George Gordon Meade was not known for being a warm or fuzzy sort of fellow. Known for his volcanic temper, the men of the Army of the Potomac called him “the goggle-eyed old snapping turtle,” referring to Meade’s need to wear eyeglasses. His aide, Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman, dubbed him “the Great Peppery” for his saucy language. Consequently, Meade hasn’t gotten much love.
Until now, that is.
Thanks to Todd Berkoff from bringing this to my attention. In 1890, Meade was featured on the $1,000.00 bill. Known as the “grand watermelon note” due to the size of the zeroes on the back of the bill, only one of these notes survives. That note went up for auction on January 10, and sold for $3.29 million. It had been estimated to go for $2 million. The last time it was sold, in 1970, it sold for a mere $11,000.
Finally, some real love for the Goggle-Eyed Old Snapping Turtle, who deserves it.Scridb filter
Just a quick note to wish all of you a joyous Christmas. Susan joins me in wishing all of you the happiest of days with your friends and families today. Hopefully, none of you found any lumps of coal in your stockings this morning, and hopefully none of you received a visit from Krampus.
Thank you for taking time out of your busy days to visit this blog. I appreciate all of you.Scridb filter
Late last week, I learned about the Civil War Trust’s excellent new program to honor our veterans, which I want to share with you.
Here’s the Trust’s press release about the new Honor Our Soldiers program it’s rolling out:
CIVIL WAR TRUST ANNOUNCES NATIONAL ‘HONOR OUR SOLDIERS’ INITIATIVE
National campaign intended to recognize Civil War battlefields as living memorials to the service of all American soldiers, past and present
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Civil War Trust, the nation’s largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization, is proud to announce a new national campaign to honor American veterans, past and present. The multi-media campaign will recognize the tremendous sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform, and includes an online petition — http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/honor-our-soldiers — through which concerned Americans can show their support for historic battlefield preservation.
“We see Civil War battlefields as living memorials to the courage and service of all of America’s military veterans,” remarked Civil War Trust President James Lighthizer. “We share an incalculable debt to the many soldiers, sailors and airmen who have endured hardships and sacrificed for our freedom. By preserving these battlefields, we celebrate their memory and honor their legacy.
The new “Honor Our Soldiers” campaign is intended to generate awareness about the acute plight of Civil War and other battlefields on U.S. soil. Many of these historic shrines to our nation’s military have already been lost, and even more remain at risk of being destroyed beneath a bulldozer’s blade. As an example, nearly 20 percent of our nation’s Civil War battlefields have already been lost to development — denied forever to future generations. The “Honor Our Soldiers” campaign seeks to rally support for protecting those hallowed grounds that remain.
Lighthizer was joined in the “Honor Our Soldiers” announcement by one of America’s most distinguished veterans, historian and preservationist Ed Bearss. Bearss enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1942 and fought at Guadalcanal and the Russell Islands before being severely wounded at Suicide Creek on Cape Gloucester, New Britain. After the war, Bearss went on to become Chief Historian of the National Park Service — a position he continues to hold in an emeritus capacity. According to Bearss: “When I answered the call to serve my country in World War II, I felt a kinship with all those soldiers who had come before me. I see preserving battlefields as a sacred duty that honors the legacy of their service.”
Lighthizer and Bearss both noted how preserved battlefields give Americans a unique opportunity to learn about the great personal cost paid by our ancestors to forge the freedoms we enjoy today. Lighthizer in particular noted the monument of the 71st Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment at the Angle at Gettysburg. “Carved into that monument are the words ‘Patriotism’ and ‘Heroism.’ To me, that’s what battlefield preservation is all about. It gives young and old alike an opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the patriots and heroes who have proudly worn our country’s uniform. Protecting and visiting these places ensures that their bravery is never forgotten”
To honor our soldiers — both past and present — PLEASE SIGN the petition to show your support for the preservation of the hallowed battlegrounds on which Americans have fought and died. Go to http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/honor-our-soldiers/ or visit the website at www.HonorOurSoldiers.org.
The Civil War Trust is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the United States. Its mission is to preserve our nation’s endangered Civil War battlefields and to promote appreciation of these hallowed grounds. To date, the Trust has preserved more than 36,000 acres of battlefield land in 20 states. Learn more at www.civilwar.org, the home of the Civil War sesquicentennial.
This is a worthy effort to honor our veterans. To see the Facebook page for Honor Our Soldiers, click here. Please take a moment to check it out, and please support this worthy new project by our friends at the Trust.Scridb filter
The following article appeared in the December 19 edition of the Culpeper Star-Exponent. It demonstrates beyond any doubt that the Brandy Station Foundation is no longer a battlefield preservation organization.
New Civil War graffiti uncovered in Brandy Station Foundation house
Posted: Thursday, December 19, 2013 12:15 am | Updated: 12:39 pm, Thu Dec 19, 2013.
By Jeff Say firstname.lastname@example.org (540) 825-0771 ext. 115
Every inch of the Graffiti House in Brandy Station is historic — even the bathroom.
During a recent study by architectural conservator Chris Mills, new Civil War-era artwork was found in the circa 1858 structure believed to have been used as a hospital by Confederate and Union forces during the war.
For unknown reasons, patrons decided to mark up the walls with signatures, drawings and anything else that crossed their minds. Mills ’ challenge is to remove the post-historic paint and whitewash that subsequent owner’s attempted to cover the markings with, as well as stabilize the fragile plaster.
The newly uncovered graffiti was discovered in a crawl space under the stairs, painstakingly revealed by Mills — according to Brandy Station Foundation President Joe McKinney.
The name on the wall says Hollingsworth, 11th “something,” McKinney said.
After discovering that bit of artwork, Mills and McKinney pondered if more could be hidden in the vicinity.
That’s when Mills took out an razor blade and cut out a chunk of modern drywall in the bathroom.
Sure enough, under the modern plaster was more Civil War graffiti.
“Chris will cut out the plaster and see what we’ve got,” McKinney said. “We’re going to have to raise more money.”
McKinney pointed out that the house never ceases to amaze him.
“It’s exciting to see there’s still more (graffiti),” McKinney said.
It also enhances the learning value of the house.
“Going to the bathroom is going to be a learning experience for people,” McKinney said with a chuckle.
It’s great that new graffiti has surfaced at the Graffiti House. Wonderful. Don’t we all think so? (Right…) However, let’s closely examine Useless Joe McKinney’s words: “We’re going to have to raise more money,” he says. In other words, BSF’s main (and only) focus is to raise money to find more graffiti that has always been present in the house. It’s always been there, and it always will be there. It’s not going anywhere. Battlefield land however, will disappear if it is developed. Is that not a far more important priority for BSF on which BSF should focus?
Nowhere does Useless Joe mention or even suggest that the BSF should be raising money to purchase additional battlefield land. While Useless Joe frets over raising money to find more graffiti in the Graffiti House, there is core battlefield land on and around the Brandy Station Battlefield that is is presently for sale on the open market. Is Useless Joe doing anything to prevent the sale and development of core battlefield land that is situated firmly within the parameters of the battlefield BSF is charged with preserving? No. Not a chance. Preservation of battlefield property is simply not his thing, as he proved so amply during the Lake Troilo episode.
It is a fact Joe McKinney is myopically focused on his Graffiti House while battlefield land sits there right now ready for the plucking by somebody.
Fine, Joe. Go find your graffiti. But stop calling BSF a battlefield preservation advocacy organization, because you most assuredly are not so listed any longer in that noble category. Change the name of your organization to the Friends of the Graffiti House and stop pretending to be a battlefield preservation organization.
For shame.Scridb filter
150 years ago today, Maj. Gen. John Buford, the finest cavalryman produced by the Union during the Civil War, died of typhoid fever at the far too-young age of 37. The rigors of so many years of hard marching and fighting had taken their toll on Buford, who had contracted typhoid fever “from fatigue and extreme hardship,” after participating in the marches and fighting during the Mine Run Campaign that on November 7-8 compelled Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia to abandon the line on the Rappahannock River and retire behind the Rapidan River. By November 16, he was quite ill. Buford was granted a leave of absence and removed to Washington, D.C., on November 20, 1863.
There he was taken to the home of his good friend, General George Stoneman. Buford’s condition deteriorated quickly, and it soon became apparent that he would not survive.
On December 16, 1863, President Lincoln sent a note to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who was said not to trust anyone with southern antecedents, and who disliked most of the officers associated with John Pope’s Army of Virginia. Lincoln’s note requested that the gravely-ill Buford, whom Lincoln did not expect to survive the day, be promoted to major general. Although the promotion was well deserved, Stanton permitted Buford’s promotion only when it became certain that Buford was dying. The promotion was to be retroactive to July 1. 1863, in tribute to Buford’s service at Gettysburg. “Buford lapsed in and out of delirium, alternately scolding and apologizing to his black servant, who sat weeping by the general’s bed- side. He was comforted by several old comrades, including his aide, Capt. Myles Keogh, and General Stoneman. When the major general’s commission arrived, Buford had a few lucid moments, murmuring, “Too late. . . . Now I wish that I could live.” Keogh helped him sign the necessary forms and signed as a witness, and Capt. A. J. Alexander, 1st U.S., wrote a letter to Stanton for Buford, accepting the promotion. Buford’s last intelligible words–fitting for a career cavalryman–were, “Put guards on all the roads, and don’t let the men run back to the rear.” He died in the arms of his devoted aide and surrogate son, Keogh, on December 16.
Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt, Buford’s protege and the temporary commander of his First Division, prepared general orders:
His master mind and incomparable genius as a cavalry chief, you all know by the dangers through which be has brought you, when enemies surrounded you and destruction seemed inevitable…. The profound anguish which we all feel forbids the use of empty words, which so feebly express his virtues. Let us silently mingle our tears with those of the nation in lamenting the untimely death of this pure and noble man, the devoted and patriotic lover of his country, the soldier without fear and with out reproach.
The First Cavalry Division’s staff officers prepared resolutions of regret, lamenting Buford’s death and resolving that the members of the First Division would wear the badge of mourning for thirty days as a sign of respect for their leader. Another of Buford’s peers wrote in his diary,
December 20: The army and the country have met with a great loss by the death of . . . Buford. He was decidedly the best cavalry general that we had, and was acknowledged as such in the army. [He was] rough in his exterior, never looking after his own comfort, untiring on the march and in the supervision of all the militia of his command, quiet and unassuming in his manners.
In a tribute, the men of the First Division raised money to erect a monument to Buford at his grave site at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, a fitting final campground for a Regular. Most members of the 9th New York contributed a dollar each to pay for the monument.
Had Buford not fallen ill, he would have gone west to assume command of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Cumberland. The thoughts of a confrontation between Buford and Nathan Bedford Forrest boggles one’s mind, particularly since Buford’s first cousin Abraham assumed command of one of Forrest’s divisions in early 1864. Alas, it was not to be.
And so, we will leave it with the words of Buford’s dear friend, Maj. Gen. John Gibbon, who said, “John Buford was the finest cavalryman I ever saw.” What more needs to be said?
At Gettysburg, the Devil gave him a huge debt to pay, but Buford and his troopers did so magnificently. Here’s to Maj. Gen. John Buford, gone far too soon, but most assuredly not forgotten.Scridb filter
This excellent, concise article describing the history of the effort to preserve Fleetwood Hill appears in the current issue of Hallowed Ground, the Civil War Trust’s magazine. Thanks to Jim Campi of the Trust for providing me with an electronic version of the article and permission to share it with you. The article can be found here.
Victory at Brandy Station
PERSEVERANCE PAYS OFF FOR BRANDY STATION PRESERVATIONISTS
HALLOWED GROUND MAGAZINE, WINTER 2013 ISSUE
For decades, the Brandy Station Battlefield lay dormant, almost entirely undisturbed since the epic cavalry battle that erupted in this part of Piedmont Virginia in 1863. It was the largest such engagement ever fought in the Western Hemisphere, with nearly 20,000 troopers clashing sabers, resulting in more than 1,000 casualties. To some, the untouched and pristine piece of America’s past presented an opportunity to preserve the battlefield for future generations; others focused on the development prospects offered by its proximity to prime transportation lines, including a major highway, Norfolk-Southern Railroad and a county airport. After more than a century of silence, a new battle brewed at the pastoral Virginia battlefield — one that ultimately lasted nearly 18 years, pitting out-of-state developers against local preservationists, community leaders and the general public.
In the summer of 1987, historians and other activists concerned about the rapid loss of battlefield land formed the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites (APCWS) — a precursor to the Civil War Trust. The new organizations came not a moment too soon for Brandy Station.
Among those early preservation advocates was former Marine and federal investigator Clark “Bud” Hall, who had spent significant time walking the Brandy Station Battlefield, mapping troop positions, plotting specific points and cultivating close relationships with many local landowners along the way. These friends alerted Hall as their neighbors increasingly began selling their land. Like a line of dominos, a significant portion of farmland comprising the Brandy Station Battlefield fell, piece by piece, into the hands of California real estate investor Lee Sammis. His buying spree signaled to Hall that the hallowed ground was in jeopardy. Hall confronted the developer, who, in an attempt to quell any objections to the ultimate plan for the property, told him it was a family investment intended to be used for farming.
Despite these assurances, preservationists could see the writing on the wall: if Brandy Station were to be saved, there would be a struggle. Indeed, Sammis soon announced that his company, Elkwood Downs Limited Partnership, would build a large-scale corporate office park on the Brandy Station Battlefield. APCWS, concerned citizens, preservationists and local landowners quickly joined forces to create the Brandy Station Foundation in response to the threat. As the coalition gained steam, high-profile names came aboard, specifically Tersh Boasberg, one of the nation’s top preservation attorneys, and Washington lawyer Daniel Rezneck. Their involvement legitimized the organization in the eyes of many by providing much-needed legal footing, thrusting the APCWS and the Brandy Station Foundation — and with them, the modern-day battlefield preservation movement — into the national spotlight.
After years of controversy, Elkwood Downs filed for bankruptcy, leaving its development vision unfulfilled. But pause for celebration was brief. New developers targeted the hallowed ground as an ideal site for a Formula One racetrack and proposed plans to build on 515 acres of the battlefield, a construction project of such magnitude that it would have meant complete destruction of the historic land. Preservationists mobilized to begin fighting the racetrack, but providence struck first — insufficient planning and lacking infrastructure forced the developer to declare bankruptcy and abandon its plans.
After two close calls, the coalition of preservationists acted quickly to ensure the preservation of the battlefield by purchasing the property. Ultimately, and at a cost of more than $6 million, APCWS bought 944 acres from Sammis in 1997. The acquisition was a huge step forward in preserving the battlefield, but the process was far from complete and much more historically significant land remained to be saved. But, as is often the case, success bred success and, gradually, more properties were added. A particular highlight of the preservation process came in 2003, the 140th anniversary of the battle, when the Civil War Trust and the Brandy Station Foundation unveiled the Brandy Station Battlefield Park, comprised of interpretive signage, hiking trails and a driving tour. By the end of 2012, on the eve of Brandy Station’s sesquicentennial year, the Trust and its partners had protected more than 1,800 acres of the battlefield through outright purchase and conservation easement, making it one of the organization’s greatest success stories.
Still, something was missing. Despite having made several overtures over the years, Trust officials had been unable to make any inroads toward securing the battlefield’s most visible feature, the heights of Fleetwood Hill — the crest of which was occupied by a pair of large, modern homes. Nonetheless, periodic discussions with the landowners continued until, eventually, a breakthrough occurred. In May 2013, the Trust kicked off a $3.6 million campaign to purchase 56 critical acres atop Fleetwood Hill.
With such a lofty goal before it, the entire preservation community rallied behind the Civil War Trust in its quest to purchase the property. Particularly notable contributions — both financial and logistical — came from partner groups the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust, the Journey Through Hallowed Ground and the Brandy Station Foundation, as well as from numerous private citizens. Generous matching grants from the federal American Battlefield Protection Program and the Virginia Civil War Sites Preservation Fund were also instrumental in securing the full purchase price of the property to complete the transaction in August 2013.
Although pockets of land remain that would, ideally, be protected and integrated into the existing park, preservationists agree that the heart and soul of Brandy Station is now protected, and this great battlefield will go down in history as a one of the preservation movement’s great victories. As Trust President James Lighthizer remarked, “Development of this historic property would have diminished all that has been accomplished at Brandy up to now. Protection of Fleetwood Hill turns a success into a preservation triumph.”
The second photo is of Clark B. “Bud” Hall holding a photo of the “for sale” sign that stood on Fleetwood Hill until the Trust purchase the property. The first photo stands along Rt. 15/29 adjacent to Fleetwood Hill.
This article explains why we fought so hard to save Fleetwood Hill. We could not have done so without the generosity of so many people who gave so much to permit us to be able to save that ground. Our work at Brandy Station is not finished yet, and we continue to fight to preserve pieces of that beautiful battlefield. But it’s been a great story made possible by a lot of hard work by a lot of people. I, for one, am grateful for it.Scridb filter
2013 has been an extraordinary year in many ways.
With the help of a group of dedicated and generous individuals who recognized the important of Fleetwood Hill, we have saved the single most fought-over piece of ground in North America this year. More important preservation opportunities in and around the Brandy Station battlefield presented themselves and are being pursued. We saw many important sesquicentennial commemorations this year, including the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Brandy Station. Some good new books came out this year. Old friendships were renewed and new friendships were made. It was my honor and my privilege to be part of those events, and I will cherish those memories forever.
I remain thankful to each and every one of you who visits this website often and who contribute to it regularly. I never take that for granted, and those interactions mean more to me than I can say.
Susan and I wish each and every one of you a wonderful Thanksgiving. Travel safely, and enjoy the family time.Scridb filter
As the clocks tolled to mark the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the guns fell silent. The Great War–the War to End All Wars, as it was known–had ended. The butcher’s bill had come due. 16 million were dead and another 20 million wounded. And for what? A few yards of soil in France? It’s a shame that it was not truly the War to End All Wars. Much worse ghastliness lay ahead, just two decades later.
Lt. Wilfred Owen, a British soldier/poet, who was killed in action a scant few days before the armistice took effect, left this moving elegy behind:
Anthem for Doomed Youth
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
As we move toward the centennial of World War I, I thought it important to remember the horrifying human toll of the conflict, which is the root of the Veterans’ Day that we commemorate today.
And to each and every one of you who served, I can merely offer a thank you, offered with profound and humble gratitude for your sacrifice. I offer a special thank you today to my uncle, Sgt. Morton L. Wittenberg, U.S. Army Air Corps, World War II, my brother-in-law, SSGT Joseph Pacitto, USMC, Desert Storm, my father-in-law, Lt. Adam Skilken, U.S. Navy, Cold War, and my dear friends, Lt. Clark B. Hall, USMC, Vietnam, Sgt. Ted Alexander, USMC, Vietnam, Maj. Mike Nugent, US Army, Cold War, Col. Wade Sokolosky, U.S. Army, the War Against Terror, Capt./Sgt. Mike Phipps, U.S. Army, Iraq, Capt. Craig Swain, U.S. Army, Cold War and beyond, Sgt. Angela Clemens, US Air Force, Cold War and beyond, and Capt. Stuart Jones, US Navy, Cold War and beyond, and any of my other friends whom I have inadvertently left off of this list–it’s not intentional–for all of your service and sacrifices. Today, it’s my turn to salute you.Scridb filter
This is another forgotten cavalrymen profile that I’ve been working on for a while. This one features Maj. Jerome B. Wheeler, a man who led a fascinating life and who ultimately became both benefactor and scoundrel at the same time.
Jerome B. Wheeler was born in Troy, New York on September 3, 1841, the son of Daniel Barker Wheeler and Mary Jones Emerson. On his father’s side, he could trace his ancestry to British barons, while his mother was a cousin of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Both of his parents were originally from Massachusetts. The family moved to Waterford, New York while Wheeler was a boy, where he attended public schools until the age of 15. In 1856, he took a clerical job, and from 1857 to 1861, he worked as a tradesman, “which may have included engineering, mechanical, or machine shop work.”
Wheeler enlisted in the 6th New York Cavalry at Staten Island as a private for a term of three years on his 20th birthday. He stood 5’8″, had sandy colored hair, and grey eyes. He listed his occupation as “mechanic.” He was assigned to Co. D of the 6th New York. The next day, he was appointed corporal, serving with his company while the new troopers of the 6th New York learned their trade. “Filled with patriotism and and an earnest desire to learn all the duties of a soldier, I performed with the various duties of drilling, riding horses, bareback to water, with only a halter to hold them, being run away with, and receiving numbers of falls, but escaping serious injury, and performing other duties incident to camp life, I concluded that I was becoming a hardened soldier,” he recalled years after the war.
Late that fall, the 6th New York established its winter camp in York, Pennsylvania. On January 16, 1862, Wheeler was appointed battalion quartermaster sergeant. The regiment was ordered to report to Washington, DC in the spring of 1862, where it was mounted and then took the field. Wheeler was promoted to second lieutenant on October 27, 1862 after the 6th New York served at the Battle of Antietam. “Now I want you to earn it,” declared Devin when he handed Wheeler the commission, promptly sending Wheeler and a detachment of troopers behind enemy lines to insert a spy. Wheeler came under fire at the Battle of Fredericksburg and at Chancellorsville, and scrapped with Maj. John S. Mosby’s guerrillas in the spring of 1863.
Wheeler performed his quartermaster duties so well that by June 1863, he was acting as his brigade’s quartermaster. Col. Thomas C. Devin, who commanded the 6th New York until he became commander of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, knew Wheeler well, and used his talents wisely. When Brig. Gen. John Buford’s 1st Cavalry division made its historic stand at Gettysburg on the first day of the battle there, Wheeler was acting as Devin’s brigade quartermaster, and he had the important task of insuring that Devin’s small brigade, which had a long front to protect, had sufficient ammunition in order to give it a fighting chance to fulfill its mission.
On September 1, 1863, partially in recognition of his fine service during the Gettysburg Campaign, Wheeler was promoted to first lieutenant. During the October 1863 Bristoe Station Campaign, Mosby’s guerrillas attacked Wheeler’s wagon train in an ambush. The guerrillas captured the train, and Mosby was in the process of looting it when Wheeler mustered as many troops as he could and led a ferocious saber charge that recaptured the train, captured some of Mosby’s men, and set the rest of them running.
He served with distinction throughout the 1864 Overland Campaign. During the Battle of the Wilderness, he was ordered to report to Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s headquarters and was given the task of getting an enormous wagon train of wounded men back through Fredericksburg to the Potomac River, and then to bring back supplies, all the while operating in hostile territory. He accomplished this task in record time, earning the praise of Grant. He served through Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, often having to contend with Mosby’s guerrillas while escorting wagon trains from place to place, and it was Wheeler’s orderly who was sent to Winchester during the Battle of Cedar Creek to inform Sheridan that his army was being shoved back from Cedar Creek by the enemy.
On January 16, 1865, Wheeler was promoted to captain, but remained in his role as quartermaster for Devin, who, by then, was in command of the 1st Cavalry Division. On February 26, his horse slipped and fell in Winchester, Virginia, pinning Wheeler underneath. “I was badly bruised and lamed,” he recalled, “and was carried into a house nearby. It was several days before I could be moved, and in the meantime the Cavalry Corps was out of reach up the [Shenandoah] Valley, and much to my disappointment and chagrin, I was obliged to return to Pleasant Valley, where the corps train had been ordered.” Hence, Wheeler missed the beginning of the Cavalry Corps’ march to join Grant’s army in the siege lines at Petersburg. Wheeler caught a train to City Point and arrived too late to join the Cavalry Corps’ last campaign. Wheeler’s April 1, 1865 return of service indicates that he was at Five Forks, Virginia, but he claimed that he was not present with the army when Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia surrendered at Appomattox. He participated in the Grand Review of the Army of the Potomac in May 1865, and was then the 6th New York was ordered to report to Louisville, Kentucky, where it spent a pleasant summer. Wheeler and the rest of the regiment mustered out on September 5, 1865.
Although his service records do not indicate as such, he was breveted to major at some point in late 1864. One account of his life states, “late in the war, he was promoted to the rank of colonel, but his commanding officers reputedly revoked the promotion due to to a breach of discipline.” Nothing in his service records supports this claim, but has been repeated numerous times over the decades since the end of the war. One account of his life indicated, “Wheeler was cited repeatedly for ‘outstanding courage in the field’ but was broken from his rank of Colonel for disobeying orders…he led a supply train through enemy Confederate lines to an encircled and starving Union regiment.”
“During [Jerome's] service on the brigade and division staff he was always at the front, even when his duties did not call him to the post of danger; and his zeal, tempered always as it was by good judgment, was not surpassed by that of any of those with whom he served,” declared Capt. William L. Heermance of the 6th New York Cavalry, himself a Medal of Honor recipient.
He mustered out of the army in September 1865, and returned home to Troy, New York, where he took a job as a bookkeeper, a position where his quartermaster skills served him well. He remained in Troy for about eight months and then moved to New York City, where he took a clerical position with a prominent grain merchant firm. He stayed there for two years before taking a position with Holt & Company, one of the largest grain brokers in the city. He spent ten years there, working his way up to a full partnership position by 1878.
In 1870, Wheeler married Harriett Macy Valentine, whose family owned a dry goods store in New York City called R. H. Macy, which still exists today as Macy’s. By 1870, R. H. Macy was a full department store and was the largest and oldest retail store in the city. Harriett’s uncle Rowland Macy, who ran the family business, developed a fatal kidney disease called Bright’s Disease (which also claimed the life of Judson Kilpatrick). Rowland Macy’s son, Rowland, Jr., was a dissipate young man, and Rowland Macy did not believe he was capable of running the family business. Instead, the operations of the company ended up in the hands of young man named Charles B. Webster, who was too inexperienced to run the business effectively. Webster approached Wheeler to join him in running the company, and Wheeler purchased stock from a family member and began his tenure as a partner in the venture.
From 1879-1888, Wheeler ran the affairs of Macy’s as president and 50% partner, leading the company to record sales and profits. In 1882, Wheeler and Harriett visited Colorado, seeking a cure for Harriett’s severe bronchitis. Wheeler was instantly smitten by the rugged beauty of the place. They visited Manitou Springs, and famous for its mineral waters, and built a summer home there. He started the Manitou Mineral Water Company, which was very popular back east, and was served at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. While residing in Manitou, he heard of silver strikes in nearby Aspen and caught mining fever. Before long he had purchased interests in a number of silver mines, and sold his interest in Macy’s in 1888 in order to focus on silver mining.
Wheeler also organized the Grand River Coal and Coke Company to provide coal to smelt ore and to fire railroad engines. He also founded the Aspen Mining and Smelting Co. to smelt the ore from his mines. He promoted and invested in the Colorado Midland Railroad and settled in Aspen, high in the Rocky Mountains. He founded a bank, built the Wheeler Opera House, and The Hotel Jerome in the newly affluent town. He also owned two other banks and a marble quarry. Before long, he was phenomenally wealthy. He invested nearly $6 million into developing Aspen, and is remembered fondly and as an icon there as a result.
“In a time of robber barons, Wheeler was a benevolent giant of industry,” recalled one biographer. “Looking out for the welfare of others was a lifelong trait. He paid the way for many a young artist to study in Europe, he supported families that had no claim on him other than his sympathy. When the silver crash did come, he sent cattle and potatoes to feed starving families.” Unlike the robber barons, Wheeler is remembered fondly as a good man who gave much back to the community that he helped to found.
But his wealth did not last.
The demonitization of silver in 1893 doomed his silver mining operations and the businesses that depended on those silver mines. His banks in Aspen, Manitou, and Colorado City failed and were forced to close, but Wheeler paid his depositors every dollar, and they lost nothing.
All along, Wheeler had been the patron of a gifted sculptor in New York City neared James E. Kelly. He subsidized many of Kelly’s projects, and when the Buford Memorial Association was formed to erect a suitable monument to Wheeler’s old commander, Maj. Gen. John Buford, Wheeler paid the bulk of the nearly $4000 cost of the handsome monument that was finally dedicated on McPherson’s Ridge on July 1, 1896.
In 1892, Wheeler became embroiled in the first of a series of lengthy and costly lawsuits over one of the silver mines that ultimately ruined him. Most of these suits were from investors in the silver mining operations who claimed that they had been defrauded. In 1893, he lost a lawsuit and had a judgment of $800,000 taken against him. He lost several other cases associated with his silver mining activities, and was financially ruined. The combination of the judgments and the economic recession of 1893 caused by the crash of the value of silver cost Wheeler nearly his entire fortune. He lost The Hotel Jerome and Wheeler Opera House to back taxes, and in 1903 was forced to declare bankruptcy in the courts of New York.
He died in Manitou Springs on December 1, 1918, still trying to regain ownership of the Wheeler Opera House. Jerome B. Wheeler was buried on June 26, 1919 at Woodlawn Cemetery, the Bronx, New York, Cypress Section 47, Lot 5486-90. The Wheeler Family plot is marked by a beautiful monument of his son, Clarence Wheeler, by James E. Kelly.
Jerome B. Wheeler left behind a truly mixed legacy. Part hero, part insubordinate officer, part patron of the arts, and part swindler, Wheeler marks the best and the worst that the Gilded Era had to offer. The modern city of Aspen, Colorado owes much to Wheeler, and he is largely responsible for the erection of the handsome monument to John Buford that stands atop McPherson’s Ridge. But many lost everything as a result of his business dealings, and he lost everything he had made of himself as a consequence of his own overarching greed. His life is a cautionary tale of rags to riches to rags once again.
Here’s to Bvt. Maj. Jerome B. Wheeler, forgotten cavalryman. With my thanks to William B. Styple for his assistance in locating Wheeler’s gravesite and for the image of the monument to Clarence Wheeler.Scridb filter
In October 2006, I did an extremely abbreviated Forgotten Cavalrymen profile of Col. William H. Boyd, the commander of the 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry. When I did that post, I lamented how difficult it was to locate usable material on Colonel Boyd. Sadly, things remained that way for seven long years. Finally, though, thanks to Barbara Chaudet, who provided me with much of the information that I needed to flesh out this profile, I can finally put some real meat on those bones.
Here’s a full profile of this heroic, forgotten cavalryman:
William Henry Boyd was born in Montreal, Canada on July 14, 1825. His father was a soldier in the British army. “From early boyhood, he was self-reliant and ready to do for himself. He was traveled in the four quarters of the globe,” recalled a friend. “He has been sent upon missions of importance in early manhood and carried them through with credit. He has held places of trust and been faithful.” At the age of twenty, he settled in New York City, where he went into the business of publishing city directories. His city directory business–called Boyd’s Directories–was similar to a modern telephone book. It provided listings and information about businesses and individuals. “He has followed up a special branch of business, in which he might be called a pioneer, and in which he worked hard enough and long enough to have been counted among the millionaires; but, like so many others with a similar nature, he was confiding, and trusting, and generous, and so others often reaped where he had sown.”
He married Elizabeth S. Watson in 1845, raising a family of five daughters and two sons, including William H. Boyd, Jr., who served with him in the Civil War, and nine grandchildren.
With the coming of war in 1861, he was operating his directory publishing business in Philadelphia. Boyd had the honor of recruiting THE first company of volunteer cavalry raised in the Civil War. He personally recruited and mustered Company C of the First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry in Philadelphia on July 19, 1861. He was elected captain and thus had the honor of being the first volunteer captain of cavalry sworn in. He and his men went to New York to join their regiment, which arrived in Washington, DC on July 22 and was mounted and equipped two days later. These raw horse soldiers were ordered to report for duty without having had any training to speak of, but found themselves on a mounted reconnaissance near Mt. Vernon on August 18, 1861. They encountered Confederate cavalry near Pohick Church, and Boyd ordered the first charge of volunteer cavalry. He was complimented by Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan in front of the troops at a review held on August 22, and again on December 5, in Special Order No. 170.
“He was a brave soldier and faced anything he encountered,” recalled his eulogist. “He never forgot to be a humane man, and he was well known throughout the Shenandoah Valley and other sections, as a kind military man. When he necessarily came in contact with the households of those who favored the other side, or whose men were in that service, he respected their helpless situation and remembered that they were of his own mother-sex and needed this honorable treatment.”
Boyd was appointed provost-marshal on December 1, and his company served as provost guard for Gen. William B. Franklin’s division, serving with Franklin throughout the Peninsula Campaign. He was relieved of that duty on August 4, 1862, and joined his regiment, which had reported to Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside at Falmouth, VA on August 14. The 1st New York Cavalry then reported to Brig. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton’s cavalry division of the Army of the Potomac on September 5, 1862, just in time to participate in the Maryland Campaign, which was already underway. Boyd participated in the Battle of Antietam, and helped to lead a charge of the whole regiment at Williamsport, MD on September 19.
On September 28, Boyd was assigned to western Virginia to chase after guerrillas and bushwhackers. In October, at Capon Bridge near Winchester, he captured several of Brig. Gen. John D. Imboden’s artillery pieces, twenty wagons, eighty mules, 100 horses, a major, a lieutenant, and 30 enlisted men. The 1st New York remained there until December 12, when they were sent to join Maj. Gen. Robert H. Milroy’s command in the Shenandoah Valley, leading to a promotion to major. The Lincoln Cavalry spent most of the spring of 1863 chasing the guerrillas of John Singleton Mosby. That spring, Boyd led an expedition to The Plains, in the Loudoun Valley, in an attempt to capture Mosby in his bed, when an informer told him that Mosby was visiting his wife there. All of Mosby’s clothing but his boots were there when Boyd entered the house (Mosby went out a window and was hiding in a tree), and Boyd interrogated Pauline Mosby about here husband’s whereabouts.
On June 13, 1863, during the Second Battle of Winchester, Boyd engaged in hand-to-hand combat with Brig. Gen. Albert G. Jenkins’ troopers, and then led his command out of the trap laid for it at Winchester by the Army of Northern Virginia when he was ordered to carry important messages to Martinsburg. From Martinsburg, he escorted Milroy’s wagon train to Harrisburg, PA, arriving on June 17. Boyd and his troopers then rode to Greencastle, PA, where they engaged Jenkins’ cavalry on June 22 (Cpl. William Rihl of Philadelphia was killed in this skirmishing with Jenkins, making Rihl the first Union soldier killed north of the Mason-Dixon Line during what we now know as the Gettysburg Campaign). Boyd and his little band dogged Jenkins’ command all the way to the banks of the Susquehanna River and then back in the direction of Gettysburg, seldom escaping from the saddle for more than a few minutes. They were in the saddle almost constantly from June 12-July 12 and remained in constant contact with the enemy the entire time.
As a reward for this remarkable service, Boyd was commissioned colonel of the newly-formed 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry in August 1863. After the new regiment mustered in, it received orders to report to the Shenandoah Valley, where it remained for the winter of 1863-1864. In May 1864, his regiment was ordered to report to Washington, DC. He was then ordered to dismount his men, whom were then armed with infantry weapons. After some time to drill, Boyd and his regiment (which, although still designated as a cavalry regiment, was now serving as infantry), arrived at the front on June 1, 1864. On July 3, they participated in Grant’s great assault at Cold Harbor, where Boyd and his men came under heavy infantry and artillery fire. Colonel Boyd received a severe wound to the neck that left him disabled and unable to resume the field for the balance of the war. The ball Confederate ball pierced his neck and lodged in one of the vertebrae, where it remained for five months and was only extracted after three unsuccessful attempts, leading to a medical discharge for disability in November 1864 as a result.
When he left the service, he took up residence in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. In recognition of his kindness to the people of the Shenandoah Valley, when Brig. Gen. John McCausland’s cavalrymen burned Chambersburg in July 1864, McCausland posted guards around Boyd’s residence to protect it, demonstrating the respect in which the enemy held him.
Notwithstanding his military service, Colonel Boyd continued publishing his city directories, and with the assistance of his sons and sons-in-law, published the directory in Washington, D.C. throughout the war, missing only one year. He settled in Washington after the war, and resided there for the rest of his life. In 1868, he was appointed an agent of the Treasury Department, and held that position for some years. Boyd’s “life was a busy and eventful one, and he was highly respected by the entire community,” recalled one observer. He was a member of Calvary Baptist Church.
“Colonel Boyd was a great pedestrian,” observed a biographer, “and it is said that in 1854, he made a mile in six minutes and forty-two seconds, which it is claimed has never been beaten.”
In 1869, Boyd and John S. Mosby met, and after an ugly exchange of words, Mosby challenged Boyd to a duel. Boyd was apparently serving as sheriff of Fauquier County, Virginia after having been appointed to the post, and the possibility of a duel proved to be tantalizing to the public, given Mosby’s fame as a guerrilla. The duel never occurred, but the two men engaged in a lengthy war of words in the local newspapers. For those interested in learning more about this interesting episode, click here, where the complete interviews with both Boyd and Mosby can be found. It is not known precisely how long Boyd served as sheriff of Fauquier County.
Boyd died on October 7, 1887, and was buried in Glenwood Cemetery, in Washington, DC. “He had suffered intensely the last three weeks and was unconscious when he died,” noted one obituary. His entire family was with him when he died. A number of his old comrades in arms attended the funeral.
William H. Boyd is a particular favorite of mine, both for raising the first company of volunteer cavalry in the Civil War, and also for his heroic service during the Gettysburg Campaign. He suffered a severe wound while doing his duty, and was an honorable man. Here’s to this forgotten cavalryman.Scridb filter