Union Cavalry

Capt. William W. Rogers, post-war

Capt. William W. Rogers, post-war

A guest post.

Today, we have a forgotten cavalrymen post on Capt. William Wallace Rogers by his descendant, Capt. John Nesbitt, III, formerly of the U.S. Army. Rogers served with honor in the Civil War and in the post-war Regular Army.

Captain William Wallace Rogers descended from William and Ann Rogers who immigrated to Wethersfield, Connecticut by way of Virginia in the mid-1630s, and then to Long Island, where they were early settlers of Southampton (the Southampton Historical Museum is housed in the Rogers’ mansion built on the Rogers’ homestead by a descendent of Obadiah Rogers, a son of William and his wife). William is also considered a founder of Huntington, L.I., having been one of the men who negotiated the purchase of the land for Huntington with the Native Americans. From there, their son Noah went back across Long Island Sound as an early settler of Branford, Connecticut where Captain Rogers’ ancestors resided for almost 200 years before migrating to Pennsylvania. Captain Rogers’ great-grandfather was Samuel Rogers, Jr. who served three times as a Private in the Connecticut militia in the Revolution – twice volunteering and once conscripted. This story as supported by Private Rogers’ request for his pension, and related family stories, surly was passed down to Captain Rogers as a boy, as it was to this writer and descendent of Samuel Rogers, Jr. by his grandmother a niece of Captain Rogers who was born in 1890, the year Captain Rogers died.

Captain Rogers was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, November 15, 1832, the eldest son of Minor and Elizabeth (Fretz/Fratts/Fratz) Rogers. The personal “Record of Service of William W. Rogers, Captain 9th Infantry United States Army.” dated September 24, 1883 and written down at Fort Bridger, Wyoming, says of his Civil War military service that he “Enlisted as private in Company B. 3rd Penna., Cavalry , (60th Pennsylvania Volenteers (sic)) July 23, 1861.” This was in Philadelphia. And, further, that he was “Promoted-2nd Lieutenant, Company “C” 3rd Penna., Calvalry (sic). December 31, 1861. 1st Lieutenant Company “C” 3rd Penna., Cavalry July 17, 1862.” and “Captain Company “L” 3rd Penna., Cavalry May 1, 1863.” About the time of the latter date, and before the Battle of Gettysburg, the Union Army changed the designation Companies to Squadrons for the basic assignment and maneuver elements within the cavalry battalions.

Captain Rogers further writes that he: “Served with the 3rd Penna. Cavalry in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania from July 23, 1861 until February 6, 1864-and participated in the following named engagements.

WILLIAMSBURG, VA, May 6, 1862. FAIR OAKS, VA, June 15, 1862. Horse Killed and received injury by his falling upon my leg. SAVAGE STATION, VA, June 29, 1862. CHARLES CITY, CROSS ROADS, VA, June 30, 1862. MALVERN HILL, VA, July 1, 1862. RAPPAHANOCH STATION, VA, February 15, 1863. KELLYS FORD, VA, March 17, 1863. RAPIDAN STATION, VA, April 9, 1863. ELYS FORD, VA, May 1863. BRANDY STATION, VA, June 9, 1863. BEVERLY FORD, VA, June 1863. ALDIE, VA, June, 1863. GETTYSBURG, PA, July 2nd and 3rd, 1863. Received gun shot wounds through right breast and left shoulder, July 3, 1863. OAK HILL, VA, October, 1863. BRISTOL STATION, VA, October 14, 1863. NEW HOPE CHURCH, VA, November, 1863. PARKERS’ STORE, VA, November, 1863. (capitalization of actions are this writers for emphasis and clarity


Of the initial engagement, the battlefield of Williamsburg, May 4 & 5, 1863, Captain Rogers wrote his father in a letter of May 17, 1862 that “I saw them wounded in every imaginable manner. Some shot in the mouth, in the head, in the stomach, feet torn off and gashed in the thighs, or body, or arm with pieces of shell. Being shot myself the sight of their sufferings was awful. I soon got over it however and could look at the surgeons take off arms and legs and pile them in the field.” and described the action as follows, “Advance the charge yelling like demons or stand and receive a charge of the rebel infantry who also fought like heroes in these conflicts between infantry of both sides, the batteries would cease and yells would take the place of the thunder of guns and in this way it continued during the whole day in which regiments were nearly torn to pieces.” (Source: Curt Harley, copies of W.W. Rogers letters home to his father originally in the possession of Curt’s father Rogers Harley)

Rogers with other officers of the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry

Rogers with other officers of the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry

Just over a year later, the action at Brandy Station was a major cavalry battle that was a prelude to General Robert E. Lee moving North that culminated in the Battle of Gettysburg. The cavalry battle at Gettysburg on the so called East Cavalry Field the afternoon of July 3, 1863, in which Captain Rogers was wounded, was both a major cavalry action and by many regarded as an important part of the Union victory that day.

My interest in the Civil War goes back many years, to the mid-1950s, and was at least partially inspired by my grandmothers’ stories of the “thirteen Rogers relatives” who served in the Union Army “from a thirteen year old drummer boy,” thorough a Rogers “who was shot but the bullet could not be removed and who died in the 1870s when the bullet reached his heart,” to Captain William Wallace Rogers the oldest sibling of my grandmother’s mother and her twin sister who married George Harley. Even though I learned from her of Captain Rogers’ Civil War service and heroism at the Battle of Gettysburg, as well as his service among the Indian’s “out west” in the 1870s and 80s, I didn’t have any real substance to the story or his service until I came upon a newsstand copy of Blue & Grey Magazine for October, 1988. It was an “Anniversary Issue” and featured the article “Gettysburg: Cavalry Operations June 27-July 3, 1863,” by Ted Alexander.” Therein, pages 32, and 36-39, it was related as to the action on the “East Cavalry Field” that:

At 1 p.m. ”…the artillery barrage that preceded “Pickett’s Charge” began and was distinctly heard by all the troopers.

“At 2 p.m., (John B.) McIntosh (commanding the 3rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry) decided to probe his front in order to determine the strength of his opponent. A dismounted skirmish line from the 1st New Jersey moved out about half a mile toward the Rummel farm. This prompted a counter movement by the Confederates at the Rummel farm and soon a brisk fight was underway as the opposing lines shot it out from behind parallel fence lines. Soon the Jerseymen were reinforced by two squadrons of the 3rd Pennsylvania (one of which, “L”, was commanded by Captain Rogers) and the Purnell Legion, all of which were dismounted and held the left,”

Reading on it is reported, “Reinforcements should have meant Colonel J. Irvin Gregg’s brigade, but that would take time since it was several miles away. Custer (newly promoted Gen. George A. Custer) was nearer but heading south to join Kilpatrick near the Round Tops. Therefore, General David McM. Gregg overrode Custer’s marching orders and sent him to help McIntosh take on the Rebels at Rummel’s farm. Custer, sensing this was where the action was, did not protest.”

And that, “A little after 3 p.m., the Federals noticed sunlight reflecting off something in the distance along Cress Ridge. It shone from the drawn sabers of (Wade) Hampton’s and (Fitzhugh) Lee’s brigades, massed in attack formation…Lieutenant William Brooke-Rawle of the 3rd Pennsylvania recalled, “In close columns of squadrons, advancing as if in review, with sabres (sic) drawn and glistening like silver in the bright sunlight, the spectacle called forth a murmur of admiration. It was indeed a memorable one.”

Then, “As the gray riders advanced, Gregg personally ordered Colonel Charles Town to take his 1st Michigan out to meet them.” And, Town being quite ill, “…Custer rode up to lead them. The gait of both columns increased as they drew nearer, first at a trot then a gallop.”

When, “The front rank of the 1st Michigan wavered for a moment, then Custer yelled, “Come on you Wolverines!” and the entire regiment spurred ahead.”

Gregg’s troops, and in particular Custer’s Wolverines, were outnumbered by General J.E.B. Stuart’s charging legions, and, “Although the Wolverines numbered less than 500 against more than six times that many, their wedge-like penetration parted Hampton’s formation.”

Fortunately, help was close at hand, “While the 1st Michigan slugged it out with Hampton, who by now was supported on the flanks by Lee and (John R.) Chambliss, additional bodies of Federals that had been scattered about the field rallied and struck the Confederates on the flanks. Among them were two squadrons of the 3rd Pennsylvania, under Captain Charles Treichel and Lieutenant William Rogers (should be Captain), who struck the Confederate right. Even Colonel McIntosh and about 20 officers and men from his headquarters group charged in to assist Treichel and Rogers.”

With the support of squadrons of the 3rd Pennsylvania also coming in from the Confederate left flank, the charge of Stuart’s brigades was turned back, in spite of the fact that, “Stuart had over 6000 men, a large proportion of them which he committed to the fight. Gregg had about 5000 men but only about 3000 saw action.”

Captain Rogers returned to service with the 3rd PA Cavalry following his recovery from his wounds September 28, 1863. February 6, 1864 he was appointed a Captain in the Veterans Reserve Corps serving in Washington, D.C. He was promoted for his gallant and meritorious service at the Battle of Gettysburg, his highest brevet rank being Lt. Col. as of March 13, 1865.

Curt Harley, a cousin of this reporter, wrote in 2006 that Captain Rogers was an officer of the honor guard for President Lincoln both at his 2nd inauguration and while he lay in state. He also says: that Captain Rogers was in command of the cavalry detail at Ford Theater and was one of the first to notice that Lincoln was shot; that he was a good friend of Custer; and, that he was also a friend of Buffalo Bill Cody. Captain Rogers, in his own report of his service of 1883, writes that he served in Washington, D.C. during 1864 and until 1867, including in the Office of the Military Governor of Washington, D.C.

He continued in the Army for the rest of his career, 1867 until 1869 in Tennessee in charge of troops during the Reconstruction Era with the 45th Infantry and the 14th Infantry respectively, and then in April, 1870 at Crow Creek Agency, Dakota as Acting Assistant Quartermaster and A.C.S. (Acting or Assistant Chief of Staff) and subsequently commanding Company B, 14th Infantry.

Now Regular Army First Lieutenant Rogers’ personally written “Record of Service” records that “5/22/1871 On duty with Company G. 9th Inf. 1st Lieut. A.C.S. Fort D.A. Russell Wyo.” The formal certificate of his appointment as an officer in the Regular Army, of which I have a copy from Rogers Harley, reads “…William W. Rogers, I have nominated, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, do appoint him First Lieutenant in the Ninth Regiment of Infantry in the service of the United States: to rank as such from the twenty second day of May eighteen hundred and seventy one,…” and is signed by the Secretary of War and President U.S. Grant. Over the next sixteen years Captain Rogers and his family served with the Ninth Infantry on posts in Nebraska and Wyoming- the overall command being called the Department of the Platt.

Florence Rogers, circa 1869

Florence Rogers, circa 1869

First Lieutenant Rogers was married- his first wife’s name was Elizabeth (Lizzie). They had a daughter Florence (Floe) while serving in Tennessee, and apparently an older son Horace Byron. Floe died young at Fort D.A. Russell, Cheyenne, Wyoming Territory on July 21, 1871. Floe was first buried there “where the prairie winds will sweep over her grave” (a quote of First Lieutenant Rogers included in a letter of Rogers Harley in January 15, 1992 to my mother Dorothy Nesbitt). Lieutenant Rogers’ wife Lizzie died April 30, 1874, also at Cheyenne, Wyoming Territory, and was buried in the Prospect Hill Cemetery, Omaha, Nebraska. In 1875 Floe was reburied beside her mother. Between these two tragic Cheyenne tours Lieutenant Rogers served at Sidney Barracks in southwest Nebraska. His son Horace it would also seem died rather young.

From “Nov. 28, 1875 to Sept. 12, 1876” Lieutenant Rogers writes in his personal “Record of Service” of September 24, 1883 that he was “Commanding Camp Sheridan, Neb., and Company F. 9th Infantry.” This conforms to the History of the Ninth Infantry: 1799-1909, by Capt. Fred R. Brown, Adjutant, Ninth Infantry (1909), page 116 where it is recorded as follows:

“Company F left post (i.e. Camp Sheridan, Neb.) on May 8th, under command of First-Lieutenant W. W. Rogers, Ninth Infantry, to scout the country between the post and Custer City, with Company K. Second Cavalry. The company returned from Custer City via Camp Robinson, Nebraska, on the 29th of May. Distance marched, 418 miles.”

On a driving trip to visit western U.S. National Parks, including in the Black Hills and the Little Bighorn Battlefield, my wife and I recently visited those locations where Lieutenant, and later, Captain Rogers served in the Department of the Platt in the 1870s and 80s where there are still structures and such to visit. The Camp Sheridan site lies east of Chadron and north of Hay Springs in Nebraska, and south of Oglala which is due north in South Dakota, but nothing remains of the camp to visit. We followed Nebraska Route 20, the Crazy Horse Memorial Highway, east from Fort Robinson turning onto Highway 385 north, the Gold Rush Highway, heading for Custer City, South Dakota just before reaching Chadron. For more background, the role of Camp Sheridan and its relationship to Fort Robinson in the 1870’s is described below:


About ten miles north are the sites of Spotted Tail Agency and Camp Sheridan. Named for Brule Sioux Chief Spotted Tail, the agency was built in 1874 to supply treaty payments, including food, clothing, weapons, and utensils, under the terms of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. The army established Camp Sheridan nearby to protect the agency. A similar arrangement prevailed for the Ogalala Sioux at Red Cloud Agency and Camp Robinson forty miles west.

Spotted Tail Agency was generally quiet and peaceful throughout the Indian War of 1876-77. Crazy Horse surrendered there on September 4, 1877, after fleeing Red Cloud Agency. He was stabbed to death the next evening while being imprisoned at Camp Robinson, but his parents returned his body to Camp Sheridan for burial.

On October 29, 1877, Spotted Tail’s Brules were moved to present South Dakota. In 1878 they occupied the Rosebud Agency, where they live today. Camp Sheridan, with a peak garrison of seven companies of soldiers, was abandoned on May 1, 1881.

I had been wondering why Lieutenant Rogers’ “…scout (of) the country between the post (Camp Sheridan) and Custer City…” of May, 1876 received such specific attention in the History of the Ninth Infantry: 1799-1909, by Capt. Fred R. Brown (1909) supra. It is not the case for that work to give a routine “scout” such detailed attention. At the same time I was just finishing Thom Hatch’s recently published, early in 2015 by St. Martins Press, The Last Days of George Armstrong Custer, subtitle “The True Story of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.” When I connected the dots so to speak as I was finalizing this manuscript, I realized that Lieutenant Rogers, Co. F of the 9th Infantry and Company K, 2nd U.S. Cavalry weren’t just on a routine “scout”, but were undertaking what we would term today a Reconnaissance in Force. The reason, to be sure that the territory south of the Black Hills was secure from “hostile Indians” as the three prong approach into southeastern Montana of U.S. forces got underway in May of that year. This involved General Crook moving up the Rosebud Creek from northeast Wyoming, General Terry and Lt. Col. Custer coming from Fort Abraham Lincoln in the Dakota Territory and moving due west and Colonel Gibbons coming from Fort Ellis to the west in Montana along the Yellowstone River. The objective, to find and destroy “hostile Indians” who would not peacefully return to their assigned reservations, and ultimately to converge on the confluence of the Rosebud and the Yellowstone in Montana. This was an opening phase of the Indian War of 1876-1877. General Crook would fight the Battle of the Rosebud and turn back. Lt. Col. Custer and five companies, of his men of the 7th Cavalry, Companies C, E, F, I and L, would go on to lose their lives in the Battle of the Little Bighorn of that June 25, 1876. For most in the Army and of the country, the death of Custer and his men at the Little Bighorn came as a shock, and logically this would have been even more so for Lieutenant Rogers. The man of then modern legend who he had fought in support of at Gettysburg on that hot and pivotal July day in 1863, who by family tradition he considered a good friend as they crossed paths “out west on the great plains” in the early years of the 1870s, and, as has been pass down in our family, had discussed going into business ventures together when they eventually retired from the service was not only defeated, but was killed. It had to be one of the great shocks of his life, though not on a par with the loss of his little Floe and two years later his wife Elizabeth.

But change was coming for Lieutenant Rogers and his command. By his own record, he was less than three months from returning east. By “September 12, 1876” he was “On duty at Fort Lavaunio (hand corrected to Fort Laramie), Wyo., Comd’y. Co., F. 9th Inf.”

While it seems rather a fast trip, Lieutenant Rogers and Helen King Dewey, a relative of Admiral Dewey, were married on September 19, 1876 at Unity Church, Chicago by the Reverend Robert Collyer. Interestingly, General L. P. Bradley who married one of Helen’s three sisters had been Lieutenant Colonel of the 9th Infantry Regiment (source: manuscript Pvt, Dewey Rogers 1881-1900: Co. “G”-9th Infantry U.S. Army by Rogers S. Harley (1991)). The newlyweds then went on to New York and other locations in the east where Lieutenant Rogers’ duties focused on recruiting for the Ninth Infantry.

Lieutenant Rogers and Helen then went west again, where he continued with the 9th Infantry, with which he would remain. As of “Dec. 16, 1878” he was “En-route to join Company F. 9th Infantry at Fort McKinney, Wyo.”, west of Buffalo, WY. By “March 31, 1880” he was “On duty at Fort Sidney, Neb., as Capt. Co., B. 9th Infantry.” Until “April 22, 1880” when he was “Enroute with Company B. 9th Infantry from Fort Sidney, Neb. to Fort Niobrara Neb., engaged in building the New post.” Helen and Captain Rogers’ only child, Dewey, was born July 22, 1881 at Ft. Niobrara, Nebraska where they served through April 13, 1883. By “Aug. 17, 1883” Captain Rogers and his family were at Fort Bridger, where he further writes in his personal “Record of Service”: “With Company engaged in repairing wagon road from Fort Bridger, Wyo., to Fort Thoruburg (sic, should be Thornburg)), Utah.” Regarding Fort Thornburg, During the summer of 1881 the military troops were established in Ashley Canyon for protection against Indians. Moving to Fort Thornburgh in December, 1881. The fort was abandoned in 1884 and part of the supplies taken to Fort Bridger”. (source: on-line copy of marker for Fort Thornburg).

In 1886 the 9th Infantry was reassigned to the Department of Arizona. This was very much hardship duty given the sever conditions of the climate and terrain. In 1887, for whatever reason, Captain Rogers requests and receives written official confirmation that he was wounded twice in action on July 3, 1863 (of which the family has a copy). Question: Was his health already declining and he was looking ahead to retiring for medical reason, and/or possibly the memories of the young of the day about the Battle of Gettysburg and his service a quarter of a century on needed such written documentation? Today we would say that he was at the least entitled to the Purple Heart medal. He retired from the service because of severe illness in 1889, and he, Helen and Dewey settled in Chicago. Due to his illness, Captain Rogers went to California hoping it would be helpful to his health. He died there in San Diego, December 14, 1890. In Brown, Supra, page 145, it is reported that “As indicating the severity of service, discomforts , and exhausting climate conditions in Arizona from 1886 to 1891, the regiment lost: Five Captains by retirement for disability, (one of whom died soon after): Two Captains by death, and one First Lieutenant by retirement for disability:…” and the list goes on. It would seem quite probable that the Captain who died soon thereafter is a reference to the death of Captain Rogers.

Dewey Rogers, circa 1898

Dewey Rogers, circa 1898

Following his wishes, Helen took Captain Rogers remains to Omaha, Nebraska, where he was buried in the Prospect Hill (Old) Cemetery, Lot 746, E1/2, beside his first wife, Elizabeth, and their young daughter, Floe. Helen would go on to Tacoma, WA where she had close relatives. Dewey Rogers would graduate from high school with Honors in Tacoma in 1898. Not being happy with office work, his mother had at first objected, but finally gave Dewey permission to join the Army. “His ultimate dream was to earn a commission in the 9th Infantry…He could not, however, because of quotas and the political prestige required, gain a place at West Point.” Dewey joined the army in Portland January 10, 1900, with the goal of becoming an officer in the 9th Infantry. He was posted to San Francisco, and February 17, 1900 was shipped out to the Philippines where he joined Company “G” of the 9th Infantry. On June 27, 1900 the 9th Infantry sailed from Manila for China to join the International Force fighting the Chinese Boxers. Tragically, Dewey died July 13, 1900 in China storming the walls of Tien Tsin during the Boxer Rebellion. In 1901 he was buried in the Tacoma (Washington) Cemetery, Section 2, Sub-section “E”, Lot #2. The source of this information after Captain Rogers’ death comes from the manuscript, Pvt. Dewey Rogers, 1881-1900, Company “G”- 9th Infantry U.S. Army, by Rogers S. Harley (1991).

Thanks to Captain Nesbitt for his contribution, and thanks also to him for providing the images that appear here.

Here’s to Bvt. Lt. Col. William Wallace Rogers, forgotten cavalryman.

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In this image, Duffié is seen wearing his medals from the Crimean War.

In this image, Duffié is seen wearing his medals from the Crimean War.

It seems like it’s been forever since I last profiled a forgotten cavalryman. I’ve been too wrapped up in preservation stuff and in writing another book manuscript. However, it’s time to change that and do a new forgotten cavalrymen profile. Today, we’re going to commemorate Brig. Gen. Alfred N. Duffié, who is memorable for being both incompetent and a fraud. I normally do not include references in these profiles, but in this particular instance, I have elected to do so. You will find my sources at the bottom of this blog post.

Born Napoléon Alexandre Duffié, he carried the nickname “Nattie.” Duffié was born in Paris, France, on May 1, 1833, the son of a well-to-do bourgeois French sugar refiner who distilled sugar from beets. [1] At age 17, Duffié enlisted in the French 6th Regiment of Dragoons. Six months later, he was promoted to corporal, and received a second promotion, this time to sergeant, in March 1854. He served in French campaigns in Africa and in the Crimean War from May 1, 1854, to July 16, 1856, and received two decorations for valor during this period.

In 1855, the 6th Regiment of Dragoons, along with two other mounted units, made a brilliant cavalry charge at the Battle of Kanghil, near the Black Sea port of Eupatoria in the Ukraine, leading to the issuance of his decorations. In February 1858, Duffié was made first sergeant in the 6th Dragoons and then transferred to the 3d Regiment of Hussars. Although he would have been eligible for discharge from the French Army in 1859, Duffié signed on for another seven-year enlistment that spring after being graded “a strong man capable of becoming a good average officer.”

On June 14, 1859, Duffié received a commission as second lieutenant in the 3d Regiment of Hussars. Just two months later, Duffié tried to resign his commission, stating a desire to go into business. He had met thirty-two-year-old Mary Ann Pelton, a young American woman serving as a nurse in Europe’s charnel houses. Duffié’s regimental commander rejected the attempted letter of resignation, stating his “regrets that this officer so little appreciates the honor of recently having been promoted sous-lieutenant, and that he would prefer a commercial position to that honor.” [2] When the French army refused to allow Duffié to resign, he deserted and fled to New York with Miss Pelton. He was listed as absent without leave and court-martialed in 1860. He was convicted and sentenced to dismissal without benefits for desertion to a foreign country and stripped of his medals. On December 20, 1860, by decree of Emperor Napoléon III, Duffié was sentenced, in absentia, to serve five years in prison for deserting and was dishonorably discharged from the French army. [3]

After arriving in New York, he adopted the first name Alfred, perhaps trying to disguise his true identity from prying eyes. He also married Miss Pelton, the daughter of a wealthy and influential New York family. Mary Ann Duffié’s father was a dealer in boots and shoes and shoemakers’ supplies, and was “an energetic and successful businessman” who lived in an enclave of strong abolitionists in Staten Island.[4] When the Civil War broke out, Duffié received a commission as a captain in the 2d New York Cavalry. He quickly rose to the rank of major, and was appointed colonel of the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry in July 1862.[5]

Duffié took great pains to hide his military history, spinning an elaborate web of lies, convincing all that cared to hear his story that he was the son of a French count, and not a humble sugar refiner. He changed the reported date of his birth from 1833 to 1835. He claimed that he had attended the preparatory Military Academy at Vincennes, that he had graduated from the prestigious military college of St. Cyr in 1854, and that he had served in Algiers and Senegal as lieutenant of cavalry.[6]

Duffié also claimed that he had been badly wounded at the Battle of Solferino in the War of Italian Independence in 1859, a conflict between the forces of Austria on one side and the allied forces of Piedmont, Sardinia, and France on the other. Solferino was a huge and bloody affair, involving more than 300,000 soldiers and nearly 40,000 casualties. However, his unit, the 3d Hussars, was not part of the Army of Italy and did not fight at Solferino. Although Duffié said that he had received a total of eight wounds in combat, his French military records do not suggest that he ever received a combat wound. He also asserted that he had received the Victoria Cross from Queen Victoria herself.

Finally, Duffié claimed that he had come to the United States to take the waters at Saratoga Springs, not because he had deserted the French army and fled to America in the company of a woman who was not his wife. Perhaps the Peltons created the myth of Alfred Duffié, French nobleman and war hero, to make their new son-in-law more palatable to their prominent social circles. Because of his martial bearing, he soon persuaded both his superior officers and the men who served under him that he had noble roots and a superb military pedigree.[7]

dufee“Confronting us, he presents the aspect of the beau ideal soldat . . .with his tall symmetrical form erect in saddle and severe facial expression emphasize by a mustache and goatee of formal cut waxed to a point a la militaire,” observed a war correspondent. “A Frenchman I judged him on sight, from his tout ensemble, and his first utterance, which launched without instant delay, proved my surmise correct.”[8] He wore an unusual uniform of his own design, based closely upon the attire of the French Chasseurs, knee boots, and an ornately embroidered cap patterned after the French Chasseur design.[9]

Duffié spoke fractured English. “His attempts were interlarded with curious and novel expletives, which were very amusing.”[10] In assuming a new command, the Frenchman would say, “You no like me now. You like my bye and bye.” He was right. Before long, they would follow him when he ordered a charge. “Once, in preparing to make a charge where the situation looked a little desperate,” recalled a New Yorker, Duffié “encouraged his men, who were little more than boys, by saying, ‘You all have got to die sometime anyway. If you die now you won’t have to die again. Forward!’ His charge was successful.”[11]

Although the Gallic colonel got off to a rough start with his Rhode Islanders, he soon won them over. The men of his brigade liked him. “Duffié is in command of the Brigade. He is a Frenchman,” observed Albinus Fell of the 6th Ohio Cavalry, “he is a bully little cuss.”[12] Another predicted that the Frenchman would quickly receive a promotion and leave the 1st Rhode Island. “He is a bully man,” observed Sgt. Emmons D. Guild of the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry. “I tell you he will not stay long, so you will have to look out if you want to see him. His name is A. N. Duffié.”[13] Duffié’s experience showed, and he performed competently if not spectacularly. “Whatever may have been the faults of Colonel Duffié,” recorded his regimental sergeant major, “there is no gainsaying the fact that he was probably the best regimental cavalry drill-master and tactician in the army.”[14] His veteran brigade, which saw heavy action during the Second Bull Run Campaign of 1862, consisted of the 1st Rhode Island, the 1st Massachusetts, 6th Ohio, and 4th New York.

Duffié performed admirably at the March 17, 1863 Battle of Kelly’s Ford while commanding his brigade, in what was unquestionably his finest hour. He was recommended for promotion after his good fight that day, and when his division commander, Brig. Gen. William Woods Averell, was scapegoated for the Union defeat at Chancellorsville and unceremoniously relieved of command of his division and shunted off to West Virginia. As the senior officer in the division, the Frenchman became commander of the Army of the Potomac’s Second Cavalry Division, proving the truth of the Peter Principle: the Gallic sergeant was in way over his head. Unduly cautious and insistent on obeying his orders to the letter at the June 9, 1863 Battle of Brandy Station, Duffié permitted his division’s advance to be held off for most of a day by a single regiment of Confederate cavalry, the 2nd South Carolina Cavalry. After finally brushing the grayclad horsemen aside, Duffié and his division arrived at Brandy Station too late to make a difference in the outcome of the battle. A few days later, when the Cavalry Corps was restructured, the Frenchman was relieved of divisional command and returned to command the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry.

Duffié returned to the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry. “I know that there was not the most cordial feeling between him and the controlling officers in the cavalry,” recalled a Northern horseman. “I suspected that he was more or less a thorn in the side of the higher officers. He was not companionable with them; did not think as they did; had little in common, and, was perhaps inclined to be boastful.”[15] However, Brig. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, the new commander of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps, had other plans for ridding himself of the Frenchman.

On June 17, 1863, Pleasonton dispatched Duffié and the 1st Rhode Island on a reconnaissance to Middleburg, in Virginia’s lush Loudoun Valley. The vastly outnumbered Rhode Islanders were cut to pieces. They lost 6 killed, 9 wounded, and 210 missing and captured, leaving a fine regiment gutted. Pleasonton apparently sacrificed the 1st Rhode Island to rid himself of a hated foreigner.[16] “Had any native born officer been in command the regiment would, without doubt, have cut its way out that night,” observed one of his officers, “[but] Colonel Duffié was a Frenchman, he had received positive orders [to remain in the town that night] and thought it his duty to obey them.” When the Gallic colonel reported to Hooker after escaping from Middleburg, he learned that he had been recommended for immediate promotion to brigadier general, prompting him to declare, “My goodness, when I do well they take no notice of me. When I go make one bad business, make one fool of myself, they promote me, make me General!”[17] John Singleton Mosby, the notorious Confederate partisan commander, offered his opinion of the Frenchman’s leadership skills: “Duffié’s folly is an illustration of the truth of what I have often said—that no man is fit to be an officer who has not the sense and courage to know when to disobey an order.”[18]

Several weeks earlier, Hooker had endorsed a promotion for Duffié as a consequence of his good work at Kelly’s Ford. A few days after the debacle at Middleburg, President Lincoln forwarded a letter to Secretary of War Stanton recommending that Duffié be promoted as a consequence of the Frenchman’s good service at Kelly’s Ford.[19] In spite of the mauling received by the Rhode Islanders, Duffié was promoted to brigadier general and was transferred out of the Army of the Potomac in a classic bump upstairs. He never commanded troops in the Army of the Potomac again. He ended up under Averell’s command again, leading a brigade of cavalry in the Department of West Virginia. When the division commander was badly wounded, Duffié assumed command of the division, while Averell served as chief of cavalry in the Army of the Shenandoah. The two men came into conflict as a result of the clumsy command structure.

In September 1864, just after the important Union victories at Third Winchester and Fisher’s Hill, Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, the new leader of the Army of the Shenandoah, relieved both Averell and Duffié from command. Sheridan directed Duffié to go to Hagerstown, Maryland, to await further orders.[20] On October 21, 1864, Duffié boarded an army ambulance to go see Sheridan about getting another command. Sheridan wanted Duffié to equip and retrain another cavalry force, duty for which the Gallic general was abundantly qualified.[21] After receiving his instructions from Sheridan, on October 24, as Duffié was headed back to Hagerstown to prepare for his new assignment, Mosby’s guerrillas fell upon the Frenchman’s wagon train. Mosby captured Duffié and quickly sent him back to Richmond as a prisoner of war. He sat out the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp in Danville and was not exchanged until March 1865. After Duffié’s capture, Sheridan put an exclamation point on the Frenchman’s career in the U.S. Army. “I respectfully request his dismissal from the service,” sniffed Sheridan in a letter to Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, “I think him a trifling man and a poor soldier. He was captured by his own stupidity.”[22] Duffié never served in the U.S. Army again, although he remained in public service for the rest of his life.

In 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Duffié as U.S. consul to Spain, and sent him to Cadiz, on the Iberian Peninsula’s southwest seacoast. While he served in Spain, the Frenchman contracted tuberculosis, which claimed his life in 1880. Because of his conviction for desertion, Duffié never was able to return to his native France. His body was brought home and buried in his wife’s family plot in Fountain Cemetery in Staten Island, N.Y. Unfortunately, the cemetery was abandoned long ago, and the grave is badly overgrown with vegetation. It is nearly impossible to find, and is as forgotten to history as the proud soldier that rests there. The veterans of the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry, who remained loyal to their former commander, raised money to erect a handsome monument to Duffié in the North Burying Ground in Providence. Capt. George Bliss, who commanded a squadron in the 1st Rhode Island, wrote a lengthy and eloquent tribute to Duffié that was published and distributed to the veterans of the regiment. [23]

In addition to being a flagrant fraud, Alfred Duffié was incompetent to command anything larger than a regiment, and even then, he was only marginally successful. Other than his one good day at Kelly’s Ford, Duffié left no real mark. But his fraud is a fascinating study of the efforts to reinvent the life’s story of a French deserter who became a general in the United States Army. Here’s to Nattie Duffié, forgotten cavalryman.

With gratitude to Jean-Claude Reuflet, a French descendant of Duffié’s, for providing me with much of the material that appears in this profile.

[1] His father, Jean August Duffié, served as mayor of the village of La Ferte sous Juarre. At least one contemporary source states that the Duffié family had its roots in Ireland, and that the family fled to France to escape Oliver Cromwell’s Reign of Terror. See Charles Fitz Simmons, “Hunter’s Raid,” Military Essays and Recollections, Papers Read Before the Commandery of the State of Illinois Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States 4 (Chicago: 1907), 395–96.
[2] Napoléon Alexandre Duffié Military Service Records, French Army Archives, Vincennes, France. The author is grateful to Jean-Claude Reuflet, a relative of Duffié’s, for making these obscure records available and for providing the author with a detailed translation of their contents.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Jeremiah M. Pelton, Genealogy of the Pelton Family in America (Albany, N.Y.: Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1892), 565. The true state of the facts differs dramatically from the conventional telling of Duffié’s life, as set forth in Warner’s Generals in Blue.
[5] Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964), 131–32.
[6] A document prepared by Duffié’s son indicates that Duffié attended the cadet school at Versailles, that he took and passed the entrance examinations for the Military College of St. Cyr, and that he was admitted to St. Cyr in 1851. Daniel A. Duffié claimed that his father dropped out of St. Cyr after a year to enlist in the 6th Regiment of Dragoons. Procuration executed by Daniel A. Duffié, heir of Jean August Duffié, March 16, 1885, Pelton-Duffié Family Papers, Staten Island Historical Society, New York, N.Y.
[7] For an example of the elaborate ruse spun by Duffié, George N. Bliss, “Duffié and the Monument to His Memory,” Personal Narratives of Events in the War of the Rebellion, Being Papers Read Before the Rhode Island Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society 6 (Providence: Rhode Island Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society, 1890), 316–376. Bliss presents a detailed biographical sketch of Duffié that includes all of the falsehoods. Duffié himself apparently provided Bliss with most of his information. See pages 317–20 for the recitation of this litany of falsehoods.
[8] James E. Taylor, The James E. Taylor Sketchbook (Dayton, Ohio: Morningside, 1989), 134.
[9] Gregory J. W. Urwin, The United States Cavalry: An Illustrated History (Poole, Dorset: Blandford Press, 1983), 98–99.
[10] Benjamin W. Crowninshield, A History of the First Regiment Massachusetts Cavalry Volunteers (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1891), 113.
[11] William H. Beach, The First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry from April 19, 1861, to July 7, 1865 (New York: Lincoln Cavalry Association, 1902), 399.
[12] Fell to Dear Lydia, March 8, 1863.
[13] Emmons D. Guild to his parents, March 20, 1863, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park Archives, Fredericksburg, Va. (FSNMP).
[14] Jacob B. Cooke, “The Battle of Kelly’s Ford, March 17, 1863,” Personal Narratives of Events in the War of the Rebellion, Being Papers Read Before the Rhode Island Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society 4 (Providence: Rhode Island Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society, 1887), 9.
[15] George Bliss, The First Rhode Island Cavalry at Middleburg (Providence, R.I.: privately published, 1889), 48.
[16] For a detailed examination, see Robert F. O’Neill, Jr., The Cavalry Battles of Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville: Small but Important Riots (Lynchburg, VA: H. E. Howard 1994), 66–76.
[17] Bliss, The First Rhode Island Cavalry at Middleburg, 50.
[18] John S. Mosby, Stuart’s Cavalry in the Gettysburg Campaign (New York: Moffatt, Yard, 1908), 71.
[19] Abraham Lincoln to Edwin M. Stanton, June 22, 1863, Pearce Civil War Collection, Navarro College Archives, Corsicana, Tex.
[20] O.R. vol. 37, part 2, 896–97.
[21] New York Times, October 7, 1864.
[22] O.R. vol. 43, part 2, 475.
[23] See Bliss, “Duffié and the Monument to His Memory.”

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Conclusion of a series. Cross-posted at Emerging Civil War.

Battle of Monroe's Crossroads, second phase

Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads, second phase

After rallying his troops, Kilpatrick found a ragged old nag of a horse, and ordered a counterattack by his men, who surged forward out of the swamp and engaged the Confederate cavalrymen. In the meantime, Lt. Stetson was able to man first one, and then other, of his guns near the Monroe house, taking the starch out of the Confederate attack. Butler ordered an attack on the guns, which was led by The Citadel Cadet Ranger Company of the 4th South Carolina Cavalry, led by Capt. Moses Humphrey. Leading his troopers forward, Humphrey and his horse were both felled by a blast of canister. The captain and his loyal steed were buried in the same grave. Lt. Col. Barrington S. King, the commander of the Cobb Legion Cavalry, was also mortally wounded by one of Stetson’s blasts.

Those blasts of canister served to rally the Union men. One of Kilpatrick’s troopers described the determined counterattack by the Union horse soldiers as “one of the most terrific hand-to-hand encounters I ever saw.” Blue and gray mingled promiscuously as they slugged it out for possession of the Union camps. One of Wheeler’s division commanders, Brig. Gen. William Y. C. Humes, was badly wounded in the leg, and a brigade commander, Col. James Hagan, lay on the ground bleeding from a severe wound.

Sign indicating the location of the battlefield. In the background are graves for unknown Union dead.

Sign indicating the location of the battlefield. In the background are graves for unknown Union dead.

Kilpatrick’s determined counterattack re-took his headquarters at the Monroe House and then began shoving the Confederate cavalry back toward the Morganton Road. They also punished those elements of Wheeler’s corps that had gotten bogged down in the swamp for the better part of 90 long minutes. After taking heavy losses—Wheeler had lost two division commanders and two brigade commanders badly wounded—and realizing that he had done all that he could, Hampton finally ordered his command to withdraw. Law’s reserve troopers came forward to cover the Confederate retreat and were joined by Brig. Gen. George Dibrell’s late-arriving brigade of Wheeler’s corps, and these troopers fended off Kilpatrick’s final attacks and allowed the rest of the Confederate cavalry to break off and withdraw safely.

Kilpatrick was happy to let them go. Having been caught by surprise and having taken heavy losses, he was in no hurry to pursue the grayclad horsemen. His command spent the rest of the day licking its wounds. Maj. Gen. James D. Morgan’s 14th Corps Division arrived to reinforce Kilpatrick after the battle ended, and the Union commander soon became a laughingstock when the story of his flight into the swamp clad in only his nightshirt spread. The foot soldiers quickly dubbed it “Kilpatrick’s shirt-tail skedaddle,” not without merit. So ended the final major cavalry engagement in the Western Theater of the Civil War.

Longstreet Church Cemetery. This cemetery is about a mile and a half from the battlefield. Many of the Confederate dead from the battle rest here.

Longstreet Church Cemetery. This cemetery is about a mile and a half from the battlefield. Many of the Confederate dead from the battle rest here.

In the end, Kilpatrick won the battle by retaining the field at the end of the day, and having driven off Hampton and Wheeler. However, winning or losing the battle was not the issue. Hampton’s plan was designed to buy time for Hardee’s infantry to make its escape, and in that, the Confederates were wildly successful. By keeping Kilpatrick’s cavalry tied up for the entire day on March 10, Hardee was able to reach Fayetteville unmolested, and to cross his entire command safely. Wheeler’s troopers served as the rearguard, and the last of them to cross the Clarendon Bridge set it ablaze as the lead elements of Sherman’s army entered Fayetteville on the morning of March 11. The destruction of the bridge forced Sherman to halt in Fayetteville for several days until his pontoon bridges could be floated up the Cape Fear River from Wilmington. Hardee’s command pulled back and established three strong defensive positions at Averasboro, where his small command of less than 10,000 men successfully held off fully half of Sherman’s army for a full day on March 16, 1865 before withdrawing after dark that night. Hardee’s command then joined Johnston’s army at Smithfield the next day.

In short, the determined attacks by Hampton and Wheeler at Monroe’ Crossroads made the Battle of Bentonville possible. But for the bold surprise attacks that nearly destroyed Kilpatrick’s command, Hardee’s troops might have been brought to ground at Fayetteville and the Clarendon Bridge might have been seized by Kilpatrick’s troopers and made available for use by Sherman’s army, which might have arrived before Johnston could concentrate his army for the battle that became known as Bentonville.

Battle monument erected by the U.S. Army.

Battle monument erected by the U.S. Army.

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Part two in a series. Cross-posted at Emerging Civil War.

Col. Gilbert J. Wright

Col. Gilbert J. Wright

Col. Gilbert J. “Gib” Wright, who commanded Hampton’s old brigade, was determined to try to capture Kilpatrick. He ordered Capt. Samuel D. Bostick of the Phillips Legion Cavalry to head straight for the Monroe farmhouse to capture the Union cavalry leader while the rest of the dawn attack launched.


Col. George E. Spencer, 1st Alabama Cavalry (U.S.)

Col. George E. Spencer, 1st Alabama Cavalry (U.S.)

Joe Wheeler wanted to attack dismounted, as a thick swamp lay between his corps and Kilpatrick’s campsites. Hampton ordered the attack to be made mounted, and Wheeler rode off to prepare for the attack. At dawn, Wright’s men thundered into the sleeping Union campsite, catching many of Spencer’s men still in their bedrolls. Bostick and his company headed straight for the farmhouse. Kilpatrick, awakened by the commotion, came out onto the front porch of the house clad in only his nightshirt to see what was going on. Fortunately, he was a quick thinker—when one of Bostick’s men asked him where was General Kilpatrick, he pointed at a man riding away on a horse and told the Confederate soldier that the man was the general. The Confederates spurred off after the man, and Kilpatrick, now fully awake and aware of the grave threat, retreated to the swamp barefoot, without weapons, and dressed only in his nightshirt. In the meantime, the Southern horsemen surged through the camps, headed toward the Monroe house, freeing some prisoners of war that had been traveling with Kilpatrick’s command.

In the meantime, two factors came into play to stymie the Confederate battle plan. First, a significant portion of Wheeler’s command got bogged down trying to push through the nearly impenetrable swamp. Those who got through lost all sense of discipline when faced with the veritable bounty of Kilpatrick’s campsites. Famished men stopped to feast on the ample Union rations or to loot the camps instead of pushing on. The combination of these two factors allowed sufficient time for those elements of Kilpatrick’s command that had not been gobbled up by the initial Confederate assaults to escape into the swamp, where Kilpatrick began to rally them.

In the meantime, Wheeler himself drew his saber and pitched into the melee, and so did Hampton. The big South Carolinian—6’4” and about 240 pounds—carried a heavy broadsword and not a saber, and he ended up killing a couple of Kilpatrick’s troopers during the day’s fighting, the 12th and 13th men that he had killed in personal combat during the Civil War. The scene in the Federal camps was utter chaos. Hampton’s plan for a surprise attack had succeeded beyond his wildest expectations, but with the complete breakdown of discipline, and the nature of the terrain, which naturally funneled the action toward the swamp, the Confederate tidal wave was rapidly running out of steam.

In the meantime, Judson Kilpatrick was rallying his routed command and getting it organized to launch a counterattack. After his humiliating flight into the safety of the swamp, the Union commander was determined to regain his camps.

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Part 1 of a series. Cross-posted at Emerging Civil War:

The stakes were high. Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee’s 5,500 man corps was in a race for its life. If it could reach the Clarendon Bridge across the Cape Fear River in Fayetteville, NC first, Hardee could get his men across and then destroy the only crossing of the Cape Fear in the area. The Cape Fear is navigable as far north as Fayetteville, so it could only be crossed by bridge or ferry in the Fayetteville area. If Hardee could destroy the bridge, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s 65,000-man army would have to halt and wait for bridging materials to be brought up river from Wilmington. By the time that the bridging materials arrived and Sherman got his army across the Cape Fear, Hardee would be well on his way to joining the force that Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, who came out of retirement to assume command of the remaining Confederate forces in North Carolina in February 1865, was assembling near Smithfield.

kilpatrick_webLeading Sherman’s pursuit was the Third Cavalry Division, commanded by Bvt. Maj. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick’s division—consisting of three brigades of mounted men and an ad hoc brigade of those men who had lost their horses and had not been able to replace them—was the only cavalry with Sherman’s grand army. Kilpatrick, of questionable reliability, had already demonstrated that his command could be caught by surprise at Aiken, South Carolina on February 11, was the weak link in Sherman’s army. However, in the absence of any alternatives, Kilpatrick and his troopers would have to do.

wheeler_inlineClosely shadowing Kilpatrick’s pursuit of Hardee’s infantry was a large and still effective force of Confederate cavalry. Even at that late date, the Confederates could still put more than 5,000 horsemen in the field, consisting of f about 4,000 men under the command of Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler, whose command had been shadowing Sherman’s army since the beginning of the March to the Sea, and another 1,200 or so troopers from the Army of Northern Virginia under command of the newly-promoted Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton who had been sent to South Carolina at Hampton’s request in February to help defend against Sherman’s army. As the highest-ranking officer in the Confederate cavalry service, Hampton had overall command of this large force of Southern horsemen.

220px-wade_hamptonBy the afternoon of March 9, 1865, Kilpatrick’s command was only a few miles behind Hardee’s infantry. Each of Kilpatrick’s three brigades of mounted men used a different road to pursue the Confederates. Kilpatrick himself rode with the brigade of Col. George E. Spencer, which was accompanied by Lt. Ebenezer Stetson’s two-gun section of the 10th Wisconsin Battery, and the dismounted troopers, organized into ad hoc regiments based on which brigade they served in, all under command of Lt. Col. William B. Way of the 9th Michigan Cavalry. Nightfall came quickly on the short early March days, and Kilpatrick decided to halt at the intersection of the Morganton and Blue’s Rosin Road, not far from Fayetteville. Kilpatrick established his headquarters in the Monroe farmhouse, where he spent the night in the company of an unidentified woman who was traveling with his command and who was considered to be a woman of loose morals. That intersection, known as Monroe’s Crossroads, would become the site of the last large cavalry battle in the Western Theater of the Civil War the next day.

Kilpatrick was careless and sloppy in his dispositions. He had only a single company of the 5th Kentucky Cavalry of Spencer’s brigade deployed as pickets on the Morganton Road. Wheeler’s lead elements—scouts of the 8th Texas Cavalry (Terry’s Texas Rangers) under command of Capt. Alexander Shannon—caught the Kentuckians by surprise and captured them en masse, meaning that Kilpatrick had no other early warning system in place in case the Confederates approached. This was incredibly negligent and violated nearly every rule for cavalry in the field, and it nearly cost Kilpatrick dearly.

matthew_calbraith_butlerWheeler and Hampton recognized that Kilpatrick’s entire command was vulnerable. Hampton developed a plan whereby his entire command would pounce on Kilpatrick’s vulnerable camp. Wheeler, with his entire corps, would attack at dawn from the west, while Maj. Gen. Matthew C. Butler, commanding Hampton’s old division, would attack from the north with Col. Gilbert Wright’s brigade (Hampton’s old brigade), while the brigade of Brig. Gen. Evander M. Law would be held in reserve. It was a brilliant plan, and if it was executed properly at dawn as ordered, the grayclad horsemen would fall upon the sleeping Union camp like a tidal wave.

However, as the old cliché about the best-laid plans of mice and men goes, while the plan was brilliant, its execution left something to be desired.

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17079761-largeRand Bitter forwarded a link today to update the nonsensical theory that Col. Robert H. G. Minty, probably the best Union cavalry brigade commander of the Civil War, stole the Confederate treasury’s gold from Jefferson Davis and that said gold is now at the bottom of Lake Michigan.

This time, the reporter was responsible and asked Rand for his opinion. Rand has published an exhaustively researched book on Minty’s life, and there is nobody alive who knows more about Minty than does Rand. If Rand says it’s nonsense, it’s nonsense. And Rand says it’s nonsense:

Confederate treasure in Lake Michigan? Despite skeptics, divers pursue fantastic story

By Garret Ellison |
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on February 23, 2015 at 8:35 AM, updated February 23, 2015 at 11:02 A.M.

FRANKFORT, MI — Sometime in the mid-1890s, a boxcar laden with gold bullion stolen from the Confederacy at the end of the Civil War was allegedly pushed off a ferry into the roiling waters of Lake Michigan during a storm.

Today, it awaits discovery on the lake bottom.

As far as treasure stories go, it’s a doozy. But is it believable?

Unfortunately, there’s only one way to know for sure whether the story advanced by Muskegon area shipwreck divers Frederick J. Monroe and Kevin Dykstra is anything more than a new entry in the encyclopedia of theories about what became of the fabled Confederate treasury after the war.

Based largely on a deathbed confession relayed to Monroe in 1973, Monroe and Dykstra have spent several years searching the waters off Northern Michigan’s Benzie County for the treasure, which they fully expect will be found this summer.

On board with the tale is Frankfort Superintendent Joshua Mills, who is excited by the economic prospects of treasure seekers descending on his coastal town en masse with a modern day version of gold fever.

“We’re pretty certain that gold will be found”

Less convinced are Civil War historians, who consider the story preposterous.

“It’s all a bunch of hogwash,” said Rand Bitter, author of a biography about the Union Army officer at the center of Dykstra and Monroe’s treasure theory.

One might expect nothing less when it comes to a gold story.

A tale of the tallest order?

The thought of Confederate gold sunk in local waters is an intriguing notion that’s sure to fire the kiln of interest among Michiganders. If true, then the answer to one of the country’s greatest mysteries has been in our backyard for more than a century.

The story bubbled into the public eye last fall, when Monroe and Dykstra announced the discovery of an unidentified Lake Michigan shipwreck bearing resemblance to Le Griffon, the yet-undiscovered “holy grail” of Great Lakes wrecks.

Amid the ongoing clamor around Le Griffon, the duo’s real purpose was almost rendered a footnote. Finding the shipwreck — which they did in 2011 but held back announcing for several years — was an accident, they said. The two were actually searching for sunken Civil War gold.

Wait… what?

Their story about how rebel gold found its way into Lake Michigan seems plausible — as plausible, anyway, as any of the other folklore based on the 150-year-old legend of the Confederate treasury, which vanished under fairly well-known circumstances in 1865.

There’s even an established Michigan connection. Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, was captured on May 10, 1865 by members of the Fourth Michigan Cavalry near Irwinville, Ga., about a month after the fall of Richmond.

Davis had fled Richmond with the rebels’ hard currency reserves. Accounts differ on the exact size and makeup of the treasure, but it’s generally thought to have been about $1 million worth of gold, silver and jewelry.

According to historical account, the treasure was gone by the time the cavalry caught up with Davis and his men, who had little money on them.

What happened to the treasure? Monroe and Dykstra have a theory. Here it goes:

A colonel with the Fourth Michigan named Robert Horatio George Minty went back down to Georgia more than a decade after Davis was captured and dug up the hidden gold.

Minty, who retired as a Brigadier General, was wrongfully court-martialed during the war. This, Dykstra and Monroe think, gave him motive to commit treason.

Minty, who worked as a railroad superintendent after the war, somehow managed to get the treasure onto a boxcar headed north for Michigan. His destination: Upper Peninsula copper country, a region with known gold deposits.

To get there, the gold needed to cross Lake Michigan. In 1892, the Ann Arbor Railroad began using coal-powered lake ferries to bypass congested Chicago train yards. From Frankfort, the ferries served ports in Wisconsin and the U.P.

In dire straits, rail cars were sometimes pushed overboard in rough seas.

During one side-scan sonar search of the lake off Frankfort in 2012, Monroe and Dykstra found a coal car on the lake bottom. The two divers consider it a signpost indicating the deathbed confession is accurate and gold is real.

“I believe the boxcar is out there and this spring we’ll find it,” Dykstra said.

Do the dots connect?

Many dots must connect for Monroe and Dykstra’s theory to hold water.

Rand Bitter, a former Ford Motor Co. design cost specialist who self-published an exhaustively researched 2006 book called “Minty and his Cavalry: A History of the Sabre Brigade,” thinks the theory is built on a shaky foundation.

Colonel Minty, Bitter said, was not present when Davis was captured by men led by a subordinate officer, Lt. Col. Benjamin D. Pritchard of Allegan.

“If three tons of gold had been hidden away in a hurry by Prichard and his men, how would Minty have coordinated that from 150 miles away?” Bitter asked. “He wouldn’t have even known about it. They had to send a courier with word that Davis had been captured.”

Other elements of the Minty connection are suspect, Bitter said, who contends that Minty’s postwar railroad employment never put him in the right position to manage a secret boxcar all the way from Georgia to Michigan.

After the war, Minty’s first wife, Grace Ann Abbott, was apparently seen in Traverse City with a necklace made from a Confederate gold coin sovereign — a detail Dykstra and Monroe feel supports their theory.

Here, Bitter and the divers are almost on the same page. The coin necklace was real. Bitter thinks it was most likely given to Minty following Davis’ capture. The cavalryman also got Davis’ revolver and holsters, which are now on display in a Richmond museum. He never got any reward money for the capture.

But the hardest part for Bitter to reconcile is the family connection. Minty scandalously moved to Indiana in the 1870s and started a second family with his wife Grace’s sister, Laura Abbott. Minty essentially became persona non grata with the much of the Abbott family after that.

It’s an important detail because Minty’s brother-in-law, George Alexander Abbott, was the person who allegedly made the deathbed confession about a boxcar full of gold in Lake Michigan to a friend of Monroe’s grandfather.

From depositions taken after Minty’s death, Bitter said it’s quite clear George Abbott did not care much for Minty after the cavalryman’s affair.

“That’s supposedly someone who would know all about Minty’s gold?” he said. “Interesting he’d have all the details.”

Frankfort ready for gold seekers

Bitter and Dykstra have talked, but the divers and their chief theory critic didn’t connect before the gold-in-the-lake story hit the news.

If the deathbed confession turns out to be true and gold is found, Dykstra acknowledged the possibility that it may not be from the Confederate treasury. The Minty theory grew out of his early research. Dykstra was drawn to the Civil War angle when that was the only reference to missing gold from the time period he could find on the Internet.

He realizes it’s a “long stretch.”

Civil War experts aren’t the only skeptics. Shipwreck divers around the state are curious, but some question, privately, whether Monroe and Dykstra aren’t also angling for something like a reality TV show.

The duo isn’t tightly networked with the wider Great Lakes shipwreck diving community by choice, they said.

The two men met about 20 years ago at a wedding. Both have backgrounds as professional photographers. Monroe, 61, of Muskegon, is a scuba instructor who says he graduated from dive school in California in 1972. He taught Dykstra, 51, of Fruitport, to dive a few years ago.

“I’ve been treasure hunting pretty much my whole life,” said Monroe.

The divers have met with Michigan officials, but state archeologist Dean Anderson declined to take a strong position on the veracity of their theory. If gold is found, the state will likely claim it as abandoned material on Michigan bottomland.

“It’s not a story I’m familiar with,” said Anderson, who called the divers “forthcoming and cooperative,” particularly in recent discussions about a planned dive to the possible Le Griffon site this spring or summer.

“I’m not in any position to evaluate what they’ve had to say” about the gold, he said. “We only learned much detail about it very recently.”

More discussions between the divers and the state are possible, but not planned.

In Frankfort, city superintendent Joshua Mills is eager for something to happen.

Monroe and Dykstra have kept Mills in the loop since their initial dives began in 2011. The pair had a hand in helping outfit the Frankfort Fire Department with dive equipment paid for with some local private grants.

They’ve also done some training sessions with the dive team, said Mills.

If Frankfort gets an influx of treasure-seekers drawn to the gold story, it’s best the city be prepared for whatever could happen, said Monroe.

“We’re pretty certain that gold will be found,” said Monroe. “With all the people who come out, we think there’s a good chance it’ll be found this summer.”

If that happens, Mills wants folks to know there’s no monetary incentive in the treasure hunt. The state of Michigan would probably claim the gold, but, assuming there is gold down there, there could be other legal ownership claims advanced depending on the treasure’s origin.

“I think preserving the history and putting closure to the legend is something that could be a benefit to all,” said Mills. “We’ll see.”

Garret Ellison covers business, government, environment and breaking news for MLive/The Grand Rapids Press. Email him at or follow on Twitter & Instagram

This theory is nothing but a flight of fancy. It’s a shame that such nonsense is even taken seriously.

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Photo31012Today is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Ailken, South Carolina, wherein the still-feisty Confederate cavalry of Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler set a trap for, and nearly destroyed a brigade of, Judson Kilpatrick’s 3rd Cavalry Division. Kil himself barely escaped being captured. As a long-time student of Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign, this small but important battle has always fascinated me. It only lasted a few minutes, or I would have done something substantive with it years ago as a companion to my study of the Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads.

My friend Craig Swain has an excellent post on the Battle of Aiken on his blog, which I commend to you.

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635575315820752088-robertmintyRobert H. G. Minty plays a critical role in my current book project, which is a detailed tactical study of the first day of the Battle of Chickamauga, September 18, 1863. Consequently, I have spent quite a bit of time studying him and his role in the Civil War since I decided to tackle the September 18 project, and was interested in him before the thought of tackling this project ever entered my mind. Minty is a fascinating fellow who had more than his share of foibles, but who nevertheless was one of the finest cavalry officers of the war. After the end of the Civil War, he abandoned his wife Grace and took up with her younger sister Laura in a very scandalous relationship. That tawdry story factors into the nonsense addressed in this post.

In a story that appeared on the website of WZZM, the ABC affiliate located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, two Michigan men make the outrageous claim that Minty stole $2 million in Confederate gold at the time that Minty’s cavalrymen captured Jefferson Davis:

Confederate gold treasure may be in Lake Michigan


Brent Ashcroft, WZZM

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WZZM) — Could there be roots to one of the Civil War’s most enduring mysteries in Muskegon, Michigan? That’s what two local treasure hunters strongly believe and they have four years of research that they feel proves it.

Kevin Dykstra and Frederick J. Monroe were diving in northern Lake Michigan in 2011 and found the remains of a shipwreck, they believe, could be “Le Griffon”, which sank in 1679. The funny thing is, the pair weren’t searching for shipwrecks at the time of their 2011 find.

They were searching for a much bigger treasure – lost Confederate gold from the Civil War.

Both Kevin and Frederick have decided to go public with their research, which reveals West Michigan could be home to this 150-year old mystery.

The beginning and the ending of this story starts and ends in Evergreen Cemetery in Muskegon. What unfolds in-between could lead to solving one of our country’s greatest mysteries.

“It’s a great treasure story,” said Frederick J. Monroe, an accredited scuba diving instructor and treasure hunter from Muskegon. “All the evidence is pointing toward right to what I’ve been told.” He first found out about the take from a friend in 1973.

“He brought to my attention about his grandfather on a deathbed confession,” said Monroe, who added that the individual offering up the death bed confession then said, “There’s $2 million of gold bullion sitting in a box car (at the bottom of Lake Michigan) and there’s only three people that know of it, and two of them were already dead.”

Monroe says that story has stuck with him for over 40 years and when he connected with Kevin Dykstra, he shared the story.

“I started to search and search,” said Dykstra.

His searching triggered a massive research project, which Dykstra believes reveals how the lost Confederate gold treasure found its way to Michigan nearly 150 years ago.

Civil War Gold Theft

Dykstra says his research began when he learned that in 1892, boxcars were beginning to go across Lake Michigan on car ferries. He then discovered that some box cars were pushed off the ferries, during bad storms, to keep the ferries from sinking. At that point, he felt the death bed confession may have some merit, but more research was needed.

“If there was $2 million of gold bullion at the bottom of Lake Michigan, it had to be missing from somewhere,” said Dykstra. “I needed to figure out where this gold was missing from.”

Dykstra started digging into the Confederate gold with Confederate President Jefferson Davis moving towards the south into Georgia after fleeing the Union troops in 1865.

“Some marauders got a hold of the gold at some point and stole it,” added Dykstra.

As he was researching this poignant moment in American history, Dysktra came across a name.

“I started focusing on one particular colonel; his name was Colonel Minty, who was actually in charge of the 4th Michigan Cavalry, who caught Jefferson Davis down in Irwinville, Georgia,” said Dykstra. “If Robert Minty had anything to do with the Confederate gold, he would have had to commit treason to take it,” added Dykstra.

Dykstra then uncovered that Colonel Minty was wrongfully court-martialed in 1864, ending his advancement in the military.

“Now, I have motive,” said Dykstra. He believes that Colonel Minty and his accomplices buried the Confederate gold treasure near Lincoln County, Georgia, which is where legend states it was buried.

Dykstra then began to research Robert Minty’s career after his military court-martial. He found that the colonel retired to Jackson, Michigan where he resumed working for the Detroit Railroad. Dykstra then followed Minty as he accepted several positions with other rail companies, leading him to eventually become superintendent of freight for the Atlantic and Gulf Railway, which was down in the southeastern corner of Georgia.

“The Atlantic and Gulf Railway passes right by where the gold was taken; I feel at this point, I have this man on the run,” added Dykstra.

So, in 1876, eleven years after the gold was stolen, Dykstra believes while working for the Atlantic and Gulf Railway, Minty dug the gold treasure up and began heading north with it, using the rail system. And then…

“I uncovered a horrible train accident in Ashtabula, Ohio,” said Dykstra.

Moving the Gold to Michigan


On December 29, 1876, a railroad bridge in Ashtabula, Ohio collapsed, causing eleven boxcars to fall into a river gorge. 159 passengers aboard the train plunged into the river below. 92 were killed.

Dykstra says he found a newspaper article that stated that one of the box cars in the Astabula disaster was carrying $2 million in gold bullion.

“People flocked by the thousands to try to find that gold,” said Dykstra. “No gold was ever found.”

Dykstra found that Robert Minty may have been connected to this accident.

“Sure enough, [Robert Minty] was the superintendent of construction on that railway [at the time of the accident]”, said Dykstra. “I believe that Minty needed a diversion, so with his credentials, I believe that he started a rumor of the $2 million at the bottom of the river gorge to keep everybody away from the gold that was en route at the time.”

And then he discovered Confederate gold had been seen in Michigan.

“I came across another newspaper article that talked about a piece of Confederate gold that surfaced at a coin show in Traverse City; three experts looked at the piece of gold and confirmed that it only could have come from the Confederate gold that was taken down in Lincoln County, Georgia,” said Dykstra.

His research never led him to being able to place Colonel Minty, himself, in Traverse City, but Dykstra says he discovered the next best thing.

“Robert Minty married Grace Ann Minty,” said Dykstra. Her maiden name was “Abbott.”

The Abbott brothers and sisters were living in Traverse City when the Confederate gold showed up at the coin show. Minty would eventually also marry Grace’s sister, Laura Abbott, and had four children with her. These facts led him to one final connection, that he believes, points the finger at Robert Minty as the man who stole the Confederate gold treasure and was able to get it up to Michigan.

“[Robert Minty’s] mother-in-law’s name is Thomas-Ann Sutherland, and Thomas-Ann had a son named George Alexander Abbott,” said Dykstra. “George’s sister, Grace Ann Abbott, was married to Colonel Robert Minty.”

This means that George Alexander Abbott was Robert Minty’s brother-in-law.

“George Alexander Abbott died in 1921 and was the person who did the deathbed confession to the friend of Frederick’s grandfather,” said Dykstra. “The story goes complete full circle.”

Wow. Tawdry, shocking stuff if true. Too bad it’s all supposition and bears no resemblance to reality. I asked Rand Bitter, who published a biography of Minty that compiled Minty’s many articles that he wrote for publication in The National Tribune, a popular veterans’ newspaper, to comment on the article that appears above. Nobody knows more about Minty and his life than does Rand. Here’s his response, which Rand has given me specific permission to share with you here:

This has generated quite a bit of back & forth amongst some of the “Minty group.” Some in the family are quite upset with the slander and poor research supporting it. For your amusement (if interested), I will cut & paste below some of my own commentary on the matter from those other emails.

But first, before that, I calculated that “$126 million” of gold today, in their “sunken box car full” conclusion, calculates out to about 6,250 lbs -or over three tons. I just wonder how many wagons Jeff Davis was dragging along behind him (never mentioned in the accounts) just to flee with over three tons (or a box car full) of gold. And how long did it take, and how many of Minty’s (Pritchard’s) men were needed to unload and bury that much gold before they could set off for Macon with their prisoners that morning? Accounts only mention some gold coins found in the holsters of the escorts – and unlikely to account for three tons worth. Finally, why didn’t Davis himself ever complain of Pritchard’s appropriation of so much value???

Below are excerpts of some of my earlier email comments:

… I found two videos on USAToday site. Guess they have an ear for the sensational. That group surely did jump to some spectacular conclusions based on a collection of random and faulty “facts.” Indeed, RHG would have most certainly have made a leap for his pen, had he ever encountered such allegations and fabrication of history. Perhaps you should go ahead and advise Mr. Ashcroft that he is free to contact Minty’s biographer to “verify” some of them. He probably won’t though, and he will probably get a big raise for landing such a scoop.

I watched a second slightly different version of the video on the USAtoday site, and have to laugh at Mr. Dykstra saying “At this point, I have this man on the run” (referring to RHG and this scheme).

One more interesting question comes to mine. how do they know the gold is “in a box car” and why on earth would the box car have been on a ferry out in the middle of upper Lake Michigan (off Frankfurt)? That is not even on a route to any major destination across the lake, and nowhere near or towards anyplace that RHG had any interest in. And why would they push it off into the lake – just so the state of Michigan can “go and get your gold?”

… Decided to take a closer look at the video again this evening, pausing to look closer at the “research documents” shown therein and find it interesting that the image of Thomas-Ann Abbott shown in the groupings at video points 1:56 and later at 5:30, is a direct lift of the lower quarter of page 533 from my Minty book with my exact text caption. So the researchers must have come across a copy of the book somewhere and perhaps know of me.

… Thanks for the amusement for the day. It would be interesting if Mssrs. Brent Ashcroft, Kevin Dykstra and Frederick J. Monroe would pursue their research a bit further, and perhaps contact me to add some significant information. Thanks, Dani, for sending the articles and attachments [obituary, portrait, bio]. Let me add a few of my own comments and reactions:

1) Evidently [Minty brother-in-law] George A. Abbott made a deathbed confession [per his obituary] when he “died suddenly. “Mrs Abbott [being] in another room when she heard her husband fall, death having occurred instantly.” Interesting.

2) I believe that George probably held a grudge against Minty ever since [his sister] Grace was abandoned and they learned of the Laura situation in 1877. None of the Abbotts were too happy about the general or Laura thereafter.

3) The stories associated with Davis and the CSA gold never mentioned “bars” but rather coins. One account says Davis paid out some of the gold when he dismissed his confederate cavalry escorts a few days before his capture. Several other accounts mention that the renegade private James Lynch, who “possessed most of the coin” and took Mrs Davis’s valice and Pres. Davis’s horse (which he later shot when confronted by an officer) [see pgs 365, 370]. Several men mention Lynch as the thief of such things. One mentions Minty receiving a gold sovereign coin, from which a descendant says Grace had a necklace or pin made of it.

4) Court martial as a motive? Minty never really mentioned it much after acquittal – indeed he was later given brevet promotions to brigadier and major-general [not ending his military career], of which he seemed to care more about. To state “now we have motive” as the interview states, is pretty presumptive.

5) The Florida Atlantic & Gulf Railway (later Florida Central after 1868, then Jacksonville, Pensacola and Mobile in 1870s)? Minty was never employed by such a railroad, much less as “supervisor of freight.” In 1876 he was general superintendent of the SL&SE RR between Nashville and St. Louis. It is interesting, however, that during that time he was working with former General Wilson, under whose command Minty operated when Davis was captured. Also, Minty was never on a railroad that ran track through Georgia, Lincoln county or otherwise.

6) Ashtabula RR bridge disaster? That was in the far NE tip of Ohio in December 1876, the same time Minty was with the SL&SE in Nashville. He was not a construction superintendent with that Ohio RR (named Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway). Again, the researcher’s railroad data is quite faulty.

7) Confederate gold coin found in Traverse City? Well in late 1906, after Minty’s death, Grace was indeed in Traverse City, where several of her Abbott sisters were also staying. It may well be that Grace sold the gold coin necklace/pin due to poverty and needing the money. No descendant has mentioned seeing that item or knows of its disposition, so the story seems possible. In that period, Grace had very little means, and even all of her other children were still struggling financially.

8) If Minty had any access to the gold, it seems in light of his continuous financial difficulties, that he would have put some interest and effort into reclaiming it. The only really prosperous period in his life was the late 1860s in Jackson, where he was busy with several key railroad positions. There is no evidence that he ever had or knew anything about $2 million of gold in those days ($126 million today)! [the calculated 3.125 tons]

In light of what struck me as a flight of fancy when I first read the article–before consulting with Rand Bitter–and then in light of Rand’s comments, it seems clear to me that this claim is, at best, irresponsible and atrocious history and, at worst, libel. Whichever it is, anyone who runs across this nonsense should disregard it.

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vive-lempereur-lI found a fascinating publication while poking around on the Google Books site. Gen. Antoine Fortuné De Brack, a French cavalry general, published an outposting manual for use by the French cavalry. The third edition of his book was published in 1863, and was later translated and published by the United States Army in 1893. The introduction to this fascinating little volume contains General De Brack’s description of the importance of a light cavalryman:

One must be born a light-cavalryman. No other position requires so much natural aptitude, such innate genius for war, as that of an officer of that arm. The qualities which make the superior man–intelligence, will, force–should be found united in him. Constantly left dependent on himself, exposed to frequent combats, responsible not only for his own command, but as well for that which he protects and guards, the employment of his physical and moral powers is continuous. The profession which he practices is a rude one, but the opportunities of distinguishing himself are presented daily–glorious compensation which the more richly rewards his labors by enabling his true worth to become the sooner known.

The French cavalry in the first half of the Nineteenth Century was the finest the world had ever seen, and this description is fascinating.

I can’t help but wonder whether Dennis Hart Mahan, who wrote the U.S. manuals for cavalry, was aware of this little volume and whether he incorporated it into his teachings.

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I apologize for not having posted much recently. I’m deeply immersed in writing mode, working on my latest book project, which addresses the first day of the Battle of Chickamauga, September 18, 1863, with a particular focus on the covering force actions conducted by Col. Robert H. G. Minty’s Saber Brigade at Reed’s Bridge, and Col. John T. Wilder’s Lightning Brigade at Alexander’s Bridge. I’ve written about 120 pages so far, and it’s coming right along. But it’s been pretty much all-consuming.

Elon_John_FarnsworthEven in this age of easy access to digital research, you can’t get everything. Things get digitized too late to be of use. Or they don’t turn up in keyword searches. Or sometimes, you just plain miss things.

Chief Judge Edmund A. Sargus, Jr. of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio is not only a member of the Federal bench, he’s also very interested in the life and career of Capt. Thomas Drummond of the 5th U.S. Cavalry, a former U.S. Senator from Iowa, who was killed in action at the April 1, 1865 Battle of Five Forks. Judge Sargus brought a source to my attention that escaped me during both rounds of research for both editions of Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions, and which I really wish I had had when doing them. Since I didn’t have them, but because they are so interesting, I want to share them with you here.

440px-Alfred_PleasontonFirst is a letter by Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, the commander of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps, to Congressman (and former Brigadier General) John F. Farnsworth, the uncle of fallen Brig. Gen. Elon J. Farnsworth. Pleasonton’s toadying with John Farnsworth was largely responsible for the removal of Maj. Gen. Julius Stahel from command of the cavalry division that became the Army of the Potomac’s Third Cavalry Division not long before the Battle of Gettysburg (Stahel outranked Pleasonton and would have been entitled to corps command by virtue of that seniority). That toadying was also largely responsible for Elon Farnsworth’s promotion from obscure captain to brigadier general. After Elon Farnsworth fell leading the eponymous charge, Pleasonton sent this letter to John Farnsworth, who appears in the photograph below:


Headqrs. Cav. Corps Army of the Potomac
July 6th, 1863

Gen. J. F. Farnsworth:

Dear General:

I deeply regret to announce to you the death of Brig. Gen. Farnsworth, late Captain 8th Illinois Cavalry. He was killed while leading a charge of his brigade against the enemy’s infantry in the recent battle of Gettysburg. His death was glorious. He made the first grand charge against the enemy’s infantry–broke them–when found, his body was pierced with five bullets, nearly a mile in rear of the enemy’s line.

He has been buried in the [Evergreen] Cemetery in Gettysburg, and the grave is properly marked. The enemy stripped the body to the undershirt–an unheard of piece of vandalism, as the General was in his proper dress.

Accept my warmest sympathy. You know my estimate of our late friend and companion in arms. We have, however, a consolation in his brilliant deeds in the grandest battle of the war.

Very truly yours,

A. Pleasonton

Pleasonton could afford to be gracious–the Army of the Potomac had won a major battle, and his cavalry had done well. And he owed a large debt to John Farnsworth.

Elon Farnsworth was wearing a brigadier general’s shell jacket lent to him by Pleasonton when he fell. Pleasonton was correct in saying that Farnsworth was “in his proper dress” when he fell.

The second letter was written by Capt. Thomas Drummond, which is why it caught Judge Sargus’ attention.

Gen. J. F. Farnsworth:


You have already heard of the death of your nephew, Gen. E. J. F., killed in the action on the 3rd. I was with him not five minutes before he fell, gallantly charging the the enemy’s infantry at the head of two of his regiments. His body was brought in last night, and at 3 a.m. of the day, I buried him with one of his captains, each in a good, rough box, in the Gettysburg Cemetery. He was shot through the pelvis, and had two balls through the left leg, one of which shattered his ankle.

Farnsworth’s loss is mourned by all. He had just got his star, and fell in a gallant endeavor to prove to his new men his right to wear it. While by the light of a single lantern I dug his grave, instinctively the lines of Sir John Moore’s burial at Corunna came in my mind.

“We buried him darkly at dead of night,
The sods with our bayonets turning,
By the moonbeam’s misty struggling light,
And our lanterns dimly burning.

Slowly and sadly we laid him down,
From the field of his fame fresh and gory;
We carved not a line, we raised not a stone,
But we left him alone in his glory.”

T. Drummond
Capt. and Prov. Marshal Cavalry Corps

g12c000000000000000d81a68ee1edfa94520e546e7e3425b7dfc35fe2eJohn Farnsworth came to Gettysburg later that month to retrieve the remains of his nephew and to take them home to Rockton, Illinois, where they were buried in Rockton Cemetery. The photo to the left is the monument on Elon Farnsworth’s grave. You can see a larger version of this image by clicking on it.

Prior to seeing this source, I had never seen anything that said that Farnsworth had been shot through the pelvis, or that his ankle had been shattered by a ball. Given that he was mounted when shot by infantry, who had to aim high to hit him, it makes sense that these wounds would have been sustained in the bottom half of his body, and and that there would have been no evidence of him having shot himself in the head, as some claimed.

I’ve always claimed that Elon Farnsworth was the ONLY Union general to fall behind enemy lines while leading an attack during the entire Civil War, and Pleasonton bears out what I’ve always said. It really is a shame that the monument that the veterans of Farnsworth’s brigade had wanted to erect to him was not put up, as he is the only Union general officer to fall on the field at Gettysburg who does not have a monument of some sort to him on the battlefield.

Thanks to Judge Sargus for bringing this fascinating material to my attention. I only regret that I didn’t have it to include in my book.

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