John M. Schofield was born in Gerry, New York on September 29, 1831. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1853, served two years in the artillery, and then embarked on a teaching career. After teaching philosophy at West Point, he went to St. Louis, Missouri and taught physics at Washington University.
When war broke out, Schofield joined a Missouri volunteer regiment and was appointed major. In August 1861, at the Battle of Wilson's Creek, he performed gallantly and was later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions. He was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers on November 11, 1861 and became major general of volunteers a year later, commanding both the Army of the Frontier and the Department of Missouri.
On April 17, 1863, Schofield took command of the 3rd Division, XIV Corps, Army of the Cumberland and, in 1864, transferred to command of the Army of the Ohio. He served with Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman during the Atlanta Campaign, before being detached from Sherman's army and sent back to Tennessee to assist Gen. George Thomas. Schofield's men took part in the Battle of Franklin, November 30, 1864 and the Battle of Nashville, December 15-16, 1864. He was rewarded for his performance by receiving a promotion to brigadier general in the regular army.
Upon recommendation from Sherman and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, Schofield's army was sent to the North Carolina coast in late January 1865 to take over command of the Department of North Carolina. Fort Fisher had already been captured, but Schofield commanded the army throughout the remainder of the Wilmington Campaign, capturing the city of Wilmington on February 22, 1865. He then joined Gen. Jacob D. Cox in New Bern and participated in the Carolina Campaign, fighting in the Battle of Wyse Fork, March 8-10, 1865, and the Battle of Bentonville, March 19-21, 1865. Along the way, he was promoted to brevet major general.
Following the war, Schofield served in numerous capacities. He went on a diplomatic mission to France and served as military governor of Virginia. From June 1868 to March 1869, he served as interim Secretary of War, and was promoted to major general. From 1876 to 1881, he was superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and, from 1888-1895, he was the commanding general of the U.S. Army. He received promotion to lieutenant general in February 1895 and retired in September of that year. Schofield died in St. Augustine, Florida on March 4, 1906.