Political Discourse, 1880s style:

A friend sent me this, which was published in the Robinson (IL) Argus, July 15, 1880:

Ed Harlan, in his speech here at the Hancock (Wm [sic] Scott) ratification meeting made the statement that Gen. Garfield played the part of a coward at the battle of Chickamauga, and ran away, and was not seen again until he was found in a hospital at Chattanooga.

Bear in mind that 1880 was an election year. That June, James A Garfield was nominated to run for President by the Republicans at their convention in Chicago; Winfield Scott Hancock received the Democratic nod on the second ballot in Cincinnati.

The writer continued…

Capt. Cantwell (Abraham) of Robinson, who took part in the battle immediately wrote to Gen. Wilder, who took a prominent part in the battle, and received the following reply:

My dear old comrade: I am delighted to receive your letter 1st July, and to hear that you are still on the right side of the battle between ignorance, rascality, impudence with human freedom, equality and justice.

I [have] before me a map of the Chickamauga battle field. Gen. Rosecrans’ headquarters on the first day’s battle was at Widow Glenn’s house, my left connecting with Gen. Sheridan’s right. When Sheridan’s line was broken by Polk’s corps my brigade charged in column at the rebel line and drove them from Widow Glenn’s, recapturing two rebel howitzers in front of Widow Glenn’s. In this charge Col. Funkhouser fell at the head of his gallant 98th Ill. Reg’t, which led the attack. As soon as we recovered the guns and ground lost by Sheridan we halted and reformed our line.

Just at this juncture Mr. Chas. A. Dana, then Assistant Secretary of War, came riding up rapidly and ordered me to fall back at once and take him to Chattanooga, saying in answer to my questions that Gen. Rosecrans was either killed or captured, that he escaped, and that I must take my command and escort him to Chattanooga. I assured him that there was no enemy in my rear and sent a dozen men to take him to Chattanooga. He ordered me to fall back and prevent a flank movement in our rear.

Wilder’s reply here is certainly interesting, as it is another retelling of the famous confrontation between himself and Dana, oft-described and equally oft-embellished. Wilder then goes on to defend Garfield more explicitly:

Gen. Garfield had joined Gen. Thomas, and was successfully fighting to hold the Rossville Road, and had sent word to protect their right flank and that they would hold the Rossville Gap of Mission Ridge.

Garfield was with us on the march from Nashville to Pittsburg Landing and in the fight at Shiloh. He commanded the troops at Prestonville, Ky., that whipped Humphrey Marshall out of that state. Garfield’s first fight. He reinforced Thomas at Chickamauga with a resolute good will that assisted that grand patriot to hurl back the blood thirsty Democratic leaders then.

John T. Wilder. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Blood-thirsty? Interesting rhetoric. But Wilder is just getting warmed up. . .

He is now the chosen commander of the men who then saved the union, and will lead a grand charge in November that will be a political Appomattox to the hungry hoards [sic], who, failing to starve our imprisoned patriots to death in Andersonville and Saulsberry [Salisbury] prisons, are now trying the Andersonville policy in politics by trying in Congress to starve the army and law officers out of existence who are trying to bring to justice Democratic scoundrels who are determined that none but Democratic votes shall be cast by colored men. whose uneducated instincts have more patriotism than all their opponents can stifle or steal with shotguns to tissue ballots.

Their policy is that of Yazoo and Andersonville, supplemented by villainous falsehoods perpetually reiterated and persistently thrust in the ears of honest Republican soldiers, some of whom have literally lied out of their principals.


3 Responses to Political Discourse, 1880s style:

  1. Telling testimony from Wilder. Far from the sort of thing Garfield’s political opponents were trying to “tar” him with, the thing that leaves a negative impression with me about Garfield would be his seeming willingness, as evidenced in his correspondence, to undermine his commander, Rosecrans? I suppose one can argue about just how “faithful” a subordinate should be?

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