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TMM Bio: John B. Sanborn

Posted by The Muse (themuse) on Jul 09 2018
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John B. SanbornJohn B. Sanborn was practicing law in St. Paul, Minnesota, when the American Civil War started. During the summer of 1864, Brig. Gen. John B. Sanborn was in command of the District of Soutwest Missouri with his headquarters in Springfield, Missouri. During Price's 1864 Missouri Invasion, Sanborn commanded the 3d Brigade in the Provisional Cavalry Division, Department of the Missouri, commanded by Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton.

The Sanborns are an old New Hampshire family, two brothers settling then- more than two centuries ago. One of the towns in that state, Sanbornton, was named for them. Nearly forty years ago (1839) the writer of this sketch, by request, commenced the history of the family in this country, and his manuscript—the mere beginning of the history—was greatly enlarged a few years ago, and published in pamphlet form. It is a family of great longevity. From New Hampshire the members of it have spread over most of the states in the Union, and among the more noted and noteworthy members in the northwest is the subject of this brief memoir, who comes of good patriotic and fighting stock. His paternal great-grandfather, Eliphalet Sanborn, served a short time in the revolutionary army, and his maternal grandfather, Benjamin Sargent, at thirteen years of age went in as a drummer-boy at the opening of that eight years' struggle for independence, and served throughout the war, falling into the ranks and carrying a flint-lock musket as soon as he was large enough. Josiah Sanborn, the grandfather of our subject, a farmer and lumberman of Epsom, Merrimack County, New Hampshire, was for seventeen consecutive years a member of the New Hampshire legislature, and a leading man in that part of the state.

John Benjamin Sanborn is the son of Frederic Sanborn, now living in his ninetieth year, and Lucy L. Sargent, the latter a native of Pittsfield, New Hampshire. He was born on the 5th of December, 1826, in Epsom, on a farm which has been in the possession of the family for seven generations, and is now owned by his brother, Henry F. Sanborn. After receiving a common-school education, he prepared to enter Dartmouth College, but instead of continuing his literary studies, entered the law office of Judge Asa Fowler, of Concord, New Hampshire, and after reading for three years he was admitted to practice at a term of the superior court held in July, 1854. In December of the same year he came to Minnesota and located at Saint Paul; here, since that date, steadily practicing law when not engaged in the service of the state or the nation.

In 1859-60 Mr. Sanborn was a member of the lower house of the legislature, serving as chairman of the judiciary committee, and was largely instrumental in shaping the system of fundamental laws pertaining to county and township organization and government, and the levying and collecting of taxes,—a system, says a writer, "which brought credit to the treasury, and financial order out of confusion." The next year he was sent to the upper house of the legislature, and was there at work looking after the interests of his constituents when the old flag was insulted and disgraced at Charleston, South Carolina, and he was called upon to act in defense of his country. In April, 1861, he was appointed by Governor Ramsey adjutant-general and acting quartermaster-general of the state, and organized the first Minnesota regiments tor the war of the rebellion. In December of the same year he was commissioned colonel of the 4th Minnesota Infantry, with headquarters at Fort Snelling. During that winter he garrisoned the posts and had command of the troops along the frontier of the state; and early in the spring of 1862 he took his regiment to the south, reaching Pittsburgh Landing just in season to take position in the army advancing on Corinth. Colonel Sanborn was immediately assigned to the command of a demi-brigade, composed of three regiments and a battery, holding that position until the evacuation of those works, when he was assigned to the command of the first brigade, seventh division. Army of the Mississippi, subsequently the seventeenth army corps.

On the 19th of September, 1862, with his brigade (twenty-two hundred men), he fought the battle of Iuka without much aid, and, although losing six hundred of his men in less than an hour and a hall, he held his position and won a brilliant victory. For his gallantry displayed on this occasion he was promoted to brigadier-general of volunteers. He was in the battles of Port Gibson, Raymond, Jackson, Champion Hills, and the assault and siege of Vicksburgh, and part of this time had command of a division ; everywhere and on all trying occasions exhibiting the firmness, coolness and bravery shown at Iuka. After the surrender of Vicksburgh, on the 4th of July, 1863, General Sanborn had command of the southwest district of Missouri, where, after the campaign against the rebel General Price, upon the recommendation of General Rosecrans, he was breveted major-general.

General Sanborn served until the close of the war, and was then sent to the upper Arkansas and along the Smoky Hill river, to open to travel the long lines closed for two years across the plains to Colorado and New Mexico, and to restore order in that part of our territory. In November, 1865, by order of the President, he visited the Indian Territory and succeeded, in a very short time, in establishing the proper relations between the late slaves of the Indians and their former masters.

In 1867 General Sanborn—with Generals Sherman, Harney, Terry, and Senator Henderson, of Missouri,—was appointed a special peace commissioner to the Indians. The commissioners held councils and made treaties with the Cheyenne, Camanche, Northern Arrapahoe and Crow tribes, and the several bands of the Sioux nation. This commission recommended a fixed policy to be pursued toward the Indians; and that policy, while followed, was decidedly economical, and resulted in comparative safety to the settlements on the frontier.
For the last ten or twelve years General Sanborn has given close attention to the legal profession, and stands high at the Ramsey County bar and in his judicial district. He practices in the several courts of the state and in all the United States courts, he was in the state legislature in 1872.

The General was originally a whig, and since that party disbanded has been an earnest and locally an active republican. He was put forward as a candidate for the United States senate, when Hon. M. S. Wilkinson was chosen, and came within two or three votes of being nominated in caucus, which would have been equivalent to an election.

His religious sentiments accord with those of the Presbyterians, but he is a member of no church.

General Sanborn’s first wife was Miss Catharine Hall of Newton, New Jersey; married in March, 1857. She died in November, 1860, leaving one child,—Hattie F., aged twenty years. His second wife was Miss Anna Nixon, of Bridgeton, New Jersey,—sister of Judge Nixon of that state; married on the 27th of November, 1865. She died on the 25th of June, 1878.


“General John B. Sanborn.” In The United States Biographical Dictionary and Portrait Gallery of Eminent and Self-Made Men: Minnesota Volume, 558–63. New York: American Biographical Publishing Company, 1879.


Last changed: Jul 09 2018 at 1:42 PM