Last updated: June 17, 2015
John Pope was a surveyor, Mexican-American War veteran and career U.S. Army officer who came to prominence early in the Civil War. A month after the war began, Pope was commissioned a brigadier general in the Union army and assigned to recruit troops in Illinois. Then in July, he was assigned command of the District of North and Central Missouri.
In December he led an expedition that defeated a Confederate force at Blackwater, Missouri; and then in March 1862, as commander of the Army of the Mississippi, he directed a brilliant campaign that resulted in the capture of New Madrid and Island No. 10 in Missouri. These outstanding successes earned him a promotion to major general of volunteers and also brought him to the attention of President Abraham Lincoln, who ordered him east in June to take command of the Army of Virginia.
Unfortunately, Pope's fame was fleeting. Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia soundly defeated Pope's army at the Second Battle of Manassas in August 1862 and Pope was relieved of his command. The Army of Virginia was then folded into George McClellan's Army of Potomac and Pope was reassigned to the Department of the Northwest in Minnesota where he spent the remainder of the war pursuing renegade Plains Indians.
Pope remained in the army after the war and was appointed governor of the Third Military District, but was then sent west to assist in the wars against the Apache. Pope's reputation suffered a serious blow in 1878 when a Board of Inquiry affirmed his responsibility for the army's defeat at Second Manassas, but the resulting publicity had little effect on the general's career. Pope was promoted to major general in the regular army in 1882 and retired in 1886.