James A. Garfield grew from an intensely religious youth into a young adult in the 1850s who had more secular and political concerns. He was elected to the Ohio senate in 1859 and at the beginning of the Civil War helped to recruit the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He fought at Shiloh and Chickamauga, rose to the rank of major general, and was named chief of staff of the Army of the Cumberland.
Garfield was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1862 and for 17 years concentrated on economic issues as a member of the Ways and Means Committee. The Ohio legislature elected Garfield to the U.S. Senate in 1880, succeeding John Sherman. Garfield was Sherman's campaign manager for the Republican presidential nomination.
In a deadlocked convention, at the 35th ballot for the nominee, the tide turned toward Garfield and he was victorious. In the general election, Garfield won in the electoral college by 214-155, although he had only a 7,500-vote plurality in the popular vote. On July 2, 1881, Garfield began a family trip from the Washington, D.C. railroad station. Charles J. Guitaeu, a disappointed office-seeker, shot the president, who lived for 11 weeks in increasing pain and failing strength. He had been in office for only a few months when he died.