Saturday, October 27, 2012

Debt Repaid


           James Samuel Wadworth was born on October 30, 1807 in western New York State. His educational accomplishments speak highly for themselves. He attended both Harvard and Yale Universities and was also admitted to the New York state bar. In 1834 he married Mary Wharton and without entering any of the fields for which he was qualified, the couple spent most of their time at their estate in Geneseo, New York. The fortune amassed through his father's agriculture ventures provided young James with plenty of financial responsibility. Later Wadsworth would enter the political arena as an organizer of the Free Soil Party, later joining the Republican Party in support of Abraham Lincoln.
          When the war broke out in 1861, James Wadsworth was 53 years old and their was no doubt about his patriotic heart. He organized two shiploads of supplies to be sent to Washington DC in support of the city's defenses at his own expense of nearly $17,000. After the defeat of Federal troops at First Bull Run on July 21, 1861, Wadsworth was appointed the Military Governor of Washington DC.

Brigadier General James Samuel Wadsworth
          “It was during his tenure as Military Governor that the background for an amazing series of events took place. In that first year of war, the capital was a hotbed of pro-southern sentiment and the Union authorities were kept constantly vigilant to potential threats. One Virginia farmer caught in this web of uncertain times was Patrick McCracken. Picked up by a military guard on suspicion of spying, McCracken was thrown into the Old Capital Prison without being formally charged. Some time passed before the case reached the attention of Wadworth. He believed McCracken's version of the story and ordered him released. Finding that the man had spent his money and was without the means to return to Virginia, the General furnished him ample funds from his own pocket to continue his journey.
          The Army of the Potomac plunged into the area known as the Wilderness in May of 1864, colliding head on with their old adversary, the Army of Northern Virginia. Into this tangled region Wadsworth again led his division. Hit by a Confederate flanking attack, his division crumbled. Wadsworth himself was severely wounded in the head and left lying on the field behind the Confederate lines. Carried to a field hospital in the rear, the wound was examined and pronounced fatal. Shortly after dark on May 7, Patrick McCracken, visiting the hospital to bring food and milk to the wounded from his nearby farm, came across the man who had helped him nearly two years before. The next morning when he again appeared in camp he secretly dropped a small package of food at Wadsworth's tent. There the General's companion, a Massachusetts doctor, Z. Boylston Adams, attempted to give him some milk. It was the last that Wadsworth would ever receive. When McCracken returned later that afternoon, he found that the General had died. He went to the Confederate surgeon in charge and asked permission to move the body to his own family burial ground. He then wrote to Mrs. Wadsworth to inform her of her husband's death and resting place. Later that month the General's body was removed and sent home to his family in New York. The old debt had been repaid.”1

Wadsworth Monument at Gettysburg
          General Wadsworth had an illustrious career as commander of the 1st Division of the 1st Corps starting in December of 1862. Being lightly engaged at Chancellorsville, his supreme moment came at the battle of Gettysburg where his 1st Division held the Confederate wave in check on the morning and afternoon of July 1st. His command fought valiantly at a very high cost and bought time for Major General George Meade to concentrate his Army of the Potomac on the heights south of town. His division was again engaged on the second and third days of the battle helping to secure Union victory. 
          As stated above he commanded his division in the fall campaigns at Bristoe Station and Mine Run, and eventually in the Wilderness in May of 1864. On May 6, 1864, he fell from a Rebel bullet while gallantly urging his troops forward. Dying on May 8, he received a brevet promotion to Major General. Thanks to the efforts of Mr. McCracken, the general now rests eternally at Temple Hill Cemetery in Geneseo, New York, near his home.

1. Excerpt from “Gettysburg: Stories of Men and Monuments As Told By Battlefield Guides” by Frederick W. Hawthorne

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