footnoted fiction

by Richard H. Allison

Copyright © 2011 Richard H. Allison

February 14, 1863 – 10 Downing Street, London, England

“Bloody damn!” the prime minister roared as he tossed the newspaper in disgust onto his burled walnut desktop. Lord Palmerston abruptly stood and walked to the hearth.  Shaking in anger, he offered his seventy-eight year-old gnarled hands in the form of clenched fists to the warmth of a coal fire.  The letter that he just read in the newspaper perturbed him greatly.

“Yes, sir,” agreed his executive secretary, “the rail splitter may have won this round but I submit the match is not over.”

Palmerston’s lip curled.  “I’ll wager this was Adams doing and not Lincoln’s,” the prime minister responded. “Involving a Quaker minister is too subtle a stroke for Abe the ape.”

The two men roared in mean-spirited laugher and then abruptly stopped; the room lapsed into a somber silence as they contemplated their political reversal.  Ridicule Lincoln as they may, the American president’s letter in the British press had struck an immediate chord with the British people, and perhaps more importantly, Buckingham Palace. “All our careful preparation for naught,” the prime minister bemoaned, a pained expression overcoming his aristocratic face. “Months of speeches, building delicate alliances in Parliament, the entreaties of Gladstone[1] and Russell, editorials in The Times and even a scheduled British Cabinet meeting now called off!   What was it that man Cowell wrote about the Yankee nature?”

“I have it right here, Mr. Prime Minister,” the executive secretary responded, opening a drawer and retrieving a document. The secretary adjusted his spectacles. “The narrow, fanatical, and originally sincere Puritanism of their ancestors,” the secretary dutifully read, “has, in the course of six generations, degenerated into that amalgam of hypocrisy, cruelty, falsehood, unconsciousness of the faintest sentiment of self-respect, coarseness of self-assertion, insensibility to the opinions of others, utter callousness to right, the barbarous delight in wrong, and thoroughly moral ruffianism, which is now fully revealed to the world.”[2]

Upon hearing these words Lord Palmerston positively beamed, as if some wonderful and intoxicating elixir had revived him. “The banker Cowell lived with them,” he observed. “He is in a position to know.  He knows who the true aggressor is.”  Just then a strong gust of winter wind struck a nearby window and rattled several panes. The winter of 1863 had been dreadfully ferocious, worse than any in English memory. Palmerston placed his hands closer to the fire.

“I believe the Confederacy will win without our formal recognition,” observed the executive secretary. “They have yet to lose a battle, sir.  Our analysis is that the Battle of Antietam last September was a draw, and the Confederates humiliated the Yankee army in December at Fredericksburg.  It is simply a matter of time until Lee tries again and this time takes Baltimore, envelopes Washington DC and ends the war.”

“Oh, but I do sense a need to help the South,” responded the prime minister. “As I have stated often during my 56 years of public service, Great Britain has no permanent allies, only permanent interests.  What interest could be greater than assisting true Englishmen, like Davis, Lee and Jackson struggling to preserve their English way of life?  If separate American nations result from this Civil War, would this not be all the better for Great Britain?  The cancer we caught at Lexington and Concord has greatly grown and we should deal with it.  Americans now fight Napoleonic sized battles, and I would have their nation permanently split in two.”[3]

The executive secretary watched as his lordship stroked his meticulously curled and dyed muttonchops.  “Mark my words,” Palmerston continued, “this Civil War is not about the emancipation of the Negro, as the great usurper now proclaims almost two years into the fighting.  There is no greater abolitionist than I, and I believe that the South itself will abolish slavery.  I hope you are correct about the South winning.   I fear, however, the Confederacy may not have sufficient manpower to ultimately prevail. The South is now attacked by a crazed hoard, believe me, I know.”  To emphasize the intensity of his feeling, the prime minister slammed a fist into a cupped hand and made his eyes into hateful slits. “Irish pestilence,” he proclaimed, “is now a curse beyond our Isles.”[4]

“Hear, hear, sir,” the executive secretary responded, “You speak the truth! They are invading south there the same as they would here if only they had the means.”

Fidgeting, Palmerston abruptly left the warmth of the fire and stood before a grand gilded mirror.  Long derided as a dandy by the world press (undoubtedly as a form of political payback over his long standing opposition to extending suffrage to the working class[5]) his aged lordship still presented an imposing physical and sartorial figure.  Why not many years before a vigorous Palmerston had been named as an adulterer in a divorce lawsuit!  Palmerston admired his Roman nose, flicked a piece of lint from his suit coat and adjusted his cravat.  Staring at the newspaper on his desk, he hissed: “Sublime Christian heroism, how dare that acromegalic by-pass me, the prime minister of the greatest nation on earth and the most far reaching empire the world has ever known!”

The executive secretary did not respond, as there was nothing he could think to say.  The political reality was that his lordship’s Whig government now teetered on the brink of removal; Lincoln’s open letter to the British people and the middle class uprising it helped stir had been devastating to the Palmerston government. “I say again, sir, the executive secretary finally said, “the game is still in play.  Think of the naval situation, your Lordship,” he added.  “That’s always been your genius.”

The prime minister acknowledged the compliment with a wry smile.  It was true, what his executive secretary said!  It had been he, Henry John Temple Palmerston, in his then capacity as British Foreign Secretary who forced (at naval gunpoint) the distraught Chinese to accept opium as trade for silks and tea. The British East India Company prospered and so had Great Britain.[6] Time and time again it had been Lord Palmerston who called upon squadrons of the Royal Navy to act as British ambassadors to the world-at-large. The British press even coined a name for his Lordship’s favorite form of international communication: “gunboat diplomacy”.

“I have not used the Royal Navy here,” Lord Palmerton responded, chuckling.

“But you built a Confederate one, sir,” his executive secretary retorted.

Palmerston smiled wide and placed his right forefinger to his lips making the sign for silence.  “Shhhhh… he whispered jokingly. “I did nothing of the sort!” Both men exploded in simultaneous laughter. “How is the Alabama doing by the way?” his lordship asked. “What is the latest news?”  The CSS Alabama, a 220-foot steam and sail commerce raider capable of 15 knots and armed with 8 guns, including a large Blakely 110-pounder rifled gun on a pivot forward,[7] had been built the previous year at a shipyard in Birkenhead, and delivered to the Confederate government through a series of subterfuges involving phony names and phantom ownership.  The American Minister to England, Charles Francis Adams, the son and grandson of American presidents, learned of the Confederate plan for the warship early on, and had used every diplomatic and legal avenue available to stop its construction, all to no avail.  As with an earlier, smaller British built Confederate warship that the British government permitted to slip out, Adams petitioned the Foreign Office for inspections. This time he also presented a sworn affidavit by a British subject who had enlisted into the Confederate Navy in England to fight the very warship being built.[8]  The British Foreign Office, with its solicitors and advisers feigned activities suggesting imminent seizure, but in the end the Alabama escaped onto the high seas; British neutrality laws were made mockery.[9]  Approximately one-half of the Alabama’s fighting crew of 85 men sailed the warship from England, a clear violation of the British Foreign Enlistments Act, which forbade the recruiting of British subjects for foreign wars.  Whitehall had winked and turned its head the other direction.

“The Alabama is doing fabulously, sir, as are the other Confederate raiders,” the executive secretary responded.  “The U.S. Navy lacks the resources to stop them due to its blockade commitment. We estimate over 30 American merchant vessels captured and prized to date[10] and pickings are now becoming slim. Our latest report indicates that practically the entire American merchant marine now sits helplessly in port!  Why, sir, our profits are incredible! American owners simply can’t afford insurance. British bottoms now carry almost everything on the high seas.”

“Fair payback for 1812,” his Lordship observed, smiling broadly.

“Sir?” the executive secretary relied, sensing, but not knowing precisely the point his mentor had made.

Palmerston smiled wider, as any teacher might in the presence of an eager-to-learn student. “You were not born,” he said. “I was Minister at War from 1812 to 1815,” he explained, “and during that time Yankee privateers sank approximately 2,500 English ships, practically our entire merchant fleet.”[11]

The executive secretary smiled back. “Fair payback, indeed sir! And  also for our current cotton crisis.”

At the mention of “cotton crisis” the Prime Minister’s smile turned to a grimace and he shot his assistant a sharp glance.  It had been the late 1862 cotton crisis in the English Midlands, after all, that had given Lincoln his opportunity to turn the political tables.  At the onset of the war in 1861 several Confederate states instituted an embargo on the cotton trade to Europe in the hope that their act would quickly bring the Royal Navy across the Atlantic for escort convoy duty.  These Southern states miscalculated, however, in that Great Britain that year, 1861, did not need cotton; indeed a surplus had been stored from bumper crops imported from the South during 1859 and 1860.  As cotton was not needed in 1861, the Royal Navy never appeared off Confederate shores as the Southerners hoped, resulting in hundreds of thousands of unsold cotton bales rotting on Southern wharves.[12]  By mid-to-late1862 the situation had changed completely. The European cotton surplus was exhausted and Lincoln’s appropriately code-named, “Anaconda Plan” (the strangulation of the South by Union costal blockade) was nearing its full force and effect. Over 400 U.S. warships, most newly built, were on station from the southern tip of Texas all the way northwards to the coast of Virginia.  In 1863, it was clear to all that a naval intervention by Britain would result in immediate and serious military consequences.

The office at 10 Downing Street again lapsed into silence as Lord Palmerston brooded before the mirror, this time with his hands clasped firmly behind his back.  Finally his lordship turned and asked, “Where do you think we went wrong?”

The executive secretary momentarily taken off guard, blurted: “Sir, you’re asking…me?”

“I am, and I want your honest opinion.  What we say to each other never leaves this room and I value your perceptivity.  Now speak, man and tell it to me straight.”  Lord Palmerston had never asked his executive secretary an open-ended question of this magnitude before.

The executive secretary reflected a moment before responding. “Sir, I’ve maintained a file of newspaper clippings, mostly editorials. May I read portions of one particular clipping to you?”

“By all means.”

His lordship returned to his rigid stance as his executive secretary searched for and retrieved a file from a gigantic drawer in an enormous desk.  Leafing through the articles and adjusting his glasses, he quickly found what he looked for. “It’s from the Times of London, sir, dated October 7, 1862.  It was written in response to Lincoln’s announcement that he intended to free the slaves in those states still in rebellion on January 1, 1863.”  The secretary read an excerpt from the editorial, which he had previously underlined in a red pencil:

This means, of course, that Mr. Lincoln will, on the 1st of next January do his best to excite a servile war in the States, which he cannot occupy with his arms.  He will run up the rivers in his gunboats; he will seek out the places which are left but slightly guarded, and where women and children have been trusted to the fidelity of coloured domestics.  He will appeal to the black blood of the African; he will whisper the pleasures of spoil and of the gratification of yet fiercer instincts; and when blood begins to flow and shrieks come piercing through the darkness, Mr. Lincoln will wait till the rising flames tell that all is consummated, and then he will rub his hands and think that revenge is sweet.[13]

The executive secretary stopped reading and remained silent, hoping the prime minister would articulate the only observation that could be truthfully made.  The secretary was not disappointed. “The predicted race war never happened, did it,” Lord Palmerston finally said, speaking in an uncharacteristic subdued tone.

“Sir, I am not a moralist, and like you I want only what is best for Great Britain.”

“Say what is on your mind.”

“One cannot help but observe, sir, that Lincoln in his so-called Emancipation Proclamation gave the South a fair choice.  He made public his Proclamation on September 22nd, but declared its effectiveness January 1st. The three-month period offered the rebel states an opportunity to stop the rebellion and keep their slaves.  And what did the South do?  It used the three months to intimidate their Negroes. Think of it, sir. Think of what might have happened if Lincoln chose not to insert the three-month time delay. What would have happened if Lincoln had simply proclaimed one day, as no less a person than Horace Greeley urged him to do,[14] that all slaves owned by rebels were immediately freed?  Such a surprise announcement would likely have ignited a tinderbox in the South and initiated the race war.”

“Lincoln handled it…appropriately, you think?”

“Yes, sir, in my opinion he did.  Events have proved The Times editorial completely wrong.  Lincoln never wanted revenge in the form of rape and mayhem. He intended for the bloodshed to be confined to the battlefield.  He intended the fight to be noble, over a matter of great principle, and I believe he still does. ”

The Times of London is not the government of Great Britain,” the prime minister reminded his executive secretary.

“No sir, it is not,” came the reply, “but it was the aftermath of that editorial coupled with the very open and public efforts of your Whig government, sir, to grant diplomatic recognition to the Confederacy that cut against every grain in the British spirit.  After all, it was our nation, our Royal Navy, that did more to stop the ocean going traffic in Africans than…”

Palmerston held up his hand signaling his secretary to cease. “You said you weren’t a moralist,” the Prime Minister observed.

“Sorry, sir, I’ll stop.”

Lord Palmerston turned away from the mirror and walked again to the fire, only this time rather than stand rigidly he sank into the comfort of a cushioned winged-back chair.  He drooped his head to his chin and pondered as the coals flickered and the wind howled outside, pounding the window panes. Suddenly, an unsettling realization overcame the Prime Minister and he abruptly raised his head and focused on a bookcase across the room.  There, on the middle shelf, where he had placed it for ease of retrieval was a book that he had read three times,[15] a book that he had complimented publicly for its statesmanship.

“How…could I forget,” Palmerston blurted in agony.

On the same wall apart from the bookshelf, a portrait of Queen Victoria was displayed. The sight of her now staring down at him caused Palmerston to shutter. The truth, he knew, was that the he and the Queen had never liked each other.[16]  Their animus went back decades, when Palmerston, while a guest at Windsor Castle and in a drunken state had tried to seduce one of the young Queen’s ladies in waiting, going so far as entering her bedroom uninvited. When the proper Victoria learned of this happening, it was only the intervention of Lord Melbourne that saved Palmerston from being removed from office.[17]

The coal fire continued to hiss and presently Lord Palmerston regained his superior demeanor. “Continue,” he said. “Tell me, with a little less passion if you will, about the cotton famine.”

If the executive secretary had been unnerved, he did not show it. “Sir, the facts are that our normal importation of 1.5 million bales of cotton a year went down to 11,500 bales last year.[18]  This is less than one percent due to the Federal blockade.  Mill owners, most particularly in and about the town of Manchester, had no choice but to shut down.  The massive unemployment coupled with the unpredictably severe winter has created a humanitarian crisis in the middle of our country.  Tens of thousands of barely clothed children now roam the streets in droves, reduced to begging.[19]  This is fact, sir, and last year as you know Parliament debated what to do.”

The executive secretary paused to gage the reaction of his lordship. A weary Lord Palmerston responded by resting his forehead on his fingertips. “Go on,” is all the prime minister said.

“One of the options discussed in Parliament was for us to get actively involved in their Civil War, to force an armistice so the cotton trade could resume.  This was the option you and Lord Russell put forth and you also went further and argued that if the North would not agree to such an armistice, then Great Britain should grant diplomatic recognition to the Confederacy.”

“I considered using our Royal Navy run the blockade,” responded the Prime Minister. “Yes, I would do that for Britain. Our iron steam rams would make toothpicks out of their fleet.  But I never said that publicly,” he added.

“Exactly, sir.  It was around this time that Lincoln, with the help of Adams who no doubt kept him fully advised as events unfolded in our country started working on his Proclamation.”

“And then to the churches,” Lord Palmerston said. “The Quakers.”

“Sir, we don’t know for sure if American agents had a hand in organizing the petition drive, but we do know that cartfuls of letters signed by British subjects started arriving at the American embassy in London as early as January 2nd.   They were all letters of support, sir, that is, spontaneous, passionate denunciations of slavery.  These letters not only came from congregations, but also town hall assemblies, labor associations and individuals, tens of thousands of them. Our textile workers told the American ambassador that they would rather starve than be fed at the hand of slaves.”

“And of course Adams gave the best written letters to our press for publication, correct?”

“Yes, sir, he did.  Except for the very best letter, the one hand delivered to him by that minister.  He sent that one, the Quaker letter, to Lincoln for a personal reply.”

Palmerston put his hands over his eyes to hide the tears that formed. “God!” he exclaimed, “How could Russell and I, with all of our experience, fail to foresee this! Our own people,” he bemoaned, his voice breaking, our own British people “…petitioning their support to the American government.”

“That’s the sum of it, sir.  But again, I still expect the South to win the war.  And I submit we have no blame for what the Alabama has done.”

“Come here,” the prime minister directed.  The executive secretary did as he was told, and as he approached Lord Palmerston, he witnessed the old man remove a piece of paper from the breast pocket of his coat.  “I was informed this morning by the leadership of the opposition that if I did not agree to promptly send this message,” Palmerston said, holding up the paper, “they had the votes to force an election and further that Her Majesty would request one.” Palmerston handed the document to his executive secretary who noted it was addressed to the Right Honorable Lord Lyons, the queen’s minister in Washington D.C. “Go ahead and read it,” the prime minister said.  “But to yourself, please,” he added, with a pained, almost embarrassed expression on his face.

It was a short message, only 17 words, but it conveyed all the reassurance that Abraham Lincoln sought:

February 14, 1863

“Her Majesty’s Government have no wish to interfere at present in any way in the Civil War.”[20]

Written above the text was the notation, “Seen by Lord Palmerston and the Queen.”

The executive secretary looked at his superior. “Deliver the message to the courier outside,” the prime minister ordered, “and direct it be conveyed to Lord Lyons with highest priority.”

“Now,” Lord Palmerston said, addressing his executive secretary after his return to the office, “one final request.  Go to my desk over there,” he pointed, “and read to me, loudly and slowly, please, the letter that brought this all about.  I believe that the ape has taught me a lesson, but even at my age, I am a quick learner. I am still prime minister.  In our future dealings with Mr. Lincoln, we must study the man more carefully. Now read me that letter, the one that…” Palmerston’s voice broke and his visage was grim. “The one that our Queen and her subjects read in the newspapers.”[21]

The executive secretary again did as he was told, and after sitting in his Lordship’s chair behind his desk, and adjusting the lighting, he was about to begin reading when he observed Palmerston abruptly stand up.  The old man walked across the room and removed a book from the bookshelf.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Palmerston said, holding up the book. “I am informed that Lincoln has read it also more than once.” Now read Lincoln’s letter to that Quaker minister, please.”

The executive secretary did as instructed.

“I know and deeply deplore the sufferings which the working-men at Manchester, and in all Europe, are called to endure in this crisis.  It has been often and studiously represented that the attempt to overthrow this government, which was built upon the foundation of human rights, and to substitute for it one which should rest exclusively on the basis of human slavery, was likely to obtain the favor of Europe.  Through the action of our disloyal citizens, the working-men of Europe have been subjected to severe trials, for the purpose of forcing their sanction to that attempt.  Under the circumstances, I cannot but regard your decisive utterances upon the question as an instance of sublime Christian heroism which has not been surpassed in any age or in any country.  It is indeed an energetic and reinspiring assurance of the inherent power of truth and of the ultimate and universal triumph of justice, humanity and freedom.  I do not doubt that the sentiments you have expressed will be sustained by your great nation; and on the other hand, I have no hesitation in assuring you that they will excite admiration, esteem, and the most reciprocal feelings of friendship among the American people.  I hail this interchange of sentiment, therefore, as an augury that whatever else may happen, whatever misfortune may befall your country or my own, the peace and friendship which now exists between the two nations will be, as it shall be my desire to make them, perpetual.”

Abraham Lincoln


 POST SCRIPT: After Lincoln’s assassination the Queen of England send the following letter to Mary Todd Lincoln:


April 29, 1865

Dear Madam:

Though a stranger to you, I cannot remain silent when so terrible a calamity has fallen upon you and your country, and must personally express my deep and heartfelt sympathy with you under the shocking circumstances of your present dreadful misfortune.

No one can better appreciate than I can, who am myself utterly broken-hearted by the loss of my own beloved Husband, who was the light of my life, — my stay – my all, — what your sufferings must be; and I earnestly pray that you will be supported by Him to whom alone the sorely stricken can look for comfort, in this hour of heavy affliction.

With renewed expression of true sympathy, I remain Madam,

Your sincere friend,



[1] deKay, James Tertius, The Astonishing History of the Confederacy’s Secret Navy (New York: Ballantine Books, 2002) p. 122 reporting a Gladstone speech of October 1862 imploring recognition of the Confederacy: “Jefferson Davis and others have made an army…they have made a nation.”

[2] deKay, op. cit., 121-122

[3] deKay, op. cit, introduction page, quoting Baron de Bruno, Russian minister to England on January 1, 1861: “The English Government, at the bottom of its heart, desires the separation of North America into two republics … Then England … would have nothing to fear from either; for she would dominate them.”

[4] deKay, op. cit., p. 122 reporting the banquet speech of member of Parliament John Arthur Roebuck with Lord Palmerston in attendance, describing the Union north, “the scum and refuse of Europe.”

[5] deKay, op. cit., p 132 stating, “England, in 1863, was still a long way from being a democracy. Only a tiny fraction of the population had the vote.  In Lancashire, for example, only one adult male in twenty-seven had the franchise.”

[6] deKay, op. cit., p. 124

[7] deKay, op. cit., p. 89

[8] deKay, op. cit., p. 60 — The Passmore Affidavit: “He then told me the vessel [then being built at Birkenhead] was going out to the Government of the Confederate States of America …  The said Captain … then engaged me as an able seaman on board the said vessel at wages of L4 10s per month …  She had a magazine, and shot and canister racks on deck, and is pierced for guns …”

[9] McPherson, James, Battle Cry Freedom (Oxford University Press 1988) p. 547 on the escape of the Alabama onto the high seas: “Once again bureaucratic negligence, legal pettifoggery, and the Confederate sympathies of the British customs collector at Liverpool gave … [the Confederate agent] …time to ready his ship for sea.”

[10] deKay, op. cit., p 547 reporting that the C.S.S. Alabama destroyed or captured sixty-four American merchant ships before herself being sunk in combat in June, 1864.

[11] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative – From Fredericksburg to Meridian (Random House 1963) p. 154

[12] Editors of Time Life Books, The Civil War The Blockade – Runner and Raiders (Time Life Books, 1983) 15-16

[13] Mitgang, Herbert, Abraham Lincoln: A Press Portrait (The University of Georgia Press 1989) p. 320

[14] Maihafer, Harry J., War of Words – Abraham Lincoln & The Civil War Press (Brassey’s, Inc., 2001) p. 58 reporting that Greeley in an 1862 speech to a Smithsonian packed full of fervent abolitionists challenged Lincoln face-to-face. Greeley looked directly at the President (who shared the stage) and declared that “the destruction of slavery” ought to be the sole purpose of the war.  As the audience cheered wildly, Maihafer states, “Lincoln sat impassively.”

[15] McPherson, op. cit., p. 89

[16] The National Archieves Learning Curve p.2 quoting a journal entry made by Queen Victoria sometime after Palmerston became Prime Minister in 1855: “We had, God knows! terrible trouble with him about Foreign Affairs.  Still, as Prime Minister he managed affairs at home well, and behaved to me well. But I never liked him.”

[17] Ibid, p. 2

[18] deKay, op. cit., p. 123

[19] deKay, op. cit., p. 123. Also Foote, op. cit., p 154 “… approximately two million people [in England] were without the means of self-support as a result of the cotton famine.”

[20] deKay, op. cit., p. 132

[21] Maihafer, op. cit., p. 95, reporting that not only did Lincoln go “over heads of government” with his open letter, he also appealed directly to British commoners when he addressed it, “To the working men of Manchester.”

[22] Horner, Harlan Hoyt, Lincoln and Greeley (Urbana, University of Illinois Press 1953) p. 383

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footnoted fiction

by Richard H. Allison

Copyright © 2011 Richard H. Allison

July 21, 1864 – Office of the New York Tribune, New York, New York.

“How did I ever allow myself to get sucked into this fiasco?” asked the incredulous owner-editor of the New York Tribune, shaking his head from side to side and sighing in a rare display of despair.  Unquestionably the most influential political writer in the United States, someone who Americans trusted, this newspaperman now peered glumly from his office window onto the streets and avenues below.  This was a major crisis, he knew, no doubt.  Both he and his newspaper were in serious trouble.  He fiddled with his thumbs as he waited impatiently for someone on his staff to respond.  It was he who called this emergency meeting.

It had been in the environs of Manhattan where this owner-editor, the man who founded the first The New-Yorker literary magazine, had cultivated his reputation for peculiarity by promenading in white Jacob coats and oversized hats; by carrying a yellow bag with his name printed on it so big as to be readable from across the street.  And as if these oddities were not enough, for a crowning sartorial hallmark he was known to wear one pant-leg outside his high-boot, intentionally exposed to mud and horse droppings.[i]

Horace Greeley behaved in this fashion because he coveted being recognized; he strutted like a peacock so that he might be seen as one.  A blatant non-conformist, he desired the public to know that he was secure enough about himself to flaunt convention. He promoted himself as a playful, independent and even at times an outrageous spirit; he was a non-conformist of the first degree, an intellect who could (and would) express opinions that cut strongly against customary thought.  His beliefs, as with his dress, were unique to him alone. Not educated in any formal sense, Greeley had catapulted himself onto the pinnacle of journalism in North America through independent study and the sheer force of human will.  While doing so he reveled in his eccentricities, all of them; why, he once even opined that card playing impairs one’s digestion![ii]

On this day however, July 24, 1864, Horace Greeley felt anything but self-secure.

The summer of 1864 witnessed elevated agony for a country devastated by three years of Civil War.  The springtime assaults waged by Grant and Sherman had seemingly turned into bloody stalemates.  The combat was continuous and the North had little progress to show for it.  Casualty lists in the newspapers on both sides were far longer than previous years, and the lists from previous years had been horrifying.  Many Northern newspapers, including the New York Tribune, had turned against Lincoln, pointing to him as the architect of an unending human catastrophe.  The summer of 1864 was unquestionably the low point of Lincoln’s presidency.

In the South, the rebel leaders knew that if Lincoln could be defeated for re-election in November (now a distinct possibility) then the Confederacy might stand a chance for an armistice leading to independence.  The South had one remaining hope: the North would find the slaughter unbearable and withdraw from the war.

The mood of the country, North and South, was mean.  Scores of tens of thousands of families had lost a husband, a brother or a son and many families had lost more than one.

On the Northern political front, on July 2 both houses of Congress passed the Wade-Davis Bill, an anger-fed law designed to make the reconstruction process first and foremost about the denial of civil rights to those who aided and abetted the Confederacy.  The tenor of the Bill was to punish treason.  President Lincoln declined to sign the Bill into law and chose not to officially comment upon it; he vetoed it simply by placing the document into his coat pocket, the first time such a form of Presidential veto had been issued.  The Radical Republicans were furious with Lincoln over this and wanted him out of office.

The Democrat party, like the Republican, had fractured.  There were the Peace Democrats and the War Democrats and when they spoke to each other their positions were opposite and intractable.  Indeed, before the summer would be out, their party platform would make no mention of abolishing slavery as an aim of the war; the doves and the hawks could only agree to put out: “… peace may be restored on the basis of the Federal Union of the States.”[iii]  The Democrats accused Lincoln in their platform of disregarding every part of the Constitution to the injury of public liberty and private right.

Into the morass of July, 1864 jumped Horace Greeley. Greeley had involved himself not as a reporter or an editorialist, but rather as a participant.  Greeley met with purported agents of the Confederacy in a foreign country where, without authority, he hoped to negotiate a ceasefire.  His efforts accomplished nothing and had been leaked to the public in a piecemeal fashion over a period of approximately two weeks prior to July 24.  Newspapers throughout the North relished attacking the ego-driven Greeley; the matter was sarcastically referred to as “the Greeley story.” Editorials equally scathed the New York Tribune.

“Lincoln skewered me,” Greeley complained bitterly to his staff.  “Total evisceration.”  As Greeley’s voice trailed off, the room remained silent.  “Why would he want to do this to me?” Greeley added in despair.  “Will someone tell me, please?”

Bald, bespectacled, white-whiskered and double-chinned, Greeley appeared much older than his 53 years.  In contrast, Lincoln, two years Greeley’s senior, despite being painfully gaunt and perpetually tired-looking, somehow managed to look younger than Greeley.  The two men had briefly served in Congress together in the late 1840s and they shared a love-hate relationship since before the 1860 Republican Convention.  In private conversations Lincoln had routinely taken to sarcastically calling Greeley, “Uncle Horace.”  Still, the two men used each other now and then – when the political occasion and need suited them.

Greeley’s eyes turned to slits. “The President does not respect me,” he hissed.  “He would have others take me as a doddering interloper.  He trifles with me.”

On the table in front of Greeley stood a stack of competitor newspapers; Greeley glanced at the top one and grimaced.  Its headline read: “Niagara Peace Debacle”.

“Let’s start at the beginning,” said Sidney Gay, the Tribune managing editor, “and figure out how we can best defend ourselves.”  He added: “Gentlemen, speak your minds and be frank.”

Greeley, however, still fulminated about the President.  “Why did Lincoln do this to me,” Greeley asked.  “I am a fellow Republican, I was instrumental in getting him nominated, and I have, on many an occasion, been one of his ardent supporters.”

“I do not think President Lincoln would agree with your assessment on support, sir,” one of those present boldly asserted.  Greeley flared his nostrils at the man and tugged at his badly-tied cravat, a reflex habit he had acquired whenever challenged; he said nothing, however.

Looking his employer in the eye, the man continued: “Sir, before the onset of hostilities, in January 1861, did you not write that if the people of the cotton states really wished to get out of the Union, that you were in favor of letting them out through a constitutional process?”[iv]

“Yes I did, but that was before they fired on Fort Sumter.”

“To Mr. Lincoln the prospect of disunion by any means is anathema.”

“Are you lecturing me, sir?” Greeley snapped. “You think I’m simple?  Of course I know that!”

The man did not back down.  “I am merely responding to your question why Lincoln has now hung you out to dry, Mr. Greeley.”  He added, sarcastically: “And might it also have something to do with our paper’s battle cry in 1861, ‘On to Richmond’”?

Greeley grimaced at the mention of his newspaper’s ill-advised 1861 headline and news article that had pressured the Federal government to capture the new enemy capitol before the scheduled July 20 convening date of the rebel congress.[v]  The Union Army was not sufficiently trained at the time and on its way South suffered a humiliating defeat at Bull Run; the Tribune and its owner-editor had been criticized roundly for having a hand in causing this military rout.

The others in the room stood in sullen silence, wanting to agree with the man but hesitant to openly join him against their boss.  All eyes focused on Gay, who had only recently joined the Tribune.  Gay remarked: “It is good we examine our relationship with the President, both the positive and the negative aspects.”

Another member of the editorial staff finally weighed in: “You put maximum pressure on the President, sir, over of the timing of abolition,” he said, and then added bravely: “Events proved you wrong.”

“What!” Greeley exploded. “Explain yourself!” he screamed.

“In 1862, when Lee was preparing to invade Maryland, a slave state with approaches to our nation’s capital, did you not declare in a speech at the Smithsonian that the sole purpose of the war should be the destruction of slavery?”[vi]

“I did,” replied Greeley, grinning as the memory flooded in.  “Lincoln was on the stage with me at the time and I looked him straight in the eye when I said it.  The audience applauded me wildly and Lincoln had no choice but to sit there and take it.”

“You did not trust Lincoln on the abolition question?”

“I did not, sir, just as I don’t trust him now in pushing this senseless slaughter.”

“In hindsight, do you now think Lincoln was correct in 1862 to refrain from proclaiming emancipation until after Maryland had been secured by the military victory at Antietam?  Until after Lee retreated across the Potomac?”

“Maryland is not emancipated!” Greeley retorted. “It still holds slaves even today.”

“But Maryland did not join the rebellion as Lee hoped,” the man observed.  “If Lincoln had declared the sole purpose of the war was the destruction of slavery at that juncture, in 1862, when you urged him to say it, Maryland today, and probably Washington D.C., too, would be part of the Confederacy.  In hindsight, sir, do you not now think Lincoln acted properly as commander-in-chief in 1862?”[vii]

Greeley snorted and looked at his second in charge. “Why do I take this, Sidney?” he asked. “The bunch here could join Henry Raymond at the Times and fawn over Lincoln continuously.”

I work here Horace, because I respect you and believe that you are more often correct than incorrect. Gay then added: “I agree with you absolutely about the senseless slaughter now going on.”

The room lapsed into an uncomfortable silence.

“You asked for this review, Horace,” Gay finally added.  “And this is going to be difficult.  The whole world is now ridiculing not only you personally, but also the Tribune.” The others in the room grunted muted agreement.  “Look at this,” Gay continued, holding up the New York Herald, a pained expression on his face.  Gay pointed to a line in the paper that had been underscored in red pencil.  “They accuse you, sir…” he said, reading slowly for emphasis, “…of ‘cuddling with traitors.’[viii]  It is bad enough to be called a bungler and meddler, Horace, which the Herald also called you, but…to ‘cuddle with traitors’?  Your trip to Canada was a disaster, and this is serious stuff.”

Greeley cupped his ears with his hands, closed his eyes in an exaggerated, squint-like fashion, and held his breath until his cheeks reddened.   “I know, I…know,” he mumbled, his voice breaking off.  A moment of silence passed and Greeley regained his composure. “I was well-intentioned,” he said, determinately.  “I would go anywhere to end this senseless slaughter.  The butcher Grant kills thousands a week and accomplishes nothing, and Sherman is stopped before Atlanta.  I had to take this chance.  No one else would.”

The room lapsed into another awkward silence.

“Perhaps now we can start our review?”  Gay asked.  Greeley assented with a nod.  “This … chain-of-events …” Gay continued, looking at Greeley, “started when you received a letter dated July 6 from one William Cornell Jewitt, the go-between.”

At the mention of the Jewitt’s name, Horace Greeley’s lip curled.  It had been “Colorado” Jewitt, one of the heirs of a prominent Maine family and self-proclaimed, “Peace Delegate from Pike’s Peak” who had set Greeley up for the blame and ridicule that now flowed his way.  Against the war from its beginning and increasingly anti-Lincoln as it progressed, Jewitt, a man reportedly wanted by the Colorado Territory Police Court on charges of goldmine fraud, had spent the last four years in Europe, Canada and the Northeastern U.S.  He had made no less than three trips to Europe during this period hoping to entice heads of state there to reconcile the conflict.  In the course of these unsuccessful and sometimes bizarre sojourns (like the time he left a prayer note at the top of Milan Cathedral calling for Napoleon’s “mediation fidelity”) through arduous self-promotion Jewitt had gained an international reputation of sorts, and developed a regular correspondence with many dignitaries and editors, including Horace Greeley.

“Jewitt,” Greeley said, an expression of disgust forming on his face, “a thoroughly despicable man.[ix]  I never should have had dealings with him.” Greeley plucked Jewitt’s letter dated July 6, 1864 from the pile.  “An ignoramus too.  Listen to his grammar.”  Greeley read aloud Jewitt’s closing line: `… the whole matter can be consummated by me, you, them, and President Lincoln.’

“Lincoln ordered me to Canada,” Greeley continued. “He even gave me a written commission to go.  Look, here.”  Greeley sifted through a stack of correspondence next to the newspapers and produced a short letter addressed to him from Abraham Lincoln dated July 9, 1864.  He handed the letter to Gay.  “Why, I was even accompanied to Canada by Lincoln’s personal secretary, John Hay![x]  My heart was in my throat when that train crossed the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge, believe me.” Ever the embellisher, Greeley continued: “On one side there were U.S. military guards, and on the other, nothing but spies, prison escapees, deserters, copperheads and intriguers of every nature.”  Greeley then added a writer’s stroke: “The turbulent water was apposite for the venue!”

Gay ignored Greeley and focused instead on Lincoln’s letter of July 9.  “This is the same letter that, for whatever reason …” Gay said, “… the full wording of which you chose not to forward in advance to the Confederate commissioners waiting in Canada?”  The expression on Greeley’s face changed to one of chagrin.  He blushed and nodded affirmatively.

Adjusting his glasses, Gay read aloud Lincoln’s letter:

                                                Washington, D.C., July 9, 1864

Hon Horace Greeley:

Dear Sir: 

Your letter of the 7th, with enclosures, received.  If you can find any person anywhere professing to have any proposition of Jefferson Davis, in writing, for peace, embracing the restoration of the Union and abandonment of slavery, whatever else it may embrace, say to him he may come to me with you; and that if he really brings such proposition, he shall, at least, have safe conduct with the paper (and without publicity, if he chooses) to the point where you shall have to meet him.  The same if there be two or more persons.

                                                               Yours truly,

                                                                A. Lincoln

“Lincoln did not order you to Canada, Horace,” observed Gay, “but only authorized you to bring to him the ambassadors of Jefferson Davis.”  Gay paused, adding: “No convincing commission here.”

“But Lincoln said I had to find them,” protested Greeley, and yes, Lincoln wanted me personally involved.”

Another editor spoke: “Lincoln’s letter has important pre-conditions, Mr. Greeley.  The president agreed to meet only if there was agreement for union and against slavery.  Looking back now, don’t you think that you should have communicated these pre-conditions to the Confederate commissioners in Niagara and also told Lincoln the identities of the men you were dealing with?”

“Lincoln issued the safe conduct passes without pre-conditions,” Greeley responded, looking sheepish in the knowledge his point was insignificant. “Believe me,” he continued, “I fully, faithfully and timely conveyed all of Lincoln’s terms to the Confederates.”  He added. “And when Hay and I arrived in Niagara, Hay even delivered personal messages from Lincoln to the Confederates.”

“But your letters agreeing the meeting do not mention Union and the end of slavery.”

Greeley grabbed at his cravat. “The Confederate Commissioners knew Lincoln’s position, believe me!” he asserted forcefully.  “Those claiming otherwise are blowing smoke.”

Gay took charge again: “Let’s back up,” he said.  “Show me the letter to you that started this brouhaha, Jewitt’s letter of July 6, the one that you forwarded to Lincoln.

Retrieving the letter from the bottom of the stack, Gay read it quickly and then verbally summarized its contents to the group.  “Mr. Greeley… I am authorized to state … for your use only, not the public … two ambassadors of Davis & Co….”

Greeley interrupted: “Jewitt didn’t have the number right.  When Hay and I arrived at Niagara, there were three Confederate Commissioners there.”

“Niagara Falls, Canada …” Gay continued, “…full and complete powers for peace …”

Greeley exploded: “A damnable lie! “Davis sent his men to Niagara without any powers whatsoever!  I was lied to,” he repeated.  “Jewitt lied to me.”

“Niagara Falls, Canada,” Gay repeated again. “…want to meet with you personally…” Gay paused and looked at Greeley. “…meet with you personally, Horace?” he repeated. “Why?”

“Read on,” Greeley ordered, looking pale. “Need I remind some of you in this room that I took you into my confidence the very day that I received this letter?  That I showed you this letter and that you agreed I should forward it to Lincoln and later, that I should go to Canada?”

“Everything is different now, Horace,” Gay replied. “The Tribune must re-evaluate the entire file and defend itself.”  Others murmured concurrence and Gay finished summarizing Jewitt’s letter: “…meet with you personally…or be provided with safe conduct passes…to meet the president.”  Gay looked up from the letter and stared pensively out the window. “Horace?” he said after a moment, speaking softly.


“With our election approaching, why do you suppose the president of the Confederacy would suggest that his peace ambassadors meet personally with the editor and owner of one of the North’s most respected and widest circulated newspapers?”  Greeley did not respond, as there was nothing he could say to defend himself.  “Why didn’t Jefferson Davis, if he was behind Jewitt’s letter, which he likely was, simply ask for you to arrange the safe conduct of his emissaries to Washington D.C., and nothing more?”  Again Greeley did not attempt a rebuttal; the point Gay was making was painfully obvious to all in the room.  Gay resumed speaking. “Davis wanted you enmeshed in this political intrigue from the beginning so if Lincoln chose to ignore his envoys you would report it.”

The blood drained from Greeley’s face and Gay added, looking at the others.  “And you are correct, Horace, the blame is not yours alone.”

“The worst,” Greeley moaned, “is that after everything fell apart the Confederates contacted the press and stated, among other falsehoods, that it was the North that requested the negotiations.  Also, at the end of their letter, the Confederates thanked me profusely for my intercessions, making it sound like I was more sympathetic to their cause than to the cause of the North. As a final insult, they released all of my confidential correspondence to them.”

“Why are you furious at Lincoln then?” Gay asked.

“The president and I were partners in this sorry affair, and when Jewitt went public Lincoln immediately repudiated him publicly without consulting me.  Lincoln had Hay issue a statement to the press that Jewitt was, ‘an irresponsible person’ and that the Executive Mansion had never given him the slightest recognition.  This immediately painted me, of course, as the fool who had been duped into believing all of Jewitt’s lies, and the one who pressured Lincoln into loaning out a secretary for a wild goose chase.   This unilateral negation on Lincoln’s part put me in the untenable position of having to do all the explaining.  The president stabbed me in the back, I tell you.  I thought he and I were partners.  He could have handled this delicately, like a gentleman, but chose not to.”

Gay picked up another document, a copy of Greeley’s letter dated July 7th addressed to Lincoln enclosing Jewitt’s letter.  “Let’s back up a bit,” he said.  This time Gay read verbatim:  “I venture to remind you,” Gay read, quoting Greeley to Lincoln, “that our bleeding, bankrupt, dying country longs for peace – shudders at the prospect of fresh subscription, or further wholesale devastations, and of new rivers of human blood; and a widespread conviction that the Government and it prominent supporters are not anxious for peace…”  Gay momentarily stopped reading and his eyes found another section “…the Government…is doing great harm now, and is morally certain, unless removed, to do far greater in the approaching election.”

Gay paused to gage reaction.  “That is still our sentiment,” voiced one senior editor.  “Nothing is changed.” Others grunted agreement.

“This war isn’t worth fighting,” one said.

Gay asked: “Was it necessary, Horace, in conveying the Jewitt letter to Lincoln, for you to threaten Lincoln with … removal from office?”

Reaching for his cravat, Greeley responded forcefully: “My intention was to put maximum pressure on Lincoln so that he would take the Confederate peace initiative seriously,” he said.  “For I believe deep down that Lincoln does not really want to negotiate a peace, that he is a war monger bent on total victory no matter how many young men will be murdered.  It is for precisely this reason that I further believe if the election were held today, Lincoln would not win city dog-catcher.”  Greeley’s staff, including Gay, erupted in laughter and applauded enthusiastically.

As the room settled, a voice in the corner spoke, at first softly. “Mr. Greeley, sir?”  All eyes turned to the speaker, a recently hired young reporter who had been invited by Gay to attend this extraordinary gathering, but one who also was not expected to speak.  “I chose to work at the Tribune because of you, sir.  Your oft-quoted statement `We cannot afford to reject unexamined any idea which proposes to improve the moral, intellectual, or social condition of mankind,’[xi] I have made my personal credo, and your efforts to improve working conditions for laborers, to extend political rights to women, to put an end to capital punishment, to …”

Greeley cut the young man off.  “Your point?” he asked.

The reporter looked Greeley in the eyes.  “Sir, there is still the matter of Lincoln’s memorandum of July 18th.”  At the mention of this document, the mood of the room again shifted to the negative.  In five critical words, followed by a single sentence published in the press, the President had expressed his frustration over Greeley’s handling of the peace initiative, and put the owner-editor on the spot without mentioning his name.

“Some good did come out Niagara, sir” the reporter said.

“Pray tell what?” asked Greeley.

“Lincoln believes it would be wrong, after the war, for Congress to bar former Confederate officials from voting or holding office, and also to enfranchise only those Southerners who submit to an untrue oath, an oath that they never voluntarily aided the Confederacy.”


The young reporter spoke bravely in the presence of his superiors: “Lincoln’s aim may truly be charity for all and malice towards none.” The men in the room stared at the speaker, still not comprehending.  The young man made good news out of bad: “You, sir, caused President Lincoln to commit, in writing, to a moderate course of reconstruction for our country. You caused him to repudiate, in writing, Wade-Davis.

“We must publish the entire record of letters,” said Stanley Gay, “and then write our rebuttal.”

“I shall entitle it, `NO SIR!’” exclaimed a re-invigorated Horace Greeley, “and most aggressively defend myself!”  After a pause, Greeley spoke to the young reporter. “Read to me what Lincoln wrote on July 18th, he ordered, “the press release that embarrassed me.  I want to hear it again.”

The young reporter sifted through the stack of papers and produced the Executive Mansion newspaper announcement that an exasperated President Lincoln had authored and released after he learned from a chagrinned Greeley, then in Niagara, that the Confederates there lacked power to make binding commitments.[xii]  Lincoln’s statement had become famous overnight and was well received (at the expense of Greeley’s professional reputation) in the North.  The reporter read slowly:

                                                                              July 18, 1864




          Any proposition which embraces the restoration of peace, the integrity of the whole Union, and the abandonment of slavery, and which comes by, and with an authority that can control the armies now at war against the United States, will be received and considered by the executive government of the United States, and will be met by liberal terms on other substantial and collateral points, and the bearer or bearers thereof shall have safe conduct both ways.  

                                                                   Abraham Lincoln


Author’s Post Script: On August 19, 1864, the subject of the Niagara affair was discussed at an Executive Mansion cabinet meeting.  Afterwards, Navy Secretary Gideon Welles recorded the following in his diary:

Blair inquired about the Niagara peace conference.  The President went over the particulars.  He had sent the whole correspondence to Greeley for publication, excepting one or two passages in Greeley’s letters which spoke of a bankrupted country and awful calamities.  But Greeley replied he would not consent to any suppression of his letters or any part of them; and the President remarked that, though G. had put him (the President) in a false attitude, he thought it better he should bear it, than that the country should be distressed by such a howl, from such a person, on such an occasion.  Concerning Greely, to whom the President clung too long and confidently, he said to-day that Greeley is an old shoe,–good for nothing now, whatever he has been.  ‘In early life, and with few mechanics and but little means in the West, we used,’ said he, ‘to make our shoes last a great while with such mending, and sometimes, when far gone, we found the leather so rotten the stitches would not hold.  Greeley is so rotten that nothing can be done with him.  He is not truthful; the stitches all tear out.[xiii]  RHA                  



[i] Mitgang, Herbert, Abraham Lincoln: A Press Portrait (The University of Georgia Press 1989) p. 228 and Maihafer, Harry J., War of Words – Abraham Lincoln & The Civil War Press (Brassey’s, Inc., 2001) p. 107, both reporting Mr. Greeley’s eccentric dress.

[ii] Kirkland, Edward Chase, The Peacemakers of 1864 (AMS Press, New York, 1927) p. 53

[iii] Democratic Party Platform, 1864 (Chicago Convention ending August 31, 1864)

[iv] Maihafer, op. cit., p. 40

[v] Ward, Geoffrey C., with Burns, Ric and Burns, Ken, The Civil War, an Illustrated History (A Borzoi Book, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1990) p. 62

[vi] Maihafer, op. cit., p. 58

[vii] Mr. Lincoln and New York, New York Tribune, quote: “Mr. Lincoln was a disciplined politician.  Greeley was an undisciplined editor.” As reported at dated accessed 8/25/2010

[viii] Maihafer, op. cit., p. 193

[ix] Kirkland, op. cit., pp. 68-69

[x] Kirkland, op. cit., p. 82.  Brown University Professor Kirkland characterized Hay’s involvement in Canada as follows: “The slightly melodramatic patriotism of the President’s secretary at once detected the bogus nature of the Confederate commissioners.  George N. Sanders met them at the door of the Cataract House.  He was a “seedy looking Rebel” with grizzled whiskers and a “flavor of old clo’.”  As they talked with him for a few moments a crowd filled up the bar-room and halls to gaze at the American negotiators, especially the editor of the Tribune.  Then came an interview with Holcombe in his room while he had tea and toast.  “He was a tall, spare, false looking man with false teeth, false eyes, and false hair.”  Greeley said that Hay had messages for him from the President; Hay delivered them; and Holcomb promised a reply on the following day after he had communicated with Clay who had gone to St. Catherines.  The interview was then terminated, all walked downstairs to the veranda, and then Greeley and Hay rode away in the carriage.”

[xi] The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907-21) VOLUME XXI Newspapers, 1775-1860  Section 20. Horace Greeley – The New York Tribune

[xii] Kirkland, op. cit., p. 81.  “Greeley was accordingly informed that the commissioners had no credentials, but that, if they were given a safe-conduct to Washington and thence to Richmond, they could secure the requisite official authority.  Greeley in his turn telegraphed this new development to Lincoln.  The President’s reply was his famous letter ‘To Whom It May Concern.’”

[xiii] Welles, Gideon, Diary of Gideon Welles, Volume II. P. 111-113 (August 19, 1864) as reported at dated accessed 8/25/2010

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NOTE: If the reader wishes to read this story with the accompanying maps, photos and images, please click the link at the end of this text-only version to view a PDF file.  Additionally there is an abridged (shortened) version of this story to be found on Yahoo Contributor Network — this link also appears below.



by Richard H. Allison

John H. Bush, 1826 – 1865

Private, Company F, 105th Infantry Regiment

Pennsylvania Volunteers

Father of Seven and Resident of

Indiana County, Pennsylvania

Burial Site Unknown

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This personal history will always be considered by me as a work in progress.  If any reader has knowledge of family lore about John H. Bush or documents relating to him please feel free to contact me by calling (313) 881-3786, or emailing me at  RHA


By Richard H. Allison

Copyright © 2011 Richard H. Allison

When I was growing up in the 1950s my Father told me of a great-great-grandfather of mine named John Bush who had been forcefully conscripted into the Union Army during the Civil War and marched off into battle never to be seen again.  Father died in 1999, leaving behind a short note in a family Bible about this tragic happening.  The note indicated that John’s widow was named Margaret and it listed the names of their children.  Father wrote:  “John Bush – Killed in Civil War.  No notice except in paper.  Taken from cornfield when Grampa [Ed: John’s son William Bush] was 8 years old.”

With the sesquicentennial observance of the Civil War approaching, I decided to try to find out what I could about John Bush.  I remembered what Father told me: “The soldiers just showed up one day at his Pennsylvania farm,” he said, “and took him away.  No one saw him again.”  Father related that no one from the government or the military ever confirmed to members of the Bush family where and how John Bush had died. “There was never a letter,” Father explained, “not from his commanding officer nor anyone else.  There were hard feelings about this.  No one even knows today where John Bush might be buried.”

I did not know the year my great-great-grandfather had been taken into service, the unit that he served with or even the year that he had died.  But I nevertheless wanted to find John Bush.  I wanted to flesh out his story; to find details that might serve to keep his memory alive; to honor his sacrifice to country, and return him, if in spirit only, to his loved ones – to his family.

But how could I do this without newspaper articles, letters, diaries and other print records?  Everyone with a memory of John Bush was gone from the earth.  And John had been of the lowest enlisted rank – a private, and before that, a laborer.  Newspaper writers from that era, unlike today, did not write about such men – how could they?  In that war there were hundreds of thousands of such men who died.  All that could be done, and then often with inaccuracy, was to compile lists of names of the dead and wounded for publication in a newspaper, as noted by my Father.  All I really knew additionally about John Bush is that he hailed from North Mahoning Township in Indiana County, not far as the crow flies from Pittsburgh.

As stated, my great-grandfather William was 8 years old when his father was taken into the Army.  Adding eight years to 1857, the year of William’s birth, and using, I typed in “John Bush, Pennsylvania death year 1865.”  I then clicked on the category “Military.”  Within seconds I had a list of 198 men named John Bush who served in the American Civil War.  Thirty-three of the men hailed from the state of Pennsylvania, but which one was the one that I looked for?  Clicking on “View Record” I was able to quickly eliminate 13, those being the ones who died years after the Civil War ended.  But what could I do about the other 20 Pennsylvanians?  Many had no dates of death shown, or county of residence or other hints that might help me.

Then I got lucky – I located a document from the Civil War Pension Index showing a soldier named John Bush, a widow named Margaret Bush and a minor named Daniel Bush (one of the Bush children identified by my father in the family Bible note).  The Pension Index document showed that this John Bush served with: “F 105 Pa. Inf.”  I had found my man! had done it.  This find led to others, including his military record, pertinent census information and information on his children and siblings.  I learned that John Bush was born ca. 1826 and he married Margaret Sloniger on August 27, 1849.  And now I knew his middle initial was “H”.

The discovery of the pension card, particularly the listing of his military unit, enabled me to quickly locate the printed history of the 105th Infantry Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers and even a roster for Company F of that regiment.  John Bush’s name appeared on the roster!

Established in September 1861, the 105th Pennsylvania went by the popular name “Wildcat Regiment” because some of its members had wildcat drilled for oil before the war.1  The 105th fought in scores of battles, engagements and campaigns, the most significant being Fair Oaks, Malvern Hill, Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Cold Harbor and Petersburg.  “Out of a total of 2,040 [men] the regiment lost 309 members by death from wounds or disease and another 199 were reported missing …” the history reads.2  The losses happened over the three and one-half year time-frame of the war.  The last action the 105th Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers fought was the Appomattox Campaign, which started in Petersburg towards the end of March 1865 and ended with Lee’s surrender to Grant at McLean house on April 9, 1865.  On May 23, 1865 the regiment participated in the Grand Review of the Army of the Potomac in Washington, D.C., and on July 11th the unit was mustered out (disbanded) in Alexandria, Virginia.3

Company F had been recruited in 1861 in the counties of Clearfield, Indiana and Venago and originally had 91 officers and men.  As the Civil War progressed and became a long-term conflict a draft was established.  A document prepared in June 1862 by the Provost Marshal General U.S. lists John Bush as a “Class II” in his Congressional District.  John was 36 at the time and married; if he had been unmarried he would have been a “Class I” and presumably subject to immediate conscription.  For the time being John was not subject to military service; this would change a little more than a year and one-half later, likely because “Class I” had been depleted of manpower.

By war’s end, a total of 191 officers and men had served in Company F.  The Muster Roll for Company F recorded the name, rank and date of entry into service for all who belonged.  It also contained a remarks section that detailed the date and reason for departure of each member.  Private John Bush joined Company F on February 28, 1864, and left the unit because of wounds that he received prior to the Company’s final muster on July 11, 1865.  His entry reads: “absent, wounded, at muster out.”4  His military record, another find on, says “absent, wounded, in Hosp. at M.O.”

A tally of the remarks section for Company F indicates that 50 soldiers attended the final July 11 formation and roll call.  Undoubtedly, this day had to have been a memorable event for these survivors.  The fact that John Bush was unable to attend because he had been wounded, suggests to me that John had been likely wounded in one of the last engagements of the war – that is, the chase of Lee’s army to Appomattox.  During the Civil War, tens of thousands of wounded soldiers succumbed to infectious diseases because of crude medical treatment.  This is probably what happened to John Bush.  He probably died in a military hospital somewhere but I could find no record indicating this.  Nor could I locate where he might be buried.  The Historical and Genealogical Society of Indiana County, Pennsylvania confirmed to me that he is not buried as a veteran in that county, nor is his name to be found on the Roll of Honor, a register of known Union burials.5

When Ulysses S. Grant came to Washington, D.C., for the first time in the spring of 1864, President Lincoln appointed him General-in-Chief of the Army – the entire Union Army.  Choosing to be in the field rather than remain in the capital, Grant moved south with the Army of the Potomac, then 102,000 strong.  His first engagement against Lee was on May 5-7, 1864, in an area of Northern Virginia called the Wilderness.  With an Army of only 61,000, Lee decisively defeated Grant in a large battle there.6  It was a particularly brutal battle in that a number of Union soldiers burned to death in forest fires started by their own guns.  Rather than retreat to the Washington, D.C. area (as numerous other Union commanding generals had done after losing battles to Lee), Grant flanked Lee and headed in the direction of Richmond.

The 105th Infantry Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers, consisting of 12 companies participated fully in the Battle of the Wilderness.  After two days of hard fighting, 45 of its officers and men had been killed and another 125 wounded.  Private John Bush of Company F survived this horrible battle, which witnessed 29,800 casualties on both sides combined.  Among the dead was Brigadier General Alexander Hays,7  who on March 26, 1864 (approximately a month after John Bush mustered in) had been given command of the Second Brigade, Third Division, Second Army Corps.  The 105th was one of the regiments that belonged to the Second Brigade.  Three men from Company F of the 105th Regiment died during the first day’s fighting at Wilderness: Corporal Ira F. Mott and Privates Charles Lyle and David Willard.  Had these men befriended John Bush?  Had they served in the same platoon together or perhaps even the same squad?

A Library of Congress web site tracing the history of the 105th Infantry Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers contains an imaged letter that I found revealing for the times.  The letter was scribbled in haste on May 16, 1864 after the Battle of the Wilderness.  It is from a Miss Kate M. Scott, of Brookville, PA to a Mrs. Juliana Smith Reynolds, of nearby (12 miles distant) Reynoldsville, PA.8  Scott responded to a letter she had received from Mrs. Reynolds asking if she had learned anything about her son, Private Tilton Reynolds.    Scott answered listing the names of six soldiers from the 105th indicating the respective company of each.  “These are all of the names I can find in any of the papers,” she wrote.  She could not bring herself to write the words killed or wounded but she added, “Tilton is not mentioned.”

When I read this letter what struck me was just how primitive the communication system was during this period.  Here a mother had been forced to network with a friend from a nearby town for possible news of her son.  This made me think of that note penned by my Father: “No notice except in paper.”  As an aside, I would add that Kate M. Scott served during the war as a volunteer Army Nurse at camp Jackson, Virginia with the 105th.9  She later authored The History of the One Hundred and Fifth Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers, which was published in 1877,10 and her history is the basis for the Library of Congress website.  Young Tilton eventually rose to the rank of captain and commanded Company H in the 105th; he wrote a number of letters home, some of which are imaged on the website.  He also survived the war.

Grant had a strategy to defeat Lee.  After the Battle of the Wilderness, he still had superior numbers of men and materiel, and he believed that if he kept up the pressure on Lee, that is, engaged him in running combat, he might eventually find a way to cut off the Confederate’s avenue of retreat.  A siege would then set in, and the killing could stop.  All Grant would have to do in such a situation would be to starve Lee into submission.

Grant’s strategy for Northern Virginia, together with his plans for Sherman’s march through the deeper South and Sheridan’s burning the Shenandoah, worked completely.  The harsh reality of Grant’s strategy, however, was that it involved an incredible loss of human life on both sides.  The public was so aghast by the casualty figures that were reported during this, the final year of the Civil War that some Northern newspapers started referring to Grant as “Butcher.”  In the Battle of Cold Harbor fought on June 3, 1864, Grant lost 7,000 killed or wounded against Lee’s 2,500 in a matter of hours.11  If Sherman had failed to take Atlanta when he did on September 1, 1864, it is likely that Grant’s high casualty figures would have cost Abraham Lincoln re-election.  The 105th Infantry Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers was fortunate at Cold Harbor; the unit saw only limited action resulting in one soldier being wounded there.  Again, Private John Bush survived.  John would also remain unharmed the rest of 1864, although the 105th participated in multiple days of combat resulting in quite a number of casualties.

The likelihood is that John Bush received the wound that ultimately took his life at a place described in the regimental battle history as either “Before Petersburg” or “Near Farmville.”12  The last battle the 105th would fight against the Army of Northern Virginia occurred at a place known as Sayler’s Creek.  Regimental casualty records reveal that 25 enlisted men were wounded and two killed during the period March 25, 1865, to April 9, 1865.  No member of the 105th Regiment had been killed or wounded earlier in 1865 owing to winter inactivity.

The Union Army had hundreds of two and four-wheeled ambulances with folding bunks for the transport of wounded soldiers to field hospitals marked by yellow flags bearing the letter H.  Surgery was often performed in a hospital tent and chloroform was applied to the patient’s face through a soaked rag.  Thereafter, a patient might be transported by rail, water or wagon to one of the 25 large hospitals in the Washington, D.C. area.13  Again, I was unable to discover where my great-great-grandfather had been taken.  He is probably buried in an unmarked trench next to what used to be a Union hospital, but the National Museum of Civil War Medicine could not confirm this.  It is doubtful that his body was returned to the family as it was up to the family to arrange for transportation and bear the expense, and that event would likely have been remembered and recorded.

I compiled data from the Company F Muster Roll, the small unit that Private John Bush served in.  Throughout the war, one officer and 24 enlisted men had been killed in action and another 15 enlisted men were wounded.  Many soldiers of Company F were discharged on “a Surgeon’s Certificate” and still others simply died of disease or natural causes.  Others were released as enlistment terms expired.  Thirty-one Company F members deserted during the war (a 17% rate) and of this number, 23 were substitutes, that is, men who took money to go in another man’s place.  This substitute/desertion phenomenon (the process of enlisting for money with absolutely no intention of serving) occurred during March 1865 when a draft was on and the casualty figures from the front were running high.

As an aside, I located a news article dated August 17, 1864 reporting the arrest of a Marchand man named George Shields who deserted from the 105th.  The paper stated that Shields “has for a long time eluded all efforts at his arrest.”14  Shields was turned over by the apprehending authority to a provost marshal in Greensburg, PA.  Records of the 105th indicate that Shields deserted in January 1863 and was returned to the regiment in November 1864.  He mustered out with his company after the war was over.  After serving stockade time, it is likely that Shields was informed that if he deserted again, the consequences would be more severe.  The news article bears testament to the fact that an effort was made by the Union to round up deserters for, “… proper punishment of their folly and crime.”

During the war, Company F had three commanding officers. The first, Captain Robert Kirk, died at Chancellorsville on May 3, 1863.  The second was Captain John Daugherty, who “mustered out at the expiration of his term on October 7, 1864” per the Muster Roll.  The last was Captain William Kimple, who worked his way up from the rank of corporal.  Kimple survived the war and mustered out with Company F at the July 11th celebration; he served in Company F for the full three-and-one-half years.

It is doubtful that John was “taken from a cornfield” as my Father noted.  The Company F Muster Roll reports John’s muster-in date as February 28, 1864, which is the dead of winter.  What probably happened was John’s name was pulled at a draft lottery and the soldiers intercepted him on a country road – perhaps one near a cornfield.  John was 39 years old when this occurred.  The irony of being conscripted into a unit of the “Volunteer Infantry” did not escape me!

The record shows that the Wildcat Regiment was re-enlisted on December 28, 1863, and was given a veteran’s furlough to return home during the winter season of 1864.  When the 105th marched to a new bivouac at Camp Bullock (two miles from Brandy Station, Virginia) in March 1864, it had with it “fifty new recruits,” one of whom was Private John Bush.15

I am gratified to have located John Bush in history – and to finally learn at least a little of the details of where he fought and what happened to him.  I expect members of the Bush family in the years after the war ran into some of the veterans of Company F who served with John Bush, and perhaps learned information that is now lost to time.  Why Captain Kimple did not write a letter to John’s widow, Margaret Sloniger Bush, remains a mystery.

Perhaps harsh words had been exchanged when John had been seized and the Captain was reticent to write a letter to the person he had had a hand in making a widow?   Or perhaps he did write a letter and it failed to be delivered?  The obituary of William Kimple is to be found at the Historical and Genealogical Society of Indiana County.  He died in 1925 at age 90.  Following the war he became a merchant and postmaster of Chambersville, PA, a hamlet north of the city of Indiana and south of North Mahoning Township; geographically, Kimble resided not many miles apart from the survivors of John Bush.  John had been 9 years older than his commanding officer.

As for the “No notice except in paper” written by Father, I was unable to locate a newspaper casualty list that includes the name John Bush. Census data from 1860, 1870 and 1880 show the family before the war, broken apart after the war and finally reunited. The 1870 census is the telling one — only three members shown for the Bush household: Margaret, her 17-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter. By 1880, with the exception of my great-grandfather William (who had by then married and moved away) the Bush family was under the same roof again — a mother and six of her children living together.  This census data speaks for itself. In order to get by, four of the younger Bush children had been placed, on a temporarily basis, into the homes of relatives or friends who were able to provide for them. The 1900 census also sheds some light back on the time of John Bush’s conscription; it lists that daughter Catherine had been born in March of 1864, the month after John had mustered in.  Margaret Sloniger Bush lived the remainder of her years in Indiana County.  She died ca. 1899, aged 71 – the year that the Bush and Allison families united with the marriage of my paternal grandparents.

When I think of what this family, my relatives, experienced due to the death of John Bush, I can only be saddened.  Other family members served during the war; most came home, but not all.  This circumstance was not unique to my family; it happened all over America.

When I think of what John Bush endured, the marching, tenting, being frequently filthy, cold or hot and often wet; the itchiness of a wool uniform that may have been lice-infested; the diet of hardtack and strong coffee and the dysentery brought on by drinking tainted water; the insect bites and rashes; being separated from his family and friends; the mean-spirited and harsh military treatment he and others undoubtedly suffered at the hands of some superiors and finally the fact that he had been forced to submit to all of this against his will and that he came within just a few short weeks of being honorably released, my heart goes out for Private John Bush.  And on top of this, he participated in the unmitigated horror of frequent combat.  The carnage that he had to have witnessed had to have been simply unspeakable.  Having now found him, I intend to honor Private John Bush by remembrance on every Memorial Day going forward.

And as for Grant being a butcher? I don’t believe he was.  I read Grant’s military autobiography years earlier and was deeply moved; today it remains probably one of the best memoirs ever written by an armed forces leader.  What comes through, crystal clear, is that Grant was a moral man and true believer.  He hated slavery and was very protective of his Negro troops.  The contemporaneous letters that Grant wrote during the war, which I have also read, evidence this.  I simply believe that Grant had to do what he did in order to win.  Of course not everyone might agree with my assessment.  On March 9, 1865, Captain Tilton Reynolds wrote to his mother from the front: “There is little danger of the Rebels breaking through our lines.  Old U.S. (Universal Slaughter) is on the lookout for things of that kind.”

Was John Bush’s sacrifice in vain?  While John Bush probably lay dying somewhere, his commanding general met with General Robert E. Lee, C.S.A., at Appomattox Courthouse.  This is what Grant wrote about that encounter:

“What General Lee’s feelings were I do not know.  As he was a man of much dignity, with an impassible face, it was impossible to say whether he felt inwardly glad that the end had finally come, or felt sad over the result, and was too manly to show it.  Whatever his feelings, they were entirely concealed from my observation; but my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letter, were sad and depressed.  I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.“16

In 1856 Lee wrote a letter to his wife stating, “… slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil…”17  I located the following about Lee in an encyclopedia, however:

“As a member of the Virginia aristocracy, Lee lived in close contact with slavery before he joined the Army and held variously around a half-dozen slaves under his own name.  When Lee’s father-in-law, George Washington Parke Custis, died in October 1857, Lee (as Executor of the will) came into control over some 196 slaves on the Arlington plantation.  Although the will provided for the slaves to be emancipated “in such a manner as to my executors may seem most expedient and proper,” providing for a maximum of five years for the legal and logistical details of manumission, Lee found himself in need of funds to pay his father-in-law’s debts and repair of properties he had inherited.  He decided to make money during the five years that the will had allowed him control over the slaves by working them on the plantation and hiring them out to neighboring plantations and to eastern Virginia.“18

Upon reading this, I did the math: Five years times 196 persons equates to 980 years of bondage.  My first reaction was Lee had married money and used these slaves to maximize his wife’s inheritance.  After reflecting more about it, however, I appreciated that if Lee had failed to pay off his father-in-law’s debts, the claimants would end up owning the slaves and probably then not be subject to the five-year mandate for freedom.

I believe that a man should be judged by his actions and not his demeanor or what platitudes he might utter or write.  This said I am not in a position to judge Robert E. Lee.   Lee was one of the best military tacticians the world has ever known, and also a motivator of generals and privates alike.  Only the Maker can look into his soul and determine his true intent.

A fascinating side story about the surrender of Lee at Appomattox surrounds Grant making a significant political decision that many in Congress would later question: Grant wrote into the short document of surrender that, “… each [Confederate] officer and man will be allowed to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles …”  By this document Grant arguably gave Lee immunity from prosecution for treason.19  Lincoln had instructed Grant to “go light” on the Confederates at their moment of capitulation.

I personally do not believe that Private John Bush was sacrificed in vain.   I believe it was he, and hundreds of thousands of men like him, who willingly or unwillingly did their duty and enabled Grant to win Lee’s surrender.  These heroes preserved our Union and ended slavery.  Of course it is easy for me to opine this almost a century-and-one-half after the fact.  I cannot speak as to what the members of the Bush family may have thought in 1865.  Their tragic loss was unrequited.


finding pvt bush 2011_final-3


Special appreciation to my brother Mark Allison who contributed as a researcher and editor


1              A Civil War Soldier in the Wild Cat Regiment as reported at    (date accessed             08/03/2007)

2  – American Civil War Regiments as reported at  (date accessed 05/20/2007)

3           105th Pennsylvania Volunteers Project as reported at (date accessed 05/22/2007)

4           105th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, Company F Muster Roll as reported at

5           Per email dated 8/16/07 from the National Museum of Civil War Medicine

6           Wikipedia, op. cit., Battle of the Wilderness, as reported at    (date accessed 07/15/2007)

7           Grant, Ulysses S., Memoirs and Selected Letters (Penguin Putnam Inc., Ninth          Printing 1990) p. 515 and p. 528.  Grant wrote:  “One of Birney’s most gallant brigade commanders – Alexander Hays – was killed.”

8           A Civil War Soldier in the Wild Cat Regiment: Selections from the Tilton C.             Reynolds Papers.  Letter from Kate M. Scott to Juliana Smith Reynolds, May 16,         1864, as reported at    (date accessed             08/03/2007)

9           Per biography prepared by Mandy Criswell 2002 as reported at    (date accessed             04/08/2011).

10          Philadelphia: New World Publishing Co., 1877

11          Battle of Cold Harbor as reported at                                                                              DHARBOR.COM/ (date accessed 07/15/2007)

12 – American Civil War Regiments, op cit.

13          Robertson, James I., Jr. and the Editors of Time-Life Books, The Soldier’s Life, The            Civil War (Time-Life Books, Alexandria, Virginia 1984) pp. 100-109

14          Indiana Register, 17 August 1864

15          A Civil War Soldier in the Wild Cat Regiment, op. cit, p. 3

16          Grant, Ulysses S., op. cit., p. 735

17          Robert E. Lee, to Mary Anna Lee, December 27, 1856

18          Wikipedia, Robert E. Lee, as reported at (date accessed 07/27/2007)

19          Grant, Ulysses S., op. cit., p. 739

Posted in Civil War - non fiction | Leave a comment




by Richard H. Allison

Copyright © 2011 Richard H. Allison

           Lieutenant Hanson cowered as the foot solders of C Company hunkered to form a line extending to his right. Rifles were cocked and ready, but Hanson’s side arm was holstered.  His arms encircled a tree trunk, a weedy-looking silver maple with a large fungal growth ring two feet above the ground that he kissed. He shook violently as he lay on the ground, and his uniform pants, new just two days before, were soaked in urine. Tears streaked his face.

A regimental rider approached, looked for an officer, and spotted Hanson’s epaulets. Hanson continued to hug the tree as the courier neared, reined his horse, towered over him, and then backed off a few feet to avoid the horse stepping on him. Unsure of t he situation, the courier followed military protocol. “Colonel’s compliments,” the courier said, hand raised in salute. “Who is in command, sir?  I could not find the Captain or the second, and I’ve ridden the full length of the Company line.”

In his ignominious position Hanson heard laughing erupt to his right. “Lieutenant Ostrich at your service,” quipped a nearby soldier.  In the corner of his eye Hanson spotted three privates leering and one made an obscene gesture at him. Angered, Hanson reacted, and with great effort stopped sobbing. He stood, returned the horseman’s salute, and turned abruptly towards the men.

“Eyes front and silence,” Hanson barked. “And hold this position at all costs,” he added for measured effect.

“Sir, I again ask, who is in command?”

Hanson ignored the rider and instead watched for the men’s reaction. Two of the men obeyed immediately, but the third, a Private Dobson, the one who made the gesture, refused, and glared in open contempt at the Lieutenant.  Hanson’s face turned crimson, his nose flared, and he spit-screamed: “Damn you, private, I said eyes forward. Now!

Sensing continued defiance of a commissioned officer to be risky Dobson submitted begrudgingly; the private broke eye contact slowly turning his head away.

Hanson waited a full ten seconds before speaking. “I’m in command,” he announced loudly, all the time continuing to look at the men. “The other officers of C Company … are dead.”

Hanson knew what he said was not technically true, for he had witnessed Captain Barr taken from the field just twenty minutes earlier, gut shot, but still very much alive, and he, Hanson, had certainly not been placed in command when this event occurred.  He thought with any luck Barr would bleed out quickly and not be able to report. If that happened, there would be no officers as witnesses and…

“Rider, I am Charles Willingham Hanson, III.”

Hanson got the response he hoped for: “General Hanson’s son?” the courier asked.

Hanson smiled. “The same,” he replied.  It was the Willingham middle name that provided the instant recognition, and not solely the fact that his father was one of a handful of Senators who finessed a flag appointment. The Willingham name worked it’s magic up and down the northeast coast, and would not fail him during this, undoubtedly his greatest hour of need.

“Please give my compliments to Colonel Toppinbee,” Hanson said coolly.

“I will, sir.”

“And tell the Colonel that we are ready to be relieved.  C Company’s suffered terrible casualties, as you’ve seen for yourself, and our fighting efficiency is seriously impaired.  The reserves should be put forward immediately. What’s left of my Company can provide cover until the lead elements pass through our line.”

The courier stiffened. “The Colonel sent me to inform you, sir, that there are no reserves.”

Hanson paled. “What?” he exclaimed, gasping. “There’s probably an entire Reb division coming up this hill.” He pointed to the steep downward slope, “We were able to stop ’em twenty minutes ago, but it was a miracle.  This battle’s not over, I tell you, they’re regrouping in greater force.”  As if to emphasize Hanson’s point, the distinct whistling sound of a Reb minnie ball was heard close by.

“We know,” responded the courier, who for the first time noticed the Lieutenant’s wet pants.  “I was sent here to tell you that you have to hold at all costs.”  The courier’s lips flattened, grim-like. “The reserve is engaged elsewhere, and you, sir, are the end of the Union line.”

As the meaning of what he had just been told began to sink in, Hanson’s torso started to tremble again, and he reached out to caress his precious tree, as if the maple by some magic could protect him from the fury of hell that was about to be unleashed, but instead he slapped the trunk. It was so unfair! He had been sent to this outfit by Grant himself only a day earlier precisely because the Confederate attack was supposed to come a full mile to the east (Grant accommodated Colonel Robert Lincoln similarly only at a different location). Was he, a Willingham, now supposed to die in a scrub-awful thicket with farmers and lumberjacks from the backwaters of Minnesota?

The courier gave and held a second salute: “I have nothing further to report, sir.  By your leave.”

Hanson stepped out from behind the tree trunk and grabbed the horse’s reins. “Please let me come with you and explain the situation,” he pleaded.  Before the rider could respond, Hanson witnessed a second minnie ball lift the courier in his saddle. The ball made a loud smacking sound, a sound easily distinguishable from that of a projectile hitting earth, wood or stone.  Hanson felt the spray of blood, and his entire world swirled.


Hanson watched in horror as the courier slumped back into the horse’s seat and tumbled off, mortally wounded by a shot through the neck. Confronted with this gruesome visage, Hanson staggered, but only briefly.

For the first time since he had been in combat, Hanson experienced clarity of mind and purpose. He took out his service revolver and looked determinedly at his men.  “The enemy’s coming,” he said, “and we must concentrate our fire on clear targets. Hold fire, I repeat, hold fire until I command. Pass it down the line. Don’t waste a single shot.”  Hanson smacked the rump of the dead courier’s horse with his revolver, causing it to bolt towards the rear, and afterwards he remained standing in the open, exposed, defiant and angry to avenge the courier’s death. The infantry soldiers, including those who had mocked him, earlier, now looked at the Lieutenant in wonderment.

The initial Reb assault twenty minutes before and 150 feet down the hill had been devastating to both sides. Hanson estimated fully one-third of C Company’s 104 members were now casualties. The uphill retreat, however, ordered by Captain Barr before he was carried away, had been orderly, even a tactical success.  C Company had time to evacuate its wounded and retrieve much needed weapons and cartridges. The first wave had been repulsed, and the fallback position now occupied was a good one; the men were bunched more tightly, more difficult for the enemy to overrun, and the slope below them was considerably steep. Most of the men now possessed two loaded rifles.

Hansen said quietly to himself. “If I do this no one will even remember what happened earlier this day.”

The men now crouched behind good-sized rocks, Hansen observed with satisfaction. Some even had had time to entrench a little.  All were low to the ground and minimally exposed to the shots now coming more regularly but aimed too high from below.

HQ never anticipated an attack on this hill, Hanson knew. No one believed the Rebs would have the audacity to attack in this thick forest, in an uphill terrain situation, miles from the main body.  Hanson tasted bitterness in his mouth.  He remembered Officer’s Call from the night before; the conventional wisdom, the command logic. Word had been passed: the attack would come in the east.

“Chancellorsville,” Hanson muttered, in a low, disgusted tone, “Lee has done the unexpected again.”

He strained his eyes for any visible sign of the enemy, but could see only dilute smoke wafting from small fires burning slowly below, fires ignited during the first exchange. Sporadic minnie balls whistled over his head, but no muzzle flashes evidenced positions of shooters. The shot that killed the courier had been pure bad luck, he reckoned; fired blindly by a skirmisher who hoped to elicit return fire in an attempt to locate the Army of the Potomac. The Rebs had been bushwhacked once and now intended not to repeat their mistake.

“Hold fire,” Hanson said again, this time almost whispering.



Two overhead misses.


A ball slammed into a tree trunk next to the Lieutenant and showered him with pieces of bark. Hansen flinched and ached to return fire with his revolver, but he knew the men would follow his example. Facing what he believed to be a vastly superior force, Hanson knew his best chance was to draw the enemy in as close as possible and then cut them to ribbons with concerted, well-aimed volleys. Confronted with the horror of men dropping rapidly, the daunting prospect of charging up a steep hill into natural defenses and not knowing how many defenders were entrenched, perhaps the Rebel vanguard might again break off and retreat?  Or even better, run uncontrollably?

Whump. A clump of dirt exploded angrily in front of the Lieutenant’s left boot, and Hansen took partial cover behind his tree.

The Rebs were coming but where, and how many?  Hanson remembered the courier’s words: “Hold at all costs.”

His mind raced.

The position they now occupied, the high ground of a forested hill was tactically excellent, almost redoubt-like.  But what if the enemy flanked him by coming up on his left?  Routed him with no opportunity to retreat?  Hansen’s company was at the absolute end of the Union line, he was painfully aware. If the Rebs went either through or around his position, they would envelope and annihilate a good portion of the Union army. Nothing would stand in the aggressor’s way for the better part of a mile.

An enemy muzzle flash appeared to the right, the first Hansen witnessed in twenty minutes. The skirmishers were now coming up, he reckoned, and not far behind, the Reb body.

Hanson reckoned wrong.

“Yeewho, yeeeeewhooo,” signaled a general Reb attack, and the first wave of 50 or so sweating, crazed Southerners crashed through the forest and appeared in several lines abreast, bayonets fixed and glistening in a small pocket of noonday sun. The Rebels struggled for footing on the steep hillside, and Hanson watched as several tripped and fell hard onto jagged rocks, only to be trampled by a surge from behind, these prematurely fallen men, the lucky ones.

The distance separating the two lines was barely twenty yards and Hanson took in the spectacle just long enough to make a welcome observation: the Reb charge was aimed directly for the heart of C Company!  This meant there was no movement as yet towards C’s undefended flank!

“Fire,” Hanson yelled needlessly, as a sheet of flame and white smoke erupted from the Union line.  Hanson watched spellbound as approximately three-dozen Rebels bowled over, as if harvested by a gigantic scythe. The surviving attackers pressed on, however, and where necessary, advanced directly over the bodies of fallen comrades. Another sheet of flame and smoke spewed forward from the men in blue, and this time at even closer range, almost point blank. The result was greater carnage – only three Confederates were left standing and then, only for a matter of seconds.

As most members of C Company struggled frantically to re-load, another, even larger Reb unit emerged from the forest. A Rebel command was heard. A front rank and rear rank formed, took quick aim and loosed a large volley at the defenders.  Fortunately for C Company, the natural and man-made defenses shielded them well; Hanson witnessed only a few defenders go down.  The ensuing charge was a different matter. As the butternut-dressed attackers approached the line of C Company, there were few loaded weapons to stop them, and a fierce hand-to-hand combat erupted.

“Magnificent,” Hanson exclaimed, watching in marvel as the spectacle unfolded to his right. “Why was I afraid?” he wondered aloud.

Hanson’s mind whirled. A dizziness born of euphoria now controlled him completely, intoxicating beyond any stimulation ever experienced before, and in any setting. Something wondrous happened and he was transformed! Looking through the smoke and the blur of war, he spotted a beautiful red white and blue striped object fluttering in the distance, and for the first time clearly saw his destiny:


“Hanson, Charles Willingham III, Lieutenant, General’s Staff, Temporary Duty, C Company, 33 Minnesota Volunteers…”

“The men will love me!” he exclaimed, as he stepped out for the last time from behind his tree. “Die traitors!” he screamed, as he rushed at the Confederates, charging for all he was worth towards C Company’s colors, at the center of a Union line, now in jeopardy of falling.

“Citation: While in command of a detached Company, observing

his regiment thrown into disarray by a charge from the enemy, and in danger of being flanked, without orders, made a countercharge upon the attacking column and parlayed the enemy assault into a complete Union victory”.

“Glory Hallelujah!” Hanson yelled.  “Give ‘em hell!”  Retrieving the Stars and Stripes from the downed bearer, he whirled and discharged his revolver into the face of the Johnny Reb who killed the bearer.  “Follow me, men!”

Decoration: for valor above and beyond the normal call of duty, the Congressional Medal of Honor is hereby awarded.”    



“This is where he died,” the courier said to Colonel Toppinbee, pointing to the base of the tree with the large fungal ring. Graves Registration had removed the body hours earlier, but its imprint still remained on the grass, and the blood-pool was by now dried, its residue sticky-black and covered with flies. “This is where it happened, sir, look, you can even see my horse’s hoof marks here.”

“Yep, peed in his pants and never fired a shot,” added Private Dobson.  By now the Colonel had heard so many eyewitness accounts of Lieutenant Hanson’s cowardly behavior that he let Dobson’s disrespectful comments pass. It was not as if the Lieutenant was from Minnesota after all. The Colonel’s silence tacitly encouraged Dobson to speak further: “You can bet he’ll get a heroes funeral In New York City, sir,” he said, “and a big one.”

This time Toppinbee responded: “None of that talk, Private, none of that talk ever.”

Posted in Civil War - fiction | Leave a comment



 footnoted fiction

by Richard H. Allison

Copyright © 2011 Richard H. Allison

Friday, 10:00 p.m., May 1, 1863

Chancellor House – Headquarters, Army of the Potomac

Having finished with the chamber pot and buttoned up, the commanding general reached into his breast pocket and groped for the envelope he knew would be there.  Finding it, and being reassured, he withdrew an empty hand.  “In just a few days,” the general hissed, addressing the piece of paper in his pocket, “you will be answered.”  The general glowered into a mirror and then, sneering, turned abruptly to face a closed door leading to the parlor. “You, and the bastards in there,” he added.

For more than three months the commanding general had massaged the envelope in this peculiar fashion, touching and rubbing it so often that the paper had become discolored where the postage stamp normally would be affixed. There was no postage-stamp on this envelope, however, only the hand-written name of its addressee, and the words, “Private Correspondence — Military Courier.”  As dirty as the envelope now was, its content was still crisp and new and consisted of a single page of high quality stationary.  Very few eyes had seen this letter, and the commanding general himself had only read it twice, which explained the document’s well-preserved condition.  Certainly no one in the adjacent room had seen it — save for one who had rendered the country a great service.

The general gazed at the visage of his person in a dresser mirror and again placed his hand into his blouse, his fingers and thumb instinctively re-grasping the envelope.  “I look like Napoleon,” he said, laughing at his mirror-pose. “A good affectation for any commanding general.” Did not his men cheer joyously when he passed by on his white war-horse? He winked into the reflecting glass and joked, “I am Napoleon!”

Thinking again of the letter and his army of 115,000, the largest army ever fielded in America, the commanding general’s mood changed from giddy to serious. Had he not also in fact restored army morale?  Had he not in fact re-organized the Army of the Potomac for better military efficiency? Had he not – just yesterday — successfully concluded a three-day, sixty-mile march, the most daring of the war? Had he not placed the better part of his army, 70,000 men, south of the Rappanannock River putting Lee in a precarious position? Had he not fooled Lee by his “demonstrations” at Fredericksburg?  Was he not in fact the epitome of what that newspaper dubbed a “Fighting Joe?”

The muffled sound of voices in the next room caught the general’s attention. In spite of all he accomplished, in his heart of hearts he knew that at least two of the flag officers in the adjacent room, and perhaps others, conspired against him, and would use the events of this afternoon as a basis for criticism.  “It was an organized withdrawal today and not a retreat!” the general protested, looking sharply into mirror.

On the commode before him lay a copy of the General Order he had promulgated thirty hours earlier upon arriving at Chancellor house, when all had cheered him, including those in the next room. The commanding general picked it up and read what he had written:

The operations of the last three days have determined

that the enemy must either ingloriously fly or come out

from behind his entrenchments and give us battle on our

own ground, where certain destruction awaits him.

The general shook his fist at the mirror. “The tactical situation remains unchanged,” he seethed, “Lee is enveloped!”  Snapping to attention, he did a right face and tiptoed to the closed door. Placing an ear to a panel he said quietly to himself, “Please to God, Dan.”

Heart pounding, the general overheard the shrill voice of the man he knew would be his most severe critic, Major General George G. Meade, the commander of V Corps. Known by his men alternatively as “Old Snapping Turtle” and “the Great Peppery”, Meade was at this moment at the acme of his infamous ill temper.  “Malfeasance bordering on cowardice, I say,” he heard Meade shriek. “I saw Bank’s Ford undefended, with my own eyes, and it was mine for the taking!  I could have linked with Sedgwick this very afternoon, I tell you, but instead got ordered back.  We squandered a great military opportunity, gentlemen, squandered, I say!”

The commanding general cringed and bit a knuckle hard. “Cowardice?” he repeated in disbelief. “This is worse than…”   The general dropped a knee to the floor and peered through the keyhole.  Mopping his brow with a handkerchief, it took a moment for the general’s eye to adjust, but when it did he was able to recognize three of his five Corps commanders — Meade, Slocum and Couch. A fourth corps commander was also in the room, but visible only by a pant leg.  Did the pant leg belong to General Howard or to General Sickles?  “Please to God,” the commanding general whispered to himself “let him be Dan Sickles.”

Through the keyhole the amber light from the parlor lanterns made Meade appear more Lucifer-like than usual.  Meade’s raptor like nose, cast iron posture and burning eyes imported meaning to the vice-like grip he maintained on his battle sword.

Major General Darius N. Couch, the commander of II Corps, spoke next.  “I sent a message begging him to call off his pull-back this afternoon,” Couch complained bitterly. “I agree with you totally, General Meade.”

Upon hearing this, the commanding general fell to the floor on hands and knees. “Traitors!” he hissed. “Mutinous jealousy!”

Returning to the keyhole, the general observed that the room had lapsed into a tense silence.  Undoubtedly the other corps commanders weighed heavily what they could add, if anything.  Agonizing moments passed and the commanding general witnessed the sartorial resplendent Couch fastidiously examine the front of his uniform tunic, looking to pluck an elusive piece of lint, which of course, he did not find.  “Peacock,” the commanding general hissed.

Finally, mercifully for the commanding general, a handclap exploded: “I absolutely disagree, gentlemen.”  Major General Daniel E. Sickles, commander of III Corps and owner of the pant leg had made his presence known.  Breathing a quiet sigh, the commanding general rubbed his upper nose to relieve his eyes and resumed his kneeling spy-station.  Three cheers for Dan Sickles! As a congressman before the war, Sickles murdered his wife’s lover the son of Frances Scott Key and was acquitted with the first successful plea of temporary insanity. The scandal helped his career and ultimately Sickles was selected as one of a handful of non-U.S. Military Academy graduates to hold high command.  It had been Sickles, some five months earlier, who arranged for the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War to be fully informed about the Union Army debacle at Fredericksburg.  A fellow drinker and ladies-man, the commanding general viewed Sickles, a former Tammany Hall politician, as an ally — a man to be trusted.  And Sickles was a big power in the Democratic Party!

“Henry, what is your assessment of today?” asked Sickles, turning to the boyish-looking commander of XII Corps, Major General Henry Slocum, who advanced approximately one mile towards Fredericksburg from Chancellorsville before he too received orders from the commanding general to withdraw.

Good technique, the commanding general thought – that is, Sickles asking the opinion of an officer who might be sympathetic.

“I was ordered to take Tabernacle Church by way of Plank Road,” Slocum responded dryly. “I engaged the enemy and advanced before receiving the order directing me to turn back.”

Hearing this, the commanding general swallowed hard.

“Darius?” Sickles asked, turning to the commander of II Corps “What caused you to beg our commander to call off his withdrawal this afternoon?” The commanding general witnessed Couch glare at Sickles. The two disliked each other intently, and it was apparent that Couch took affront to Sickles now addressing him by his first name and not his military rank.

“General Warren warned the general-in-chief against abandoning the high ground,” Couch said forcefully. Couch curled his lip and pointed an arm upwards and in an easterly direction. “He told him Lee would use those hills to rain artillery on Chancellorsville.” After a pause Couch added, “I also was making progress in the fighting today when ordered to retreat.  Had I been permitted to continue my advance, I believe I could have broken out of the Wilderness and taken the Turnpike all the way to the objective, Tabernacle Church.  Those are my thoughts on today’s events, sir.”

“But you were in the Wilderness when the order arrived, unable to ascertain with certainty the Rebel forces you faced, correct?  Did you know that Lee advanced with four full corps?”

“Damn!” Couch exploded.

Sickles held up his hands, palms forward.  “Gentlemen, I submit…”

“You weren’t out there today, Mr. Sickles,” retorted the snapping turtle.

Sickles, who’s III Corps had been held in reserve, ignored Meade’s taunt. “I submit the Army of the Potomac is intact at this moment, gentlemen,” Sickles opined, “and now occupies a good defensive position. The enemy must either attack or retreat tomorrow, and this situation is tenfold better than what we faced at Frederickburg.  Let me ask you a question, General Meade.”


“When you fought at Frederickburg, were you required to charge fortified and reinforced positions?” Meade glared at Sickles, remained silent and Sickles answered for him: “Yes, you most certainly were,” he said, “and it turned out to be a military disaster.  Tomorrow, sir, if the enemy chooses to fight, he must charge your entrenchments.”

“This ground is low,” Meade complained. “And we’ve surrendered the initiative.”

“With all due respect general, I submit that is unimportant,” Sickles replied.  “We have 70,000 men against Lee’s 50,000.  At Fredricksburg, Sedgwick has 45,000 men with the means to cross the Rappahannock and strike Early’s 10,000 defenders and Sedgwick has standing orders to attack should a weak point be exposed.   We have 400 cannon and Lee has approximately 100.  Finally, Lee is out of his damned fortress town and on the march!  It took us five months, gentlemen, but we finally did it.  Lee’s the one in the pinch, not us.”  Sickles added a final poke: “And I submit, George, what you’re observed today is strategy and not… what word did you use to characterize our leader’s performance?  `Timidity?’ Is that the word you used?”

Overhearing Sickles commentary, the commanding general drew away from the keyhole, chuckled quietly, and stood. “Good job, Dan,” he whispered, returning to the mirror to adjust his cravat. “Thank you.”

The commanding general appreciated that soon the gospel-spewing Major General Oliver Otis Howard would arrive signaling the start of the official meeting, and it would be time for him to commence his role-play.  Also not in the fight this afternoon, Howard used the spare time to inflict temperance lectures on his mostly German and Dutch immigrant XI Corps. Lord, the commanding general thought, what a children’s crusade I must run.

“Only one friend in a group of five,” the general observed sardonically, “and in a week’s time they’ll all brag to have served under me.”  The commanding general reached into his breast pocket and fingered the envelope.  He squared his jaw and looked intently at his image. “You will find, sir,” he said, addressing the paper in his pocket, “that if I would be a dictator, I would be more formidable than Napoleon.”   Scowling, he withdrew the envelope and swore at it.  “Damn the impudence! I was correct to tell that reporter of the malfeasance,” he hissed, waving a pointed finger in the air for extra emphasis. “How else could the public ever know?  What happened at that wall at Fredericksburg was military incompetence and Burnside is responsible.” The commanding general shook violently.  “I had no choice but to tell that newsman.”  Then he added, “I owed it to my country.” Posturing before the mirror, he recited his favorite Napoleonic quote: “God is on the side of the large battalions.”  He laughed and added: “And mine are about to get much, much larger!”

A knock on the parlor room door brought an end to the commanding general’s soliloquy.  “General Hooker, sir,” an aide announced loudly through the door. “The corps commanders are assembled, sir, waiting for you.”

“Very well. Bring in their aides and the members of my staff,” the commanding general ordered. General Hooker smiled as he uttered these words; he and Sickles had planned, beforehand, for the presence of multiple witnesses to temper the vehemence of any opinions that might be expressed.

The occupants of the parlor room sprang to attention at the sight of their leader. “At ease, gentlemen. First, I wish to inform you that I intend to order General Reynolds and his entire corps here to Chancellorsville, and he will arrive in time for the battle tomorrow.  This means we will have six full corps, or 90,000 men, to fight an enemy estimated at four corps, or 50,000 men. I like this prospect very much!”

“Second,” the commanding general continued, speaking rapidly, “I wish to congratulate you on the orderliness of your withdrawal today. And General Slocum, I saw your low casualty report. Only ten killed and wounded. Very well done, sir!  Very well, indeed!”  Before Slocum could reply to the compliment, the commanding general turned to the assemblage. “Gentlemen, please join me at the situation map.”

Unlike Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville was not a town.  The “ville” of Chancellorsville consisted only of a large brick farmhouse (now Union Army headquarters) and a couple of outbuildings clustered at a crossroads in the middle of a clearing approximately 100 acres in size.  The farm was completely surrounded by the Wilderness – a name given by the locals to a thick forest of scrub pine, blackjack oak and thickets that blanketed a truly God-forsaken section of Virginia.

General Hooker looked intently at a drawing he had prepared that afternoon for the defense of the open acreage and additionally part of the forest to the west, and was about to speak when an aide to General Couch preempted him.  “Sir, do you think our five corps, soon to be six, will be able to effectively utilize all its force…in such a small open area?”

The commanding general stared coolly at the young officer who had spoken without being requested to speak, and more aggravating, expressed a military opinion — contrary to his own opinion — in the form of a question. He noted the young man was the one he mentally nicknamed “Proper Boston”. A few months earlier this young officer had written a letter  (the commanding general later learned from an informant) stating that Headquarters, Army of the Potomac “was run as a combination brothel-tavern”.  At the time the commanding general decided not to do anything about this affront, as he did not possess the letter, the young man was from a prominent family and Couch would undoubtedly shield him.

Hooker decided to make light of the question. “I am certainly aware of the military maxim you refer to, ” he responded in a fatherly-like voice. Lord God Joshua hat, Hooker thought, no less than the tea-totaling letter writer himself had preached to him endlessly about this maxim, and now he had to suffer this from an upstart straight-laced prig? “We will entrench skillfully tonight,” the commanding general continued, “and I do believe our infantry can maneuver over this area in such a fashion as to put in all of our men.”  The commanding general placed his right hand into his breast pocket and his left on the young man’s shoulder. “We will do nothing rash tomorrow,” he admonished Proper Boston, laughing, looking directly into his eyes. “Remember you are advised of this by a well known military expert. Nothing rash, nothing rash whatsoever!”

The officers in the room looked quizzically at one another and shifted uneasily. “I assure you I have got Lee just where I want him,” General Hooker said, this time addressing all present. “ He must flee or fight me on my own ground, and if he chooses to fight, we have eighty chances in a hundred to win.”  The commanding general then repeated a boast he had often made before, a blasphemy he particularly enjoyed making when in the presence of the religious. “God Almighty cannot stop me from destroying the Rebel army.”

Three Corps commanders stood rock-still at attention, General Howard fidgeted visibly, and General Sickles added to the sacrilege, “Well said, sir! Hallelujah!”

The following morning, Saturday, May 2nd, the commanding general exulted, “How strong! How strong!” as he peered into the distance from the veranda of his headquarters, admiring his work product.  He had uttered these words countless times the night before when he rode the full length of his line and personally inspected each entrenchment, even dismounting at times to dig with — and be cheered by — his men.  And today, despite an almost sleepless night, the commanding general felt refreshed, even invigorated. All preparations had been made and what was left to do was to give the Army of Northern Virginia a reverse reenactment of the Battle of Fredericksburg.

The Union line extended a distance of approximately six miles in the rough shape of a crescent moon with its tips pointing northwards.  Its strength was in its middle of the crescent, near Chancellor house, where the corps belonging to Sickles, Couch and Slocum were compacted, but not so tightly as to preclude their re-deploying when and where needed.  To the west, the Union right flank was protected by the vast Wilderness, but nevertheless still defended by XI Corps under the command of General Howard; to the east and left, General Meade had his three divisions extended on the banks of Mineral Spring Run at a distance of two miles all the way northwards to the Rappahannock River, which waterway provided a complete natural defense against an enemy flanking maneuver. If Meade’s line were to become seriously threatened (or even pierced) reserves from the center could be rushed in quickly for support. General Reynolds and his corps had yet to arrive, but advance riders reported Reynolds was making satisfactory progress on the march and that he would definitely be on hand in time for the main event.

Strolling alone in the vicinity of his headquarters, the commanding general placed his hand on the envelope and laughed mean-spiritedly. “Mr. President, I will be President, and I will do it with energy and sleepless vigilance!”

The appearance of a galloping dispatch rider approaching from the southwest caught the commanding general’s attention. He waited until the rider was close enough to spot the gold on his uniform, and waved him over. “Compliments of General Birney, sir,” the rider said, holding a straightened right hand to his brim-cap, and masterfully controlling his excited mount with his left.  Birney was one of Sickles’ division commanders. “From our vantage point on Hazel Grove a large enemy column has been spotted moving from left to right across our front.”

The commanding general eyed the rider intently. “Anything else?” he asked.

“No, sir, other than again, it is large and we are counting companies as they pass. ”

“Very well. Return my compliments to General Birney and tell him you delivered his message to me…” General Hooker paused to look at his pocket watch. “… at 8:55 o’clock. Request him to keep me advised as more becomes known.” The commanding general returned a sharp salute. “Dismissed.”

Rushing to the situation room in Chancellor house, the commanding general informed his staff of what the courier had told him and proceeded   immediately to the map table. He was alarmed at what he first saw: the road the Confederate column was now on headed south then turned west. “Send a message to General Howard,” he exclaimed. “Tell him we have good reason to suppose the enemy is moving to our right. Tell him to advance his pickets for purposes of observation as far as may be safe to obtain timely information of their approach.”

This cautionary directive accomplished, the commanding general again viewed the map and this time, with his finger, physically traced the course of every junction and road the Rebel column might take. “An attack on our western flank?” he asked, addressing no one in particular. “Or is Lee up to something else?” He pointed to a possible escape route for the enemy: the road leading to the train-stop for Gordonsville. His staff responded with silence; there was nothing to be said to illuminate the tactical situation. More intelligence was clearly needed.

Five minutes passed and then ten. The commanding general paced the veranda, so he would be among the first to spot the rider. The wait was excruciating and finally a courier appeared. “The Reb column is at least six miles long, sir,” the rider gasped. “It has infantry, artillery, ambulances and wagons. General Sickles requests permission to…”

“Stop!” the commanding general roared, holding up his hand for emphasis. “Ambulances and wagons? How many?”

“Many, sir. I suppose pretty much most of what they’ve got.”

A smile grew on Fighting Joe Hooker’s face.  Turning to his staff, the commanding general looked like a college professor in front of eager-to-please sophomores. He asked, “Gentlemen, what does this suggest to you?”

It was Proper Boston who first spoke the magic word. “Retreat, sir. An assault force would not take wagons.”

A young Colonel cried for joy: “The Rebs are skedaddling with everything they’ve got!”

“Our march’s the thing!” a Brigadier General exclaimed, referring to the military showpiece, their three-day, sixty-mile odyssey. “We flanked ‘em, sure enough!”

The courier finally spoke again: “General Sickles believes there is a distinct possibility the Rebs are pulling out, sir, and he requests permission to advance his entire corps southwards to attack the rear of their column. He proposes to engage at Catherine’s Furnace.”

Euphoria had overtaken headquarters, Army of the Potomac, drunkenness the likes of which it had never experienced since the eve of the first battle of Bull Run and the commanding general now did nothing to temper it. “By all means, yes,” General Hooker said smiling broadly, not looking at the map to see where Catherine’s Furnace was located. “And wish General Sickles my best for the chase!”

Word-of-mouth passed quickly to the entire army: Lee was on the run!

At 10 a.m. a dispatch rider arrived at Headquarters from XI Corps: General Howard had independently sighted the Reb column.  “I am taking measures to resist an attack from the west,” Howard reported.

At noon, news arrived that III Corps, commanded by General Sickles, had advanced a full two miles south through a gap in the thickets to the ruins of the pig-iron works known as Catherine’s Furnace, and engaged a unit of rear-guard Georgians. The battle had largely gone the Union way, and Sickles quickly captured 300 prisoners. The Reb column, now under duress, re-routed a substantial number of its wagons and artillery another two miles farther south. Unsupported, Sickles dare not pursue them, nor could he safely withdraw and return to his position on the line, as combat was still ongoing.

XI Corps, the slender western tip of the moon-crescent Union battle line which was supposed to be supported by Sickles, now stood alone in the Wilderness at a distance of three miles from headquarters. XI Corps was now also reduced in strength, some of its troops having been siphoned off by the commanding general to support the advance of General Sickles.

Save for the occasional explosion of enemy artillery rained down from the heights the Union held the day before the situation at Chancellorsville remained relatively quiet throughout the afternoon. Officers from the 8th Pennsylvania Calvary lounged on the grass near headquarters, their mounts tied nearby, waiting for orders and playing a friendly game of poker.

Prisoners had been interrogated, and three of them had made statements to the effect that their column would press an attack later that day.  One bitter prisoner even went so far as to state, “You think you’ve done a big thing just now, but wait until Stonewall Jackson gets around on your flank.”  How reliable were these prisoner reports? Not very, the commanding general determined. Indeed, earlier prisoner reports placing Longstreet at Culpepper (in a position behind Union lines) had proven to be false. Why should these new reports be trusted?

The only angst experienced by headquarters came late in the afternoon, starting when a frenzied captain of artillery showed up and demanded an audience with the commanding general. He told of riding out in front of the lines and spotting thousands of Confederates massing for an attack on the Union right. The captain was informed that the commanding general already knew this intelligence and he was summarily turned away. Thereafter word of corroborating sightings started arriving in the form of urgent dispatches, and even a few unit commanders arrived at Chancellor house to personally convey the same alarming assessment. There was no convincing the commanding general, however.  Sickles continued to report that Lee was in full retreat, and Sickles was, after all, in a position to know.

At 4:30 p.m., instead of warning General Howard that an attack on his flank might be imminent, the commanding general sent an all out attack message to General Sedgwick: “We know the enemy is fleeing, trying to save his trains. Two of Sickles’ divisions are among them.  Capture Fredericksburg and everything in it, and vigorously pursue the enemy.”

Deep in the woods, Sergeant Otto Stultzmann, formerly of Bonn, Germany, most recently of the brigade commanded by Colonel Leopold von Gilsa, First Division, XI Corps, bent over the campfire and helped himself to another cup of coffee. A satisfactory military encampment had been accomplished in spite of the incredibly dense forest. Thickets had been hacked away, tents pitched, sleeping rolls put down and the evening meal cooked, ready to serve.  Rifles were stacked in neat clusters with bayonets affixed, per army regulation, and the cannons were unmanned. Suddenly a deer charged directly into camp, followed quickly by a fox and then several rabbits. “Vat is dis?” the sergeant blurted.

Back at headquarters, the commanding general enjoyed a brief respite in his private parlor.  Sitting at a writing table, he removed the envelope from his pocket, withdrew the letter from within and placed it on the table. He exhaled a sigh of relief. Perhaps it was too early, but then again…perhaps not? He reached for a pen and paper, only to be interrupted by a knock on the door, followed by a voice suggesting urgency. “General, sir, you best get out here.”

“What’s wrong?” the commanding general exclaimed, retrieving the letter to its customary place.

“We’re not sure, sir, but there’s something you should hear.”

The commanding general followed the aide onto the grounds of Chancellor house where practically his entire staff stood. To a man, they faced west and no one spoke. Stopping a moment to listen, the commanding general heard the faint sound of musketry coming from the south. It was Sickle’s III Corps, there could be no doubt.  “What is it?” he asked. “Why did you bring me here?”

“It might be acoustics playing tricks, sir, but the sound of battle now seems to also at times come from the west. Proper Boston pointed to the Orange Turnpike, the road leading to XI Corps. “Listen, sir. It’s very faint, and it comes and it goes.”

The general listened for a full minute and heard the unmistakable distant rattle of musketry, but try as he might, he was unable to ascertain this time from what direction the sound emanated.  Was it from the south, or the west or perhaps somewhere in between? Something did seem different but what?

“General Sickles may be renewing his offensive in another location and we’re getting echo effect, sir,” someone suggested. “It could be the hills.”

“Or even the wind,” observed another. “That can carry sound too.”

Several staff officers murmured affirmatively and the commanding general concurred. “Let’s sit on the porch,” he said, addressing two of his favorite junior aides. “We’ll listen.”

The three officers gazed at the setting sun, and quietly enjoyed the beauty of the budding Virginia countryside, taking in the freshness of a balmy spring evening. They talked for forty-five minutes about the pursuit of Lee by the entire army, an event that was scheduled to commence early the next day.

At 6:05 p.m., the rumble of war in the west became distinct again and, this time, it was loud and unabated. Alarmed, the officers on the porch stood and peered down the Orange Turnpike. One of the aides, Captain Harry Russell advanced a few feet down the pike and then used his field glasses. “My God!” he screamed. “Here they come!”

The commanding general was next to use the glasses, and what he saw sickened him. Scores at first, then hundreds, and then thousands of bluecoats raced in panic towards where he stood. He watched in horror, helpless, as wagons collided with ambulances, and cavalrymen road over the backs of infantrymen.  The commanding general had witnessed similar behavior before in other battles, but never anything of this magnitude. The better part of an entire army corps, consisting of 20 regiments and 4 batteries had been overrun. 8,000 soldiers had been killed, captured or were now fleeing for their lives. They fled over a field that was supposed to be occupied by reserve divisions, but now stood precariously empty. The vast majority of retreating soldiers had abandoned their weapons; they had thrown them down in the interest of increased foot speed or, if ultimately overtaken, to improve their chances for surrender.  Artillery shells from the heights to the east started falling en masse on the entire front, including the horrified fleeing soldiers; in their haste to escape, all had rushed headlong into a trap, a killing field. The master plan of the master tactician was now fully revealed.

The commanding general reflexively reached into his pocket and grasped the thing. Tears welled in his eyes and he wanted to scream! He wanted to cry like a school child and keep on crying until someone hugged and consoled him. He himself wanted to turn and run, to shield himself from the God-awful specter. In an instant, everything he aspired for, everything he dreamed to achieve had been taken away. And every criticism he ever laid on a fellow officer now belonged on him.

“General, sir?” an aide asked.

The commanding general looked through the field glasses and did not respond.

“Sir! What are we to do?”

The commanding general continued to look through the glass, but he no longer saw the pandemonium; rather he looked into the fabric of his being. And the voice of wise inner counsel did speak to him: What happens to you, Joe Hooker, does not matter. Defend the men who love you.

“Sir! What are your orders?”



“We need a new battle line,” the commanding general responded, pointing exactly to where he wanted it laid out. “Captain Candler, fetch General Berry’s division and get them entrenching. Captain Russell, you and I are going to ride into that.” The commanding general pointed to XI Corps. “We are going to restore order.”


Three days later the Army of the Potomac, both at Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg had been forced by Lee to retreat northwards across the Rappahannock. 17,000 Union and 13,000 Confederate casualties resulted from the battle. The Union army had fought gallantly after its disaster of May 2nd, but Lee, having gained the initial advantage, was not one to give it up.  Less than one-half of the soldiers under the command of General Hooker engaged in combat.

The commanding general sat at a table in his tent and worked on another report to the President of the United States; the one he had sent two days earlier admitted to no success, and ended with the statement, “No general ever commanded a more devoted army.” The communication today would be more of the same – far different than what the commanding general envisioned writing when he started the campaign.

His reporting duties done, the commanding general withdrew, for the last time, the envelope from his breast pocket. Resolving to put the matter behind him forever, he placed the letter on the tray for filing and tossed its grimy envelope into the waste paper basket.

Executive Mansion

January 26, 1863


I have placed you at the head of the Army of the Potomac.  Of course I have done this upon what appears to me to be sufficient reasons. And yet I think it best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which I am not quite satisfied with you.  I believe you to be a brave and skilful soldier, which, of course, I like.  I also believe you do not mix politics with your profession, in which you are right. You have confidence in yourself, which is a valuable, if not indispensable quality.  You are ambitious, which, within reasonable bounds, does good rather than harm.  But I think that during General Burnside’s command of the army, you have taken counsel of your ambition, and thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to the country, and to a most meritorious and honorable brother officer.

I have heard, in such a way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the army and the government needed a dictator.  Of course, it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command.  Only those generals who gain successes can set up dictators.  What I ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship.  The government will support you to the utmost of its ability, which is neither more nor less than it has done and will do for all commanders.  I much fear that the spirit which you have aided to infuse in the army, will now turn upon you.  I shall assist you as far as I can to put it down.  Neither you, nor Napoleon, if he were alive again, could get any good out of the army, while such a spirit prevails in it.

And now, beware of rashness.  Beware of rashness, but with energy and sleepless vigilance, go forward, and give us victories.

Yours very truly,

A. Lincoln

                                      THE END


1. Lincoln’s letter to Hooker is undoubtedly one of the most incredible communications ever made by a political to a military leader.  It is remarkable because it is without parallel in history. When has a President or a Prime Minister ever scolded a commanding general as a father might an errant son? Three days before Lincoln sent his letter, he received a General Order issued by the then commanding general of the Army of the Potomac, Ambrose Burnside, dismissing Hooker (and several other flag officers) from the U.S Army. Burnside declared Hooker guilty of, “…unjust and unnecessary criticisms of the actions of superior officers,” and he characterized Hooker as, “…a man unfit to hold an important commission during a crisis like the present, when so much patience, charity, confidence, consideration, and patriotism are due from every soldier in the field.”  Burnside’s General Order concluded, “This order is issued subject to the approval of the President of the United States.” When Lincoln received Burnside’s communiqué on January 23, 1863, what was he to do? Burnside had botched the battle of Fredericksburg, that was common knowledge, and afterwards Hooker and other senior officers unabashedly encouraged dissention in the ranks. Lincoln reacted by putting the monkey squarely on Hooker’s back, and at the same time he tried to motivate Hooker with his letter.  The truth is, at this point in the war – two years into it (with little to show) Lincoln was fed up with all of his eastern command generals and their continuous political infighting.  In spite of overwhelming manpower and material, these generals had delivered no solid Union victories.  Indeed, prior to relieving General Burnside, Lincoln had relieved a string of commanders who had been either defeated or proven ineffective:

Irvin McDowell – Battle of Bull Run (July 1861)

George B. McClellan – Peninsular Campaign (March – July 1862)

John Pope – Second Battle of Bull Run (August 1862)

George B. McClellan – Antietam — failure to follow-up on September   victory (November 1862)

Not all generals in the Union Army were political in-fighters.  Consider this remarkable letter written from Chattanooga, Tennessee, on December 17, 1863, just four days after the Confederate victory at Fredericksburg:

To Barnabas Burns, Esq.

Chairman Democratic Central Committee

Dear Sir:

Your letter of the 7th inst. asking if you will be at liberty to use my name before the convention of the “War Democracy”, as candidate for the office of the Presidency is just received – The question astonishes me.  I do not know of anything I have ever done or said which would indicate that I could be a candidate for any office whatsoever within the gift of the people.

I shall continue to do my duty, to the best of my ability, so long as permitted to remain in the Army, supporting whatever Administration may be in power, in their endeavor to suppress the rebellion and maintain National unity, and never desert it because my vote, if I had one, might have been cast for different candidates.

Nothing likely to happen would pain me so much as to see my name used in connection with a political office.  I am not a candidate for any office nor for favors from any party.  Let us succeed in crushing the rebellion. In the shortest possible time, and I will be content with whatever credit may then be given me, feeling assured that a just public will award all that is due.

Your letter I take to be private.  Mine is also private.  I wish to avoid notoriety as far as possible, and above all things desire to be spared the pain of seeing my name mixed with politics.  Do not therefore publish this letter but wherever, and by whatever party, you hear my name mentioned in connection with the candidacy for any office, say that you know from me direct that I am not “in the field” and cannot allow my name to be used before any convention.

I am with great respect,

Your obt. Svt.

U.S. Grant

2. Lee’s victory at Chancellorsville is heralded by military historians as his greatest. In the face of a vastly numerically superior foe, Lee split his army not once, but twice, and went on the attack – a strategy that violated every military textbook of the time. Lee left a force of 10,000 to defend Fredericksburg against Sedgwick, and roughly split equally his remaining 50,000-man assault force – 25,000 each – at a dangerous distance of 12 miles.  Thirteen years later General Custer would employ a similar tactic, only with lesser men and a shorter distance, to achieve a different result.

Undoubtedly one of the cagiest generals to ever command a field, Lee ordered empty freight cars ferried back and forth over a section of rail to create the impression that Fredericksburg was still supplied by Richmond, when the line had in fact been cut.  It was Lee who directed Jackson to take the supply wagons with his flanking attack force, creating the impression of retreat.  Finally, Lee’s misinformation placing Longstreet in Culpepper, until exposed, caused fits for the Union command.

Lee’s victory at Chancellorsville was not without great cost to the Confederacy.  At 9:00 p.m. on the eventful evening of May 2nd, while reconnoitering the front, Stonewall Jackson was wounded by friendly fire; he died eight days later.  Also, the South simply could not afford to lose the 13,000 soldiers it lost at Chancellorsville.  Lastly, the result at Chancellorsville may have convinced General Lee that his Army of Northern Virginia could have its way with the Army of the Potomac, whenever and wherever it chose.  If this is true – well, everyone knows the rest of the story.  Lee always hoped for the Waterloo type ending, but never achieved one.

3. Until the publication of the meticulously researched work Chancellorsville by Stephen W. Sears in 1996, military historians uniformly criticized General Hooker for withdrawing on the first day of battle, that being May 1st.  Until Sears’ publication, the consensus had been that it was folly for Hooker to surrender the initiative at the onset to Robert E. Lee.  Sears argued that Hooker made the correct decision on that first day; that he was greatly outnumbered at the places where the two armies first collided and unable to ascertain the tactical situation from a far away and largely unworkable command post.

The Union corps commanders who were in the actual vanguard on that day had this to say about Hooker’s decision to withdraw:

Major General Darius N. Couch (upon recollecting the conference the evening of May 1st where Hooker said, “I have Lee just where he want him”) wrote:

“The retrograde movement had prepared me for something of this kind, but to hear this from his [General Hooker’s] own lips that the advantages gained by the successful marches of his lieutenants were to culminate in fighting a defensive battle in that nest of thickets was too much, and I retired from his presence in the belief that my commanding general was a whipped man.”

Major General George G. Meade’s penultimate observation, reportedly exclaimed as he received the order to withdraw, was more succinct:

“If he [Hooker] thinks he can’t hold the top of the hill, how does he expect to hold the bottom of it?”

Major General Henry Slocum simply objected: “I had had hardly begun to fight,” he said.  The official report he completed and submitted on May 17, 1863, reads as follows:

“On Friday, at 11: a.m., pursuant to orders, I moved the Twelfth Corps from Chancellorsville toward Fredericksburg, on the Plank Road.  We met the skirmishers of the enemy about a mile from Chancellor house; formed in line of battle and advanced, the enemy falling back towards the heights of Fredericksburg. At 1 p.m. orders were received to return to our original line.  In this movement our loss was only 10 killed and wounded.”

As for the commanding general’s own assessment of his decision to withdraw that day, shortly before his death in 1879, Major General Hooker wrote:

“And here again my reputation has been attacked because I did not undertake to accomplish an impossibility, but turned back at this point; and every history of the war that has been written has soundly berated me because I did not fight here in the forest with my hands tied behind me, and allow my army to be sacrificed. I have always believed that impartial history would vindicate my conduct in this emergency.”

4. With respect to the debacle that XI Corps experienced on May 2nd, after the war, General Hooker had this to say:

“This failure of Howard to hold his ground cost us our position, and I was forced, in the presence of the enemy, to take up a new one. Upon investigation I found that Howard had failed properly to obey my instructions to prepare to meet the enemy from the west.”

General Howard had a different opinion as to how he performed his duties that day:

“It has been customary to blame me and my corps for the disaster. The imputations of neglect to obey orders; of extraordinary self-confidence; of fanatical reliance upon the God of battles; of not sending out reconnaissances; of not intrenching; of not strengthening the right flank by keeping proper reserves; of having no pickets or skirmishers; of not sending information to General Hooker, etc., etc., are far from true. My command was by positive orders riveted to that position. Though constantly threatened and made aware of hostile columns in motion, yet the woods were so dense that Stonewall Jackson was able to mass a large force a few miles off, whose exact whereabouts neither patrols, reconnaissances, nor scouts ascertained. The enemy crossing the plank road, two and a half miles off, we all saw. So the turning at the Furnance was seen by hundreds of our people; but the interpretation of these movements was certainly wrong. Yet, wherein did we neglect any precaution?”

Howard continues, claiming that his actions were identical to those of other generals that day, that parts of the XI Corps did fight hard, that a portion of his force had been previously taken away on Hookers orders, that his men detained Jackson for over an hour, and finally that the panic of XI Corps was no worse than other units in other Civil War battles or, for that matter, “the Belgians at Waterloo.”

The author believes that a fair reading of the record suggests that both General Hooker and General Howard are at blame for the result on May 2nd. Of the 8,000 defenders at Howard’s disposal, only 900, or two regiments, faced westward toward the 25,000 attackers at the fateful hour, and they did so without the benefit of breastworks, trenches or abatis.  Hooker, who was in overall command, never initiated an inspection tour during the course of the day to determine what preparations were actually made to protect his west flank — and he clearly had time to do so.  As a consequence, Hooker suffered XI Corps to be, “caught in the air.”

5. General Hooker was relieved as commanding general Army of the Potomac by President Lincoln on June 28, 1863, but not before he put into motion the highly successful march into southern Pennsylvania. Tactically, Joe Hooker was wanting, but organizationally, he did have skills. General Hooker later served with valor at Lookout Mountain, and he finished the war in charge of a mid-west regional (i.e., non-combat) command.  He led the burial detail for President Lincoln.

6. Confederate sharpshooters picked off Major General Reynolds at Gettysburg and ten months after that, Major General Sedgwick at Spotsylvania.  Ironically, just before General Sedgwick was shot in the head he exclaimed, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.”  The other corps commanders depicted in this story survived the war. Major General Sickles suffered a leg amputated at Gettysburg; he ordered its flesh boiled off and bones bleached, retaining the latter as a souvenir.

Sickles is one of the most intriguing, if not endearing, cads in American history.  The following is redacted from his obituary appearing in the New York Times, May 14, 1914:

At his bedside were Mrs. Sickles and his son, Stanton Sickles, who had been with him constantly for nearly two weeks, following a reconciliation that ended an estrangement of twenty-nine years.  The reconciliation between Gen. Sickles and his wife and son was brought about, it was said, through the efforts of one of the General’s Negro servants.  Before they went to his bedside, Mrs. Sickles and Stanton Sickles were living at the Hotel Albert.  They were unwilling to live with the General as long as Gen. Sickles’s secretary, Miss Eleanora Earle Wilmerding, lived in his home.  Miss Wilmerding died recently, and that may have hastened the reconciliation.

Although estranged from her husband, Mrs. Sickles had lived near him with her son.  In 1912, when she learned through the newspapers that the General was in financial straits, and that his household goods were about to be disposed of at a Sheriff’s sale, she went to his rescue with $8,000 she obtained by pawning her jewelry.  A few days after Mrs. Sickles had rendered her husband this service, he issued a statement attacking her motives for doing so, and asserting that it was not necessary for her to pawn her jewels.

Mrs. Sickles, as Senorita Carmina Creagh, the daughter of Chevalier de Creagh of Madrid, a Spanish Councillor of State, was married to Gen. Sickles on November 28, 1871, at the American Legation in Madrid, when the General was Minister to Spain.  She was brought up in the Court, and was the niece of the Marchioness of Novaliches, the Mistress of the Robes of the Court of Queen Isabella.  At the Court of Spain Sickles became a dominating figure. Four years of brilliant diplomacy brought him the title: “The Yankee King of Spain”.

The estrangement between Gen. Sickles and his wife has never been fully explained. Their marriage seemed to be a happy one until Gen. Sickles resigned as Minister to Spain and prepared to return to this country.   His wife, however, without any explanation whatsoever, suddenly refused to accompany him.  It was in 1908 that she returned to New York and took up her abode near the home of Gen. Sickles.

General Daniel E. Sickles was the last of that galaxy of corps commanders who made possible the achievement of Grant and brought our great civil war strife to a triumphant close.  Fighter, lawyer, politician and diplomat, his life was a crowded one, and in his closing years he looked back through a vista of decades in which strife and trouble were mixed in greater proportion than triumph.

Daniel Edgar Sickles was born in New York City on October 20, 1823.  His grandfather, who was of Knickerbocker stock, retained the name of Van Sickles, but the father of Gen. Sickles dropped the Dutch prefix.  Young Sickles was educated in the University of New York.  Though his father was wealthy the young man preferred to strike out on his own for himself.  He took up the printer’s trade, at which he worked for several years.  Then he entered the law office of Benjamin F. Butler, who was at that time Attorney General in President Van Buren’s Cabinet.  He was admitted to the bar in 1846.  He served in Congress from 1857 to 1861 and again 1893-94.

Butler was a leading Democrat, and he imbued the young law student with the enthusiastic devotion to that party.  For several years he was a member of the Tammany Hall General Committee and in 1855 he went to the State Senate.  It was he who obtained for the City its great Central Park.

The life of a soldier appealed to the young Sickles, and he joined the Twelfth Regiment, National Guard, in 1849, as a private.  In three years he retired from the organization as a major.  He rose to be a Major General in the United States Army later.

In the fall of 1853 Sickles was commissioned Secretary of Legation in London, under Minister James Buchanan.  After serving two years abroad he returned to enter a bitter political fight that sent him to the State Senate. Before his Senatorial term was out Sickles was elected to Congress.

It was during his stay in Washington that an event occurred which became the sensation of the day.  His ambition to fit himself for the diplomatic service had led him to take up the study of French and Italian, and this way he met Therese Bagioli, daughter of an Italian music teacher.  She was 17 when he married her.  Their daughter, Laura, was born in 1854.  When her husband went to Congress Mrs. Sickles accompanied him.  Phillip Barton Key, United State Attorney for the District of Columbia, son of Francis Scott Key, the author of “The Star Spangled Banner,” paid attention to Mrs. Sickles, and Sickles shot and killed Key on the street in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 27, 1859.

Sickles declared Key had misled Mrs. Sickles.  His trial, which lasted 20 days, ended in the acquittal of Sickles, the defense being temporary aberration of mind, and this was the first case in which that plea was set up as defense. After his acquittal Sickles took his wife back.

“I am not aware of any statute or code of morals,” said Sickles to his critics, “which makes it infamous to forgive a woman.  I can now see in the almost universal denunciation with which she is followed to my threshold the misery and peril from which I have rescued the mother of my daughter. I shall strive to prove to all that an erring wife and mother may be forgiven and redeemed.”

Mrs. Sickles died a few years later.

Retiring from Congress in 1861, Sickles was one of the first to anticipate the need for soldiers.  At the outbreak of the civil war, the young politician, then 38 years old, went to Lincoln to offer his services.

“You have been a leader in New York Democratic politics,” said the President.  “If you kept up end up at that game surely you’ll do to take command of men in the field.”

The retired Congressman returned to this city and organized the Excelsior Brigade of Volunteers in New York, and was commissioned Colonel of one of the five regiments.  He was nominated Brigadier General in September, 1861, but was not confirmed by the Senate until March, 1862.  Gen.. Sickles served under Gen. Hooker with distinction at Fair Oaks, and Malvern Hill.  He was in the seven days’ fighting before Richmond and also participated at Antietam.  He succeeded Gen. Hooker in command of the division, and took a conspicuous part in the engagement at Fredericksburg.  He was appointed Major General of Volunteers in 1862, but his commission dated from the year previous.

At Chancellorsville, commanding the Third Army Corps, to which he had been promoted, he was highly commended for gallant conduct, and his courage and activity at Gettysburg are a matter of history.  All authorities accord him a very important part in that great battle, some contending that his was the master stroke that saved the day.  It was a Gettysburg that he lost a leg.

Following the war he was selected to play an important part in the task of reconstruction.  He commanded the Military Department of the Carolinas in 1865-7 that elicited the cordial commendation of Secretary Stanton and Gen. Grant.  The views of President Johnson differed from those of Gen. Sickles, however, and the President relieved Sickles of his command.  He was placed on the retired list with the full rank of Major General April 14, 1869, and following that came to appointment by President Grant to the Court of Spain.

The General returned to New York alone in 1879 and re-entered politics.  He served as sheriff of New York County and at the age of 67 was re-elected to Congress. Trouble came to him in his last years.  In 1911, his daughter sued to prevent a disposal of certain properties to which she believed she was entitled.  In December, 1912, the General was deposed as Chairman of the New York Monuments Commission, which he had headed during the twenty-six years of its existence.  There was a shortage of $27,000, and there was some talk of arresting the old soldier, but nothing came of it.  Another trouble came in 1911, when the New York Commandery of the Loyal Legion refused to admit Gen, Sickles to membership.

He faced bankruptcy in the last years of his life, and several attempts were made to seize the art treasures in his Fifth Avenue home because of debt.  It was in this extremity that his estranged wife and son came to his aid on several occasions.

His last days were spent at 23 Fifth Avenue, surrounded by war relics and attended by his faithful Negro servant.

The following is an excerpt from the Chancellorsville Campaign official battle report filed by Major General Sickles for the morning of May 2, 1863:

It is impossible to pass over without mention the irrepressible enthusiasm of the troops for Major-General Hooker, which was evinced in hearty and prolonged cheers as he road along the lines of the Third, Eleventh and Twelfth Corps.

7. In order to enhance the entertainment value of this narrative, the author has taken certain liberties with the historical record.  To the author’s knowledge, there is no evidence of General Hooker carrying President Lincoln’s letter on his person, talking to himself before a mirror, effecting Napoleonic poses, or listening at the keyhole of a closed door.  Many of the Hooker quotes appearing in the story, however (“I have Lee just where I want him” “God almighty cannot stop me” “Let’s sit on the porch,” etc.) are from eyewitness accounts.

With respect to how General Hooker reacted to Lincoln’s letter, the authorities are split. Some argue that Hooker took the President’s criticism in stride and even with grace, while others suggest the opposite.  Having read Joe Hooker’s own words written after the war (which more often than not assign blame to others) and also other accounts of his behaviors, the author believes it highly likely that General Hooker received President Lincoln’s letter with the enmity portrayed in this story.

Bibliography — Books, Reports and Articles

Collins, John L. When Stonewall Jackson Turned Our Right, “The Century” Magazine, 1887

Couch, Darius, N. The Chancellorsville Campaign – Out Generaled By Lee! (publisher and date unknown; found at battechancellorsville.htm)

Foote, Shelby. The Civil War, Fredericksburg to Meridian, Random House, 1963

Goolrick, William K. Rebels Resurgent – Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville, Time-Life Books, 1985

Johnson, Curt and McLaughlin, Mark. Civil War Battles, Roxby Productions Limited, 1977

Sears, Stephen W. Chancellorsville, Mariner Books, Houghton Miffin Company, 1996

Sickles, Daniel E. Report of the Chancellorsville Campaign, Third Army Corps, 1863

Slocum, Henry W. Report of the Chancellorsville Campaign, Twelfth Army Corps, 1863

The author further made extensive use of the Internet, using “Battle of Chancellorsville” and the names of known combatants to drive search engines.

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