John Newton was born in Norfolk, Virginia on August 22, 1822, the son of a U.S. Congressman. He was a West Point graduate, Class of 1842.
Prewar, he served as an Army engineer and West Point instructor in various subjects. He also had a major part in the construction of at least half a dozen forts.
At the outbreak of hostilities, he was working on fortifications in Delaware. Newton was assigned as Chief Engineer of two different departments, then worked on Washington defenses.
He commanded brigades of the Army of the Potomac at West Point, Virginia; Gaines' Mill; Glendale; South Mountain and Sharpsburg. At South Mountain, he led a bayonet charge which resulted in taking the enemy position.
Newton and Brigadier General John Cochrane went to Washington on December 30, 1862, met with President Lincoln, and told the President that General Burnside planned to again cross the Rappahannock. They believed Burnside did not have the confidence of his subordinate generals, and would again be defeated. They denied that they were seeking the removal of Burnside. This meeting started a chain of events that resulted in the removal of Burnside late in January of 1863.
Newton commanded the Union 3rd Division, VI Corps under General John Sedgwick at Chancellorsville. His division quickly carried Marye's Heights with a bayonet charge.
He assumed temporary command of I Corps at Gettysburg on 1 July 1863 when General John F. Reynolds was killed.
He later commanded 2nd Division, IV Corps. This was General Sherman's old command.
He served under Sherman, who regarded him highly. In the Atlanta campaign, his unit carried Rocky-face Ridge, and fought at Dalton, Adairsville, Dallas, Kennesaw Mountain, Peach Tree Creek, Jonesborough and Lovejoy's Station.
At Peach Tree Creek, he prevented a dangerous Confederate movement against Sherman. His rapidly constructed works allowed him to turn back the Confederate thrust.
He then commanded the District of Key West & Tortugas.
Postwar, Newton accepted a regular commission as lieutenant colonel of engineers. He was successful in a number of difficult engineering projects, mostly in the New York area. His specialty was removing obstacles from the harbor.
He served until 1886, when he retired as a brigadier general. He then served as Commissioner of Public Works for the City of New York. Still later, he became President, Panama Railroad Company. He served as such until his death.
Newton died in New York City on May 1, 1895. He is buried at West Point, New York.
Content provided by:
Dodge, Theodore Ayrault. The Campaign of Chancellorsville (reprint). New York: Da Capo Press, 1999.
Foote, Shelby. The Civil War - A Narrative - Fredericksburg to Meridian. New York: Random House, 1986.
Foote, Shelby. The Civil War - A Narrative - Red River to Appomattox. New York: Random House, 1986.
Hansen, Harry. The Civil War - A History. New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc., 1961.
Sears, Stephen W. Controversies and Commanders. New York: Houghton-Mifflin Company, 1999.