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James Garfield: 20th President: Assassinated Young

Angela loves history and feels it is essential to our future to know the past—or else we're destined to repeat it.

His School Year and Early Career

James Abram Garfield, the 20th President, was born in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, where he became the last President to be born in a log cabin. His father passed away when he was only two years old. As a result, he worked very hard to earn money for his education.

As a boy, he cut wood, farmed, as well as attended school when he was able. At 16, he began driving horses and mules that pulled boats on the Ohio Canal as a tow boy.

To afford college, he worked as a janitor at Williams College in Massachusetts, where he attended. When he graduated, he became a professor of Greek and Latin at Western Reserve Eclectic Institute in Ohio. It is now known as Hiram College. A year after becoming a professor there, he became the college's president. He was known to amuse his students by writing Greek with one hand and Latin with the other at the same time.

This is a photo of Garfield at 16 years old.

This is a photo of Garfield at 16 years old.

Fighting in Civil War and Elected Positions

When Lincoln called for volunteers at the start of the Civil War, Garfield left his job and fought in the war. Others took notice of his success when he battled at Middle Creek, Kentucky, against Confederate troops. Lincoln rose in ranks to become a brigadier general. Two years later, he became a major general of volunteers after he heroically delivered a message that saved his regiment from disaster after his horse had been shot while he was riding it.

In 1859, he was elected to the Ohio Senate as a Republican. Then in 1862, President Lincoln convinced him to resign his career as a major general and join the United States Congress. Garfield served for 18 years or nine terms in the House of Representatives, winning election after election. He became the leading Republican in the House.

In 1880 during an election year, he became a Republican U.S. Senator. Republicans were having a hard time deciding on a candidate. Garfield was pushing for his friend John Sherman. Unfortunately, each time Sherman failed to win the votes needed and they voted 35 times, never once coming to a decision.

Finally, on the 36th ballot, Garfield was nominated; he not only became the Republican representative but won the election against the Democratic nominee General Winfield Scott Hancock by 10,000 popular votes.

Assassination Attempt

On July 2, 1881, Garfield was shot awaiting a train in Washington by Guiteau.

On July 2, 1881, Garfield was shot awaiting a train in Washington by Guiteau.

Garfield's Presidency and Assassination Attempt

While President, many people begged Garfield for Civil Service jobs, going so far as stopping his carriage to ask him. Since he could not give a job to everyone, many people left disappointed. One of them was Charles Guiteau.

Four months after taking office, in July of 1882, Garfield's Secretary of State invited American republics to a conference in Washington. Unfortunately, this meeting never took place.

While awaiting a train in Washington on July 2, 1881, Guiteau shot Garfield twice. Since there was not yet X-ray machines, the doctors were not able to locate and remove the bullets. Even Alexander Graham Bell, who had invented the telephone, attempted to no avail to find the bullet with an induction-balance electrical device he had created. He laid in the Executive Mansion for weeks. He seemed to be recuperating and was taken to the seaside in New Jersey on September 6th. Then on September 19, 1881, Garfield died due to an infection and internal bleeding. It was only 200 days after being inaugurated. Fourteen years later, X-ray machines that could have saved his life were invented.

Fun Facts

  • He was one of the four presidents to be assassinated, but unlike the others, he did not die immediately from his injuries. He was one of eight presidents who died while in office.
  • First left-handed president, although he could write with both hands. He often would impress his students while working as a professor by writing Greek with one hand and Latin with the other.
  • He was the first president to have his mother witness his Inaugural Address.
  • While in battle, he had his horse shot out from under him and still managed to deliver the message he intended to.
  • Was considered a dark horse candidate, because he was only nominated after Republicans voted 35 times prior.

The Tragic Death of President James Garfield

Basic Facts

Question Answer


November 19, 1831 - Ohio

President Number




Military Service

United States Army and Union Army (Major General)

Wars Served

American Civil War Battle of Middle Creek Battle of Shiloh Siege of Corinth Battle of Chickamauga

Age at Beginning of Presidency

49 years old

Term of Office

March 4, 1881 - September 19, 1881

How Long President

6 months


Chester A. Arthur

Age and Year of Death

September 19, 1881 (aged 49)

Cause of Death

complications from a gun shot wound made many months prior


  • Freidel, F., & Sidey, H. (2009). James Garfield. Retrieved April 22, 2016, from
  • Sullivan, George. Mr. President: A Book of U.S. Presidents. New York: Scholastic, 2001. Print.
  • U.S. Presidential Fun Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved April 22, 2016, from
  • What are some interesting facts about presidents and first ladies? (n.d.). Retrieved April 22, 2016, from

© 2017 Angela Michelle Schultz