Friday, June 27, 2008

The Struggles of Politics and War

Frankly, I find political history incredibly boring. There... I said it. As a member of the Poplar Grove research team, I know I shouldn't be uttering such blasphemy, but I can't help it. Whenever Jeremy or Abbie read aloud a newly found political letter and start saying words like "whigs" or "petition" I immediately zone out. I think it's a self-defense mechanism.

But war-- that is where my appreciation for history awakens. As I see it, few other areas of historical study offer such raw insight into the human condition. The papers found at Poplar Grove have already shed new light on a wide range of historical topics: slavery, social relations, agriculture-- the list goes on. Thankfully, military history is no exception. In fact, the attic of Poplar Grove housed the personal correspondence of a fascinating Civil War figure, Gen. William H. Emory.

From 1828 onward, W.H. Emory had dedicated his life to serving the United States Army-- a duty which he faithfuly fulfilled and tied closely to his personal honor. William would ultimately serve under the Union flag, but it was not without the struggle of conflicting loyalties. The circumstances surrounding Emory's ultimate commitment are quite foggy, to say the least. In the Spring of 1861 he hastily resigned his commision along with a large portion of southern officers of the 2nd Cavalry (which he commanded). For unknown reasons that have yet to be verified, he quickly retracted his resignation and came home to Washington.

Why the sudden change of heart? The Poplar Grove Papers are quickly lending insight into his actions and motivations during 1861. Recently found receipts and letters tie his economic interests to the Union, while almost all of his social relations including a son and many lifelong friends tie his sympathy and loyalty to the South.

What a struggle that must have been for the man! His own son, Thomas, was a surgeon for the Confederacy! His lifelong friends like Jefferson Davis and Joe Johnston were leading the Secessionist cause! According to his wife, Matilda (great granddaughter of Ben Franklin), all his sympathies fell with the South, yet he became a leading Union officer! What on earth drove him to commit to the North?

"I was simply performing my sworn duty as an officer of the U.S. Write the strongest letter you can & burn this. Five minutes conversation..."

Excerpt from a letter to J.R. 1861

With each letter I transcribe (many of which were secret, which he asked to be burned after being read), my theories make an about-face. Ask me at 8am why I think William retracted his resignation and I'll tell you it's because he was scared. Ask me again 3 hours later after I've transcribed another letter or two, and I'll tell you it was because economic ties kept him with the North. The only "fact" of which I'm sure of, is that I just don't know. But with each transcription, I am edging a little bit closer to the historical truth of William Hemsley Emory.


Louis Michael said...

The reason for W.H. Emory's alignment with the Union is well documented. Emory wrote a letter of resignation to Lincoln. His wife went directly to the President and demanded the letter back. She then advised Emory that he had never resigned and would continue to serve in the Army. She was the daughter of Basche, one of the greatest scientists and scholars of all times (a West Point graduate who had resigned with hundreds of others in the 1830's), and the great granddaughter of Benjamin Franklin. She was a force with which to recon.

As a lieutenant, W.H. Emory led the expedition that opened up the southwest from Leavenworth to Santa Barbara, and was the author of a report to Congress which convinced the U.S. that Mexican territories in the southwest were so rich and worthwhile that the War with Mexico was worth the effort.

The W.H. Emory's were close friends of West Point graduate Jefferson Davis. When the War Between the States broke out, one of their sons was a house guest of the Davis' in Mississippi, and he was summoned home to Poplar Grove. He decided to stay in the south and became an officer in the Confederate navy.

Jim Schelberg said...

Louis Michael:

Yes, I completely understand that WH Emory resigned and was then reinstated. But that is hardly a "reason." That is simply what happened. What is unclear is why he had the change of heart. There has been no evidence here to support the idea that he was reinstated because of his wife.

First of all, WH had the change of heart while still in Indian Territory. This was before he could have heard whether or not his resignation was accepted, rejected, or retracted by his wife. Secondly, Matilda was not in charge of WH. In all of their personal correspondences, Matilda makes it quite clear that she will support her husband whichever way he goes.

The motivations are important because it helps us understand the personal struggles of 1861. If you profess to know what motivated William, please enlighten me!

And thank you for letting me know that W.H. participated in the reconnaissance from Kansas to San Diego. I am well aware of the facts you listed, and since this is an online blog and not an encyclopedia, I chose not to include his life story in my post.

Lastly, I would begin checking your facts a bit more carefully. If you don't mind, could you give me a reference?

First, WH's resignation was recieved in Washington after his brother, JR, sent it in. Lincoln did not receive it first. It was received by the Adj. Gen.

Secondly, WH did not lead any expedition from Leavenworth to California. He was then a member of Kearny's staff, and one of the lower ranking officers.

emory said...

Dear Corporal Schelberg,

What happened between May 9 and May 14, 1861? What motivated Emory?

I hope the source documents you are examining will shed light on the resigned commission.

You might well be the first to know, I envy you!

Keep up the good work!

P.S. Louis Michael- Matilda's father was Richard Bache II, not Alexander Bache, note spelling.

Louis Michael said...

In response to Schelberg requests to Louis Michael for references on (a) correspondence received/handled in Washington pertaining to W.H. Emory’s resignation from the Army; and (b) W.H. Emory’s lead of the expedition from Leavenworth to Santa Barbara; one provides a couple of incomplete, perhaps, shaky, sources.

First, all the W.H. and Matilda Emory correspondence handled in Washington at the resignation on/off period is readily available from the Library of Congress, with original entries as to who sent what to whom, and who said what to whom. I have no recollection of the precise chain through the Adjutant General, and so on, and I have no particular point, or argument to make. But this is all clear in the originals.

[As time passes, mice get into things. My hard copies in the very back of R.S. Emory’s desk in my office are eaten, fragmented, and thrown out. My son, John Emory Michael, is very good at retrieving this kind of thing out of Washington files, and would be able to help you, methinks, if you asked him, and may even have copies (chuckle)]

Second, the W.H. Emory record of the expedition, and his precise assignment(s), is (are) readily available from the Library of Congress, as “Notes of a Military Reconnoissance, from Fort Leavenworth, in Missouri, to San Diego, in California . . . By W.H. Emory, Brevet MJajor, Corps of Topographical Engineers . . . New-York: Published by H. Long & Brother. 1848”

[The War Department printed, as soon as possible, a huge 10,000 copy edition of the Military Reconnoissance, and Secretary of War Marcy vigorously used it to persuade America that what Emory had outlined was a prize worth keeping. Emory, later, as Boundary Commissioner drew the line around the new empire, where “safely inside . . . lay the gold fields of California, the undeveloped silver deposits of New Mexico, the copper of Arizona, unguessed riches in petroleum, gas, and coal, the great pine forests and wide flung grazing ranges that stretched between Texas and the West Coast, the surpassingly rich valleys in which agriculture was to reach its final climax . . .”]

Emory and his team was responsible for leading the expedition only to San Diego. But, in an additional assignment, he immediately headed north to take part in the capture of the City of the Angels; all this a bloodier and more risky venture than the first part. As he built a fort with the delimination of its juristiction at the Santa Barbara pass; I always refer to the whole deal as being from Leavenworth to Santa Barbara. Emory, btw, said the fort would be helpful if trouble came “from San Diego, San Francisco, or Monterey, places which are destined to become centers of American settlements.”

Will not be able to return to this blog if there are further requests. But, I would be happy to assist in way possible if contacted at Emory’s Landing Farm, a mile down river from the Customs House and Emory’s wharf next to the town landing.”

P.S. Appreciate learning from Bill Emory that Alexander Bache was not Matilda Emory’s father. Made some very bad assumptions from the famous Emory journal in the December Maryland Historical Magazine of 1928, where Matilda Bache is described as greatgrandaughter of Benjamin Franklin and granddaughter of Alexander Dallas, and have remained off base for more than a half century – as, one supposes, one always wanted to believe she was Alexander Bache’s daughter; lgm

john said...

This might shed some light, from the library of congress. It looks to me like she's intervening in her husbands career?

Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois.
Matilda W. Emory to Abraham Lincoln, Wednesday, May 01, 1861 (Husband's resignation from army)

From Matilda W. Emory to Abraham Lincoln, May 1, 1861

Col: Emory1 1st Cavalry left Washington the last of March to take command at Fort Washita. Before reaching there, while at Fort Smith he heard the news of the surrender of Ft. Sumter, and all the wild stories of the invasion of of Washn &: He wished to be ordered home, failing in that he sent to me his resignation, to be handed in, if on consultation with friends I found it advisable-- I consulted with my brother Prof. Bache2 & other friends and concluded to withhold it. Meantime Col: Emory was ordered to march his command to Ft. Leavenworth. I sent him a telegram -- to Ft. Smith to be forwarded to Ft. Washita, telling him of this order and wrote to Leavenworth to say what I had done in the matter and my reasons-- He sent a duplicate of his resignation to his brother with the expectation he would consult with me on the propriety of its delivery. The interruption of travel between this & Balt. prevented his doing so, & he mailed the resignation at the latter place. All I ask is a delay of the acceptance of the resignation till Col: Emory's arrival at Leavenworth, he has probably started for that post before this, and I am sure he will approve of my action in his affairs--

My own family since the days of the Revolution when my great grandfather Dr. Franklin signed the Declaration of Independence have been true & loyal to the Union, two of my brothers have lost their lives in the service of their country and it is my earnest desire that my husband should remain in the Army where he has served with honor and fidelity for more than quarter of a century.

Matilda W. Emory

john said...

It has been some time since I've done this research but if you just search the Library of Congress with the keywords: 'Emory', 'W.H. Emory', or 'Matilda Bache Emory', you come up with quite a bit of corespondence from the frame of time.

Here are two more I think cogent to what you are looking at, the second one a year later where she seems to be deeply involved in her husbands buisness:
Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois.
Montgomery Blair to Abraham Lincoln, Thursday, June 06, 1861 (Meeting with Col. Emory)

From Montgomery Blair to Abraham Lincoln, June 6, 1861


Col Emory1 desires a few moments audience this morning if your engagements admit of it. He will be brief in what he has to say


M Blair

Washn June 6th 1861.

Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois.
Matilda W. Emory to Abraham Lincoln, Monday, March 24, 1862 (Commission for her husband)

From Matilda W. Emory to Abraham Lincoln1, March 24, 1862

Monday morning

March 24th

My dear Sir--

Again I venture to intrude myself on you asking a favor-- If it is an impropriety on my part you will pass it over & impute it to my ignorance of proper forms as I address you without the knowledge of my husband-- I have received a letter from Col: now with many thanks to you, Brig: Gen: Emory, from Alexandria, saying he was under orders to march at a moment's notice & that it was very important to him on many accounts, he should receive his Commission as Brig Gen: before his departure on this expedition & begging me to go to the Adjutant General for it & send it to him-- I understand it has been sent to you for your signature & that is the reason I trouble you, to ask you if you will sign it & return to the Adjutant Gen: whence I can obtain & send it to Col: Emory by one of my sons-- I feel that it is a great liberty to take to intrude our individual interests on you at a time when you have more weighty affairs to transact, but trust to your kind indulgence, which I have so much reason to remember in the past. Forgive me if I have presumed too much-- My son will await an answer.

With much respect

M. W. Emory

Jim Schelberg said...

Once again, I'm afraid that nothing is "perfectly clear" concerning W.H.'s resignation. I am very hesitant to place too much emphasis on a few letters that seem to "clearly state" the happenings in 1861. This is for a couple reasons.

First, Matilda had the tendancy to contradict herself often throughout her letters concerning William's resignation. This indicates that there cannot be one "definitive" letter. However fascinating her letters to the president are, they need to be viewed in their proper context.

Secondly, it is easy to make the assumption that since Matilda was writing those letters to the president, that she was doing it on her own accord. But in the private letters to JR and Matld. W.H. would provide concise instruction on how to handle his affairs in Washington. So, although it may first appear as if Mtlda was intervening, I would argue otherwise.

Thirdly, I would argue that the more *official* the documents are, the less honest they become. Matilda would divulge facts much more truthfully in secret letters to her brother in law than she would to President Lincoln. Recently found letters reveal that there are some substantial gaps in the truth between *official* Washington letters, and those of private family exchanges.

Again, I think I need to express more clearly the historical mystery that we are looking to solve. I am not so much concerned with dates, and "what officially happened" and "who wrote who saying what" as much as I am interested in seeing what factors played the largest role in William's struggle in 1861.

If you believe that William's resignation was tendered because of "false rumors" and was purely coincidental with all the other southern officer's resignations, then very well. But, I am not quite prepared to make that assumption.

There are letters yet to be read, and unnkown circumstances yet to be found!