The (truly) last Union general of the Civil War

WAY BACK WHEN

Contrary to what ran here (and elsewhere), it was Aaron Daggett

Back Story

July 07, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,sun reporter

This might be the oldest correction ever to appear in The Sun, and it's 98 years overdue.

In last week's column about Oliver Otis Howard, the Civil War general and career Army officer who founded Howard University, I quoted The New York Times, which wrote at his death in 1909 that his passing marked the "extermination of all the ranking Army officers who commanded the Union armies during the Civil War."

The Sun also repeated this inaccuracy in its news story on Howard's death.

Rob Loskot, a faithful reader, wrote in an e-mail a few days later that Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain died in 1914, and that "General Howard may not have been the last ranking federal officer to have died."

Guess what? He's right.

Another reader, Paul Field, pointed out in an e-mail that colorful Gen. Daniel Edgar Sickles, who lost a leg during the Battle of Gettysburg and went to the amputation station cheerfully puffing on a cigar, also died in 1914.

As a sidelight, Sickles gained a certain notoriety in 1859, when he shot and killed Philip Barton Key, son of Francis Scott Key and U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, in Lafayette Park near the White House.

What engendered the general's rage, then a Democratic congressman from New York state who had a reputation for cavorting with prostitutes, was Key's insistence on conducting a very public affair with Teresa Bagioli, Sickles' 22-year-old wife.

"I don't think Sickles was the last," Field wrote. "I took a quick look at Wikipedia, and they say, `The last surviving Civil War general was Brevet Brigadier Gen. Aaron S. Daggett, a Maine native, who was 100 when he died in 1938.'"

But before we get to the death of Daggett, there was another erroneous account in 1933 when the The Sun ran a headline over an Associated Press article stating that Gen. Adelbert Ames, the "Last Surviving Union General of Civil War," had died in Florida.

Ames, a native of Rockland, Maine, who was honorably discharged in 1899, was 97 when he died in Ormond Beach, Fla.

The Sun also reported that he was the "oldest living graduate of the United States Military Academy" and had fought with distinction at Gettysburg, Cold Harbor and Fort Fisher, and at Santiago during the Spanish-American War.

Intrepid Sun researcher Paul McCardell reported that his research showed that Aaron Simon Daggett was indeed the last surviving Union general at his death.

This fact is also corroborated by Ezra J. Warner in his 1964 book, Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders.

Daggett was born June 14, 1837, and raised at Green Corner, Maine. He attended Bates College and was an avowed abolitionist.

He enlisted as a private in the 5th Maine Volunteers in 1861 and fought at the First Battle of Bull Run, and other battles as he rapidly rose through the ranks, including Antietam, Rappahannock Station, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Petersburg and the Wilderness.

He was twice wounded during the Civil War, and after its conclusion, he remained in the Army and fought in the Indian wars and Spanish-American War.

He retired in 1901.

On Daggett's 100th birthday, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent him a letter.

"Your long service, beginning as a volunteer in 1861, has been distinguished by repeated acts of gallantry which have won for you well-deserved recognition as a brave soldier and fearless leader. ... You were not content to be a mere spectator during this hundred-year span. You not only saw history made but you, yourself, helped make it," FDR wrote.

Daggett died a month short of his 101st birthday on May 14, 1938, at his home in West Roxbury, Mass.

For the record, the last surviving general of the Confederacy was Felix Huston Robertson, who died in Waco, Texas, in 1928. He was 88.

His mother, Mary Cummins, was a Marylander, and his father, Jerome Bonaparte Robertson, fought for Texas independence with Gen. Sam Houston, and was later a Civil War general.

Felix Robertson resigned from West Point two months before graduation and traveled to Richmond, Va., where he was appointed a lieutenant of artillery by Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

He served with the Army of Tennessee and was severely wounded at the Battle of Buckhead Church in Georgia in 1864. Shortly thereafter, his military career came to an end when he surrendered to Union Gen. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick in Macon, Ga.

According to newspaper accounts, as Robertson rode up to surrender, he was greeted by shouts of "It's Felix," from several of his blue-clad former West Point classmates.

Robertson is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Waco.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Find previous columns at baltimoresun.com/backstory

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