Pope was the son of Nathaniel Pope, a prominent figure in early Illinois Territory. He graduated from West Point in 1842, ranked 17 out of 56 in his class. He was assigned to the Topographical Engineers. After serving in Florida and helping survey the northeastern boundary line between the United States and Canada, he fought in the Mexican War at the Battle of Monterrey and Battle of Buena Vista. He was was brevetted twice for
Having served in the escort of President Abraham Lincoln to the Washington, D.C. inaugural ceremonies, Pope was named to be a brigadier of volunteers and performed organizational duties in Illinois, as a mustering officer at Chicago, before serving under Major Gen. John C. Frémont in the Western Department. Pope assumed command of the District of North and Central Missouri, with operational control along a portion the Mississippi River, and forced the Confederates to retreat southward.
Under the command of Major Gen. Henry W. Halleck, he cooperated with Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote in the Battles of New Madrid and Island No. 10 and the advance on Memphis. Subsequently, he commanded the Army of the Mississippi during the siege of Corinth, winning a promotion to major general.
After the collapse of Major Gen. George B. McClellan's Peninsula Campaign in 1862, Pope headed the newly formed Army of Virginia. Three departments were merged into his newly formed Army of Virginia. His former commander, Fremont, refused to be one of his corps commanders and was relieved. Pope was then advanced to a Brigadier Generalship in the regular army. Not taking command of his scattered forces in the field until late July, he lost the faith of his men when he made an address praising the western armies and disparaging the efforts of the eastern forces up to that time. In bombastic fashion he declared his headquarters would be in the saddle. This led to a quip that he didn't know his headquarters from his hindquarters. His attitude of self assurance was offensive to the eastern soldiers under his command.
His proposals on how to deal with the secessionist population raised the ire of his opponents, especially Lee. Part of Pope's command was defeated at Cedar Mountain. Later that month, his command and parts of McClellan's Army of the Potomac fought at the Second Battle of Bull Run. Pope had no idea of the true situation on the field and was routed.
Blaming the defeat upon his subordinates, he came into conflict with those officers who were McClellan partisans. He charged Major Gen. Fitz-John Porter with disobedience of orders in failing to launch an attack which was in fact impossible. Nonetheless Porter was cashiered, but Pope also lost his command on September 21, 1862, and the Army of Virginia was merged into the Army of the Potomac 10 days later. He remained in control as he led his troops into the fortifications around Washington, D.C. He attributed his defeat to the poor performance of many of his officers, an opinion Lincoln shared. Pope spent the remainder of the war in the Department of the Northwest in Minnesota, dealing with the Sioux Uprising. In 1865, he was brevetted a regular army major general for Island #10.
Following the Civil War, Mustered out of the volunteers on September 1, 1866, Pope held departmental commands in the regular army, mostly in the West, to take part in campaigns against Native Americans. He served with distinction in the Indian Wars and became known as a commentator on frontier conditions and on conflicts with the Indians. He remained in top positions of command until his retirement in 1886. He He died at the Ohio Soldiers' Home near Sandusky, Ohio.
Brigadier General USV- June 14, 1861 (to rank from May 17)
Major General USV- March 21, 1862
Brigadier General USA- July 14, 1862
captain, Topographical Engineers (since July 1, 1856)
District of North Missouri, Western Department (July 29-October 1861)
2nd Division, Army of Southwest Missouri, Western Department (October-November 9, 1861)
2nd Division, Army of Southwest Missouri, Department of the Missouri (November 9-December 186 1)
District of Central Missouri, Department of the Missouri (December 1861-February 18, 1862)
Army of the Mississippi (February 23-june 26, 1862)
Army of Virginia (June 26-September 2 1862)
Department of the Northwest (September 16-November 28, 1862 and February 13, 1863-February 13, 1865)