Thursday, December 27, 2007

When Luck Runs Out. . .

Some survived the war, but not the peace. Emerson Opdycke, at left, overcame a grievous wound at Shilohand was in the thick of things throughout the warbut mortally wounded himself many years later in an unfortunate accident.

There’s no way to know how many rank and file Civil War veterans managed to survive combat and exposure to disease in the Civil War years, only to have their lives cut short in post-war years by something other than natural causes. Or how many succumbed to wounds or war-related ailments many years after the fact. The numbers would be staggering, no doubt.

Not surprisingly, information on the demise of high-ranking officers and other officials is, by and large, easier to come by. I compiled the following lists from John and David Eicher’s, Civil War High Commands (Stanford University Press, 2001). Just by chance, while looking up one individual or another, I came across two or three in short succession who had been murdered after the war, and a couple who drowned. Turns out it was not as common as it was beginning to seem, but it piqued my curiosity enough to do an electronic search of an early Eicher manuscript (my curiosity would not have been piqued enough to flip through 1,000 pages of the published book).

I restricted my search to those members of the “high command” who were murdered, who drowned, or who suffered some other fatal accident. I excluded murders, drownings, and accidents that occurred between April of 1861 and April of 1865, since war certainly made all of those things somewhat more likely. I'm sure I missed a few entries in the Eicher book in which the search terms were not present (though the authors are consistent with the phrasing, for the most part).

Missing from my lists, among others, are such notables as Clement Vallandigham and Allan Pinkerton, who did not fit the Eichers’ criteria for “high command,” but who made the cut on at least one website’s list of the “30 Strangest Deaths in HistoryVallandigham: “Death by Jury Demonstration,” and Pinkerton: “Death from Biting One’s Tongue” (scroll down at the link to find more details).

Some of the deaths listed below are better known, like the mysterious drowning of Thomas Meagher, the subject of many narrative footnotes. Others came as a surprise to me, such as the drowning of George Wright, whose name came up here in discussions about Alcatraz, and McDowell. Didn't realize he died so soon after the war.

Without further adieu, here is my unofficial survey of high commanders who were victims of murder, drowning, or other unhappy accidents.


William Wirt Adams, CS: murdered by John Martin, a newspaper editor, in a quarrel on a street in Jackson, Miss., 1 May 1888; int. Greenwood Cemetery, Jackson.

Joseph Bailey, US: murdered while acting as a sheriff in Nevada, Mo., 21 Mar. 1867; int. Evergreen Cemetery, Fort Scott, Kans.

William Felix Brantley, CS: murdered by a shotgun blast at Winona, Miss., 2 Nov. 1870; int. Old Greensboro Cemetery near Tomnolen, Miss.

James Holt Clanton, CS: murdered by political rival David M. Nelson, who shot Clanton 15 or more times with a double-barreled shotgun, at Knoxville, Tenn., 27 Sept. 1871; int. Oakhill Cemetery, Montgomery, Ala.

Archibald S. Dobbins, CS: believed to have been murdered near Itaituba, Brazil, 1869.

Hiram Duryea, US: murdered by a deranged son, Brooklyn, N.Y., 5 May 1914; int. Woodlawn Cemetery, New York, N.Y.

Bryan Grimes, CS: murdered by William Parker, a hired assassin, Pitt County, N.C., 14 Aug. 1880; int. “Grimesland,” Pitt County; cenotaph in Trinity Churchyard, Pitt City, N.C.

Thomas Carmichael Hindman, Jr., CS: murdered by an assassin or assassins in the face, neck, chest, and hands, supposedly by members of the radical “Loyal League,” at Helena, Ark., 28 Sept. 1868; int. Maple Hill Cemetery, Helena.

William Scott Ketchum, US: died Baltimore, Md., 28 June 1871; int. Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C. (Ketchum was probably murdered by his landlady, Elizabeth G. Wharton, who presumably gave him poisoned lemonade; she was indicted but acquitted on 24 June 1872 in a disputed trial.)

St. John Richardson Liddell, CS: murdered on the Black River steamboat SS St. Mary by Charles Jones (ex-Lt. Col. 17 La. Inf.), in an action with its roots in the 1852 duels, 14 Feb. 1870; int. Liddell Cemetery, near Jonesville, Catahoula Parish, La.

Edwin Stanton McCook, US: murdered while making a speech at Yankton, Dak. Terr., 12 Sept. 1873; int. Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Theodore A. Ripley, US: probably murdered in Emanuel County, Ga., 23 July 1866; int. Evergreen Cemetery, Winchester, Vt.

William Feimster Tucker, CS: murdered at Okolona, Miss., 14 Sept. 1881; int. Odd Fellows Cemetery, Okolona.


Orville Elias Babcock, US: drowned in Mosquito Inlet, Fla., 2 June 1884; int. Arlington National Cemetery, Va.

Charles Gratiot Bartlett, US: died New York, N.Y. by drowning in Staten Island ferry boat collision on 14 June 1901; int. West Point National Cemetery, N.Y.

Henry Haywood Bell, USN: drowned at Osaka, Japan, 11 Jan. 1868; int. Hiogo, Japan.

Samuel Thompson Busey, US: drowned while fishing at Mantrap Lake, Minn., 12 Aug. 1909; int. Woodlawn Cemetery, Urbana, Ill.

Henry Boynton Clitz, US: disappeared and supposed to have drowned at Niagara Falls, N.Y., 30 Oct. 1888; cenotaph in Elmwood Cemetery, Detroit, Mich.

Thomas Francis Meagher, US: died 1 July 1867, during a drinking party aboard the SS Thompson near Fort Benton, Mont. Terr., when he fell into the Missouri River and drowned “under mysterious circumstances;” his body was never recovered.

Samuel Ross, US: died by drowning, Jefferson Valley, N.Y., 11 July 1880; int. Lancaster Cemetery, Lancaster, Pa.

William Terry, CS: drowned in Reed Creek (near Wytheville), Va., 5 Sept. 1888; int. City Cemetery, Wytheville, Va.

Alfred Thomas Archimedes Torbert, US: drowned off Cape Canaveral, Fla. in the sinking of the SS Vera Cruz, 29 Aug. 1880 (his body was recovered 31 Aug. 1880); int. Methodist Episcopal Cemetery, Milford, Del.

James Henry Van Alen, US: missing and presumed drowned when he fell overboard from the SS Umbria, Atlantic Ocean, 22 July 1886.

George Wright, US: drowned off Crescent City, Calif. in the wreck of the SS Brother Jonathan, 30 July 1865 (his body was recovered at Bay Flat, Calif., in Oct. 1865); int. City Cemetery, Sacramento, Calif.

Accidental death, other than by drowning:

Alonzo Granville Draper, US: died from an accidental gunshot wound, Brazos de Santiago, Tex., 3 Sept. 1865; int. Pine Grove Cemetery, Lynn, Mass.

Thomas W. Grosvenor, US: killed by accident by a sentry during the great fire, Chicago, Ill., 21 Oct. 1871; int. Oak Woods Cemetery, Chicago, Ill.

Heber Le Favour, US: killed in carriage accident, Pawtucket, R.I., 25 Feb. or 25 July 1878; int. Swan Point Cemetery, Providence, R.I.

Samuel Emerson Opdycke [photo at top], US: mortally wounded when he accidentally shot himself in the abdomen, 22 Apr. 1884, and died New York, N.Y., 25 Apr. 1884; int. Oakwood Cemetery, Warren, Ohio.

Francis Engle Patterson, US: died when he was accidentally shot or committed suicide at Fairfax Court House or near Occoquan, Va., 22 Nov. 1862; int. Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pa.

Israel Canton Smith, US: killed accidentally while hunting near Grand Rapids, Mich., 27 Nov. 1899; int. Oak Ridge Cemetery, Grand Rapids.

Frederick Steele, US: died from an injury in a buggy accident, San Mateo, Calif., 12 Jan. 1868; int. Woodlawn Memorial Park, Colma, Calif.

William Warren Stewart, US Commission Agent: killed in a railroad accident, Chicago, Ill., 6 Dec. 1893; int. Marengo Cemetery, Marengo, Ill.


Anonymous said...

Emerson Opdyke, One of my favorites. I sort of recall there being some question about the accidental nature of his death - suicide was not unheard of among veterans, just as it is today.

After the war, Opdyke was a central player in the famous order to Thomas Wood at Chickamauga. Opdyke was in Wood's division, and a staunch defender of Wood, feeling he made the correct decision based on the orders he had. Opdyke corresponded with Wood and wrote numerous articles in defense of his commander, especially after the pro-Rosecrans version of the affair started to see print. His original correspondence is full of this stuff, including several gret letters from Tom Wood.

Dave Powell

Anonymous said...


Tell me tell me! All my sources say McDowell died of natural causes in San Francisco in 1885. Or are you saying that Wright's name came up in discussions of Alcatraz and McDowell? That comma is confusing me...

BTW, I've compiled a similar list taken from Warner's and Hunt's books of alumni of two local colleges (since merged) - I was surprised to find they totaled in the twenties, including a couple of Confederates.

Thanks for this list.

dw said...


Sorry for the confusion. I meant that George Wright was mentioned in my blog entries about the incident with Capt. Winder and Alcatraz, and in the entry with correspondence between Stanton and Grant about whether to remove McDowell as commander of Wright's former Department.

Is the list you compiled posted on your blog? I'd like to have a look at it.


Anonymous said...

It's not up yet -I'll work on it. And to clarify, the list is of general officers (including brevets) who attended the two schools, not folks who died under unfortunate circumstances. But one on the list to which you linked was an alum: our friend from Ohio with the sad (but effective) courtroom demonstration!

dw said...

Hi Dave,

Opdyke is a favorite of mine, too. What a stellar career. I read the Blue Acorn book on the 125th Ohio, Opdyke's Tigers, many years ago, but don't recall if it discussed Opdyke's later years.

I did not include suicides (at least overt ones) in my list, since that's a category all its own, and sometimes a result of chronic illness.


Anonymous said...

Over the years, as I go through reunion booklets looking for testimonials, speeches, etc, related to Chickamauga I run across tributes that talk about suicide - "So and So is remembered, he could not be here because of a tragic event, etc."

And I recall at least one officer who shot himself in his hotel room the night after a reunion.

It's not scientific or anything, but I get the impression that it was not uncommon among the vets. From what we know today, of course, it should not be surprising.

Dave Powell

Anonymous said...

Hiram Duryea was known for being cruel ~ His son Harry shot him 6 times one night (the first shot did the trick but Harry kept shooting) The Duryea men could not keep wives as they were fond of firearms, drinking and threatening their families. Hiram's brothers were also known to be unstable, and Hiram's other children stayed away from him or committed suicide. The family history is full a violent stories. Hiram was a bully to his family .

Hiram's adirondack lodge is now a B&B. They have an extensive history of the craziness.

Chris Evans said...

Jack Welsh in 'Medical Histories of Union Generals' and 'Medical Histories of Confederate Generals' has interesting info on the health and death of the officers listed from Ezra Warner's books.

I really found it fascinating and compelling reading.