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Encyclopedia > Edwin V. Sumner
Edwin Vose Sumner
Born January 30, 1797
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Died March 21, 1863
Syracuse, New York, USA

Edwin Vose "Bull Head" Sumner (January 30, 1797March 21, 1863) was a U.S. Army officer who became a Major General and the oldest field commander of any Army Corps on either side during the American Civil War. His nickname "Bull Head" came from a legend that a musket ball once bounced off his head.

Sumner was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 30, 1797 to father Elisha Sumner and mother Nancy Voss. In 1819, after losing interest in a mercantile career in Troy, New York, he entered the United States Army as a Second Lieutenant.

He married Hannah Wickersham Foster (1804-1880) on March 31, 1822. They would have six children together: Nancy, Margaret Foster, Sarah Montgomery, Mary Heron, Edwin Vose Jr., and Samuel Storrow Sumner.

Sumner later served in the Black Hawk War and in various Indian campaigns. On March 4, 1833, he was promoted to the rank of Captain and assigned to the First Dragoons Regiment, immediately upon its creation by Congress.

In 1838 he commanded the cavalry instructional establishment in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He took part in the Mexican-American War as a Major, and for his bravery at Molino del Rey he received the brevet rank of Colonel. In 1857 he commanded an expedition against the Cheyenne Indians.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, four years later, Sumner had just been promoted Brigadier General and was sent to replace Sidney Johnston in command on the Pacific coast. He thus took no part in the first campaign of the Civil War.

In autumn, he was brought back east to command a division, and soon afterwards, as a Major General U.S.V., a corps in the army that was being organized by George B. McClellan. The II. corps, better known as the Army of the Potomac, retained its independent existence throughout the war, and under the command of Sumner, Darius N. Couch, Winfield S. Hancock and Andrew A. Humphreys it had the deserved reputation of being the best in the Union Army. Sumner, who was by far the oldest of the generals in the Army of the Potomac, led his corps throughout the Peninsular Campaign, was wounded during the Seven Days' Battle, and received the brevet of Major General U.S.A., and was again wounded in the Battle of Antietam.

When Burnside succeeded to the command of the Army of the Potomac, he grouped the corps in "grand divisions," and appointed Sumner to command the right grand division. In this capacity the old cavalry soldier took part in the disastrous Battle of Fredericksburg, in which the II. corps suffered most severely.

Soon afterwards, on Hooker's appointment to command the army, Sumner was relieved at his own request. He traveled to his home in Syracuse, New York, where he suffered a fatal heart attack on March 21, 1863. He is buried in Section 8, Lot 1 of Oakwood Cemetery in Syracuse.


  • Sumner's middle name may have originally been Voss, from his mother Nancy Voss.


  • 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica (http://66.1911encyclopedia.org/S/SU/SUMNER_EDWIN_V_.htm)
  • U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Library biographies (http://www-cgsc.army.mil/carl/resources/ftlvn/civilwar.asp#sumner)
  • Territorial Kansas Online biographical sketch (http://www.territorialkansasonline.org/cgiwrap/imlskto/index.php?SCREEN=bio_sketches/sumner_edwin)

External links

  • Photos of Edwin V. Sumner's gravesite (http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=5844484&pt=Edwin%20Sumner), along with a detailed biography.
  • Library of Congress (http://memory.loc.gov), which includes numerous online documents and images related to Sumner, some of which are listed below.

Historical documents

  • Letter from Sumner to Abraham Lincoln, December 17, 1860 (http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/mal:@field(DOCID+@lit(d0514800))), stating that he has permission to accompany Lincoln on his trip to Washington.
  • Letter from Sumner to John G. Nicolay, January 20, 1861 (http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/mal:@field(DOCID+@lit(d4184700))), stating that he will accompany Lincoln on his journey to Washington.
  • Letter from Sumner to Abraham Lincoln, January 20, 1861 (http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/mal:@field(DOCID+@lit(d0648000))), recommending Judge Edward Bates for Secretary of War.
  • Letter from David Davis to Abraham Lincoln, March 6, 1861 (http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/mal:@field(DOCID+@lit(d0781700))), recommending that Colonel Sumner be promoted.
  • Telegram From Sumner to wife, December 11, 1862 (http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/mal:@field(DOCID+@lit(d2009100))), reporting the capture of Fredericksburg.
  • Letter from Sumner to Abraham Lincoln, January 10, 1863 (http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/mal:@field(DOCID+@lit(d2111600))), seeking appointment to West Point for his grandson.
  • Resolution honoring General Edwin Sumner (http://memory.loc.gov/mss/mal/mal1/226/2260400/001.jpg), from the New York Legislature to Abraham Lincoln, March 23, 1863.
  • Senate bill to increase the pension of Mrs. Hannah W. Sumner, March 11, 1872 (http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llhb&fileName=042/llhb042.db&recNum=6190)
  • Senate bill to increase the pension of Mrs. Hannah W. Sumner, April 25, 1872 (http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llhb&fileName=042/llhb042.db&recNum=8693)

This article incorporates text from the public domain 1911 Encyclopędia Britannica.



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