Biography of Robert C. Schenck

Robert Cumming Schenck (1809-1891) was a nineteenth century Daytonian distinguished as a lawyer, soldier, statesman and diplomat.

Robert C. Schenck was born in Franklin, Ohio, on October 4, 1809, attended rural schools in the area and graduated from Miami University of Oxford, Ohio, in 1827. He taught at the university from 1827 to 1829; he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1833 and commenced practice in Dayton, Ohio. In 1838 he married Miss Rennelche Smith. This union produced six children, all girls, of whom three died in infancy and three survived him.

General Schenck was a member of the State house of Representatives (1841-1843) and was elected as a Whig to the 28th through the 31st United States Congresses (March 4, 1843-March 3, 1851). During the 30th Congress he chaired the Committee on Roads and Canals. In 1850 he refused the nomination fro the 32nd Congress for personal reasons. His wife had died from tuberculosis in 1849, leaving him with these young daughters and himself in poor health. From 1851 to 1853 he left his children in the care of his late wife's sister and became Minister to Brazil and also accredited to Uruguay, the Argentine Confederation, and Paraguay. His health improved during this period.

He entered the Union Army on May 17, 1861, and served as brigadier general of Volunteers. He was seriously wonded at the second Battle of Bull Run on August 30, 1862. After a lengthy recovery he returned to active duty, but due to permanent damage to his right arm and hand he could no longer function as a field commander.

On September 18, 1862, he was promoted to major general, retroactive to August 30, 1862. He resigned his commission in the Army on December 3, 1863, to fill a vacant seat in the 37th U.S Congress, and was elected as a Republican to the 38th through the 41st Congresses and served from March 4, 1865, to January 5, 1871, when he resigned to accept a position in the diplomatic service. He was chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs (38th and 39th Congresses) and the Committee on Ways and Means (40th and 41st Congresses). He was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1870 to the 42nd Congress.

In January, 1871 he became minister to England. At the same time he was asked to serve as a member of the Joint High Commission for the settlement of questions then in dispute between the governments of England and the United States. Routine ministerial matters were attended to promptly and efficiently. During his time as minister, he permitted his name to be used to promote the sale of stock in a Utah gold mining venture; in return he received free stock. When the stock paid no dividends for the first few years it was assumed to be worthless and General Schenck was blamed. In 1876 he was ordered back to the U.S. for a congressional investigation, which exonerated him. But he resigned from his ministerial post and disposed of his mining stock. Ironically, the mine produced heavily in the years that followed and many who had been influenced to buy stock and kept it made large profits, but the old general was not one of them.

Returning to Washington, he resumed the practice of law; subsequently he worked for the State Department for many years on the codification of international laws.

Robert C. Schenck died in Washington on March 23, 1890, and was buried in Woodland Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio.