regular army to restore peace following the battle of Black Jack in the late spring of 1856. The free-state forces under the command of Captains Samuel T. Shore and John Brown had during the battle captured the proslavery commander (Captain Henry C. Pate) and several of his irregular forces. Colonel Sumner was ordered by Governor Wilson Shannon to gain the release of the captives and restore peace to the area around Baldwin City in present-day Douglas County. After a brief stand off between regular army forces and free-state irregular forces that was accompanied by intense negotiations, Sumner secured the release of the proslavery prisoners and at least momentarily restored order to the embattled region. However, more civil unrest soon followed, and on July 4, 1856, Colonel Sumner was called out by Governor Shannon to disperse the free-state legislature meeting at Topeka. In a show of military force Sumner was able to force the free-state legislature to disband. An uneasy peace reigned in the eastern part of the territory the following year, so the colonel vigorously campaigned against the Cheyennes, bringing his direct involvement in Bleeding Kansas to an end.

In the year of 1858 Sumner succeeded Brigadier General William S. Harney in command of the Department of the West and was posted to St. Louis, Missouri. Upon the outbreak of the Civil War, he was transferred to the East to serve as a commander in the Army of the Potomac. After Major General Joseph Hooker took command the Army of the Potomac, Sumner requested being relieved of command of his army corps. He journeyed to his home at Syracuse, New York, where he suffered a fatal heart attack on March 21, 1863.

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American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Crocchiola, Stanley F.L. E.V. Sumner: Major-General United States Army, 1797-1863. Borger, Tex. J. Hess Printers, 1968.

Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1936.

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