From Ohio History Central
Robert Schenck was a political and military leader in nineteenth century Ohio.
Schenck was born on October 4, 1809, at Franklin, Ohio. His father was a land speculator and an important early settler of Ohio. Robert Schenck graduated from Miami University in 1827 and began a teaching career. In 1830, Schenck began to study the law. He received his law license the following year and opened a law practice in Dayton, Ohio.
During the 1830s and 1840s, Schenck became an important politician in Ohio. He was a strong supporter of the Whig Party. Scheck first ran for political office in 1839, but he failed to win a seat in the Ohio legislature. He was successful in 1841, but he resigned this position when voters elected him to the United States House of Representatives in 1842. He served in the House of Representatives until 1851 when President Millard Fillmore appointed Schenck as the United States ambassador to Brazil. Schenck served until 1854, when he returned to Ohio to practice law.
During the 1850s, Schenck sided with the Republican Party and its views. In 1859, Schenck delivered a speech in Dayton regarding the growing animosity within the country. In this speech, Schenck recommended that the Republican Party nominate Abraham Lincoln for the presidency. This was one of the first public endorsements of Lincoln for the presidency.
When the American Civil War began in 1861, Lincoln appointed Schenck as a brigadier general. Schenck performed well on the battlefield. He fought in a number of major battles including the First and Second Battles of Bull Run. At Second Bull Run, he was wounded seriously in the arm and was disabled for the remainder of his life.
Despite Schenck's serious injury, he intended to remain in the Union army. But political events caused him to resign his commission in December 1863. Since 1857, Clement L. Vallandigham had served in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing the region around Dayton, Ohio. Vallandigham was a member of the Democratic Party and an outspoken critic of the war. The Republicans gained control of the Ohio legislature in 1861. The party redrew the congressional districts within the state. The Republicans hoped that they would be able to unseat several Democratic Party members in the House of Representatives by moving the boundaries of various districts. In 1862, the Republican Party selected Schenck to run against Vallandigham. Voters rallied behind Schenck as a wounded veteran and gave him an easy victory over the incumbent. When he entered the House of Representatives, Schenck resigned his military commission.
Schenck remained a member of the House of Representatives until 1871. He had failed to win reelection to his seat in 1870 by just fifty-three votes. In 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Schenck as United States ambassador to Great Britain. Schenck held this position until 1876, when he resigned and resumed his law practice. He died on March 23, 1890.
- Dee, Christine, ed. Ohio's War: The Civil War in Documents. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007.
- Joyner, Fred B. "Robert Cumming Schenck, First Citizen And Statesman Of The Miami Valley." Ohio History 58 (3) July 1949.
- Official Roster of the Soldiers of the State of Ohio in the War of Rebellion, 1861-1866. Akron, OH: The Werner Company, 1893.
- Reid, Whitelaw. Ohio in the War: Her Statesmen, Generals and Soldiers. Cincinnati, OH: Clarke, 1895.
- Roseboom, Eugene H. The Civil War Era: 1850-1873. Columbus: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1944.