JOHN C. ROBINSON (1817-1897)

by James E. Fargo, FSA Scot


John Cleveland Robinson was born on April 10, 1817 in Binghamton, Broome County, New York to Tracy and Sarah (Cleveland) Robinson. He attended the Oxford Academy in New York before entering West Point on July 1, 1835. Dismissed from the school during his third year for a disciplinary dispute on March 14, 1838, he received an appointment to the Regular Army and joined the 5th U.S. Infantry as a 2nd Lieutenant on October 1839. He served through the Mexican War and in 1850 while in Texas was promoted to Captain. He then saw service in the Seminole Wars and the 1857 Utah Expedition before assuming command of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland. With a force of 60 men inside the fort, he prevented the fort’s seizure during the Baltimore Riots on April 19, 1861 by pro-secessionists. Ordered to Michigan on recruiting duty, he raised the 1st Michigan Volunteers and was elected its Colonel. Assigned railroad guard duty in Maryland until March 1862, he was appointed to Brigadier General in April 1862 when he joined General McClellan’s Army of the Potomac for the Peninsula Campaign in the III Corps. Leading the 1st Brigade, 1st Division during the Second Bull Run and Fredericksburg battles, he assumed leadership of the 2nd Division for the Battle of Chancellorsville. On July 1, 1863, his command held the Union right’s Oak Knoll position and fought off repeated Confederate attacks for 4 hours at Gettysburg.

He later commanded the 2nd Division, V Corps on May 8, 1864 at Laurel Hill, Virginia against massed Confederate forces preparing for the Battle of Spotsylvania. The Division’s charge was repulsed and the wounded Robinson lost his left leg to amputation.

After the war he ran the Freedmen’s Bureau in North Carolina in 1866, the Department of the South in 1867, and the Department of the Lakes in 1868. He received a disability retirement as a Major General of Regulars on May 6, 1869. Robinson was elected Lieutenant Governor of New York in 1872 and served until 1874. He was active in both the Society of the Army of the Potomac and the Grand Army of the Republic until blindness limited his activities.

On March 28, 1894, Robinson received the Medal of Honor for his actions at Laurel Hill, Virginia on May 8, 1864. Robinson’s Medal of Honor citation read: "The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to John C. Robinson for his bravery. Placed himself at the head of the leading brigade in a charge upon the enemy’s breastworks, was severely wounded."

In April 1917, his valiant stand on the first day of fighting at Gettysburg was commemorated with his statue placed on the battlefield at the junction of Doubleday and Robinson Avenues.

Major General John C. Robinson died on February 18, 1897 and was buried in Spring Forest Cemetery, Binghamton, New York.

Medal of Honor
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