Joseph Anthony Mower, United States Army general, son of Nathaniel and Sophia (Holmes) Mower, was born at Woodstock, Vermont, on August 22, 1827. In 1833 the family moved to Lowell, Massachusetts. Mower enrolled in Norwich Academy in Vermont in 1843, but left in 1845. After working as a carpenter, he enlisted in 1847 as a private in the United States Army and served in the Mexican War. He was discharged in 1848. He married Betsey A. Bailey on June 6, 1851. In 1855 he obtained a second lieutenant's commission in the First Infantry regiment. During the Civil War Mower earned an outstanding combat record. He personified the dedicated, unsung professional officer on whom the Union depended. In the campaign leading to the capture of Vicksburg, Mississippi, Mower commanded a brigade and caught the attention of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman. In the Red River campaign under Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks, Mower gallantly led the attack on Fort De Russy, Louisiana, in March 1864. He was promoted to major general of volunteers in August 1864 and took command of a division. Sherman ordered him to report to Georgia for the "march to the sea," calling Mower the "boldest young soldier we have." From November 1864 to April 1865 Mower fought his way through Georgia and the Carolinas. In the Carolinas he commanded the Twentieth Corps. On June 16, 1865, Mower and his immediate supervisor, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, with a division of the Federal Thirteenth Corps, arrived in Galveston, Texas, to occupy the Southwest after the formal capitulation of Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith. Mower's first major assignment, in Louisiana, was to organize and train one of the army's new all-Black regiments, the Thirty-ninth Infantry, which later was merged with the Fortieth to become the Twenty-fifth.
White Texans generally opposed granting rights to former slaves. In contrast, Mower and Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, commander of the Military Division of the Gulf, which included Texas, were both Republicans who supported civil and political rights for freedmen and upheld federal Reconstruction legislation. Soon after Sheridan's departure, Mower became temporary commander of the Fifth Military District (Texas and Louisiana); he held the post, with headquarters in New Orleans, from September 16 to November 29, 1867. His subordinate, Gen. Joseph J. Reynolds, commander of the Department of Texas, appointed Republicans to political office and removed Democrats, many of whom had served in the Confederacy. Reynolds initiated these actions himself but eventually received Mower's approval. Both men believed that such measures were necessary if national laws were to be upheld and if Blacks were to be registered to vote. Texans hated Mower and his troops. His successor, Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, was a Democrat who relaxed the enforcement of the new federal laws. Along with Sheridan, Reynolds, and Gen. Charles Griffin, Mower was one of the most radical Republican army officers in the South during Reconstruction. He was the commander of the Department of Louisiana from January 1869 until his death from pneumonia in New Orleans on January 6, 1870.
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John G. Barrett, Sherman's March Through the Carolinas (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1956). Joseph G. Dawson III, Army Generals and Reconstruction: Louisiana, 1862–1877 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982). Dictionary of American Biography. Robert L. Kerby, Kirby Smith's Confederacy: The Trans-Mississippi South, 1863–1865 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1972). Lloyd Lewis, Sherman: Fighting Prophet (New York: Harcourt, 1932). William L. Richter, The Army in Texas during Reconstruction, 1865–1870 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1987). The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington: GPO, 1880–1901).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Joseph G. Dawson III,
“Mower, Joseph Anthony,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 27, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
May 1, 1995
Most Recent Revision Date:
September 23, 2020