John Cleveland Robinson was born on April 10, 1817 in Binghamton, New York. He attended West Point but was dismissed in 1835 after a court martial for insubordination.
He studied law for a year, then joined the 5th Infantry as a 2nd Lieutenant in October of 1839.
In September of 1845 Robinson was assigned to General Winfield Scott’s Army of Occupation in Corpus Christie, Texas as a quartermaster. He was promoted to first lieutenant in 1846.
During the the Mexican War he fought at the Battles of Monterey, Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma.
Robinson was promoted to captain on August 12, 1850, and gained a reputation as a brave and competent indian fighter in Texas from 1853-54 and in Florida during the Third Seminole War in 1856.
In 1857 he was given command of Fort Bridger, and served at Camp Floyd during the Utah War. While in Utah Robinson established the first Masonic Lodge in Utah.
He returned east to take command of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry before the outbreak of the Civil War. With a tiny 60-man garrison he retained control of the fortress in spite of the violently secessionist leanings of Baltimore citizens.
After Baltimore was secured he was sent west to recruit volunteers in Ohio and Michigan, becoming colonel of the 1st Michigan Infantry when it reorganized for three years service.
Robinson was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers on April 30, 1862 and given command of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the 3rd Corps during the Peninsula Campaign and through the 2nd Battle of Bull Run. The Third Corps was in reserve in Washington during the Maryland Campaign, and Robinson missed Antietam and Fredericksburg.
At the end of December of 1862 Robinson took over command of the Second Division of the First Corps in place of John Gibbon, who had been wounded at Fredericksburg.
At Gettysburg Robinson’s division held the right flank of the First Corps line on Seminary Ridge on July 1 for hours, losing almost 1,700 of the 2,500 men taken into action. Robinson brought the survivors out and reformed them on Cemetery Hill. Robinson was breveted lieutenant colonel in the Regular Army for his service at Gettysburg.
In the reorganization of the army in spring of 1864 the shattered 1st Corps was merged with other units, and Robinson was given command of the Second Division in Warren’s 5th Corps. Robinson led a desperate attack at Alsop’s Farm in May 8, 1864, part of the Battle of Spottsylvania Court House. He was wounded, resulting in the amputation of his left leg. His career in the field was over.
He was breveted colonel in the Regular Army for his service at Mine Run and the Wilderness and breveted major general of volunteers for Spotylvania. For the rest of the war he served as a district commander in the Department of the East.
After the war he remained in the army, directing the Freedman’s Bureau in North Carolina. In the spring of 1866 he was promoted to colonel and breveted major general in the Regular Army. He mustered out of the Volunteers in September of 1866, was given command of the Department of the South in 1867, then of the Department of the Lakes in 1868. He was placed on the retired list with the full rank of major general in 1869 due to disabilities caused by his wound.
Robinson went on to become Lieutenant Governor of New York from 1872 to 1874 and served as Commander in Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic and President of the Society of the Army of the Potomac. In 1894 he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his distinguished gallantry at Spottsylvania.
Robinson died in Binghamton in 1897 and is buried in Spring Forest Cemetery. He is honored by a statue on the Gettysburg battlefield on Seminary Ridge.