A Civil War Biography

Robert Cunning Schenck

Schenck was born 4 October 1809 in Franklin, Ohio, an Ohio River village said to have been founded by his father. He graduated from Miami University, Oxford, Ohio in 1827 and was named a professor at the school remaining on the faculty until 1829. He studied the law; was admitted to the bar in 1833; and established a law practice in Dayton, Ohio. He was elected to the Ohio house of representatives in 1839 and served until 1843. He was elected as a Whig to represent Ohio's 3rd district in the US House of Representatives in 1842 and served four terms from 4 March 1843 until 3 March 1851. He was not a candidate for reelection having been named Minister to Brazil with accreditations to Uruguay, the Argentine Confederation, and Paraguay by Millard Filmore. Schenck remained in South America until 1853.

When the Civil War began Schenck, a strong supporter of Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 presidential election, was named a brigadier general of volunteers on 5 June 1861, to rank from 17 May. The purely political general commanded a brigade in Daniel Tyler's division at First Bull Run. Schenck took part in the 1862 Shenandoah Valley campaign and saw action at Cross Key. He commanded the 1st division of Franz Sigel's I Corps of the Army of Virginia at 2nd Bull Run where he was wounded in the arm and disabled from further field service. Schenck was promoted to major general on 18 September 1862 to rank from 30 August. He was assigned to the Middle Department and the VIII Corps both of which he commanded from Baltimore, Maryland until he resigned on 3 December 1863 to take his seat again representing Ohio's 3rd district in the US Congress.

Schenck served another 4 terms in Congress, all but the 3rd term when he was elected from Ohio's 5th district, representing Ohio's 3rd district. He served from officially becoming a member on 3 March 1863 until 5 January 1871 when he resigned to accept an appointment from President Ulysses Grant as Minister of Great Britain. Schenck was a delegate to the 1866 Philadelphia Loyalist Convention. He is best known during his time in Great Britain as a member of the Alabama Claims Commission, settling the claims arising from the exploits of Raphael Semmes and the CSS Alabama. While in Great Britain Schenck promoted the sale of shares in Utah's Emma Silver Mine Company, of which he was a director. He quietly sold his own shares before news about the mine's depletion caused stock values to collapse. Only his diplomatic immunity prevented him from being prosecuted for fraud in the British court system. As a result of the scandal he resigned as minister and returned to the US in 1876. He settled in Washington DC and returned to the practice of law. He also wrote about draw poker about which he was considered an authority. Schenck died 23 March 1890 in Washington. He is buried in Woodland Cemetery, Dayton, Ohio.

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