James A. Garfield and the “Yankee Dutchman”: Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel

Major General Franz Sigel can be reasonably labeled as one of the most controversial commanders of the Army of the Potomac during the American Civil War. He was at odds with his colleagues within the army due to his foreign background and lack of formal military training from the renowned United States Military Academy. The stubborn, and sometimes arrogant, German general was critical to the Lincoln Administration for the unfading support he gained from German-Americans during the American Civil War. He rallied thousands to fight for the Union cause who took up the pledge “I goes to fight mit Sigel.”

Franz Sigel was born in 1824, in Baden, Germany. He graduated from the Karlsruhe Military Academy in 1843 at the age of nineteen. He served the Grand Duke of Baden until 1848, when he switched sides and joined the German revolutionary movement. He acted as the minister of war for the revolutionary forces and led an army for a short time until the revolution was extinguished by the Prussians. Like thousands of other revolutionaries, he fled to Switzerland, then to England, and finally to New York in 1852. By this time, he had a great deal of prestige among German-Americans from his high-profile role in the rebellion.


Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel.  (Library of Congress)

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Sigel joined the Union army in Missouri and was appointed as a brigadier general in the summer of 1861. In 1862, John Pope chose Franz Sigel to command the First Corps of the newly-formed Army of Virginia. Following the Union defeat at Second Manassas, Sigel’s chiefly German-composed command was disbanded and reassigned as the Army of Potomac’s Eleventh Corps. He was relegated to a backwater command by 1863, having grown discontented with the size of his command. He was superseded in command of the 11th Corps by the teetotaler and religious zealot Major General Oliver O. Howard in February of 1863, much to the dismay of the German soldiers that admired Sigel for his gritty and straightforward character.

General James A. Garfield put great faith in Sigel’s fighting ability. His letters containing his appraisal of Sigel can be found in The Wild Life of the Army: Civil War Letters of James A. Garfield. Decisiveness of action was lacking in many Union generals early in the war. On May 12, 1862, Garfield wrote of the arrival of Sigel before the battle of Pea Ridge, “It is rumored that General Sigel has arrived with General [Samuel R.] Curtis. I hope this is so. I have great faith in that General and his fighting.” On September 12, 1862, with a growing animosity toward Major General George B. McClellan, Garfield penned, “If under McClellan, may the gods deliver me. If under Sigel, I rejoice.”

Garfield had his chance to first meet Sigel and the entourage of generals under his command on October 5, 1862. While accompanying Kate Chase, daughter of the Secretary of Treasury Salmon P. Chase, Garfield was invited to Sigel’s headquarters for tea. He was stationed nearby with the Army of the Ohio, and was considering a transfer out of that army. Garfield described Sigel as “a very small man, but lithe and well-made.”

Brig. Gen. James A. Garfield

Brig. Gen. James A. Garfield, who admired Sigel for much of the war.  (Dickinson College)

Garfield was intrigued by his German hosts, the majority of them exiles of their own German revolution in 1848 which “threw a crowd of noble fellows upon our shores.” Garfield described the physical characteristics of the generals:

“Nearly all these [the generals] have the same type of form and physique. They are of a small, well-knit frame, their heads and faces are inverted triangles of which the chin is the apex. This gives them great breadth of brain. The four I mentioned were Sigel, [General Carl] Schurz, [General Adolph] Steinwehr, and [General Julius] Stahel.”

After supper, the future president was entertained by the lovely piano play of Schurz and Sigel. He was mesmerized by these cultured men and wrote, “They are both very fine performers, among the very best I ever heard.” He left the party impressed, drawing comparisons between their values and his own countrymen. He wrote, “It is wholly impossible for me to describe the tremendous enthusiasm of these noble fellows. Full of genius, full of fire of their own revolution, and inspired anew by the spirit of American Liberty, and just now by the proclamation which gives Liberty a real meaning. They are really miracles of power.”

Garfield was irritated by the unfair treatment he felt was brought down upon Sigel. The politics, bickering, and favoritism involved within the Army of the Potomac between generals disgusted Garfield, with General McClellan at the helm. He wrote:

“There is that glorious Sigel stripped down to 7,000 men and placed under an inferior both in rank and ability. His men have been sent away to swell McClellan’s already overgrown army, and McClellan refuses to cross the river and has sent here for entrenching tools, while Sigel could, if he had the force, strike a fatal blow upon the rebels’ rear and flank. When he (Sigel) spoke to Halleck about it a few days ago he was personally insulted by him, and Halleck has also charged him with cowardice!! As well charge Marshal [Michel] Ney with cowardice. If this Republic goes down in blood and ruin, let its obituary be written thus: ‘Died of West Point.’


Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, whom Garfield and Sigel both intensely disliked and opposed.  (Library of Congress)

In November 1862, Garfield served on the court-martial of Major General Fitz John Porter and on Major General Irwin McDowell’s court of inquiry. Garfield gained the admiration and respect of McDowell. McDowell and Sigel had a strong dislike for each other gained during the battle of Second Manassas fought in August of 1862. Garfield began to reassess his appraisal of General Sigel’s military ability following his newfound friendship with McDowell.

The majority of reputations of high ranking officers in Major General John Pope’s Army of Virginia were ruined following his defeat at Second Manassas. Garfield recorded that “Every prominent general in Pope’s army either had his reputation ruined or badly damaged in that campaign except [Nathaniel P.] Banks.” Pope had dished out blame to almost all of his corps commanders, including Sigel. Pope’s assertion was seconded by other officers in his army. Garfield wrote: “In his dispatches previous to the battle at Bull Run, he says, ‘Sigel must be crazy.’ And the leading officers with Pope agreed in the opinion that Sigel is a humbug.”

Garfield’s last impression of the man he had so much praise for early in the war was tangled at best. “I am more perplexed to reach a satisfactory judgment concerning General Sigel than any other man I know. I halt between two veins – one leading me to earnest admiration of high qualities, the other to a sad contempt of his charlatanry and unfounded pretensions. On the whole I suspend judgment in regard to him, though I think he has been overestimated and I shall not be greatly surprised, though much grieved, to find that his fame will grow less hereafter,” Garfield recorded.


Cadets of the Virginia Military Institute fought for the Confederacy against Sigel’s Union forces at New Market.  Sigel’s defeat there marked the end of his significant Union service.  (civilwar.org)

On May 15, 1864, Sigel was defeated at the battle of battle of New Market, Virginia. There young Confederate cadets from the Virginia Military Institute played a prominent role in his defeat. He was never again given an active command following this embarrassing defeat. Sigel served as editor and was involved in politics following the war, dying in New York City at the age of 77 in 1902.


-Frank Jastrzembski, Volunteer

Giles B. Harber: Navy Cadet, Admiral, Friend of James & Lucretia Garfield

Giles Bates Harber’s association with James A. Garfield began when the Youngstown, Ohio native (born on September 24, 1849) became the first Naval Academy cadet appointed by Congressman James A. Garfield. Garfield referenced this in a diary entry on July 19, 1878:  “Towards evening, Lt. G. B. Harber of the Navy came to make us a visit. He is a noble fellow, my first cadet at the Naval Academy.”

Others of Congressman Garfield’s diary entries show a close relationship between Mr. Harber and the Garfield family. “Spent most of the day (Sunday, July 21, 1878) in answering letters, Crete, Martha (the children’s governess) and Lt. Harber aiding me.” On that same day, “… [I] took my two teams and drove all our family to the lake… Harber and the boys and I had a fine swim in the breakers.” On December 25th, “[Miss] Ransom, Mrs. Reed, Lieut. Harber… took Christmas Dinner with us and stayed during the afternoon. We had a very pleasant and enjoyable time…”


Giles Bates Harber as a young U.S. Navy officer.  (Wikipedia)

In the late 1870s, Harber was in Washington as an ordinance instructor at the Washington Navy Yard. He was a frequent guest at the Garfield’s dinner table at their home on 13th and I Streets. On occasion, he attended church with them. In May 1881, President Garfield noted at the end of a three-day Washington visit, “Lt.  Harber left us last evening – on his way to N.Y. to take command of his first ship, the Alarm.”

The last entry in James Garfield’s diary is dated Sunday, June 26, 1881. Writing from Elberon, New Jersey, where he had taken his wife Lucretia to restore her malaria-compromised health, the President noted that he attended church at St. James and read to “Crete” from Holland and Its People. “Lieut. Harber came and spent part of the day.” This is another clear indication that Giles Harber was closely connected to the Garfields.

Harber was stationed in Asia between 1871 and 1875. While there, he sent a pair of Chinese vases to the Congressman and Mrs. Garfield. One of the vases was irreparably damaged in transit, but the other survived the long voyage. It can be seen in the parlor of the Garfield home today.


Giles Bates Harber sent this beautiful Chinese vase to the Garfields from Asia.  Today, it is seen in the parlor of the Garfield home here at James A. Garfield NHS.  (NPS photo)

Giles Bates Harber had a long career in the Navy, ultimately achieving the rank of Rear Admiral. A somewhat macabre event in his time with the U. S. Navy took place when he was chosen to lead an expedition to recover the bodies of George Washington DeLong, Commander of the USS Jeannette, and several members of DeLong’s crew. The men had starved to death while on a scientific expedition in 1881. During its voyage to the Arctic, the Jeannette became trapped in ice; the commander and his crew abandoned the ship, wandered over the terrain, and soon thereafter died. Three years later, in 1884, Harber led the expedition to recover the bodies.


George Washington DeLong, leader of the ill-fated Arctic expedition of the USS Jeannette.  Harber recovered the bodies of DeLong and his crew in 1884.  (Wikipedia)

This moment in Harber’s career took place three years after the death of his mentor and friend, President James A. Garfield. Shortly after the President’s funeral in September 1881, Harber wrote to Mrs. Garfield a seven-page letter in which he spoke emotionally of his relationship with Mrs. Garfield and her husband: “The title ‘adopted parents’ was a source of pleasure and pride whenever I heard it used or referred to. To feel that he thought enough of me to look upon me as a son was a joy and often I wondered if to show, not tell, my appreciation of those words would be possible. However great my desire, I presume I never succeeded. Yet I have no doubt he knows now.” He went on, “I sincerely trust I may prove not unworthy to be called a son adopted by even so good a man, for I believe that his life and character will ever remain so vividly before me that I could not go very far astray, even if I would, from the path of honor.”


Giles Bates Harber later in his naval career.  (U.S. GenWeb Project)

Rear Admiral Harber died in 1925. In an obituary, his execution of the recovery of the bodies of George W. DeLong and his crew was described as “a magnificent example of the historic pluck and daring of the American naval officer.” This summation of his career shows that James Garfield’s belief in and affection for his young friend was not misplaced.

-Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger

The Front Porch Campaign of 1880

In 1880, the “surprise” presidential nomination of Ohioan James A. Garfield by the Republicans resulted in a campaign that, unlike any before it, regularly brought citizens and candidate face-to-face. It was conducted on the front porch of Garfield’s home.

Prior to 1880, it was considered undignified for anyone to actively seek the presidency. Nominees did not travel from state to state or city to city to tell voters that they had the solutions for the country’s problems. Expected to emulate the example of George Washington, they were to remain above the fray.  The sitting president, Rutherford B. Hayes, spoke to this tradition when he advised Garfield to “sit cross-legged and look wise until after the election.”

Traditionally, it was the Congressmen, Senators, and party workers who did the heavy lifting during presidential campaigns. It was they who traveled, they who spoke, they who organized evening torchlight parades, and more. Garfield honored these traditions. Meanwhile, he stayed home; he stayed put. But his 1880 campaign departed significantly from past practice.


In 1880, James A. Garfield had represented his Ohio district in the U.S. House of Representatives for 17 years.  He was also a U.S. Senator-elect when the Republicans chose him to be their presidential candidate that year.  (Library of Congress)

Arriving at his Mentor farm after his nomination at Chicago, Garfield was greeted by crowds of citizens. People who had known him from his days as a student, teacher, and Civil War officer came to wish him success. Newspaper reporters camped out on his lawn. Their accounts of the welcome Garfield received stimulated interest in his candidacy.

Farmers and businessmen, college students and women (unable cast ballots in 1880), immigrants and Union veterans, including a number of black veterans, came to see, came to hear, and came to meet the Republican nominee.

In the little campaign office behind his home, Garfield and his aides exchanged letters and telegrams with the leaders of groups to fix dates and times of arrival, and to exchange information, so that when they met, a group’s spokesman and Garfield could address each other with appropriate remarks.


This is a modern image of the small exterior library building that James A. Garfield turned into a campaign office during his 1880 presidential campaign.  It is located just behind the main Garfield home, and visitors to James A. Garfield NHS are invited to step inside and see the office’s interior.  (NPS photo)

An estimated 15,000 to 17,000 citizens traveled to Mentor, Ohio (population: 540) to see and hear Garfield. From a train platform specially built to bring the people to the candidate, they literally walked a mile-and-a-half up a lane that extended the entire length of Garfield’s 160 acre farm. They walked up that lane in good weather and in bad, in sunshine and in showers.

Often, a “Garfield and Arthur” band was playing near the front porch when visitors arrived, adding excitement to the air. Poets read and singers sang. A Congressman, Senator, or local official would hail the Republican Party and Garfield.

Soon, the candidate would pass through the vestibule doors leading from the interior of his home to his porch. A designated group leader addressed him respectfully. Garfield would respond, eschewing political issues. He spoke instead to the identities and the aspirations of those gathered before him. His remarks were often brief, sometimes lasting no more than three or four minutes. From the porch serving as his podium, Garfield discussed “The Possibilities of Life,” “The Immortality of Ideas,” and “German Citizens.”

As a teacher, soldier, Congressman, and Republican presidential nominee, James Garfield wrestled with the matter of race. It was as difficult an issue for his generation as it is for ours.  Still, he supported the right of African-Americans to be free, to be equal with whites in the eyes of the law, and to be treated with justice. In his remarks on “The Future of Colored Men,” Garfield spoke to 250 such citizens assembled on his lawn in October 1880.


These African American Civil War veterans visited James A. Garfield’s Mentor, Ohio property during the 1880 “front porch” presidential campaign.  The Garfield home is visible in the background.  Garfield was one of the few Republicans still openly talking about race and civil rights as late as 1880.  (NPS photo)

“Of all the problems that any nation ever confronted,” he said, “none was ever more difficult than that of settling the great race question… on the basis of broad justice and equal rights to all. It was a tremendous trial of the faith of the American people, a tremendous trial of the strength of our institutions…” that they had survived a brutal and bloody civil war; that freedom had been won for the enslaved as a result; that the promise of fair treatment was to be the inheritance of the freedmen.

When, late in the campaign, he stood before his “Friends and Neighbors” from Portage County, Ohio, he revealed the tender side of his nature, and his appreciation for the life he’d been given. To this audience, composed of the many who had helped to form the fabric of his being, he offered these thoughts:

“Here are the school-fellows of twenty-eight years ago.

Here are men and women who were my pupils twenty-

five years ago… I see others who were soldiers in the

old regiment which I had the honor to command… How

can I forget all these things, and all that has followed?

How can I forget…the people of Portage County, when

I see men and women from all its townships standing at

my door? I cannot forget these things while life and

consciousness remain. The freshness of youth, the very

springtide of life… all was with you, and of you, my

neighbors, my friends, my cherished comrades… You

are here, so close to my heart… whatever may befall me



A common scene during the 1880 front porch campaign: Garfield and family members sitting on the front porch of their Mentor, Ohio farmhouse.  Left to right: Eliza  Ballou Garfield (James Garfield’s mother); James Garfield; Mollie Garfield (President and Mrs. Garfield’s 13-year-old daughter); and Mrs. Lucretia Garfield.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

And then, as he had so often done before, James Garfield invited his guests to linger in friendly communion: “Ladies and gentlemen, all the doors of my house are open to you. The hand of every member of my family is outstretched to you. Our hearts greet you, and we ask you to come in.”

-Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger

(Park Ranger Alan Gephardt wrote this article in January 2016 for the blog of PBS’s American Experience to coincide with the February 2 national broadcast of Murder of a President, their excellent documentary about President Garfield and his tragic 1881 assassination.)

A Private Chapter of the War, Part II

Bailey remains at the Smith plantation for most of the month of August.  Lybyer leaves after about two weeks, guided by a runaway slave named Jim.  When he returns, Bailey decides, using Jim as his guide, to try to reach the Union rear by moving east, which he sees as the rebel right flank, past the Union left, and then north toward Conyers Station on the North Georgia railroad, eight miles away.  But Sherman had moved north and west after the battle in which Bailey was captured, and at the end of August he began a wide sweeping movement around the west side of Atlanta and turning south to cut the railroad below the city.  Local intelligence was that the Federal troops were retreating to Chattanooga.  Bailey decides that a tactical retreat is in order—to the farm of a family named Freeman.  He had encountered the Freemans on the way to Conyers Station.  They were a poor white farm family working land that they did not own.  He arrived there on the night of August 31-September 1.  There he stayed until September 9, when he retreated further, to the Smith farm he had left on August 29.


General William Tecumseh Sherman, the Union general who captured Atlanta and made “Georgia howl” with his famous “March to the Sea” to capture the city of Savannah.  (Library of Congress) 

September 10.  …Confederate cavalrymen and stragglers on foot are wandering about from plantation to plantation, purchasing pigs, corn, chickens, potatoes, etc.  They report that the ‘whole army is encamped at Jonesboro’ (on the railroad, only twelve miles eastward).  “The Atlanta army fallen back!”  The writer immediately determined that Smith’s was no place for him.  He yearned for the other flank—the right flank of the Federals—as the rebels were manifestly being pressed eastward.  At all events, he discovered that he was now among the enemy, and either flank would be preferable to the center… There’s no delusion this time—Sherman’s in Atlanta!  Our cavalry raiders will certainly “hang about” the rebel flanks…

While attempting to flank the Confederate forces, Bailey and his guide, Jim, encounter a runaway slave couple.  The man has a carbine that he took from the body of a Union soldier who drowned attempting to ford a river.  Bailey convinces him that he would be in more danger if he is found with the gun, and as Union property, it would be wise for the slave to turn the gun over to him.  For the first time since his capture on July 22, Lieutenant Bailey is now armed.  On September 11, he was at the Freeman farm once again.  Jim was sent to gather intelligence.

October 7.  Bailey finally leaves the Freeman farm, along with Jim, with the goal of reaching Lithonia, and the North Georgia Railroad.  They are told the Federal forces are at Decatur, but that there are Texas Rangers roaming through the area searching for deserters and runaway slaves.  After midnight Bailey and Jim reached the railroad just west of Lithonia, fifteen miles from Decatur.  “No halting, no resting, no lagging; we are between the lines of two armies, and daylight will find us at Decatur, or worse.”

Daylight did find them in the Union fortifications a quarter mile east of Decatur.  They “are vacated—campfires still smoking, but the Federals gone.  Smiling Hope had beckoned us on, only to make despair the more certain.  The coveted Federal lines at last, and nothing to greet us but the refuse of a camp and smoldering remnants of campfires with which were kindled by friends! Despondent—hungry—footsore—cheated—exhausted—chafed—irritated—lacerated—drooping in the gloom of faded hopes.”


Confederate artillery set up to defend Atlanta in 1864.  (Wikipedia)

During the day Bailey and Jim are overtaken by a pair of armed deserters, one in butternut, the other dressed in blue.  Bailey is again a captive, and disarmed; his captors make it clear that they have no intention of treating him as a prisoner of war.  Late in the afternoon one of them says, “My friend, this is as good a place to die as any man could wish.”  Given an opportunity to pray before dying, Bailey decides that “it’s manifestly too late to pray ‘deliver us from evil;’ God helps those who help themselves.”  Bailey runs.  Three shots were fired at him in rapid succession, and a fourth later.  The second shot threw Bailey to the ground, entering his right shoulder, passing through his shoulder blade and penetrating his lung.  But he got up and ran on.  After the captors had fired all their loaded weapons, Jim ran as well, soon catching up with Bailey.  The two of them staggered through the woods until sunset.  Bailey sees the light of a farmhouse and tells Jim, “I believe I am mortally wounded.  But if I’m mistaken, Jim, that light—that house—whatever it is—is my last chance for life.  I know I can’t live in the woods through this night.  I know it.  Take me to that house.”

The house belonged to a widow named Carrie E. Hambrick, who, with her sister, took Bailey in and nursed him overnight.  Jim, meanwhile, was sent to find the Federal forces.  By mid-day, October 9, a force of about 150 Federal troops, with an ambulance and surgeon arrived. “Ah! Lieutenant, we’ve come for you!”  Almost immediately the room was filled with officers and soldiers…faithful Jim in the midst of them.

Our little column passed through Decatur, and another little jaunt of six miles brought us to Atlanta.  Atlanta!  That “Hood had made up his mind to hold at all hazards.”  Atlanta!  That “the Yankees can never take, sir.”  Atlanta! before whose gates the rescued soldier, while concealed in distant Southern forests, had so often heard the thunder of Federal cannon.  Atlanta!  At peace beneath the flag of the stripes and stars.  As we neared the fortifications, the escorted ambulance passed the battlefield of July 22nd, and over the very road beside which its wounded occupant was captured, which spot was immediately identified with much interest; but the grand feast to his bedimmed vision was the sight of the old flag.  How majestically it floated where before he had seen only “stars and bars.”  Never before did the flag of the Union appear so bright and glorious; never was he prouder of the uniform he wore; never so desirous of witnessing a vigorous prosecution of the war for the Union; never before so appreciative—so delighted—so comfortable—so safe—so satisfied under the glorious old stars and stripes.


An Atlanta home bearing the scars of battle in 1864.  (CivilWar.org)

A month later George Bailey was at home in St. Louis.  Fifteen years later he wrote his “Private Chapter,” to which he added this coda:

The writer respectfully submits that, from the facts within his limited experiences as herein related, the following conclusions may readily be reached:
I.  That the whole South was not in sympathy with the war against the Union; that there was much in the Southern maxim, “The rich man’s war, and the poor man’s fight;”  and that in numberless instances the poor were the mere victims of circumstances which placed them under the control of the aristocracy of wealth, and that while necessity forced action, very many of the actors bore no real enmity against the government; that with them it was not a matter of choice, but they were mere floaters on the tide of public sentiment, which their standing on the social scale permitted them neither to control nor to stem.

  1. That the negroes at the South, as a class, were opposed to the enemies and true to the friends of our government, and were ever ready and willing to render aid and comfort and to make cheerful sacrifices, by day or by night, for our unfortunate straggling “boys in blue,” to whose interests and welfare they generally evinced a remarkable degree of fidelity.

III.  That localities should not always be condemned because of the unlawful acts of a few; for the vicinity that produces outlaws and fiends to wound, may also be capable of furnishing angels to save and comfort the wounded.

  1. That nobility of soul cannot be bound within the narrow confines of sectional prejudices, but, when opportunity is presented, is capable of asserting itself in spite of bitter enmities naturally engendered by civil war.
  2. That among the real enemies of the government there were at least a few whose prowling proclivities found “duties” at the rear, as a pretext to avoid the dangers which threaten soldiers at the front—beast of prey in human form, whose cowardly instincts compelled them to seek only safe opportunities to vent their spleen against the government by adding the crime of murder to that of treason.
BaileyPC cover1

The copy of Bailey’s “A Private Chapter of the War” sent by the author to Republican presidential candidate–and Union veteran–James A. Garfield in 1881.  (NPS photo)


Tellingly, Bailey’s memoir is dedicated “To Mrs. Carrie E. Hambrick of Atlanta, Ga., whose nobility of soul manifested itself in rising above surrounding prejudices and circumstances, proving superior to them, by extending welcome and bestowing aid and comfort upon a helpless stranger whom the misfortunes of war brought to her door, and whose life was preserved by her motherly care, sympathy, and encouragement,…”

But why did George Bailey send a copy of his book to General Garfield, then the Republican candidate for President of the United States?  Was it simply “veteranizing” (a usage coined by Sherwood Anderson)—one old soldier to another? Or did Bailey hope that the conclusions he reached, based on his experience of the war, would be meaningful in the political context of the presidential campaign.  We do not know if he sent a copy to Winfield Scott Hancock, the Democratic nominee, and another Union veteran.  Nor do we know if Garfield read his book.

What we can say with some confidence is that Bailey’s “Private Chapter of the War” taught him things that he felt were unique and worth sharing fifteen years after the event.  Even if George Bailey’s conclusions did not add to the political conversation of 1880, they were important then and they remain relevant today.  We are glad they are here, preserved in the library of our twentieth president.

-Joan Kapsch, Park Guide

A Private Chapter of the War, Part I

When Johnny comes marching home again

Hurrah! Hurrah!

We’ll give him a hearty welcome then

Hurrah! Hurrah!

The men will cheer and the boys will shout

The ladies they will all turn out

And we’ll all feel gay

When Johnny comes marching home.


Get ready for the Jubilee,

Hurrah! Hurrah!

We’ll give the hero three times three,

Hurrah! Hurrah!

The laurel wreath is ready now

To place upon his loyal brow

And we’ll all feel gay

When Johnny comes marching home.


Written and published in 1863, this optimistic song lifted the spirits of Americans north and south during the final, difficult years of the Civil War.  Those at home may have expected Johnny to return older, perhaps a bit battle-worn, but essentially unchanged from the enthusiastic patriot or the reluctant conscript they had sent off to war.

But the men were changed, each in his own way, based on his own experience;  all in ways that they could not readily share as they tried to readjust to civilian life.  Each had his own “private chapter in the war;” but most, according to a Wisconsin officer “thought only of how [they] could best take up the pursuits of peaceful industry.”  They “had then no inclination to study the comparative analysis of the war, or the proper bearing it had upon our country and race.”  As much as the country was in need of reconstruction, the war’s veterans were in need of what Gerald Linderman, author of Embattled Courage, called “hibernation”—a period of quiet when each man could reflect on his experience and try to come to terms with it.  For more than a decade veterans remained quiet. Linderman explains, “Disturbing memories were to be kept to oneself, not to be aired publicly to relieve the sufferer and certainly not to correct public misapprehension of the nature of combat.”

Eventually, though, what Linderman calls a “revival” began.  Around 1880, commemorations, publications, and organizations of veterans proliferated.  Individual soldiers told their stories, wrote their memoirs, and shared their experiences.  George W. Bailey of St. Louis, Missouri wrote A Private Chapter in the War in 1880.  His slim volume, he said,  “presents a limited inside view of a portion of the Confederacy within its military lines, as secretly observed by a ‘stray’ from the invading army in blue, whose experiences disclose the real political sentiments of fair samples of different classes who resided within the Confederacy during the war…”  He sent a copy of his book to “Gen. Jas. A. Garfield, with compliments of the author” sometime that year.  It is now part of the collection in the Memorial Library at James A. Garfield NHS.

Bailey 2

First Lieutenant George W. Bailey, author of A Private Chapter of the War, as seen in 1864.  This image was taken from the copy of Bailey’s book sent to James A. Garfield in 1880.  (NPS photo)

Bailey, writing in the present tense, begins his story on July 22, 1864, before Atlanta, Georgia.  He identifies himself as a first lieutenant and aide-de-camp on the staff of Major General Morgan L. Smith, commander of the Second Division, Fifteenth Army Corps.  Captured in the midst of battle by Confederates who had overrun the Union position through an undefended railroad cut, Bailey, with perhaps eighty other officers and “a great number of soldiers” was taken under guard toward Atlanta.

“An excited rebel soldier amuses the citizen spectators by trailing one of our captured flags in the dust behind his horse…Women taunted us with, ‘Ah, boys you’ve got into Atlanta at last, haven’t you?’  Everybody seemed crazed with delight…Men, women and children gaze at us good-naturedly; but occasionally there are countenances sneering with scorn or pale with hatred.”

The Union prisoners were quickly moved out of the city, heading south, toward Andersonville.

July 25. “Continued silence in the direction of Atlanta.  What was the result of the battle?  What does this silence mean?…One genius said, ‘The Yankees can’t fight for a while; all the live ones are busy burying the dead ones.’ (Astounding announcement—astute sentry!) How long are we going to be kept in this miserable place?  How long are we to be kept on quarter-rations?   Nobody seemed to know.  We know that exchanges of prisoners had ceased because of a misunderstanding or disagreement concerning the status of negro troops…The gloomy prospect of Andersonville loomed up again.  Horrifying contemplation.  A careful mental consideration and adjustment of chances for life resulted in favor of a desperate attempt to escape, rather than attempt to survive Andersonville.”


Andersonville, Georgia was the location of the Confederacy’s most notorious and deadliest prison for Union POWs.  Thousands of northerners died here from exposure, malnutrition, and simple neglect.  Lt. Bailey was understandably eager to avoid ever stepping foot in Andersonville.  (Library of Congress)

July 26.  [Bailey decides to] “escape by way of burial…Trusty comrade officers assist.  Tin cup, muscles, will, calculating ingenuity, friendly suggestions, briars cut to be stacked in the earth concealing the writer and present uninviting appearance to pedestrians, …Boughs and grass were gathered; the adventurer fitted in; satisfaction.  ‘All right, cover up.”  First came grass and boughs, then—‘Oh, here Lieutenant, here are some things you’ll need.’  Col. Scott presented some maps (linen) of the country, rolled up in which was a small pocket-compass…A canteen was also presented, and served as a substitute for a pillow.”

Bailey was carefully concealed under earth, grass, and artfully arranged briars, with a packet of rations buried near his head.  The column moved out the next morning, and a short time thereafter a hog helped itself to the buried rations.  Bailey waited and listened until at least mid-day, when it began to rain and his “grave” became untenable as a hiding place. So he pushed himself up and out, and almost immediately discovered another Union soldier, a six foot tall seventeen-year-old named Lybyer.  According to Bailey, when asked how the young man had escaped, his answer was “I was asleep in a brush-pile.  I didn’t wake up until after they’d gone; then I thought I’d go the other way.”

On the evening of July 27th, the day of his escape, Bailey and Lybyer attempt their first contact with local slaves, which Bailey describes this way:  “Hungry. Twilight; we approach the road.  A mansion; negro cabins in rear.  Objectives—the blacks.  A whispered consultation; we are unanimous in our opinion that the blacks are our friends…”  Their faith was rewarded.  The two escapees were sheltered, fed and supplied by a nameless women who told the men that they were the first Yankees she had ever seen, and that they would find all the blacks in the area friendly, and could be depended upon for help.


Enslaved African Americans proved to be invaluable to Bailey and Lybyer as they hid from Confederates and tried to avoid recapture and being sent to Andersonville.  (Georgia Encyclopedia)

July 31. “No news; no encouraging sounds of cannon—ominous silence Atlantaward—doubts, fears, speculations, conjectures, ignorance—enemies in enemy’s country—thoughts of home, of friends, of companions in arms, of chances of meeting them again, of glowing firesides, of beaming countenances, all in contrast with the present. Raining.”

The next day the escapees discover a substantial plantation, with several slave cabins some distance behind and not visible from the main house.  They hide near a pathway until a field hand comes by.  Calling out to him, they determine that again, Bailey and Lybyer are the first Yankees the slave has seen, and that the plantation’s black population will be friendly and accommodating.  They are told to remain hidden until dusk, when they can be safely brought into one of the cabins.

BaileyPC cover1

James A. Garfield’s copy of George W. Bailey’s A Private Chapter of the War.  (NPS photo)

August 1.  Determining location—twenty-four miles a little east of south from Atlanta.  Federal raids had caused the Confederates to closely guard every mill and cross-road of importance in the vicinity.  The guards could unite in the defense of any threatened point, and they also served to prevent suspected stampedes of negroes to the Federal lines.  Negroes who had recently returned from the ‘front’ reported that the Federals were expected ‘in these parts ‘fore long.’…Basing action upon the uncertainty of the situation at Atlanta and the certainty of danger ahead, and upon the fact of weariness—meaning exhaustion,–and the liability of falling into worse keeping, we concluded to remain encamped nearby until possessed of further information.  The negroes clapped their hands with joy at our decision, promising to render any assistance possible.

The plantation belongs to a committed Confederate named Smith, who lives in the main house with his wife, daughters, and a son who is at home on leave from the Confederate army, recovering from a wound.

(Check back soon for Part II of this article!)

-Joan Kapsch, Park Guide

Around and About James A. Garfield: Whitelaw Reid (Part II)

Over the course of time, Reid’s views on U.S. intervention in world affairs, and the acquisition of territories changed. As problems festered between Spain and its colonial possession Cuba, perceived threats to American business interests, and American idealism about human rights created pressure on the McKinley administration to intervene. Reid first opposed intervention; then he favored it. Cuba would be acquired as an American territory, he thought, but should a retain measure of self-government. Reid continued to oppose the idea of statehood.

Reid’s views on the question of the Hawaiian Islands evolved similarly. He saw an advantage to have coaling stations along the Pearl River, but still he did not favor statehood for the island nation, only territorial status.


U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom Whitelaw Reid.  (Miami University Archives, Miami, Ohio)

The post of Ambassador to Great Britain finally came to Reid in 1904, with the blessing of McKinley’s successor, Theodore Roosevelt. By this time, Reid was 67. It was a largely ceremonial role, as TR was his own chief diplomat. Reid took quarters at Wrest Park, an hour or so from London, and also maintained a residence at Dorchester House, within the city limits. He had many servants, was a charming host who entertained lavishly, and clearly loved the grandeur of the settings in which he lived. Always the Anglophile, he even adopted a slight British accent. At Roosevelt’s urging, Reid continued as Ambassador under President Taft. He died at his post at age 75 in 1912.

Why is it worth knowing something about Whitelaw Reid? He is a relatively minor figure in the American story. Still, he served James A. Garfield at critical times during Garfield’s 1880 presidential campaign and through the early weeks of the truncated presidency. He also shared with the twentieth president a similarly humble beginning in life. Then too, their intellectual bents, and fine educations propelled each man to positions in life neither might have imagined. Both men moved in elite circles in their adult lives – though Reid seems to have very much enjoyed the glitter of that world, more than Garfield.

Reid’s career is striking in that it touches on several important developments in the domestic and diplomatic history of the United States. His positions with regard to labor were part and parcel of the growing frictions that resulted from the growth of large industrial concerns, frictions that continue to reverberate in American politics. What is the proper relationship of management and labor? Is there a role for labor unions in the American workplace, and if so, what is that role? Do unions have too much power?

In the late nineteenth century most Americans, and their leaders, saw the influence of the United States in the world as limited to the Western Hemisphere. By the early twentieth century the United States was a nation with far-flung territories in the Pacific the Caribbean. Reid’s views changed as his country’s role changed. Opposed to the development of a large navy, the acquisition of the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) and Cuba as a young newspaper editor in the 1870s, the diplomat of the early 1900s embraced the a large and powerful American navy, with Hawaii an important factor in its operation, Yet questions about the extent of American influence in the world remained. How extensive should be the power of the United States abroad? That question echoes from Reid’s day to our own.


-Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger

Around and About James A. Garfield: Whitelaw Reid (Part I)

This is the inaugural article in a series of occasional blogs that will offer a biographical sketch of individuals who influenced the life, career, and decisions of James A. Garfield. This series begins with a look at Whitelaw Reid, most noted as the editor of the New York Tribune for forty years, from 1872 to 1912.

Reid was born in Xenia, Ohio on October 27, 1837. His mother wanted to name him “James,” but his Baptismal Certificate shows only the name “Whitelaw.” Yet, he used the name “James” throughout childhood. In early adulthood, he began using Whitelaw as his name, and was sometimes known simply as “White.”


Whitelaw Reid.  (Wikipedia)

He attended the Xenia Academy in his youth, studying Latin, classical literature, and mathematics. At fifteen he was well enough prepared for entry into Miami University, at Oxford, Ohio, as a second year student. While at the school, Reid joined a literary society whose members enjoyed discussing politics and public speaking. He graduated with honors in 1856. Though his studies did not indicate a career in journalism, by the early 1860s Reid was writing for the Cincinnati Gazette, the Cincinnati Times, and the Cleveland Herald, under the pen name “Agate.”   (Agate is a translucent rock of varied colorful layers.)

During the Civil War, Reid acted as a correspondent at several battlefields, among them Shiloh and Gettysburg. His account of the Battle of Shiloh, with tales of confusion, courage, and disaster narrowly averted, has been described as classic war reporting.

The war years affected Reid directly. His older brother, Gavin died in 1862, though not on the battlefield. His father died in 1865. Reid was now responsible for the care of his mother, who was in her sixties. The results of the war also led him to attempt a “get rich quick” investment in a southern plantation in 1866. At the same time, Reid took up his talent with his pen to compose After the War and Ohio in the War.  His experiment in the South was not profitable, and within two years he took the step that made his an influential voice in American society and made him a confidante to political figures, including James G. Blaine and James A. Garfield.

Like other white northerners, Reid betrayed a mix of opinions and attitudes toward black slaves, and African-Americans in general. Prior to the Civil War his experience of blacks had been little. He was opposed to slavery, and supported Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation. He did not think, after the war, that universal suffrage for black men was wise, but he also knew of many “orderly and respectable” blacks who he felt were worthy of the right to vote. He favored education for the former slaves but had doubts about their capabilities. “The negroes do not have the intelligence and the white do not have the inclinations to secure for the blacks the full benefits of any educational provisions that may be made for them.”

Though today many Americans would find this attitude highly prejudicial, in Reid’s day it was commonly held, even among those whites who wanted justice for African-Americans.

In the South, he found the former rebels to be still rebellious, and yet he thought that northern military domination the white “elite” during Reconstruction was a mistake. At the same time, he was in accord with many northerners who were sure that allowing the southern elite to regain political control spelled disaster for blacks on the local level, and repudiation of Confederate debt on the national level.

The year 1868 was a seminal year for Reid. This tall, slender man with a drooping mustache, long black hair, and “intelligent eyes” joined the staff of Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune. The following year he was named managing editor. In 1872, Reid was part of the Liberal Republican movement that opposed a second term for President Grant and that ultimately supported the ill-fated Greeley for the presidency. Greeley died just days after the election and a short time later Reid became the new editor of the Tribune.


Horace Greeley, 1872 Liberal Republican presidential nominee and longtime influential editor of the New York Tribune.  (Dickinson College)

Greeley’s disastrous candidacy and death caused the circulation of the daily Tribune to decline greatly. It was Reid’s task to revive it. This took years. Complicating his ability to achieve that goal were several factors.  Disputes between himself and the typesetters union and his unskilled laborers arose on several occasions. In 1877, he proposed wage reductions to save costs, knowing that the unionized work force would resist him. When a new Tribune building was under construction during this time, he replaced striking workers with Italian immigrants who worked for less. Reid’s clashes with unions and his workers persisted throughout the 1870s and 1880s. Insisting that “authority” must be maintained, he favored strong action against striking workers during the Railroad Strike of 1877.

Of the many presidents Reid would come in contact with, the first was Hayes. Reid thought Hayes was an excellent choice for the Republicans in 1876. He regarded Hayes as a gentleman and an honest man, if not a great one. He assured Hayes of the support of the Tribune during the election, and initially approved of Hayes’ desire to reform the civil service. However, after Hayes became president, articles appeared in the Tribune critical of the overzealous reforms of Carl Schurz, the Secretary of the Interior.


Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz ran afoul of Whitelaw Reid with the many reforms he tried to institute at the Department of the Interior.  (Wikipedia) 

In 1880, Reid and the Tribune were strongly opposed to the nomination of Ulysses S. Grant for a third term as president. (President Hayes did not wish a second term.) James G. Blaine appeared to Reid to be the best hope for a Republican victory, but the nomination went to James A. Garfield. Immediately, Reid began to council harmony within the party and to advise the nominee. He urged Garfield to remain at his Mentor, Ohio home for the duration of the campaign. It was a tradition that presidential candidates did not campaign for themselves, and Reid knew that Garfield would have liked being “on the stump.” Whether from Reid’s influence or not, Garfield did indeed remain at home, resulting in the first front porch presidential campaign. The innovation proved to be successful. Garfield and Reid consulted regularly during the campaign and in the months leading to the president-elect’s inauguration.

Reid offered Garfield his take on two opposing figures in the Republican Party. Do not put too much stock into Carl Schurz and his ties to the German vote, Reid advised, opining that Schurz had done Hayes more harm than good. New York’s senior Senator, Roscoe Conkling, was another concern. Reid cautioned Garfield that Conkling could not be given too much influence in future New York political appointments, but recognized that “he is undoubtedly of great value on the stump…”

Garfield, for his part, respected Reid’s political sagacity and position as the editor of an influential newspaper. His view of civil service reform closely followed Reid’s. Garfield favored reform, but also acknowledged the value of consulting congressional opinion in the process of making appointments.

Reid was of good service to Garfield as he began forming his cabinet amidst the competing cries of the many factions of the Republican Party. Reid agreed with the incoming Secretary of State, James Blaine, that a way to satisfy moderate Republicans, and Conkling’s demand for a New York appointment, was the selection of Thomas L. James as the Postmaster General. James initially accepted. Then he received a tongue-lashing from Conkling and backed out. Later, he thought it over and accepted again. None of this pleased Conkling, who resented Reid’s influence with Garfield. As Reid’s biographer, Bingham Duncan, put it, “Reid happily described [Conkling’s] discomfiture to Miss Mills [Reid’s fiancée] and added, ‘G. told me of it with a chuckle.’”

Early in 1881, Mrs. Garfield traveled to New York to purchase dresses for the Inauguration. She stayed at Reid’s home, with her companion, Mrs. Sheldon. Upon her return to Mentor, Mrs. Garfield received a letter from Reid. It contained information on an overcharge of more than $100 from one of the companies Mrs. Garfield visited, with an additional mention of a bill from Tiffany.

In the same letter, Reid wrote that he had “met Mrs. Hayes at dinner last night. She told me of people coming to her about your policy on wines & her advising them to keep away from you. But, speaking for herself, & without any idea of its ever reaching you, she spoke very frankly of her belief that it would be a mistake to change [Mrs. Hayes’ practice of forbidding alcohol to be served in the White House]. She thought it would cost about five thousand votes in Ohio.”


First Lady Lucy Hayes, famous for banning alcohol from White House events and known to many as “Lemonade Lucy.”  In fact, it was her husband, President Rutherford B. Hayes, who instituted the ban on spirits.  (Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center)

Whitelaw Reid’s most consequential advice to the new president, supported by Blaine, was his urging that William Robertson be appointed as Collector of the Port of New York. Robertson had opposed Conkling and his preferred nominee, former president Grant, at the 1880 Convention. Now he was being touted for the most important appointed position in the federal government. It was a direct attack on Conkling and caused a big fight between the President and the Senator, and further disrupted the Republican Party. When, in April, Reid was asked to persuade Robertson to withdraw, he opined to John Hay, one of Lincoln’s former secretaries, and a good friend, that sticking with Robertson would be “the turning point of [Garfield’s] Administration… the crisis of his Fate.”

Though ultimately President Garfield won his battle with Conkling over the Robertson appointment, “Fate,” in the human form of Charles Guiteau, was not kind him. The assassin pointed to the battle with Conkling over patronage as part of his “inspiration” in shoot the President.

After Garfield’s death, Reid advised Blaine to resign from the cabinet. He opposed President Arthur’s administration and supported Blaine for the presidency in 1884. Until then, Reid refocused his attention on the Tribune, and particularly on the promotion of a technological advancement invented by a German immigrant living in Baltimore at the time, Ottmar Mergenthaler.

Using a keyboard similar to that found on a typewriter, hot lead was molded into lines of type. The process was much faster than having typographers set the lines in a composing stick one letter at a time.

The editors at the Baltimore Sun rejected Mergenthaler’s new technology, but the editor of the New York Tribune embraced it. Whitelaw Reid promoted the new “linotype [line-of-type] machine,” and the helped to establish the Mergenthaler Linotype Company. In taking up the efficiency of Mergenthaler’s invention, Reid opened up another controversy with the Typographical Union #6, for the linotype machine meant a cut in wages for typographers, the men who arranged the type to be printed. Negotiations between Reid and the union produced the usual results: charges of bad faith and walk-outs. Type founders, the men who made the type, and newspaper proprietors, saw nothing wrong in cutting the wages of typographers, since the linotype machines was doing the work previously done by them. The issues between Reid and his typographers were not resolved during the 1880s.

Both Hayes and Garfield had offered Reid a diplomatic post in Germany, which he refused. He was without influence during the Arthur and first Cleveland presidencies, but after Benjamin Harrison’s election in 1888 Reid made no secret of his desire to be Ambassador to Great Britain. He was offered the post of Ambassador to France instead; it was accepted.

At this time, Reid held to a limited role for the United States in international affairs. Like many of his contemporaries during the post-war years, he did not see a need for the influence of the United States to extend beyond North and South America. He favored a small navy and opposed the acquisition of Hawaii by the United States (an instance in which he agreed with President Cleveland), but he understood the importance of an isthmian canal in Central America. Though an admirer of the English, he cast a wary eye on Great Britain and its desire for a presence, and influence, in Latin America.

Reid’s tenure in France served the country well. In 1892, this seasoned newspaper editor and successful diplomat was chosen as President Harrison’s running mate in a bid for the president’s reelection. He was a more active candidate for Vice President than Harrison, whose wife was dying, was for President. Reid credited the Republican Party as the party that freed the slave and preserved the Union, protected labor [surprising inclusion from a man who cut wages and hired scabs], promoted manufacturing, built the railroads, instituted the all-steel navy, and more. Despite Reid’s efforts and those of other Republicans, Harrison lost the election. It was a blow to Reid, who for a time withdrew from public life.


This poster supported the Republican ticket of Benjamin Harrison and Whitelaw Reid in 1892.  Harrison and Reid were defeated by Grover Cleveland and Adlai Stevenson I.  (Wikipedia)

In 1896, with William McKinley’s election to the presidency, Reid expressed an interest in becoming Secretary of State. Senator Platt, of New York, the Republican strongman of that state, opposed the idea: “I told [Mark] Hanna [McKinley’s most important adviser] to tell McKinley if he wanted Hell with the lid off… to appoint Reid.”  John Sherman was appointed Secretary of State instead; Reid was also passed over for the post of Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s. While this second slight by McKinley left Reid bitter, his disappointment was assuaged a bit when he was appointed to head the mission sent to Great Britain to attend the ceremonies for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

(Check back soon for Part II!)

-Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger

Education Congressman, Education President (Part II)

Congressman Garfield’s interest in education was not confined to the common schools.  In 1868 he drafted a bill supporting military instruction in colleges, similar to today’s ROTC. It did not pass.  But two years earlier Garfield had added a provision for schools on military posts to the annual budget for the army.  That provision remained in the army appropriation each year, without much action until 1878.  Then “measures were taken at nearly all the permanent military posts toward the establishment of schools for promoting the intelligence of soldiers and affording education to their children, as well as to those of officers and civilians at the remote frontier posts.”

Garfield was ambivalent on the idea of land grant colleges. “I do not believe in a college to educate men for the profession of farming.  A liberal education almost always draws men away from farming.  But schools of science in general technology are valuable.”  As a trustee of Hampton Institute, a new school for the education of freedmen in Norfolk, Virginia, Garfield recognized the need for industrial and agricultural training to promote self-sufficiency in a previously dependent population. He hoped, however, that the curriculum at Hampton would quickly evolve past an emphasis on manual labor and subsistence farming, and strongly encouraged the normal school, which trained teachers.   In 1870 he supported an appropriation for the School for the Deaf and Dumb (now Gallaudet College) in the District of Columbia, which, he argued, was essentially a normal school for teachers of the disabled.


James A. Garfield served as a trustee of the Hampton Institute (now Hampton University), a school for freedmen in Virginia.  (Image courtesy of the University of North Carolina)

From 1865 to 1873, and again from 1877 to 1880, Garfield served as a Regent of the Smithsonian Institution, “the most pleasant duty of my official life.”  In Congress he reminded his colleagues that the Smithsonian “is not a mere statistical establishment…supporting a corps of men whose only duty is the exhibition of the articles of a show museum; but a living, active organization that has, by its publications, researches, [and] explorations…vindicated the intelligence and good faith of the government in administrating a fund intended for the good of the whole community of civilized men.”  Two notes from his diary show the ways that the Garfield family enjoyed the museum.  Saturday, November 13, 1875: “…I took Crete, Mother and the children to the Smithsonian to examine the 16 birds I had read about from Audubon…”  Saturday, April 1, 1876: “…At half-past eight Crete and I attended the meeting of the Literary Club at the Smithsonian Institution.  A paper was read on art by Mr. Clarke, followed by a lecture on sound by Prof. Henry.  A large number of interesting people were present.”


Congressman James A. Garfield spent many years as a Regent of the Smithsonian Institution, seen here in its early days. Garfield said this one of his most enjoyable public duties. (Smithsonian Institution)

Congressman Garfield was also an enthusiastic supporter of the US Geological Survey and the Naval Observatory.

We don’t know, of course, what kind of education President Garfield might have been, but we do have two hints, the first from his letter of acceptance of the Republican presidential nomination:

“Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained.  Its interests are entrusted to the States, and to the voluntary action of the people.  Whatever help the nation can justly afford should be generously given to aid the States in supporting common schools.”

He was more eloquent and more inspiring in his Inaugural Address.

“It is the high privilege and sacred duty of those now living to educate their successors, and fit them, by intelligence and virtue for the inheritance which awaits them.”


James A. Garfield is inaugurated as President of the United States on March 4, 1881.  He referenced the importance of education in his inaugural address.  (Architect of the Capitol)

These statements, while forceful and inspiring, do not explain why Garfield was so committed to the education of every American.  For that, we need to look back at a speech before the National Education Association in February, 1879. In concluding his remarks to the nation’s school superintendents, Garfield offered a warning.

“…[British historian Thomas B.]  Macaulay said that a government like ours must inevitably lead to anarchy; and I believe there is no answer to his prophecy unless the schoolhouse can give it.  If we can fill the minds of all our children who are to be voters with intelligence which will fit them wisely to vote, and fill them with the spirit of liberty, then we will have averted the fatal prophesy.  But if, on the other hand, we allow our youth to grow up in ignorance, this Republic will end in disastrous failure.  All the encouragement that the National Government can give, everything that States can do, all that good citizens everywhere can do, and most of all what the teacher himself can do, ought to be hailed as the deliverance of our country from the saddest distress.”

-Joan Kapsch, Park Guide


Education Congressman, Education President (Part I)

In his Inaugural Address James Garfield said, “It is the high privilege and sacred duty of those now living to educate their successors, and fit them, by intelligence and virtue for the inheritance which awaits them.”

James Garfield thought about education all his life—as a student, a teacher, a father, and public official.  He used his positions of public trust to encourage and promote education for as many people, and in as many ways as he was able.

At age twenty-six, Garfield earned his degree from Williams College and returned to Ohio to teach at Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, where his higher education began. He was soon named Principal.  “Chapel lectures” or morning lectures were a well-established part of the school curriculum, and Garfield presented hundreds of them on a variety of topics, including education and teaching, books, methods of study and reading, physical geography, geology, history, the Bible, morals, current topics and life questions.  In a letter to a friend, Garfield described the ways he reorganized the school, “We have remodeled the government, published rules, published a new catalogue, and have…250 students (no primary), as orderly as clock-work, and all hard at work.”  Garfield was listed in the catalog of Western Reserve Eclectic Institute as “Professor and Principal and Lecturer” from 1856 to 1866.

WREI - Wikipedia Hiram College Archives

An early look at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (now Hiram College).  James Garfield was a student here and later a teacher and the school’s principal.  (Hiram College Archives)

During the years Garfield’s name appeared at the top of the Eclectic’s catalog, he also married Lucretia Rudolph and started a family, served in the Ohio legislature, passed the state bar, and, when the Civil War began in 1861, raised the 42nd Ohio Infantry.  He served in the Union army until late 1863, when he took a seat in the U.S. House, representing Ohio’s 19th Congressional District.

Engagement pic cropped

James Garfield and Lucretia Rudolph around the time of their engagement.  Lucretia’s father, Zeb, was one of the founders of the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, where the couple became close.  They married on November 11, 1858.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Garfield’s goal in leading the Eclectic Institute was to expand its offerings and elevate its standards, laying the foundations for it to become a fully accredited college.  That objective was achieved in 1867, when the school was chartered by the state as Hiram College.  Speaking to the last group of graduates of the Eclectic, Garfield identified five kinds of knowledge that he believed every student needed, and every college should help them master.

In order of importance, he said that first was “that knowledge necessary for the full development of our bodies and the preservation of our health.”  Second was an understanding of the principles of arts and industry (how things work). Third on the list was the knowledge necessary to a full comprehension of one’s rights and duties as a citizen.  Fourth was understanding the intellectual, moral, religious and aesthetic nature of man, and his relations to nature and civilization.  Finally, a complete education should provide the special and thorough knowledge required for a particular chosen profession.  Garfield had obviously thought deeply about what an education ought to be; his list of five kinds of knowledge stands up well to the test of time.  The order of importance he assigns, however, deviates significantly from the goals of modern education.

James Garfield’s papers reveal some of his very specific and firmly held ideas about teaching and learning.  Here are a few.

“I, for one, declare that no child of mine shall ever be compelled to study one hour, or to learn even the English alphabet, before he has deposited under his skin at least seven years of muscle and bone.”

Garfield children Brady portrait

James and Lucretia Garfield’s five surviving children: Mollie; James R.; Harry; Irvin; and Abram.  All four of the boys received fantastic educations at St. Paul’s boarding school in New Hampshire and their father’s alma mater, William College, in Massachusetts.  Mollie attending something along the lines of a “finishing school”before marrying Joseph Stanley-Brown when she was 21.  (Library of Congress)

“School committees would summarily dismiss the teacher who should have the good sense and courage to spend three days of each week with her pupils in the fields and woods, teaching them the names, peculiarities, and uses of rocks, trees, plants, and flowers, and the beautiful story of the animals, birds, and insects which fill the world with life and beauty.  They will applaud her for continuing to perpetrate that undefended and indefensible outrage upon the laws of physical and intellectual life which keeps little children sitting in silence, in a vain attempt to hold its [sic]mind to the words of a printed page, for six hours in a day…This practice kills by the savagery of slow torture.”

“I am well aware of the current notion that…a finished education is supposed to consist mainly of literary culture…This generation is beginning to understand that education should not be forever divorced from industry,–that the highest results can be reached only when science guides the hand of labor…Machinery is the chief implement with which civilization does its work; but the science of mechanics is impossible without mathematics.”

“I insist that it should be made an indispensable condition of graduation in every American college, that the student must understand the history of this continent since its discovery by Europeans; the origin and history of the United States, its constitution of government, the struggles through which it has passed, and the rights and duties of citizens who are to determine its destiny and share its glory.”


The modern U.S. Department of Education owes much to James A. Garfield, who introduced an April 1866 bill in the House of Representatives to created a Federal Bureau of Education.  (U.S. Department of Education)

As a member of Congress, Garfield’s most significant achievement was passing a bill that created the first Federal Bureau of Education, a piece of legislation he introduced in April, 1866.  It provided for a Commissioner of Education who would be charged with collecting and disseminating information about education in the United States.  In arguing for this Bureau Garfield said, “In 1860 there were in the United States 115,224 common schools, 500,000 school officers, 150,241 teachers and 5,477,037 scholars; thus showing that more than six million people of the United States are directly engaged in the work of education.  Not only has this large proportion of our population been thus engaged, but the Congress of the United States has given fifty-three million acres of public lands to fourteen States and Territories of the Union for the support of schools.”  He made it clear that the purpose of the bureau was to gather information and statistics about schools across the nation, and share it with local and state educators.  It should discover the quality and effectiveness of schools for blacks and immigrants as compared to those for native-born whites. The Bureau was not involved in curriculum development or school management.

(Check back soon for Part II!)

-Joan Kapsch, Park Guide

Caroline Ransom: Artistic Endeavors on the Western Reserve

Throughout the Garfields’ Mentor, Ohio home, many beautiful pieces of art are on view for visitors to enjoy. The elegant Reception Hall is a small gallery in itself, with pieces including portraits of James and Lucretia Garfield, a Japanese temple gong, and a large piece entitled The Old Spring House (Flirtation). One could spend many hours admiring the artistic skill in the home, including that of the family (the tiles around the dining room fireplace, as well as the pencil drawings on the second floor, are the work of Lucretia Garfield and her children). The work of one artist in particular, Caroline Ransom, is especially prolific in the Garfield home, and worth learning more about.

Caroline Ransom was a portrait artist who was also a friend of the Garfields, getting to know them in Washington, D.C. as did several of her contemporaries. Many diary entries, letters, and other primary sources illustrate the closeness of Ransom’s relationship with the family. James and Lucretia, for their part, had interests in the arts throughout their lives. Both attended the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, James was an early regent of the newly established Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and Lucretia had been a student illustrator at a publication of the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute.

Congressman James A. Garfield spent many years as a Regent of the Smithsonian Institution, seen here in its early days.  Garfield said this one of his most enjoyable public duties.  (Smithsonian Institution)

Congressman James A. Garfield spent many years as a Regent of the Smithsonian Institution, seen here in its early days. Garfield said this was one of his most enjoyable public duties. (Smithsonian Institution)

Ransom was a native Ohioan, born in 1826 in Newark, OH. Soon after Caroline’s birth, the family moved and her father established a settlement on the Western Reserve centered on a mill. However, the businesses that her father built had failed by 1864, and the family, now poor, moved to Cleveland. Caroline, in the meantime, had begun pursuing her interest in art in earnest.

On the Western Reserve, though, fine art was difficult to come by. In the 1850s, Ransom had the chance to study with landscape artist Asher B. Durand, who was part of the Hudson River School of painters, in New York. After a few months of study, Durand recommended that Ransom focus on portraits instead—so she began studying with a series of other artists, the first being Thomas Hicks, a portrait and genre artist. While studying with Hicks, Ransom painted a portrait of a Mrs. Goss that is now in the archives of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Caroline Ransom's portrait of a Mrs. Goss.  (Cleveland Museum of Art)

Caroline Ransom’s portrait of a Mrs. Goss. (Cleveland Museum of Art)

By the end of the 1850s, Ransom was spending time in Washington, D.C. as well as Ohio, and had begun to create portraits of politicians. Her portrait of Representative Joshua Giddings was displayed at the National Academy of Design’s 1859 exhibition, next to a painting by artist Daniel Huntington, another of her mentors. The purchase of the Giddings painting marked the first time the federal government had purchased a painting by a female artist. Two of Ransom’s paintings, the one of Representative Giddings as well as one she did of Speaker of the House John W. Taylor, are in the Capitol building to this day (the former is stored in the archives and the latter is part of the Speaker of the House portrait collection).

Speaker of the House John W. Taylor, as painted by Caroline Ransom in 1900.  Taylor was from New York and served as Speaker twice: 1820-21 and 1825-27.  Later in life, he moved to Cleveland, Ohio to live with his eldest daughter.  (U.S. House of Representatives)

Speaker of the House John W. Taylor, as painted by Caroline Ransom in 1900. Taylor was from New York and served as Speaker twice: 1820-21 and 1825-27. Later in life, he moved to Cleveland, Ohio to live with his eldest daughter. (U.S. House of Representatives)

The Civil War and its aftermath in the 1860s brought Ransom a new outlet for her art, and she began painting portraits of soldiers who had been killed during the conflict and presenting the portraits to their families. Ransom also approached James Garfield, asking him to sit for her so she could paint his portrait. Eventually he did, and the result is a large portrait that is displayed today on the second floor landing of the Garfields’ Mentor home. The painting served as a memorial for the family of the late president, where a vase of fresh flowers was often placed in front of it when the Garfields lived in the home after President Garfield’s assassination.

Caroline Ransom painted this image of James A. Garfield in his Major General's uniform.  This was one of Lucretia Garfield's favorite portraits of her husband.  It still hangs in the Garfield home here at James A. Garfield NHS.  (NPS photo)

Caroline Ransom painted this portrait of James A. Garfield in his Major General’s uniform. This was one of Lucretia Garfield’s favorite portraits of her husband. It still hangs in the Garfield home here at James A. Garfield NHS. (NPS photo)

Another work of Ransom’s, depicting another victim, is displayed in the house to this day: a full-length painting of Saint Roderick. Saint Roderick (San Rodrigo), a Christian priest who lived in Spain during the ninth century, was one of the Martyrs of Córdoba. It is thought that this piece remained in the home after a loan, the collateral of which was the painting, had not been repaid to Lucretia, who had given the money to Caroline Ransom. The painting is a copy of one by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, and was done by Ransom as a means of improving her technique while she was studying masterpieces in Europe.

Caroline Ransom painted this portrait of Saint Roderick, and it now hangs in the Reception Hall on the first floor of the Garfield home.  (NPS photo)

Caroline Ransom painted this portrait of Saint Roderick, and it now hangs in the Reception Hall on the first floor of the Garfield home. (NPS photo)

In addition to James Garfield, Ransom painted several other portraits of Garfield family members that are displayed in the historic house: in the parlor is a portrait of Eliza Ballou Garfield, James’ mother, and in the Winter Bedroom are two portraits of Garfield children who died at a young age: Eliza Arabella (‘Little Trot’) and Edward (‘Neddie’). Ransom also did a painting of Falstaff, a popular character from several of Shakespeare’s plays, which now hangs in the second floor hallway. Supposedly, Garfield remarked to Caroline Ransom that he was unsatisfied with all of the portraits of Falstaff, thus prompting the artist to create her own interpretation. All of these paintings can be viewed on a tour of the home here at James A. Garfield National Historic Site.

Falstaff was one of James A. Garfield's favorite characters from Shakespeare.  Caroline Ransom painted this portrait of the so-called "Fat Knight" for Garfield because he didn't care for any of the paintings of Falstaff he had seen.  This portrait hangs on the second floor of the Garfield home.  (NPS photo)

Falstaff was one of James A. Garfield’s favorite characters from Shakespeare. Caroline Ransom painted this portrait of the so-called “Fat Knight” for Garfield because he didn’t care for any of the paintings of Falstaff he had seen. This portrait hangs on the second floor of the Garfield home. (NPS photo)

The amount and variety, as well as the content, of the artwork in the Garfield household is a testament to the artistic and scholarly inclinations of the family, the many friendships with artists and creative types that the Garfields enjoyed, and the interesting, and often surprising, anecdotes about this remarkable family. As a bold, promising, and talented artist, Caroline Ransom’s close and lasting friendship with the Garfields is no surprise.

-Katelin McArdle, Park Ranger