James Garfield (James Abram Garfield)

James Garfield

James Garfield

American Civil War Major General, US Congressman, and US President. A member of the Republican Party, he served as the 20th US President for only 200 days, from March until September 1881. He was the 3rd US President to die in office and the 2nd one who was assassinated, following Abraham Lincoln. Born the youngest of five children in a log cabin, his father was a local wrestler who died when he was only 18 months old. Raised by his mother, he received a local rudimentary education at a village school. At the age of 16, he moved out on his own with dreams of being a seaman, and got a job for six weeks as a canal driver near Cleveland, Ohio. He became ill and was forced to return home and once recuperated, he began school at Geauga Seminary, in Chester, Ohio where he became keenly interested in academics. He worked as a janitor, bell ringer, and carpenter to support himself financially. In 1849 he became a teacher and from 1851 to 1854, he attended the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (later named Hiram College) in Hiram, Ohio and developed a regular preaching circuit at neighboring churches. He then enrolled at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts and graduated in 1856. In 1858 he applied for a job as principal of a high school in Poestenkill, New York and when he wasn’t selected, he returned to teach at the Eclectic Institute where he was an instructor in classical languages for the 1856-1857 academic year and was made Principal of the Institute from 1857 to 1860. During this time he began his career in politics as a stump speaker in support of the Republican Party and their anti-slavery cause. In 1859 he began studying law and was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1861, and during the same time he was elected an Ohio state senator. In the summer of 1861, after the outbreak of the American Civil War, he received a commission as a lieutenant colonel in the Union Army and given command of the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. In November of that year, he was given command of the 18th Brigade under General Don Carlos Buell and participated in engagements against Confederate forces in Kentucky. In January 1862 his forces fought the Confederates at the Battle of Middle Creek and forced them to withdraw and was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. In early April 1862 he commanded the 20th Ohio Brigade at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee. That summer his health suddenly deteriorated, including jaundice and significant weight loss, and was forced to return home. While recuperating, he was elected as a Republican to the US House of Representatives from Ohio’s 19th district. After regaining his health that autumn, he was sent to Washington DC and promoted to the rank of major general, serving on the court-martial of Major General Fitz John Porter. In the spring of 1863 he returned to the field as Chief of Staff for General William S. Rosecrans, commander of the Army of the Cumberland. He recommended that Rosecrans should replace wing commanders General Alexander McCook and General Thomas Crittenden due to their prior ineffectiveness. Rosecrans ignored these recommendations, with drastic consequences later, when the Union Army was defeated at the Battle of Chickamauga. In December 1863 he resigned from the US Army to pursue politics and was elected to Congress for eight additional consecutive terms. Throughout his extended Congressional service after the Civil War, he fervently opposed the Greenback (paper money also known as a Legal Tender Note), and gained a reputation as a skilled orator. He was Chairman of the Military Affairs Committee and the Appropriations Committee and a member of the Ways and Means Committee. He initially agreed with Radical Republican views regarding Reconstruction, then favored a moderate approach for civil rights enforcement for former slaves. In 1879 he was elected to the US Senate, filling the seat vacated by John Sherman, by acclamation of the Ohio legislature. In 1880 he was nominated to run as the Republican candidate for US President, defeating front runner President Ulysses S. Grant’s bid for a 3rd term, and in the general election he defeated the Democratic challenger Winfield Scott Hancock with a plurality of about 7,000 votes out of nearly 9 million cast and by nearly 60 electoral votes. He became the only person ever to be elected to the Presidency directly from the House of Representatives and was for a short period a sitting Representative, Senator-elect, and President-elect. During his short term, he managed to initiate reform of the Post Office Department’s notorious “star route” rings and reassert the superiority of the office of the President over the US Senate on the issue of executive appointments. On July 2, 1881 he was shot in the back by Charles J. Guiteau, a deranged political office seeker, at the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station in Washington DC, as he was preparing to travel to his alma mater, Williams College, to deliver a speech. He lived for 80 days after he was shot, but was unable to perform his presidential duties. He became increasingly ill over a period of several weeks due to infection, which caused his heart to weaken and remained bedridden in the White House with fever and extreme pain. In early September he was moved to the Jersey Shore in the vain hope that the fresh air and quiet there might aid his recovery. About two weeks later he suffered a massive heart attack and a ruptured splenic artery aneurysm, following blood poisoning and bronchial pneumonia and died just two months shy of his 50th birthday. HE was temporarily interred in a vault at Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio until May 1890 when he was moved to his permanent mausoleum. His assassin was found guilty of murder and was sentenced to death on January 5, 1882 and executed at the end of the following June. In 1884 a monument in his honor was placed on the grounds of the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers in California, and in May 1887 the James A. Garfield Monument was dedicated in Washington DC, on the grounds of the US Capitol in the circle at First Street, S.W., and Maryland Avenue.

More Images

  • 3655236115_f8eb2bbd63 -


  • November, 19, 0183
  • Moreland Hills, Ohio


  • September, 19, 1881
  • Elberon, New Jersey

Cause of Death

  • was assassinated in 1881


  • Lake View Cemetery
  • Cleveland, Ohio

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