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.

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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 He was superseded in command of the 11th Corps by the teetotaler and religious zealot Major General Oliver O. Howard in February of 1863, much to the dismay of the German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.”

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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.’

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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.

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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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

hereafter…”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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

Friends to the End

In his forty-nine years, James A. Garfield had a remarkable number of friends. They came from a wide variety of backgrounds including politicians, businessmen, college classmates and soldiers. Of all the colleagues he accumulated, it appears the ones he valued most were those he met as a young man.

Garfield’s diary reveals acquaintences dating back to his early years at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute. He never lost sight of his friends, often writing letters and visiting whenever possible. It was a rare occasion when Garfield quarreled with a pal and put an end to the relationship. During the summer of 1880 he was inundated with trainloads of visitors at his family farm. His nomination for President prompted his legion of friends to travel to Mentor, leaving the candidate little time for the business at hand.

In examining all of Garfield’s friendships, one of the men closest to him was a Williams College grad and an old army buddy. When the day was finished and all political obligations complete, Garfield looked to Colonel Almon Rockwell to help him relax. It might be a spirited card game or several rounds of billiards or just some friendly talk. When there was a springtime lull at the Capitol Building, Congressman Garfield would duck out of his office to meet Rockwell and catch a Washington Nationals baseball game. The club was mediocre at best, but the two friends had a grand time watching the ball games.

Almon Ferdinand Rockwell was born October 17, 1835 in Gilbertsville, New York. The village is located in the lower part of the state, southwest of Cooperstown.  His American ancestors traced back to 1641 when John Rockwell arrived in Stamford, Connecticut. In later years several family members would serve under General George Washington and the Continental Army.

Almon F. Rockwell was one of James A. Garfield's oldest and closest friends.

Almon F. Rockwell was one of James A. Garfield’s oldest and closest friends.

Rockwell went to the area public schools then enrolled in the Gilbertsville Academy and Collegiate Institute. He met his requirements which allowed him to enter Williams College in September of 1852. In his junior year he made a new friend, an older boy from the Midwest. Rockwell and Garfield began a warm friendship that would last until the President’s death in 1881.

After graduation, Rockwell studied medicine in Philadelphia. In 1858 he received a license to practice. While reviewing source material on Rockwell’s life it is difficult to determine if he actually practiced medicine at any time. Even if he did not, he still had a valuable skill that would be used at various periods during his lifetime.

All of this became a moot point when the Civil War began in April of 1861. In the fall of that same year Rockwell received a commission in the Army of the Ohio. Serving as a first lieutenant, he was assigned to the staff of General Don Carlos Buell. After a brief stay in Louisville, Kentucky, Rockwell saw action at Fort Donelson. He moved on to the Battle of Shiloh where he ran into his old classmate, James Garfield. The two pals reminisced after the fight, then later on the march to Corinth.

James A. Garfield entered the Union army as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1861.  By the time he ran into his old friend Rockwell at Shiloh, Garfield was a Brigadier General.  (Dickinson College)

James A. Garfield entered the Union army as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1861. By the time he ran into his old friend Rockwell at the April 1862 battle of Shiloh, Garfield was a Brigadier General. (Dickinson College)

The reunion did not last long as Rockwell came down with malaria and Garfield took sick leave with a severe case of dysentery. Rockwell was the first to recover, being transferred to the provost marshal’s department then reassigned as an assistant adjutant general. His new responsibility was to help organize and outfit the new regiments of African-American soldiers. That responsibility lasted until the end of the war.

Rockwell was in Washington D.C. on April 14, 1865. He received a frantic message that President Lincoln was shot and he was needed immediately at the Petersen house. Lincoln had been carried from Ford’s Theatre to the home across the street. Rockwell raced to the President’s bedside and remained through the night and early morning hours. He witnessed Abraham Lincoln slip away, one of the most dreadful events in our American history.

Almon Rockwell witnessed the death of President Abraham Lincoln on the morning of April 15, 1865, about nine hours after John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln at Ford's Theater.  (Wikipedia)

Almon Rockwell witnessed the death of President Abraham Lincoln on the morning of April 15, 1865, about nine hours after John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln at Ford’s Theater. (Wikipedia)

Though his army commission had expired, Rockwell did not stay unemployed for long. He was offered a position in the Quartermaster Corps of the regular army. The job took him out west where assisted in the construction of several forts including Fort Larned, Fort Gibson, and Fort Sill. He served several years at Fort Yuma, Arizona before being summoned back to Washington D.C. His new detail gave him responsibility for the nation’s national cemeteries.

Rockwell quickly found the occasion to call on his long-lost friend, Congressman Garfield. Living in the same city allowed the two buddies to catch up on old times. Garfield would write in his diary, “In the evening dined at Welcker’s with my old classmate Capt. Rockwell of the Army and had a delightful reunion after seven years of separation. The Captain presented me with a beautiful matchbox of gold with this inscription, “From an old fellow to another.”

Once they were up to date, the two found the nearest billiard parlor and shot pool for hours. One could see them with coats off, shirt sleeves rolled up and calling out their shots. They made a point to play billiards at least several times a week. It is not known how competitive they were, but based on their accomplishments one has to believe they played for keeps.

In addition to shooting pool or a game of casino, they studied the financial markets. After some consideration shares were purchased in the Silver King Mining Company located in Colorado. Shrewd investors were doing quite well with gold and silver mines. It is not clear if the two saw any sizable gains from the stock.

The Rockwell- Garfield friendship extended on several levels. The children of both families became close friends. Sons Hal and Jim Garfield and Don Rockwell roomed together at St Paul’s Prep School. In January 1881 the President-elect arranged for a tutor that gave instruction to the boys at the Rockwell’s Washington home. Later that year, all three began classes at Williams College. Daughter Mollie Garfield spent time with Lulu Rockwell, who was regarded as one of the great beauties. As an adult Lulu would marry a French count and live well for many years in Europe.

The Garfield family, seen here, was very close with the family of Almon Rockwell.  (Library of Congress)

The Garfield family, seen here, was very close with the family of Almon Rockwell. (Library of Congress)

Before President Garfield took office he arranged for Rockwell to be Superintendent of Public Buildings for Washington D. C. A President could always find a way to hire friends for government jobs. By all accounts, Rockwell took this job seriously, being retained by President Chester A. Arthur until his term expired in 1885.

At the time of Garfield’s assassination, Colonel Rockwell had gone ahead to the Washington train station. There he made plans for the President’s trip east to Williams College. The two loyal alumni were intending to visit the school for their latest reunion. Rockwell was startled to hear the sound of gunfire behind him. He turned around to see his best friend lying on the ground, blood pouring out of his side. Rockwell, a trained medical doctor, had to know the President was in a life-threatening state. He organized a party to carry Garfield to a makeshift ambulance and back to the White House.

Charles Guiteau shot President James A. Garfield on July 2, 1881.   Almon Rockwell was in the building and rushed to his wounded friend's side.  (Harper's Weekly)

Charles Guiteau shot President James A. Garfield on July 2, 1881. Almon Rockwell was in the building and rushed to his wounded friend’s side. (Harper’s Weekly)

For the next eighty days, Rockwell never strayed far from Garfield’s side. He visited every afternoon and evening. When the President asked to be moved from Washington to the seashore of Elberon, New Jersey, Rockwell made the trip with the family. Just hours before Garfield passed away on September 19, 1881, he had one final conversation with his old friend. The President had concerns that his legacy was incomplete and in time he might be forgotten. Rockwell assured him that was not the case. He told Garfield that the American people would always have a special place in their hearts for the twentieth President of the United States.

Scenes like this one were common in the White House after President Garfield was shot, as well as in the New Jersey cottage in which he died on September 19, 1881.  Almon Rockwell was with his old friend as much as possible between the shooting and the President's death.  (Wikipedia)

Scenes like this one were common in the White House after President Garfield was shot, as well as in the New Jersey cottage in which he died on September 19, 1881. Almon Rockwell was with his old friend as much as possible between the shooting and the President’s death. (Wikipedia)

Almon Rockwell completed his term as Superintendent of Public Buildings. He then returned to active duty with the Quartermaster Corps until his retirement in 1897. He died on July 31, 1903 in Paris, France. Rockwell had an extensive collection of papers which the family donated to the Library of Congress. The archivists had to be surprised when they discovered a bullet among the papers. After careful examination it proved to be the bullet removed from President Garfield’s body during the autopsy. Why Colonel Rockwell had possession of the bizarre artifact is uncertain. Perhaps it served as a grim reminder of the events of July 2, 1881. Though he lived to be sixty-seven years old, Rockwell never forgot his old college classmate and dearest friend. He remembered the good times and most certainly the bad.

-Scott Longert, Park Guide

Six Unusual Abraham Lincoln Facts and Rumors, Part II

  • Abraham Lincoln was an enthusiast of General Zachary Taylor.

Zachary Taylor would only serve for a brief sixteen months as President of the United States until his untimely death. On July 4, 1850, after consuming large quantities of green apples and cherries with cold milk on a hot day in Washington, he became severely ill with gastroenteritis. He became progressively worse until he died on the night of July 9, 1850. Before his death, it is said his last noble words were, “I have always done my duty. I am ready to die. My only regret is for the friends I leave behind me.”

Before he was president, he led a distinguished career as a general in the Mexican- American War. He delivered crushing blows to the Mexican Army at the battles of Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, Monterrey, and Buena Vista, gaining him national fame. Taylor was endeared to his men and junior officers for his modest attitude, fortitude, selflessness, and care for their welfare that also transcended to the public. His name became linked to George Washington and Andrew Jackson, viewed as a man of the people who took up the sword to protect the freedom of all Americans.

Zachary Taylor gained fame as an American commander during the Mexican-American War.  He won the presidency as a Whig in 1848 and died in office in July 1850.  Abraham Lincoln was a Whig before becoming a Republican in the 1850s.  (Library of Congress)

Zachary Taylor gained fame as an American commander during the Mexican-American War. He won the presidency as a Whig in 1848 and died in office in July 1850. Abraham Lincoln was a Whig before becoming a Republican in the 1850s. (Library of Congress)

On July 25, 1850, the forty-one year old Illinois Congressman, Abraham Lincoln, was asked to present the eulogy for the deceased general and president. In his eulogy, he pronounced that Taylor’s most admirable trait was his “dogged incapacity to understand that defeat was possible.”  Lincoln stated that, “His rarest military trait, was a combination of negatives—absence of excitement and absence of fear. He could not be flurried, and he could not be scared.”  Lincoln acclaimed Taylor had a knack to defy any odds stacked up against him, “It did not happen to Gen. Taylor once in his life, to fight a battle on equal terms, or on terms advantageous to himself—and yet he was never beaten, and never retreated. In all, the odds was greatly against him; in each, defeat seemed inevitable; and yet in all, he triumphed.”

Ulysses S. Grant was also an avid admirer of Zachary Taylor, serving as a young lieutenant in his army during the Mexican-American War. Grant commendably declared, “No soldier could face either danger or responsibility more calmly than he.” Grant stated that he most admired Taylor because of his simplicity, lack of pretension, and directness of expression. He specified that these qualities are more rarely found than genius or physical courage. It is though-provoking to wonder that while Grant slugged away with General Lee in the spring of 1864, if his distinguished calm bearing and casual appearance described by fellow officers was emulated from his old idol.

  • Abraham Lincoln considered two promising candidates for command of the Army of the Potomac before the battle of Gettysburg in 1863. 

It took President Lincoln until 1864 to find the right commander to lead his Union armies. Is it possible he had the opportunity to select an efficient leader beforehand? The unsuccessful generals appointed to high command in the East Theater of the war read like a laundry list (McDowell, McClellan, Fremont, Banks, Pope, Burnside, and Hooker). Listed below are two possible candidates rumored to have been offered command of the Army of the Potomac, both killed before the end of the war. 

Major General John Fulton Reynolds (1820-1863)

Admiring Reynolds after the war, General Winfield Scott Hancock noted that, “I may take this occasion to state that, in my opinion, there was no officer in the Army of the Potomac who developed a character for usefulness and ability, in the highest grades of command, superior to that of General Reynolds, and had he lived to the close of the war he would most probably have attained the highest honor in that army.”

Reynolds graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1841, and later served in the Mexican-American War. He was brevetted to captain for gallantry at Monterrey and Buena Vista. By 1863, the “soldier general” had risen through the ranks of the Army of the Potomac to the command of the First Corps.

Lincoln offered the command of the Army of the Potomac to Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds before the battle of Gettysburg.  Fearing he would face too much political interference from Washington, Reynolds did not accept.  (Library of Congress)

Lincoln offered the command of the Army of the Potomac to Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds before the battle of Gettysburg. Fearing he would face too much political interference from Washington, Reynolds did not accept. (Library of Congress)

Following the defeat at Chancellorsville in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln contemplated the removal of Major General Joseph Hooker, the current commander of the Army of the Potomac. On May 31, Reynolds, whom Hooker described as “the ablest man officer under me,” took leave and travelled to Washington to discuss the leadership of the Army of the Potomac with Lincoln. He was most likely selected to meet with Lincoln due to his high esteem among his colleagues, and his reputation for staying out of politics. When bluntly asked by Lincoln if he would be interested in command of the Army of the Potomac, Reynolds made it apparent that unless he was given free rein from political control, he would prefer to decline. Unable at the time to comply with his demands, Lincoln reluctantly ordered the recommended choice of Reynolds, General George G. Meade, to replace Hooker on June 28.

On the morning of July 1, 1863, Reynolds was commanding the “left wing” of the Army of the Potomac, on its march toward Gettysburg. He was supervising the placement of the Second Wisconsin Regiment, when a rebel bullet smashed into the back of his head, killing him instantly. When Meade heard of the death of Reynolds, he was almost brought to tears. It is fascinating to wonder how history may have been altered if the aggressively-minded Reynolds had been in command of the Army of the Potomac following the defeat of General Lee at Gettysburg.

Major General Israel Bush Richardson (1815-1862)

Israel Richardson graduated in the same West Point class as Reynolds, the class contributing twenty-three generals to the war. He served in both the Seminole Indian War in Florida and the Mexican-American War. He earned the nickname “Fighting Dick” during the Mexican-American War for his fortitude in battle. Richardson, also a “soldier’s general” had risen from regimental command to division command by 1862. He was said to have a voice that “rang out above the shrilling of trumpets.” While in battle, he was remembered to have “went under fire with as much nonchalance as ordinary people go to breakfast.”

During the battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, Richardson’s division was tasked with breaking the Confederate center at the Sunken Road. While supervising his artillery fire near the front, he was gravely wounded from an enemy shell fragment.

Following the battle of Antietam, President Lincoln arrived to meet with General McClellan. He was visibly frustrated with the cautiousness McClellan exhibited in following up to destroy Robert E. Lee’s army. The displeased president felt that the Army of the Potomac acted only as “McClellan’s bodyguard.” On October 4, Lincoln made a special visit to the wounded Richardson, who was housed at McClellan’s HQ.

Gen. Israel B. Richardson was a West Point graduate and Mexican-American War veteran.  He was wounded by a shell fragment at the September 1862 battle of Antietam and died two months later.  (Wikipedia)

Gen. Israel B. Richardson was a West Point graduate and Mexican-American War veteran. He was wounded by a shell fragment at the September 1862 battle of Antietam and died two months later. (Wikipedia)

Captain Charles Stuart Draper, one of Richardson’s aides, was also wounded and housed in the same bedroom as Richardson. Draper recalled the conversation that took place between Richardson and Lincoln. He claimed that Richardson spoke to Lincoln on such topics as the future of the nation, and that he gave his opinions on strategy and army personnel. They also spoke on the cautiousness of McClellan. Draper recorded that during their conversation, Lincoln assured Richardson, that if he lived, he would be selected to succeed McClellan in command of the Army of the Potomac.

If Draper’s testimony holds true, Lincoln would have certainly found his “fighting general” as early as 1862. However, on November 3, Richardson died of his wounds. Remarkably, Lincoln waited almost six weeks until the death of Richardson before convincing the timid Ambrose Burnside to take the job. The consequence of this selection ended in the December 13, 1862 battle of Fredericksburg and the useless waste of 12,000 Union soldiers’ lives.

  • President Lincoln offered the Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi a field command. 

In the summer of 1861, Abraham Lincoln was interested in seeing if the Italian revolutionary leader Giuseppe Garibaldi would be willing to offer his services to the Union cause. Garibaldi would be able to play a critical role in the war effort by helping to “lend the power of his name, his genius, and his sword to the Northern cause.” Garibaldi was internationally known as the “Hero of Two Worlds” taking part in revolutionary movements in South America and Italy. In 1860, Garibaldi had led his “red shirts” in military campaigns on the Italian mainland hoping to initiate the formation of a unified Italy.

President Lincoln thought he might lure Garibaldi to the United States to fight for the Union, but Garibaldi's demands were far too high.  America would have no Italian Lafayette during the Civil War.  (Wikipedia)

President Lincoln thought he might lure Garibaldi to the United States to fight for the Union, but Garibaldi’s demands–including immediate emancipation of slaves–were far too high. America would have no Italian Lafayette during the Civil War. (Wikipedia)

Rumors began to circulate in Union newspapers that Garibaldi was on his way to take command of the Union army by 1861. James W. Quiggle, the American consul in Belgium, sent a letter to Garibaldi in June 1861 presenting this interest. He stated that “the papers report that you are going to the United States to join the Army of the North in the conflict of my country. If you do, the name of La Fayette will not surpass yours. There are thousands of Italians and Hungarians who will rush to join your ranks and there are thousands and tens of thousands of Americans who will glory to be under the command of the ‘Washington of Italy.’” Garibaldi politely denied such a claim, but the thought of it appealed to the Italian general.

In the end, Garibaldi’s demands were too much for the Lincoln administration. Garibaldi wanted to be appointed to the supreme command of all the Union armies, ranking even above the aging Lieutenant General Winfield Scott. The Lincoln administration was only willing to offer him the rank of major general. He also demanded that all slaves in North American be immediately emancipated. He desired to wage a war for equal rights in North America. Emancipation was not of primary importance to President Lincoln this early in the war. The love affair between the Italian revolutionary and the American public was not meant to be.

-Frank Jastrzembski, Volunteer

Presidents and Politicians: The 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry

At the end of the Civil War, many Union officers from Ohio were able to transfer their careers to the political arena. Some were quite successful; others were not. The 23rd Ohio Volunteers had the honor of delivering two future presidents, a Supreme Court justice, and an ambassador to Hawaii.

The 23rd OVI was mustered into service in July 1861 at Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio. The regimental commander would be William Rosecrans, a man destined for both praise and scorn during the course of his military career. His staff officers were two graduates of Kenyon College: Lieutenant Colonel Stanley Matthews and Major Rutherford B. Hayes. Among the enlisted men was eighteen-year-old William McKinley.

Before leaving Camp Chase, the regiment nearly chose to go on strike. The soldiers went ballistic when they received old muskets probably left over from the Mexican War. Many of the boys refused to accept the ancient guns. While the dispute raged, the officers were alarmed to learn that General John C. Fremont was on his way to inspect the new recruits. A genuine concern developed that the soldiers of the 23rd would boycott the inspection. After much debate the boys agreed to appear in front of General Fremont but still argued they would not go into battle with the outdated weapons.

These members of the 23rd Ohio's color guard stand proudly with their national colors, which have obviously seen a great deal of fighting.  (Ohio Historical Society)

These members of the 23rd Ohio’s color guard stand proudly with their national colors, which have obviously seen a great deal of fighting. (Ohio Historical Society)

While officers tried to coerce the soldiers, Major Hayes went from tent to tent and talked things over with his men. He made no threats, but quietly reminded everybody they had an obligation to defend their country regardless of the poor weapons issued. He assured them better muskets would eventually be issued. The soldiers were impressed with Hayes’s words and agreed to accept the guns. Private McKinley would remark that his fellow soldiers were won over by Major Hayes and readily accepted him as their leader.

Lieutenant Colonel Matthews would not enjoy the respect of his troops. A political appointee, Matthews did not have the ability to instill confidence in his regiment. He was a lawyer by trade, serving as United States Attorney for the District of Ohio. His courtroom skills did not translate well to the Union army. Within a year he would resign from the 23rd.

With Matthews gone, Major Hayes received a promotion to Lieutenant Colonel. By April of 1862 he was appointed commander of the regiment. He proved to be an aggressive leader, always eager to give battle. Sometimes the battles were with superior officers. He tangled with Major General Jesse Reno, who was enraged when the men of the 23rd were caught pilfering straw for their horses and camp site. Hayes defended his soldiers, advising the general he would pay for the straw if need be. After a few tense moments Reno calmed down and headed off to rejoin his division. Hayes was already well thought of by his men. Now they would run through a brick wall for him.

In September 1862 the 23rd was heavily engaged in the battle of South Mountain during the Maryland Campaign that culminated with the bloody battle of Antietam. Hayes ordered his regiment to charge. Moments later he was shot in the left arm, but stayed on the field while the fight continued. Later he was moved to a field hospital and eventually recuperated at home in Ohio.

Rutherford B. Hayes served the Union with distinction throughout the Civil War.  Like many postwar Republicans, his military record made him an appealing candidate for high office.  (NEED SOURCE)

Rutherford B. Hayes served the Union with distinction throughout the Civil War. Like many postwar Republicans, his military record made him an appealing candidate for high office. (Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center)

Hayes missed the battle of Antietam, but Commissary Sergeant William McKinley would prove himself a hero there. The 23rd was on the field all day, taking part in one of the most horrific battles of the Civil War. They had entered the fight without eating breakfast and by late afternoon were exhausted and desperate for food. McKinley seized the moment by loading a wagon with rations and coffee. He took one volunteer with him and rode into the fight. He was stopped by several Union officers who warned him to turn back. The sergeant ignored the advice and spurred the horses forward. A rebel cannon shot damaged the back of the wagon but McKinley did not stop until he reached the 23rd. Word of his bravery reached Hayes, who recommended the nineteen-year-old for promotion to second lieutenant. Several weeks later McKinley was an officer.

Hayes, now a colonel, returned to command in November of 1862. His place had been taken by Major James Comly, a competent officer and a good friend. Along with leading the 23rd, Hayes was given command of the First Brigade of the Second Kanawha Division consisting of the 23rd, the 89th Ohio, and two cavalry companies. They saw little action until July of 1863 when the brigade gave chase to Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and his raiders. The rebels had entered southern Ohio via Kentucky, intent on causing as much mayhem as possible. The first Brigade caught up with Morgan on July 19th and followed him to Buffington Island, where the raiders surrendered.

William McKinley entered Union service as a private.  By war's end, he was a Major with an impressive service record.  (NEED SOURCE)

William McKinley entered Union service as a private. By war’s end, he was a Major with an impressive service record. (William McKinley Presidential Library)

For the balance of the year the First Brigade did not see any significant action. In July of 1864 they were involved in the battle of Winchester, Virginia. The Confederates pushed back Hayes’s brigade, forcing them to a defensive position behind a lengthy stone wall. While holding firm, Colonel Hayes realized the 13th regiment had been left behind. He ordered Lieutenant McKinley to ride through the Confederate position and return with the lost soldiers. McKinley galloped forward, dodging bullets and cannon shot. The Union officers had their spyglasses on the rider, amazed that he was still upright in the saddle. McKinley passed the Rebel lines and continued riding until he located the 13th. He brought them back to the Union lines unscathed, and ready to continue the fight. Another promotion for McKinely was in the works, this time to captain.

There would be more honors for Hayes and McKinley. In December Hayes would be promoted to Brigadier General and McKinley to brevet Major. Both men continued to fight to the utmost. While directing his brigade in one battle, Hayes’s horse was killed, causing the general to take a nasty spill. He fell unconscious causing some of his soldiers to think their commander was dead. He roused himself only to see his brigade retreating with Confederates closing in from all directions. General Hayes scrambled to his feet and somehow staggered his way back to safety. A spent rebel bullet struck him in the head, a perfect end to a day of intense fighting.

Once again Major McKinley would leave the safety of his lines, this time to identify cavalry that was too close to the Union position. He galloped forward directly into a company of Confederate riders. The chase was on but the amazing escapades of the daring young officer would not be ended here. To the astonishment of his fellow officers he outran the pursuing Confederates, arriving safely at the Union position. In four years of service McKinley had risen from a volunteer private to a major while still in his early twenties. He mustered out of the army, studied law, and soon became a prosecuting attorney. Similar to his military career, he took the field of politics by storm. In short order he was a Republican Congressman, Governor of Ohio, and in 1896 elected the 25th President of the United States. McKinley won a second term but was shot by a suspected anarchist and died on September 14, 1901.

Stanley Matthews did not endear himself to the soldiers of the 23rd Ohio, who much preferred the command of Rutherford B. Hayes.  Even so, President James A. Garfield nominated Matthews to the Supreme Court in 1881 on Hayes's recommendation.  (NEED SOURCE)

Stanley Matthews did not endear himself to the soldiers of the 23rd Ohio, who much preferred the command of Rutherford B. Hayes. Even so, President James A. Garfield nominated Matthews to the Supreme Court in 1881 on Hayes’s recommendation. (Library of Congress)

General Hayes entered politics immediately after the Civil War. He served as a Republican Congressman, Governor of Ohio for three non-consecutive terms, then won the presidency in the election of 1876. Hayes selected his old staff officer James Comly to be ambassador to Hawaii, where he functioned for six years. At the end of his term, Hayes nominated Stanley Matthews for a position on the United States Supreme Court. The nomination was tabled but re-submitted by President James A. Garfield in 1881. Matthews got his seat and served with distinction until his death in 1889.

James Comly served as a staff officer to Rutherford B. Hayes during the Civil War.  Later, President Hayes made Comly the U.S. ambassador to Hawaii.  (NEED SOURCE)

James Comly served as a staff officer to Rutherford B. Hayes during the Civil War. Later, President Hayes made Comly the U.S. ambassador to Hawaii. (www.picturehistory.com)

The men of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry performed admirably during their time in the Civil War. They were skillfully commanded by a fearless Rutherford B. Hayes. Major William McKinley displayed immense courage time and again on the battlefield. Stanley Matthews had some deficiencies in command, but proved to be a capable member of the Supreme Court. James Comly served his general well and was rewarded for his efforts by representing the United States in one of the elite assignments any non-politician could hope to get. The 23rd OVI left quite a legacy during the war, and continued doing so for many years to come.

-Scott Longert, Park Guide

James A. Garfield and a Black Washingtonian, Part I

On Friday evening, July 1, 1881, Charles Guiteau was skulking on Lafayette Square opposite the White House, trying to find his best opportunity to carry out his crazed ambition: the death of President James A. Garfield. That evening, according to his own statement, Guiteau felt he had a splendid chance to achieve his objective. The President had come out of the White House alone and was walking north along the east side of the Square passing in front of the former Washington Club (which became the home of Lincoln’s Secretary of State William Seward) and the Dolley Madison House, where Gen. George B. McClellan lived for several months in 1861-62. Turning east on H Street the President walked the short distance to the next corner of 15th and H Street to the residence of Secretary of State James G. Blaine, which he entered.

Map showing the route President James A. Garfield took to Secretary Blaine's house the evening of July 1, 1881.  Charles Guiteau followed the President as he pondered the assassination attempt he would make the following day.  (Author's image)

Map showing the route President James A. Garfield took to Secretary Blaine’s house the evening of July 1, 1881. Charles Guiteau followed the President and pondered the assassination attempt he would make the following day. (Author’s image)

Guiteau following nearby, and after checking the readiness of his gun, took up a vantage point directly across the street by sitting on the front stoop of Wormley’s Hotel. This building was the flagship of African American entrepreneur James Wormley’s renowned hospitality enterprises in Washington.

This ca. 1884 image shows Wormley' Hotel and the approximate seat Guiteau occupied the evening of July 1, 1881.  (Author's image)

This ca. 1884 image shows Wormley’ Hotel and the approximate seat Guiteau occupied the evening of July 1, 1881. (Author’s image)

According to reportage in the New York Herald, Guiteau waited at this location for one half-hour for the President to emerge. Unfortunately for the assassin, the President came out of the house with Secretary Blaine, directly opposite where Guiteau was waiting in ambush. The two men walked arm-in-arm along the same path in the opposite direction taken by the President earlier that evening, returning to the White House. With Secretary Blaine on the left side of the President between the assassin and his target, it seemed that even after days of trailing the President, this would no longer be the optimum time for the attempt. Unfortunately the assassin did not have long to wait and completed his attack on the President the next day, Saturday July 2, at the Baltimore and Ohio railroad depot.

Interestingly, as we begin to report here, this was not the first occasion when the lives of this leader of the United States and his African American business acquaintance became intertwined. James Wormley’s reputation as a nurse, caterer and hotelier had already been widespread, both nationally and internationally, in the decade prior to the Civil War. Beginning with Buchanan’s administration James Wormley, the son of a free Black couple who had arrived in Washington in 1814, had operated a row of boarding houses and his restaurant from his properties on I Street NW between 15th and 16th Streets.  This location was just one block to the north of Lafayette Square just beyond St. John’s church (sometimes referred to as the President’s Church). At that time James’s businesses as a restaurateur and hotelier were in addition to his duties as the steward for the Washington Club on Lafayette Square during the 1850s. The patrons of this Club had included men like Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Charles Sumner, William Corcoran and some of the most powerful men from both the North and South.

Before he was president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis spent years in Washington, D.C. as a Senator and presidential cabinet member.  During those years, he was a frequent guest to Wormley's.  (

Before he was president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis spent years in Washington, D.C. as a Senator and presidential cabinet member. During those years, he was a frequent guest to Wormley’s. (History.com)

 

All the while, from its propitious location on I Street, Wormley’s had become one of the favorite places for the leading citizens of the capital city where they could find the finest accommodations and delicious food. Prior to the war General Winfield Scott had made those houses his Washington residence. In May 1860 Wormley was engaged to cater the first Japanese Commission to visit the United States on their trip to Washington aboard the Steamer Philadelphia from Old Point Comfort, Virginia. Once they left the capital he once again was engaged to have his staff attend to the culinary wishes of these foreign dignitaries as they proceeded to Philadelphia. As an illustration of the high regard for his accommodations, Senator Wigfall from Alabama had set up his household at Wormley’s in the winter of 1860 which was outlined in a book by his daughter. She described James’ boarding house as “… a synonym for delightful living and in even those days the acme of comfort”.

When General McClellan was living in the Dolley Madison House on Lafayette Square during his tenure as head of the Union Army he was a regular and frequent patron of James’s dining rooms. In a letter to his wife on August 23, 1861 the general told his wife: “We (the general and his staff) take our meals at Wormley’s, a colored gentleman who keeps a restaurant just around the corner on I St.” On November 20 of that year, in an article in the Evening Star, Col. John H. Forney gave a dinner there for about 50 gentlemen including the Secretary of War, several army generals, and John Hay and John Nicholay, the private secretaries to President Lincoln.

Like many of the nation’s prominent figures, while Garfield served in the House of Representatives he would also have likely partaken of Wormley’s hospitality. Members of the Cabinet, Justices of the Supreme Court, foreign delegations, artists, financiers and Congressmen would tend to come to this famous establishment to live, to eat some of the finest food available, to conduct private political meetings and to be seen at the “in” place in Washington. In September 1868 Wormley and his staff catered the wedding of Robert Todd Lincoln (Garfield’s future Secretary of War) and then, the next day, the wedding train to New York. Robert’s mother Mary and his brother Tad were also in attendance.

Robert Todd Lincoln was the only one of Abraham and Mary Lincoln's sons to survive to adulthood.  He was Secretary of War under President James A. Garfield and was in the building when Charles Guiteau shot the president on July 2, 1881.  Thriteen years before, James Wormley catered Robert Lincoln's wedding.  (Library of Congress)

Robert Todd Lincoln was the only one of Abraham and Mary Lincoln’s four sons to survive to adulthood. He was Secretary of War under President James A. Garfield and was in the building when Charles Guiteau shot the president on July 2, 1881. Thriteen years before, James Wormley catered Robert Lincoln’s wedding. (Library of Congress)

 

In 1869, after six years of living in Washington as a Congressional representative from Ohio, Garfield and his wife built a house just two blocks east of Wormley’s on I Street at the corner of 13th Street.  His Congressional colleagues from Ohio, Americus V. Rice and Frank H. Hurd, would spend some of their years in the city taking up residence at the hotel, additionally leading to the conjecture about the visits to Wormley’s from Garfield. His good friend, former Ohio governor Salmon P. Chase, who was also a customer and friend of Wormley, was named Treasury Secretary by Lincoln. In fact, James Wormley was frequently called upon to cater meals for several Cabinet members such as Gideon Welles, William H. Seward and Edward Bates. James Wormley was so fond of anti-slavery activist Chase that in 1872 he purchased the portrait of then Chief Justice Chase, which had been commissioned by Jay Cooke.

(Check back soon for Part II.)

-Donet D. Graves, Esq., Volunteer Contributor

Captain Henry of Geauga, Part I

Of all the soldiers that filled the ranks of the 42nd Ohio Volunteers, perhaps none had a more adventurous life than that of Captain Charles E. Henry. This is no easy assertion to make considering the regimental commander was future President James A. Garfield. Besides our twentieth President, there would be Colonel Lionel Sheldon, a congressman and territorial Governor, and Colonel Don Pardee, a United States Circuit Court judge. These are men of great distinction, but their lives were somewhat sedate when compared to that of Captain Henry.

Charles Henry was born in Bainbridge, Ohio, November 29, 1835. He was the seventh of nine children born to John and Polly Henry. He weighed in at a shade under five pounds, so tiny that his family had great doubts of his survival. Despite a harsh northeast Ohio winter, little Charlie persevered. As a young boy he would note that travelers stopping by for a visit would often give him a few pennies to save. Charles took the coins and buried them near the Henry home. Months later he would forget where the treasure was buried.

Charles E. Henry as he looked in 1900.  (From the book "Captain Henry of Geauga," by Frederick A. Henry)

Charles E. Henry as he looked in 1900. (From the book “Captain Henry of Geauga,” by Frederick A. Henry)

Henry quit school at age sixteen to take on full time work. The jobs included labor in the fields, making hoops for barrels and driving teams on road construction. In just several years he had saved five hundred dollars. With the accumulated wealth, Charles decided to enroll at Hiram College. He was quite proud of the fact that he could easily pay for tuition, room and board and books. In the fall of 1857 he started classes.

An early view of the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (now Hiram College) around the time Charles Henry was a student and James A. Garfield was the school's principal.  (Hiram College Archives)

An early view of the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (now Hiram College) around the time Charles Henry was a student and James A. Garfield was the school’s principal. (Hiram College Archives)

Within a short time Charles became friends with James A. Garfield, currently the college principal. Despite an age difference of four years the two men became well acquainted. A year later Garfield helped his new friend find a place for room and board. For that year’s term, Charles stayed at the home of Zeb Rudolph. Charles had a fine time there, making another friend in Joe Rudolph. The two would remain pals for the remainder of their lives.

In 1859 Charles began to teach school. His first assignment was in Auburn where the school directors told him he was hired due his large size (six feet tall) and his likely ability to whip the older boys when necessary. Henry was paid twenty dollars a month for the term. The directors were probably right in hiring Charles. There were no fights during the entire school term.

The year of 1860 was a significant one for Mr. Henry. Back at Hiram, he scheduled the most challenging classes he could find, including algebra, chemistry and German. He joined the Delphic Literary Society, sometimes donating his own books to the society library. Charles recalled a particular meeting where he made eye contact with one of the members of the Olive Branch, the only female society on campus. Her name was Sophia Williams; quiet a beauty in her day. Charles left the gathering early but was stopped in the street by one of his friends. Apparently Ms. Williams was miffed that Charles left and asked his friend to bring him back. The two sat together and talked, the beginning of a courtship that would later result in marriage.

By the spring of 1861, Henry was near graduation. He spent a lot of time doing military drills on the common. The attack on Fort Sumter had already taken place, prompting many of the Hiram boys to ready themselves for war. Some would drop out of school and enlist. Charles stayed the course and graduated on June 6, 1861. His commencement oration received high praise from Principal Garfield who lifted Charles off the ground and swung him around in admiration. They were now the best of friends.

For the next two months Charles Henry mulled over his future. He had an offer to teach the winter term at the Solon school district. Dr. David Shipherd, an old family friend wanted Charles to study medicine and take over his long established practice. While debating the offers, two visitors came to see the recent graduate. They were Lieutenant Colonel Garfield and Frederick Williams, a classmate of Charles. They were on their way to Hiram to recruit soldiers for the newly formed 42nd Ohio volunteer Infantry. They would not leave until Charles accompanied them. The meeting took place that evening and the first recruit to sign up was Private Henry. Company “A” soon held elections for officers. The vote for Lieutenant was hotly contested with Charles losing by a single vote. The next day he was appointed first sergeant.

James A. Garfield was principal of the "Eclectic" when he got to know Charles Henry.  Garfield was commander of the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry when Henry enlisted.  (Library of Congress)

James A. Garfield was principal of the “Eclectic” when he got to know Charles Henry. Garfield was commander of the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry when Henry enlisted. (Library of Congress)

The 42nd OVI saw action in Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. They took part in General Grant’s Vicksburg campaign which ended with the siege of Vicksburg. Company “A” was at the thick of it in most of the battles. A significant number of Hiram boys were killed or wounded during their three years of service. On May 22, 1863 the 42nd received orders to storm the Rebel forts protecting Vicksburg. Lieutenant Henry (a recent promotion) led the advance of Company A through a narrow valley and up the steep hills. The Rebels blasted away at the Union soldiers. Lieutenant Henry took a bullet in his left foot which shattered a small bone. He managed to slide down the slope and painfully limped to the field hospital. He received treatment and a twenty day leave to recuperate.

The twenty days leave turned into several months before Lieutenant Henry was able to report for duty. Upon his return he received orders to report to Baton Rouge, Louisiana where he would be appointed Assistant Provost Marshall. His new boss would be Colonel Don Pardee, temporarily detached from the 42nd OVI. Though not well acquainted, the two men became fast friends. The Provost Marshall’s office had a wide variety of duties to perform including keeping the peace among the residents, trying military cases and making sure the occupying army did not get too out of control. Charles made a thorough study of the law, soon acting as representation for soldiers on trial. He was not a practicing attorney but learned how to prepare an adequate defense.

Henry became adept at identifying ladies of the community who were actively involved in smuggling. After signing an oath of loyalty to the Union these women went to the area druggists and bought illegal medical supplies for sick Confederates hiding out in the country. The ladies sewed small bags inside their dresses and would load up for a visit outside town. Charles developed a knack for eyeing the ladies and recognizing strange bulges in their clothes. Most of the women he stopped were carrying contraband and wound up paying heavy fines.

Company A of the 42nd Ohio, the regiment in which Charles Henry served.   (Hiram College Archives)

Company A of the 42nd Ohio, the regiment in which Charles Henry served. (Hiram College Archives)

As an advocate for people brought to court on charges, Charles began collecting some steady fees. He and a friend represented a druggist accused of smuggling. They got him a reduced sentence and received $600 in payment. At one point a Union general ordered Henry to legally marry any freed slaves who wanted a license. Before he was relieved of duty he performed nearly 2,500 weddings. He was a popular man in Baton Rouge during his one year of service. Upon his departure a local newspaper would write, “We regret we are compelled to announce the speedy departure of our friend, Lieutenant Charles Henry. The Judge is one of those genial souls whose loss the community at large will regret.”

Charles left for home where he was mustered out of the army and brevetted to the rank of Captain. A month later he married the pretty girl from the Olive Branch Society, Sophia Williams. After a honeymoon at Niagara Falls, Charles returned to Baton Rouge where he acted as an independent advocate for soldiers and civilians. In just a few months he earned $3,000, enough to buy a one hundred acre farm in Bainbridge. Business was booming for him, enough to bring Sophia to Baton Rouge. She was not a fan of the sweltering temperature, but the Henrys stayed for a while to build up their savings.

The 42nd Ohio, including Charles Henry, saw heavy action in the fighting around Vicksburg, Mississippi. (Library of Congress)

The 42nd Ohio, including Charles Henry, saw heavy action in the fighting around Vicksburg, Mississippi. (Library of Congress)

Eventually they returned to Bainbridge where Charles put away the law books and took up farming. He threw himself into the work but the results were not promising. For some reason he never took to farming. He did not make money no matter how hard he tried to succeed. In 1867, he supplemented his income by becoming the local postmaster. This worked for two years until the job was eliminated. He then wrote a letter to old friend (now Congressman) James A. Garfield, asking for a postal clerk position with the railroad. In short order Charles got a job with the rail line from Cleveland to Youngstown to Sharon, Pennsylvania. He manned the rail car five days a week, sorting letters and newspapers and filling mailbags.

Several months later Charles proved his value to the railroad. A group of tough guys boarded his train, carrying roosters on their way to a cock fight. On the return trip the men were obviously drunk and harassing the passengers. Though not part of his duties Charles confronted the men, grabbed several and threw them off the train. This action would benefit him in later years.

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

-Scott Longert, Park Guide

Falling Stars: James A. Garfield and the Military Reputations of Generals Irvin McDowell, George McClellan, and Fitz John Porter

In September 1862, Brigadier General James A. Garfield received orders directing him to Washington, D.C. to confer with the War Department about his next assignment.   By the time the government summoned him to the nation’s capital, Garfield had ably led Union troops in the Sandy Valley Campaign and at the tail end of the bloody battle of Shiloh.  As of September 2, he was also a Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives.  (Voters of Ohio’s 19th Congressional District later overwhelmingly elected him to this office, but his Congress would not convene until December 1863, leaving him over a year left to serve in the Army.)  Garfield went to Washington expecting to quickly receive his next assignment and return to the field.  Instead, he languished there for months awaiting orders.  During that long and difficult period, he was directly involved in one of the most celebrated military trials in American history: the court martial of Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter.   

James A. Garfield

Brig. Gen. James A. Garfield in 1862, the year he first met Irvin McDowell and also served on the Fitz John Porter court martial. (Library of Congress)

Porter, a native of Portsmouth, New Hampshire and a West Point graduate, was a close friend and ally of the controversial commander of the Union Army of the Potomac, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan.  Like McClellan, Porter was a loyal Democrat that believed slavery was sanctioned by the U.S. Constitution.  Not until southern states seceded did Porter and McClellan agree that the North needed to take up arms.  To them and many others, preservation of the Union, not abolition of slavery, was the North’s reason to fight. 

After serving in McClellan’s unsuccessful 1862 Peninsula Campaign, Porter and his V Corps received orders to reinforce Maj. Gen. John Pope’s new Army of Virginia in the Northern Virginia Campaign.  On August 29, 1862, Porter led his corps into the battle of Second Manassas (or Second Bull Run).  During the battle Pope sent orders instructing Porter and his corps to attack the flank and rear of Confederate Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s wing of the southern Army of Northern Virginia.  Porter had also been ordered to maintain contact with another Union corps and knew he could not do so if making the attack Pope wanted.  Therefore, Porter elected not to attack.  General Pope ordered Porter to make the same attack on August 30, and when Porter did so, everything he feared the day before came to pass, including his corps being routed by a much larger Confederate force.  Furious, Pope accused Fitz John Porter of insubordination and relieved Porter of his command.  Though McClellan soon returned Porter to his command and he led it through the subsequent Maryland Campaign and the battle of Antietam, Porter was arrested on November 25, 1862 for his actions at Second Manassas.  By this time, President Abraham Lincoln had fired McClellan once and for all, so Porter’s closest ally was no longer in a position to help him. 

Fitz John Porter

Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter was a McClellan loyalist, which is almost surely why he was court martialed after the battle of Second Manassas. (Library of Congress)

Meanwhile, Gen. Garfield’s exile in Washington continued.  He spent time with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton who, like Garfield, despised West Point-educated officers and considered them the bane of the army.  His truest friend during this period, however, was Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, a fellow Ohioan who saw much of his younger self in Garfield.  As Garfield biographer Allan Peskin states: “Chase and Garfield hit it off splendidly from the start.  They had much in common: both admired Chase, despised copperheads [northern anti-war Democrats], and looked down on Lincoln…Garfield told Chase horror stories about the pro-Southern, proslavery West Point officers he had known, and Chase regaled Garfield with fresh tales of Lincoln’s incompetence.”  General Garfield soon accepted Chase’s invitation to stay in the Secretary’s home during his time in Washington, which means James A. Garfield was then living under the roof of one of the Lincoln administration’s most radically anti-Democrat,  anti-McClellan members.  Secretary of War Stanton, another Ohioan and close friend of Garfield’s during this period, was also disgusted with McClellan’s leadership and politics.  All were pleased that Lincoln had finally sacked “Little Mac,” but they still feared the influence of McClellanite generals in the Army—including Fitz John Porter. 

A second officer under scrutiny for his actions at Second Manassas was another Ohioan: Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell.  His command had been one of three merged to create Gen. John Pope’s Army of Virginia that was soundly defeated at Second Manassas.  McDowell came under criticism for his actions in that battle and requested a court of inquiry to clear his name.  While he was being investigated, McDowell, a Republican and virulent anti-McClellanite, was also called as a prosecution witness in the Porter court martial.  McDowell and McClellan despised one another, and since nearly everyone assumed the Porter trial was really aimed at McClellan, there was little doubt that McDowell would give damning testimony against Porter, both to harm McClellan’s reputation but also save his own.  As he prepared for his own court of inquiry, McDowell requested a meeting with Gen. Garfield to informally state his case. 

James A. Garfield left no doubt about his own anti-McClellan and anti-Porter feelings.  Even before being assigned to the Porter trial, Garfield had maligned McClellan in letters to family and friends.  He wrote his friend Harry Rhodes on September 22, 1862: “I am more disgusted at McClellan’s late operation of lying still a day and two nights after the great battle (Antietam), and letting the rebels cross the river and get safely away before he began the pursuit or renewed the attack.  It confirms my opinion of his utter want of audacity and vigor.  There is great bitterness here in regard to him.”  Surely McDowell knew that Garfield was a vocal Republican and a U.S. Representative-elect.  McDowell almost certainly sought the similarly-minded Garfield’s favor in an effort to gain an ally and save his own reputation and career. 

Irvin McDowell

Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell faced his own court of inquiry after Second Manassas. He sought an audience with Brig. Gen. James A. Garfield to explain his actions, and the two became lifelong friends. (National Archives)

Garfield wrote his wife, Lucretia, on October 3, 1862 and told her about his plans for the next day: “I shall spend the day with General McDowell, who will show me the history of the Virginia campaign.  I believe he has been greatly wronged.  The President and Cabinet know he is a true man but dare not come out before the people and vindicate him.”  According to this passage, Garfield had already made up his mind of McDowell’s innocence before even meeting with him.  Is it too great a leap to wonder if Garfield had also already determined Fitz John Porter’s guilt, if for no other reason than Porter’s loyalty to McClellan? 

Garfield wrote his wife again on October 7 to report on his meeting with McDowell.  He described McDowell as “a competent and reliable source” and stated: “I have never believed the absurd stories about McDowell’s being disloyal, or anything of that sort, but I was not prepared to find a man of such perfect, open, frank, manly sincerity.  I believe he is the victim of jealousy, envy, and most marvellous [sic] bad luck–luck that came exceedingly near being splendid success, but failing of that turned the other way.”

No doubt remains that by this time, before either the McDowell court of inquiry or the Porter court martial convened, James A. Garfield was squarely for Irvin McDowell.  He must, therefore, have been just as squarely against Fitz John Porter.  As if to remove any possible doubt, Garfield drafted a lengthy manuscript detailing the activities of McDowell, McClellan, and others during the Virginia campaign that resulted in the Union defeat at Second Manassas.  The document, published as an Appendix to The Wild Life of the Army: Civil War Letters of James A. Garfield, edited by Frederick D. Williams, is almost comically pro-McDowell and anti-McClellan.   

In it, Garfield writes that McClellan’s “loyalty has not been above suspicion…General McClellan made overtures to (Jefferson) Davis for a command before he was appointed to a position in the Union army…I consider him one of the weakest and most timid generals that ever led an army…I have no hope for the success of our arms in the East till McClellan is removed entirely from active command.”  Irvin McDowell, however, “is frank, open, manly, severe and sincere.  He is truly patriotic, but is not a politician…That he is a true brave man I have no doubt.  I like General Irvin McDowell.”  (Emphasis in original.)   After finishing this manuscript, Garfield sent it to his wife with the instructions, “I would like to have you…read this…But it must not get into any hands that will make it public.” 

Soon after writing this manuscript, Garfield was briefly assigned to the Court of Inquiry hearing General McDowell’s case.  Had anyone known of his obvious bias toward McDowell, Garfield might never have received this assignment.  However, he did not long remain on this case and was instead soon transferred to the much higher-profile court martial of Fitz John Porter.   As Garfield was just as anti-McClellan (and therefore anti-Porter) as he was pro-McDowell, his placement on this court might have been questioned if his developing friendship with McDowell had been public knowledge.  Of course, both Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, two of Garfield’s closest friends in Washington, wanted to see Porter convicted as a slap at McClellan.  Both also surely knew of Garfield’s animosity toward McClellan, so it is entirely possible that one or both of them pulled strings to place Garfield on the court martial to increase the likelihood of conviction.  General Porter, unaware of all of these machinations, was asked if he objected to any members of the court martial before the proceedings began.  He answered that he did not.  One wonders how strongly he might have objected to Garfield had he known all the details. 

George B. McClellan

Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan was a vocal Democrat who opposed secssion but also spoke his mind about what he saw as the shortcomings and mistakes of the Republican Lincoln administration. Fitz John Porter’s loyaly to McClellan cost him dearly. (National Archives)

According to historian Allan Peskin, Garfield “had no great personal animus against Porter…Everyone knew that the trial was aimed at McClellan…The unhappy Porter was to be the sacrificial goat for the sins of his chief (McClellan).”  Peskin further explains that many Republican military officers believed that officers who were Democrats were purposely dragging out the war in order to wear the country out and lead both sides to sue for peace, for which many Democrats had been advocating all along.  A rumor had also surfaced that during a critical moment of the battle of Second Manassas, Fitz John Porter had advised McClellan to withhold reinforcements since “we have (General John) Pope where we can ruin him.”  Porter’s rather arrogant attitude did not help him: he called Secretary Stanton an “ass,” referred to abolitionists as “our enemies in the rear,” and labeled Gen. Pope as a fool.  The court martial was also comprised entirely of general officers of volunteers like Garfield.  No West Pointers were permitted on the jury for fear they might have sympathy for their fellow alum Porter.  As Peskin writes, “It was not a friendly court, and Garfield could well have been considered a hanging judge.” 

The Porter court martial convened in December 1862.  James A. Garfield wrote to his friend Harry Rhodes on December 14, telling him that Irvin McDowell had just testified before the court martial for two days with “direct and crushing” testimony.  Garfield also told Rhodes: “On the whole I have a higher opinion of McDowell’s talents than of any other man’s in the army, and if he is again assigned a command I would prefer to go under him rather than any other.  His history will yet be vindicated.”  The case was complicated, as Peskin states: “The testimony was so tangled, the charges and countercharges so complex that years of patient investigation have not yet unraveled all of its intricacies.  To the members of the court, however, there was no doubt whatsoever of Porter’s guilt.  The only question in their minds was the proper sentence.” 

Despite some initial extreme suggestions that Porter be executed, James A. Garfield and the court eventually decreed that Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter be immediately dismissed from the United States Army and forever barred from holding any federal office.  Porter fought for his own vindication for the rest of his life, and two decades later his conviction was overturned.  Of course, the damage to his personal and military reputation was long since done.  Porter never forgave Garfield for his part in the sham court martial and was convinced that Garfield’s role in Porter’s disgrace was purely political.  For his part, James A. Garfield remained convinced that the court had done the right thing in its judgment against Porter, saying at one point years later, “No public act with which I have ever been connected was ever more clear to me than the righteousness of the finding of that court.”  Another member of the court, Gen. Benjamin Prentiss, agreed with Garfield’s assessment, stating “I am constrained to believe that under the circumstances our verdict was extremely light.” 

Major General Irvin McDowell was (predictably) exonerated by his Court of Inquiry.  Though he hoped to return to battlefield command against the Confederacy, he was instead basically exiled in the West, eventually becoming commander of the Department of the Pacific.  He remained lifelong friends with James A. Garfield and even visited Garfield at his Mentor, Ohio home on November 21, 1880, almost three weeks after Garfield was elected President of the United States.  Ten years prior to that visit, on August 3, 1870, James and Lucretia Garfield had welcomed their fifth child into the world.  The infant boy was named Irvin McDowell Garfield.   

Irvin M. Garfield family

The Irvin McDowell Garfield family. The Garfields’ fifth child (second from right, as an adult) was named for his father’s close friend, Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell. (Garfield family/NPS)

James A. Garfield, of course, later served the Union army with distinction as Chief of Staff to the Army of the Cumberland and then as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 17 years prior to his election to the presidency. 

George B. McClellan, fired for the second and final time by President Abraham Lincoln after the battle of Antietam, tried to avenge his reputation by running against Lincoln as the Democratic party’s presidential nominee in 1864.  He lost to Lincoln by nearly half a million popular votes and 191 electoral votes.  He served as Governor of New Jersey from 1878-1881.  Today, McClellan is recognized by historians as a master organizer of Union troops during the Civil War but is criticized (as he was at the time by Lincoln and others) for an apparent lack of zeal for actual fighting. 

The question of whether or not Garfield should have been permitted to serve as a juror on the Porter court martial remains.  Clearly he was biased against Fitz John Porter by his earlier statements against McClellan and then by his burgeoning friendship with Irvin McDowell.  Realistically, Garfield should probably have been forthright about his personal friendship with McDowell and, knowing that McDowell would be called to testify against Porter, recused himself from the Porter court martial.  Of course, it is also quite possible that Garfield’s friends in high places—namely, Secretaries Stanton and Chase—had him placed on the court specifically because of his biases against McClellan and Porter.  If that is true, Garfield may have knowingly allowed himself to be used for Stanton’s and Chase’s political purposes. 

Why did he fail to recuse himself?  One can only speculate, but Porter’s assertion that Garfield’s motivation was political is likely at least partially correct.  Garfield was a Brigadier General in the Union army, but, as his election to the House of Representatives should have made clear to everyone, he was also a partisan Republican that sought to discredit Democrats like McClellan and Porter.  He opposed them politically, of course, but also sincerely felt their ideas and policies were bad for the country.  He also genuinely liked and respected Irvin McDowell and probably viewed his own presence on the Porter court martial as a way to provide some cover and protection for his friend.  While we might accuse Garfield of a lack of impartiality here, we can also perhaps at least admire his loyalty to his friend.

James A. Garfield had his own reasons for failing to disclose his inability to be impartial in the case against Fitz John Porter.  Over 150 years later, we can look at the evidence and say that, even if we might agree with his reasoning, in this particular instance, Garfield was wrong.  The fact that he sometimes made mistakes and questionable decisions, though, makes him more human and therefore more accessible to us.  His humanity is what makes him a fascinating figure to study.  In this great but imperfect man, we can all see at least a little bit of ourselves.

 -Todd Arrington, Chief of Interpretation and Education