Lucretia Garfield: The 6-Month FLOTUS

Poor Crete… She had so little time to make an impression.


Lucretia “Crete” Rudolph Garfield (1832-1918) was a well educated young woman. She was sent first to the Geauga Eclectic (similar to a prep school), followed by attending Hiram College, today part of Case-Western Reserve in Ohio.

She had known James Abram Garfield since they were classmates in their early teens. They became engaged when they graduated Hiram. While he later attended Williams College in Massachusetts, she taught school. In other words, she was a “modern” woman of the mid-nineteenth century.

Engagement aside, the differences in personalities between young Mr. and Mrs. Garfield were apparent from the start. He was big, strapping, outgoing, handsome, with piercing blue eyes, athletic and smart as a whip. She was petite, shy, somewhat withdrawn, bookish, and reluctant to share her feelings. Some would call her introverted.

The young Garfields

Bad Years and Better Years

They married and began a family at the outset of the Civil War, which affected them as much as it affected nearly everyone in the country. Despite the fact that JAG had become the President of Hiram College, he opted to study law as a better preparation for academic leadership. Politics, particularly his strong anti-slavery sentiments, led elsewhere, and he won a seat in the Ohio legislature, where he continued to read law. Then, after Fort Sumter, he believed it his duty to enlist in the Union Army. 

Young General Garfield

As might be expected, between the War, the disparity in personal dynamics and long and frequent separations, the marriage was rocky for several years. Crete once wrote that in 5 years of marriage, they had spent only 5 months living as man and wife. When Garfield won a Republican seat in Congress and went to Washington, his attitude toward his wife began to change, partly due to their shared grief at the death of their two-year-old baby. 

When Garfield brought Crete to Washington the marriage began to thrive. Six more children would be born to them. They enjoyed an active social set, exchanged dinners and outings with select friends, participated in book clubs and conversation groups, and always found time to spend with their children.

The Garfield kids

After nearly two decades in Washington, James A. Garfield was named as the Republican candidate for President in 1880, surprising just about everybody. 

It was also an incredibly tight election. Less than 10,000 votes separated Garfield-the-winner from Winfield Scott Hancock-the-loser. 

The FLOTUS and Dr. Susan

Six weeks after the 1881 inauguration, Crete became seriously ill with malaria. Then and now, it was a dreaded disease, and a recurrent one. Survivors could expect another bout sooner or later. Always petite, Crete became frail, and for a time, was in grave danger. 

Dr. Susan Edson (1823-97), a “female” doctor was called in. She was one of the first women in the country to attend a medical school (Cleveland Homeopathic College). By 1880, women doctors specializing in treatment of females and/or children, were becoming popular, particularly with better educated women. Dr. Edson had treated the last Garfield child (baby Edward), who died before his second birthday. The family had grown close to “Dr. Susan”.

Dr. Susan Edson

There was no doubt that the ailing FLOTUS had full confidence in her woman-doctor. And, when he wasn’t working, the President seldom left his wife’s bedside.

By late-May, she began showing signs of recovery. But there was concern that the hot summer weather in still-boggy Washington might cause a relapse. By the end of the month, it was agreed that Mrs. G. spend a month or so in Long Branch, NJ, a seaside town, where the ocean breezes and salty air might speed her recovery. 

President Garfield was seen escorting his frail wife to the train station. He was already being stalked by a strange fellow intent on assassination.

Two weeks later, the POTUS went to visit his wife at the shore, where, happily, she was recovering. He also shared his plans for a badly needed vacation in New England a couple of weeks later. 

Assassination, Derailment and More…

The plan was that the President and several of his cabinet members-cum-spouses would meet Mrs. Garfield in Long Branch en route to Massachusetts. 

The President had barely arrived at the train station on July 2, than that strange fellow intent on assassination pumped two bullets into his body. Charles Julius Guiteau was immediately apprehended; and the wounded Garfield slumped to the ground, shaken, in pain, but conscious and coherent.

The dastardly deed!

One of the first things he did was dictate a telegram to his wife, advising her of the situation, assured her that he was “himself,” and directed her to return to the White House at once. As telegraph messages about the “incident” were flooding the entire country, the Long Branch community descended upon Mrs. Garfield with offers of assistance. The Pennsylvania Railroad immediately sent a private train to bring her and her small party back to Washington. Meanwhile, after nearly two hours of well-meaning but inept medical attention, it was Garfield himself who instructed that he be brought back to the White House. In shock and in pain, he restlessly awaited his wife’s arrival.

James Garfield lasted for 10 weeks.

It should have been a four hour trip, but en route, her train derailed. While there was no injury, another train had to be sent to rescue the First Lady and her escorts, sweltering in the July sun. They did not arrive at the White House for more than seven hours. It was said that once he heard her footsteps on the stairs, the fitful Garfield could finally rest.

Still frail from her illness, Crete Garfield promised her husband that “she would nurse him back to health just as he had nursed her.” 

He lasted ten weeks before he expired. 

Other than a few dinners and bi-weekly receptions that first month, she never hosted a White House gala, or any major event.

She outlived him by more than 30 years.


Ackerman, Kenneth D. – The Dark Horse: The Surprise Election and Political Murder of President James A. Garfield. Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003

Balch, William Ralston – Life of President Garfield – Hubbard Brothers, 1881

Brown, E.E. The Life and Public Services of James A. Garfield, D. Lothrop & Company , 1881

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Presidential Friendships: How They Changed History 

A Book Review

Political beings, as a whole, are generally outgoing souls, with a long retinue of friends, ranging from pleasant how-ya-doin’ acquaintances to long-standing trusted companions. Presidents, at the top of the political pecking order, are no exception.

Author Mike Purdy, political analyst and historian, has chosen wisely. In PRESIDENTIAL FRIENDSHIPS: How They Changed History, like good wine with a good meal, he has winnowed the mix down to two specific Presidential pairings, whose friendships are, in their own ways, unique.

The friendship between Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft is well known. The two men, first acquainted in their young-married days, became great pals. Once TR became President, he insisted that WHT become a) his Secretary of War, and b) his successor as Chief Executive. Within four years, the once-bosom-buddy relationship deteriorated into disappointment, misunderstanding, challenges and estrangement. And then, with political gods smiling, like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, they reconciled later. 

But what makes this book particularly delicious, is the focus on what Taft brought to the friendship-table. They were both around the same age: early thirties. They both came from well-to-do and prominent families, Taft from Cincinnati and TR from New York City.  As promising men in appropriate young-men positions during the Benjamin Harrison administration, it was Taft (Yale) who had the better job: Solicitor General. TR (Harvard) was appointed to the newly created Civil Service Commission. Taft, already an experienced jurist, was temperamentally suited to the bench, laid back, reserved, dedicated to the law. TR, a state legislator, cowboy, author and general finger in all pie type, was whipping a mid-level position that nobody really cared about, into a frenzy of activity, and most of all, publicity. 

TR admired Taft. He admired his excellent mind, his conscientiousness, his judgment (judges are supposed to have judgment), and his warm and jolly disposition. Taft, on the other hand, loved TR for his exuberance, his imagination, boundless energy – and yes, his find mind, too.

But in the decade following, it was Taft who still held the better job. Benjamin Harrison liked him, and appointed him to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. TR, was merely the Police Commissioner of NYC, whipping up all sorts of excitement, along with political adversaries.

And, according to author Purdy, when Taft’s fellow Ohioan, William McKinley was elected President in 1896, TR was at loose ends. Having campaigned actively for candidate McKinley, TR hoped for a post as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Having written on naval history, he was considered an “expert.” Trouble was, McKinley was far more temperamentally suited to someone like Taft, and had heard about TR. A maverick. A potential “loose cannon.” Having reservations about the appointment would be putting it mildly. 

But the lesser-known story, is that Taft, who had known McKinley for years, gently and persistently lobbied for his NY pal. He finally got the job. He also gave McKinley the expected agita, became a Rough Rider, and rode into history.  

Purdy’s second pairing is completely different, and much less known. Franklin D. Roosevelt was old enough to be Lyndon B. Johnson’s father. FDR was a cosmopolitan, aristocratic New Yorker, fifth cousin to the aforementioned TR – and married to his niece! LBJ was a nobody, from an undistinguished family in a boondocky part of Texas, with a hard-won education at a local teacher’s college. Jumping at an opportunity to be an aide to an equally undistinguished Congressman, LBJ burst into Washington, where, like TR, he hoped to create enough of a storm to make noise.

While the “friendship” between Taft and TR was one of peers, the “friendship” between the POTUS and the congressional aide was a mentoring pat on the head to a promising young fella. Somehow, the tall Texan with astute political instincts, found continual opportunities to “befriend” men in high places, and place himself in the President’s path from time to time. And it was FDR, whose initials took up less space with more clout in the headlines, who inspired the young Lyndon Johnson to start promoting his own “LBJ” brand. 

FDR, with his own astute political instincts, recognized the qualities of the young-man-in-a-hurry, very much like the qualities in the young man he used to be. According to Purdy, the POTUS found opportunities to throw some mild influence Johnson’s way, whether it was to chair a Youth Administration group in Texas, or to be head of the Rural Electrification Administration. The President was happy to refer to Johnson as “his friend.” Johnson, on the other hand, considered the President like a “daddy.” Certainly better than his daddy back in Texas. 

Once LBJ won a Congressional seat on his own, opportunities for the continued mentor-mentee relationship abounded. Texas, even though a “blue” state at the time, always had a conservative inclination, and had never been a wildly FDR stronghold. Texan and Vice President John Nance Garner was far too conservative (and disinclined) to swing a heavy bat for the progressive Roosevelt. 

By 1940, the two-term VP Garner, adamantly opposed to a third term for FDR, planned to make his own challenge. It was LBJ who stepped into that Texas-Democratic picture, to a point of alienating Garner along with his “other” political godfather, Sam Rayburn. Fortunately, the political smarts of Roosevelt, Johnson and “Mr. Sam” managed to make lemonade out of a bunch of political lemons. The Garner boomlet fizzled. FDR was grateful.

Presidential Friendships is a nifty read. At only 100 pages, it’s short, sweet and snappy. It does exactly what Mike Purdy intended. To demonstrate the dynamics between men who became friends and occupied the White House. Roosevelt and Taft, personal and intellectual peers and diametrically opposed personalities. FDR and LBJ, separated by a generation gap, but two of a kind! 

The author is a fine and engaging writer. And, I am happy to add, a good friend. You will enjoy this book! Print and ebook available!

Presidential Friendships: How They Changed History

Author: Mike Purdy

Publisher: BookBaby

ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1667847899 ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1667847894

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Grant, Buckner and the Pillow Flight

Gideon Pillow was first and foremost a “political” general of massive pretensions.

The Stuffed Pillow

Gideon Pillow (1806-78) was born and raised to a prosperous and well-connected Tennessee family. He attended the University of Nashville, became an attorney, and went on to establish a successful law practice, acquire substantial land holdings, became a close friend of future POTUS James K. Polk (not a law partner, as some sources claim), and developed a keen interest in military service. Ergo, he joined the Tennessee Militia in 1833, and was appointed Brigadier General.

He managed to help secure Polk’s nomination as Democratic presidential candidate in 1844, but alienated several other supporters by exaggerating his influence and/or accomplishment to the detriment of others. The overweening ego was a lifelong character trait filled with chickens that came home to roost.

When the War with Mexico began in 1846, President Polk named Pillow as a Brigadier of Volunteers, where he served with both future POTUS Zachary Taylor (1848) and Presidential Candidate General Winfield Scott (1852), both of whom loathed him. True to character, Pillow claimed credit for actions that a) were not substantive, and b) unquestionably insubordinate. Scott, another unshrinking violet, wrote that Pillow was “the only person I have ever known who was wholly indifferent in the choice between truth and falsehood, honesty and dishonesty.” 

Accusations, denials and brouhahas followed, the upshot being that Pillow, while not legally prosecuted or generally damaged, was returned to his private law practice and land holdings. Some said he became one of the wealthiest men in Tennessee. He also continued his political activity, and was even considered for the Vice Presidency in 1852 and 1856.

The Civil War: The Return of Pillow

While Gideon Pillow may have been lukewarm about secession per se (as were many bigwigs in CSA), he nevertheless enlisted for service in the Confederate Army, which was always in need of experienced military leaders. Pillow was made a Brigadier General, under the command of Generals Leonidas Polk and Albert Sidney Johnston.

CSA General Pillow

By early 1862, Pillow was assigned to Fort Donelson, along the Cumberland River in Tennessee. It was a new fort – and a large one. It would be a prize. It held 17,000 CSA soldiers, commanded by three generals.

General John Floyd was “senior” – but was a completely political general. He had been Governor of Virginia, and Secretary of War in President James Buchanan’s cabinet. Any active military experience he had was minuscule. 

“Political” General John Floyd

General Pillow’s appointment to the Fort was welcomed by Floyd, since Pillow had seen battlefield service in Mexico, and actually knew about fighting. Floyd was happy to defer to his authority.

The third in the General Triumvirate, was a younger fellow, Simon Bolivar Buckner, a West Point graduate, and much lower in seniority. He had known General Pillow in Mexico, and disliked him intensely.

Simon Bolivar Buckner

Nevertheless, Pillow was senior, and Buckner was a good soldier.

Grant and Donelson

On February 6, 1862, Union Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant took Ft. Henry, only twelve miles away on the Tennessee River. It was practically an effortless accomplishment. That fort was small, poorly designed, and easy pickings. 

Ft. Donelson was different, although its generals concurred that because of its vulnerable location, evacuation would be preferable to the siege that was certain to follow.

The quintessential General Grant

A week after taking Ft. Henry, Grant began an assault on Donelson. His forces were initially repulsed by the Confederates, but when Pillow inexplicably withdrew his troops to provision them for what he believed would be an evacuation, their gains were lost. 

Meanwhile, Grant surrounded three sides of the exposed fort, and as expected, prepared for an assault or a siege.

The Generals’ Flight Plans

Whether the three Confederate generals believed that Ft. Donelson would be besieged or surrendered, the upshot was that the night before the “unconditional surrender” they had a parley, to discuss their options. Evacuating themselves was high on the list.

General Floyd was certain that his own life was in serious danger. It was not unreasonable. He had been a Virginia governor and a cabinet member. He had taken loyalty oaths to the USA. If captured, he could be tried (and convicted) of treason: a hanging offense. He opted to slip away under cover of darkness, siphoned off a unit of escorts and proceeded to do exactly that. 

Gideon Pillow, true to his character defects, supposed himself to be too great a prize for the Union, and considered his escape essential to the rebel’s cause. He too siphoned off a unit of escorts and departed.

That left Buckner in charge.

Grant and Buckner

When General Buckner contacted the Union forces for “terms,” Ulysses S. Grant gained his everlasting nickname, and a time was set for the formal “Unconditional Surrender”.

The opposing generals were old friends dating back twenty years to West Point. They renewed the friendship during the War in Mexico. Some years later, when USG fell on hard times in the California-Oregon Territory and showed up in New York, disgraced and broke, it was Buckner who helped him return to his beloved wife and children in St. Louis.

Once their business-at-hand was completed, Grant and Bucker made time for a half-hour personal chat to catch up, as it were. It was during those informal talks, that USG learned about the ”flight plans” of Buckner’s superior officers.

Buckner had a poor opinion of General Pillow; Grant was none too fond of him either. Both of them had known him in Mexico and regarded him as a blowhard as well as a poor military leader.

The conversation is reported to the effect that USG would probably have let Pillow escape, since “he was more valuable to the Union cause by remaining with the CSA.” Then he told Buckner, “If I knew that you were in charge, I would have waited for reinforcements.”


Grant, Ulysses S. – Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant – World Publishing (reprinted) 1952

McFeely, William S. – Grant: A Biography – W.W. Norton, 1981

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John Adams: Four Months in the White House

The Second President

On November 1, 1800, 65-year-old President John Adams took up residence in the unfinished Executive Mansion in Washington, DC, only a few days before the quadrennial election.

The White House…

 …was neither “white” (it was sandstone), nor would it be formally called The White House for another century.

Nevertheless, it was the largest private residence in the country at the time, and despite the mud and the bricks and the wood and the workmen and the dogs, cats and pigs roaming about, a leaky roof and drafty fireplaces, it promised to be a very nice place. But not then.

President John Adams had been temporarily living at Tunicliffe’s City Hotel in Washington for a few months, punctuated by several weeks back in Massachusetts. On his second lonely night in the President’s Mansion, JA wrote to his wife Abigail (due to arrive sometime later), ”I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this house and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but Honest and Wise Men ever rule under this roof.”

Early image of the Executive Mansion

Wagons of personal furnishings had arrived, and more would follow, since Presidents were expected to bring their own furniture, along with their personal belongings. Once Abigail Adams arrived, it began to look more comfortable, despite its inconveniences, which she duly outlined to her daughter, all the while cautioning her not to share those matters with others.  

The Adamses only lived there until March 4, 1801. The beleaguered President had staked his reputation on avoiding a war with either England or France, opting instead to strengthen naval resources as a long-term protection. History acknowledges the effort and the wisdom, but the voters of 1800 did not grant Adams a second term.

Abigail Adams

Vice President Thomas Jefferson was elected the third US President. 

The Bitter Winter

The four months of the Adams’ residence were not happy ones. The election was not even close and Jefferson, a close friend for two decades, had served as Vice President for the past four years, despite many personal and private political differences. JA had truly tried to act consistently in the country’s best interest.

Abigail’s nephew William Shaw moved in to serve as Adams’ secretary. Sickly, but considered a brilliant intellectual, Shaw inherited the Adams-Smith acerbic disposition, but did an decent job, despite his problem with alcohol. 

The Adams’ eldest son John Quincy Adams, newly married and about to be a father, was still in Europe. Their second son, Charles, had died a pathetic death a year earlier at only 30 (of alcohol and depression), leaving his wife and two small daughters to fend for themselves. Abigail took them in, and they were living back in Quincy. Their third son, Thomas, having become a half-hearted attorney, was floundering. Their only daughter, Nabby, was in a difficult marriage.

Adams service pieces

Nevertheless, the “people” had spoken, and the Adamses were obliged to bite their lips (always difficult for both), and be gracious. They continued to represent the Presidency, and entertain politicians and diplomats as expected. Among their personal possessions brought to the mansion were the fine dinner service, flatware and glassware they had purchased during their time in Europe, a dozen years earlier. They would always do their duties.

The Touchy President

John Adams was an inveterate diarist. It was a lifelong habit, shared by all who bore the Adams name – for four generations. Both John and Abigail Adams documented their thoughts and emotions to the private eyes of their silent ”correspondent.” Happily, most of those diaries, along with letters and other documents, have been preserved for posterity.

The dedicated Adams diarists

Ah, but in reading those diaries (in particular), one realizes how sensitive John Adams was to a) all his long list of perceived faults, and b) his poor perception by his fellow citizens – especially when compared to others.

He never completely rose above his envy of the two tall, better looking, patrician, and physically imposing Virginians who were then and inexorably, linked with him. George Washington was six-foot-one (or two), solidly built with a commanding presence. Thomas Jefferson, a few years younger, was also over six feet tall, slender, good looking, with an elegant, classic bearing.

The first POTUS

Poor John, perhaps 5’7, portly and balding, was no Adonis. He was never more than middle class. And elegance was not a word associated with any Adams.

The third POTUS

And now, in 1801, Jefferson, his close companion and ”one of the choice” (according to Abigail), had practically siphoned his presidency away from him. Adams had lost not only the election, but a good friend.

New Year’s Day, 1801

Twelve years earlier, George Washington, a brand new President of a brand new Country, established a tradition that lasted 150 years. On New Year’s Day (and 4th of July, too!) the doors of the Presidential Mansion would be thrown open to any and all (who were properly dressed and well behaved) and wished to shake the President’s hand and pay respects. It had become a popular tradition, worthy of being continued. Adams had been happy to receive well-wishers at his rented mansion in Philadelphia for three New Years Day receptions.

Now the first lame-duck president, John Adams continued the tradition, opened the doors of the uncompleted Executive Mansion in the Federal City that bore Washington’s name, and greeted citizens who were willing to stand in line, despite the cold, the mud, and the other inconveniences of a building-in-situ. 


John’s prayer.

In 1945, another President, popular, but in failing health, beleaguered by a Great Depression and a Great World War, had John Adams’ prayer etched into the fireplace in the State Dining Room.


Ellis, Joseph J. – Passionate Sage – W.W. Norton Co., 1993

McCullough, David – John Adams – Simon & Schuster, 2001

Shepard, Jack – The Adams Chronicles – Little Brown, 1975

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Edward Porter Alexander. Soldier. Engineer. Gettysburg.

Pickett’s Charge

EPA: The Young and Handsome

Edward Porter Alexander wanted to be a soldier from early youth. His well-to-do father, a successful Georgia planter, wanted him to be an engineer. When a family friend advised the senior Alexander that a West Point education could allow young Porter to do both, the matter was settled.

Edward Porter Alexander was an extremely talented and gifted soldier and engineer. Period.

Porter Alexander (1835-1910) enrolled in West Point, demonstrated his intellect and military aptitude, and graduated 3rd in his class of 1857. It qualified the strikingly handsome young 2nd Lieutenant a place in the elite and prestigious Corps of Engineers.

Born and reared in the Presbyterian faith, EPA, while never more than conventionally religious, always had a sense of fate’s place in one’s life. If his own plans or desires were not forthcoming, he was content to wait for the preordained.

The Direction of Fate

After spending a brief time teaching military engineering and fencing at West Point, he was assigned to the Utah territory where political trouble was brewing that might have led to armed difficulties. By the time Alexander arrived, said difficulties had been peaceably resolved.

The quintessential soldier.

Nevertheless, the young solider discovered the magnificence of America the Beautiful, and the joys of the sportsman: hunting and fishing. It would remain with him forever. He also enjoyed pleasant interactions with several Native tribes, and along the way made friends with fellow soldiers Lewis Armistead and Richard Garnett, who would reappear in his life some five years later. At Gettysburg.

Reappointed to his teaching position at West Point, he met Albert Myers, a military surgeon who was developing a messaging systems for long distances. Myers took a liking to the young soldier, and appointed him as his assistant. It was a fortuitous opportunity for an inventive and curious engineer. They called it the wig-wag system of flags placed on high topography, and together they devised a set code of manipulation that could be seen and “read” at a great distance. 

This new communication system drew the favorable attention of higher-ups, and shortly thereafter Myers was made Brigadier General of the nascent Signal Corps. It also changed Alexander’s life.

General Myers, mentor

EPA and The Civil War

Porter Alexander had never been especially political, and most indications are that the young soldier had hoped to relocate out West. But when Georgia seceded from the Union in early 1861, Lt. Alexander resigned his commission and joined the Confederacy as a Captain. His reputation with signal corps experience was already known, and he was also regarded as a fine military engineer. 

At the first Battle of Bull Run (Manassas), stationed on top of Signal Hill, Captain Alexander made his mark as the first Confederate to send a message during combat, using signal flags. That message helped turn the tide of the battle. By July, he was a Major, and by the end of the year, had been promoted to Lt. Colonel under General Joseph E. Johnston, who appointed him chief of artillery.

By the end of the war, at thirty, Porter Alexander was a Brigadier General, with a unique resume of being actively and substantively involved in practically every major campaign. 

In addition to both Bull Run battles, he served (under Joseph Johnston) on the Peninsula Campaign, under James Longstreet at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, and continued with Longstreet in Tennessee. He also saw action in the Overland Campaign in Virginia, including the siege at Petersburg and finally ending at Appomattox Courthouse. 


But perhaps the most seminal credit on Alexander’s military resume was the three day battle at Gettysburg in July, 1863. The weather was blisteringly hot, the clashes were generally unplanned, and for the most part, unwanted, and the fighting was fierce beyond belief, with casualties that drained the entire country. 

Col. Alexander, in full command of artillery, served under Longstreet, where he combined brilliance, knowledge and imagination, along with innate leadership. Good soldier that he was, he obeyed the previously sanctioned strategy of “day 3,” despite his grave concerns and logical objections: His ammunition was already low. The ground to be covered was far too long and open. His big guns could barely reach the intended target. Longstreet concurred; even General Lee acknowledged the difficulties. But the plan, once conceived, was enacted. Alexander unleashed a massive barrage of cannon fire, but “Pickett’s Charge” across a mile-long open field was a predictable Confederate disaster.

After, After and Long After

The Civil War ostensibly ended on April 9, 1865. A now-unemployed 30-year-old CSA ex-General needed to build a different life. 

Alexander taught engineering for a while in South Carolina, and then began a long new career with the railroads, and a stretch of successful opportunities that would last for years.

General Alexander

He traveled west again, this time with his growing family, where he spent some of his happiest days.

Grover Cleveland

He developed a warm friendship with President Grover Cleveland, in part due to their mutual love of hunting and fishing, He wrote magazine articles on similar subjects.

Around 1905, his editors who respected his abilities, suggested he write about his Civil War experiences.

His “memoirs,” if they could be called such, were not merely biographical. Nor were they merely chatty anecdotes and remembrances that so many of his fellow soldiers (North and South) poured out in volumes. Nor were they merely mind-numbing tome-like lectures for West Point classes. In his own words, drawing on every available source he could locate, including personal interviews, he explained that “I want to tell the story professionally, & to comment freely on every professional feature as one would comment on moves at chess, even tho’ it may seem to reflect on Lee or Jackson or anybody else.”

More than a century later, most historians conclude that he did exactly that. And, no surprise, he did it very well.

A modern reprint from 1907, but it’s his book.


Alexander, General Edward Porter – Military Memoirs of a Confederate: A Critical Narrative (reprint) – Making History, 2018

McPherson, James – Battle Cry of Freedom – Oxford University Press; 2003

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The Lincolns: A Tale of Two Stepmothers

Among the many commonalities between Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd was the sad memory of being motherless at an early age.

Abraham Lincoln: Semi-orphaned at Nine

Nancy Hanks Lincoln died of the milk sickness, said to be from poisonous grasses that cows eat and disperse in their milk. Her aunt and uncle had been infected and died two weeks earlier.

Thomas Lincoln and an image of his first wife Nancy Hanks

Thomas Lincoln, poor, semi-skilled and uneducated was now left with nine year old Abe and eleven year old Sarah. Perhaps at a loss of how to raise young children, a few months after his wife’s death, Tom Lincoln left them in care of Dennis Hanks, his late wife’s 19-year-old cousin, and returned to his Kentucky boyhood home to seek out an old childhood playmate that had been recently widowed.

Wasting little time on romantic courtship, Tom Lincoln proposed marriage to the widowed Sarah Bush Johnston, with three children of her own. It may not have been a love-match, but it was a good match, and the marriage was a successful one.

A few months later, Lincoln returned with a new Mrs. Lincoln, three children (close in age to Abraham and Sarah) – and a wagon full of real furniture, including a bedstead, tables and chairs, linens and clothing. And a couple of books she had inherited. In short: a windfall. Sarah Bush Johnston remembered being greeted by two children badly in need of bathing – and mothering.

The only known image of an elderly Sarah Bush Lincoln

Sarah was a nurturing mother – and a good household manager. She took charge immediately, to the benefit of all.

Mary Todd: Semi-Orphaned at Six

Robert Smith Todd’s marriage to Eliza Parker had been happy and prolific. When Eliza died, it was giving birth to her seventh child (one had died at birth some years earlier). But Eliza contracted a puerperal fever and died shortly after baby George was born. Mary, the fourth little Todd, was only six years old.

Mary Lincon’s father, Robert Smith Todd

The Todds were well-to-do, having property and a house in town. Her father, an attorney, was a state legislator and businessman as well. They had a household servant staff of at least six. And Grandmother Parker lived next door. Perhaps overwhelmed by six motherless children under twelve, Robert Todd left for Frankfort, the state capital, only six weeks after his wife’s death. Wasting little time on romantic courtship, he wooed Betsey Humphreys mostly by correspondence, who at 26, was bordering on spinsterhood, and not wildly enthusiastic about marrying a man ten years her senior – with six children! Eighteen months later, the two married, however.

More remote than nurturing, Betsey was greeted by stepchildren, none of whom were wildly enthusiastic about having a new “mother.” Nevertheless her marriage would be considered successful – and definitely prolific. She bore eight children who lived to maturity.

Betsey Humphreys Todd

Stepmother and Stepson

From the moment Sarah Bush Johnston met Abraham Lincoln, there was a true affinity on both parts. She intuitively understood her new stepson’s sensitivity, and need to learn and grow. Tom Lincoln never truly understood his son, but easily bonded with his new stepson, John Johnston – who enjoyed hunting and fishing and the subsistence farming lifestyle.

Abe remained with his family until he was twenty-one and struck out on his own. It was Sarah who believed in him and encouraged him on whatever paths he chose to take. He would later say that Sarah Bush Johnston was arguably the most seminal relationship of his early life. She, many years later, after Lincoln had become Lincoln, would tell an interviewer that any time she asked her stepson to do something for her, he did it quickly and completely without argument.

Stepmother and Stepdaughter

The relationship between Mary Todd and her stepmother was chilly at best. It was chilly with all the “first family” children. Perhaps immediately inheriting six little Todds overwhelmed her. Perhaps her own personality was a cool one, and even later, with her own eight children, she lacked demonstrative affection. Nine pregnancies, of course, took a toll; she spent a good deal of her time in her room, nursing her “unwellness.”

Mary Todd was not the easiest child to raise, stubborn and emotional and given to tantrums. This was anathema to Betsey Humphreys, who had been raised to believe “it took six generations to make a lady,” and insisted on scolding that mantra into her four stepdaughters, none of whom were devoted to their new mother. Elizabeth, the eldest, married at sixteen – to escape her unhappy household. She was determined to rescue each of her three full sisters from their miseries.

Mary’s eldest sister Elizabeth Todd Edwards

By twelve, Mary was the eldest girl in the family that grew every year. Much was demanded of her, little attention was paid, and she couldn’t wait to get away. She boarded at her finishing school, which was only a mile from their house.

The Reflective Stepchildren

Time is always the great healer and leveler.

Mary Todd was indeed “rescued” by her sister Elizabeth, who at a young age became a core member of society in nascent Springfield, Illinois. Mary joined her sister’s household at nineteen, and like her sisters Frances and Ann, married and settled in Springfield.

Interestingly enough, when Mary became a wife and mother herself, she mellowed toward her stepmother and began to understand the challenges she faced. While they never became close, and no personal correspondence between them has ever surfaced, Mary’s attitude softened.

Lincoln never needed to mellow toward his stepmother. Even when money was scarce for the young attorney, he bought property for his father and Sarah to provide for for their old age. After Tom Lincoln died, his son made sure his stepmother was never in want. Their affections never wavered.

And the last personal visit AL made before moving to Washington, was to visit his aging stepmother, who sensed it would be the last time she would see him.


Baker, Jean- Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography – W. W. Norton & Company, 1989

Donald, David H. – Lincoln – Simon & Schuster, 1995

Helm, Katherine – MARY: Wife of Lincoln – Harper and Brothers – 1928

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George Washington: Disposing of Stuff

Senior Citizen George

The Retired General

George Washington (who preferred his military title of “General” once retired from the Presidency) was only 67 when he died in December, 1799 – a couple of weeks before the turn of the nineteenth century. No doubt he and his wife had been looking forward to that momentous event. 

His death was unexpected and quick. At 67, GW was still vigorous, strong and in full command of his faculties. He still rose early, and enjoyed spending the day in the saddle, inspecting every inch of his beloved Mount Vernon plantation. Sometime he ventured farther afield, since he had many land holdings in various parts of Virginia and elsewhere.

But 67 was a ripe age in the 18th century, and a few months earlier, the former POTUS composed his last will and testament. 

George Washington’s Wealth

George Washington was born to comfortable circumstances, but hardly considered wealthy. Most of his family wealth was in fine Virginia land. When his father died, George was eleven, and oldest sibling to a sister and three younger brothers. Two considerably older half-brothers would inherit the substantial portion of the Washington estate (which included what is now Mount Vernon). George got what was left over, along with the obligation to provide for his now-widowed mother and siblings. 

Fifteen years later, when he married the very wealthy widow Martha Custis, his holdings vastly increased. Where he owned perhaps a few hundred acres and perhaps ten servants, her dower inheritance consisted of more than 18,000 acres. And more than 300 laborers.

The Martha we know and love.

During the next forty years of happy marriage, George Washington proved to be an astute businessman and honest manager of her inheritance, which also included the guardianship of her two children, Jacky and Patsy, who were four and two when she remarried. While the inheritance was legally the future property of her children, George managed to increase his own land holdings exponentially, particularly since much of his “militia” salary was paid in land. By the time of his death, he was one of Virginia’s wealthiest landowners. 

The Will of George Washington

As one might expect, GW’s 15-page handwritten will was complex and carefully prepared. His bequests were generous, especially since he had no children of his own. 

First, he had prepared a complete summary of all his property holdings, including how much acreage, its boundaries (which he likely surveyed himself) and how much were tenanted. Having survived all his siblings, these properties were parceled out among his many nephews, nieces and in some cases grand-nephews and nieces. He had been an affectionate uncle, and legal guardian to several of them.

He also made provisions for Martha’s four grandchildren, daughters and son of her late son John Parke Custis (Jack), who had died at Yorktown at age 27. Two of those grandchildren, Eleanor Parke Custis (Nellie) and George Washington Parke Custis (Washy), were “adopted” by George and Martha and raised at Mount Vernon (and NY-Philadelphia, while GW was President). The older granddaughters, Elizabeth Parke Custis and Martha Parke Custis had gone with their mother Eleanor Calvert Custis when she remarried Dr. David Stuart. The Washington’s adored their daughter-in-law, and approved of the remarriage. The family ties were always excellent.

As expected, Mount Vernon and all its accoutrements went to Martha during her lifetime. This not only included the plantation and its household furnishings, but made specific provisions to manumit his slaves – upon Martha’s death. He would have manumitted them directly, but during their forty year marriage, many of his servants had intermarried with hers – and since they (and their offspring) had come to her through Daniel Custis’ estate, he had no legal right to do so. It was a very complex situation. His only direct manumission was Billy Lee, his valet and manservant, along with an annuity to provide for his old age and infirmities. Martha, however, manumitted George’s servants more than a year before she died.

The Mount Vernon we know and love.

Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon is a large and successful plantation, beautifully situated on the Potomac River, and would have always been considered valuable property, but being the home of our beloved (even then) first president, it was all the more valuable.

There have been some indications that George Washington Parke Custis (GWP) was bitterly disappointed that he did not inherit the property. He been raised there since he was an infant. Other than his part-time residences in New York and Philadelphia, he knew no other home. The fact that George Washington left his beloved estate to his nephew Bushrod Washington must have been a hard pill for GWP to swallow.

George Washington Parke Custis

But GWP was only 19 when his step-grandfather died, and hardly in a position to manage such a large property. Youthful immaturity aside, there is also some strong indication that George Washington was less than impressed by his step-grandson’s intellectual acumen. His father, Martha’s son Jack, had been lackluster in the same way. 

The Bushrod Part

Among the many offspring of George Washington’s siblings, Bushrod Washington, son of John Augustine, was not only the eldest, but perhaps the most promising as well. He attended William & Mary, read law, became a well-regarded Richmond attorney, and subsequently a Supreme Court Justice (appointed by John Adams), shortly before GW’s death.

According to Washington’s will, the Mount Vernon property had been assigned to Bushrod decades earlier (oldest nephew), when GW was still in the Virginia Militia and his brother John looked after it. Had GW sired offspring of his own, that would have changed. But he didn’t.

Mount Vernon duly went to Bushrod, but GW had neglected to provide funds for its upkeep, and the Justice learned first hand that the bequest was a double-edged sword. Neither he, nor his son and grandson could not maintain it at all, and it deteriorated rapidly.

Until the Mount Vernon Ladies Association came to its rescue in 1858…


Fraser, Flora – The Washingtons: George and Martha, “Join’d by Friendship, Crown’d by Love” – Knopf Publishing, 2015

Randall, Willard Sterne – George Washington – Galahad Books, 2000

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Mother Bickerdyke: Civil War Ranking Nurse

Right after the Civil War, there was a huge parade in Washington, DC.

Leading the Soldiers

On May 23, 1865, as the intense mourning over the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln began to slowly ebb, the newly discharged Army of the Potomac, some 100,000 spit-and-polished strong, marched 12 abreast down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington in grand review. Leading the parade was General Ulysses S. Grant, who peeled off to join new-President Andrew Johnson and his guest dignitaries on the reviewing platform. 

With military bands playing the songs that had become standard in every household, thousands of spectators from miles around lined the streets to witness the singular event. It lasted for hours. 

The following day, some 80,000 soldiers of the Army of Tennessee/Georgia had their turn in the spotlight. Not quite as spit-and-polished as the Potomac fellows, this was Sherman’s Army – the ones who had slogged up from Atlanta and iced the cake on the victory. They marched corps by corps, division by division and brigade by brigade.

Mary Bickerdyke

Leading the 15th Brigade was a rare sight. At the specific order of General Sherman himself, a woman was at its head: Mrs. Mary Bickerdyke, a widow.

Mary Bickerdyke

Mary Ann Ball (1817-1901) was a very rare example of Civil War-era womanhood. Born to a prosperous Quaker family in Ohio, she had the unusual distinction of studying herbal medicine at Oberlin College. At twenty, she was assisting doctors in Cincinnati by voluntarily nursing patients through a cholera epidemic. 

At thirty, she married Robert Bickerdyke, relocated to Illinois, had children, and was widowed a dozen years later. Between financial need and perhaps a desire to be useful, or perhaps due to her take-charge nature, she became a full time nurse-of-sorts. Nursing, as a structured discipline of its own, did not take place until after the Crimean War, and that was in 1850s England. It would take another two or three decades to hop the pond.

The Sanitary Commission

Wars produce casualties. Casualties require treatment. And care. And supplies. And attention. During the American Civil War, hospitals were still in a fairly primitive state, doing the best they could, vis-a-vis care and treatment. Trained professional medical corps were haphazard. A functioning nursing corps was just beginning. The Red Cross (and similar entities) did not exist.

Civil War field hospital

But shortly after the Battle of Bull Run, when the unexpectedly high number of casualties stunned the citizenry (and it would rise exponentially), The Sanitary Commission was born. It was a voluntary organization of concerned civilians to help provide goods and services to the soldiers, mainly the sick and wounded. In very short order, the organization had chapters throughout the Northern states, with smaller chapters in practically every city, town and village. Everyone wanted to participate.

Whether the members raised funds to provide ambulance wagons or medicines and supplies, or physically went to inspect field facilities, lobbied Congress for better conditions, or knitted, sewed or rolled bandages in their own homes, the Sanitary Commission provided an outlet for everyone who wanted to be part of the war effort. 

“Mother” Bickerdyke

At the outset, Mary Bickerdyke had made a name for herself as an extremely competent nurse, and was entrusted by her fellow townsmen to take $500 worth of medical supplies to Cairo, IL. She not only delivered the supplies, but remained to establish a field hospital. She remained with the Army for the full duration of the war, traveling from battlefield to battlefield, and by the end of the war, had established more than 300 field hospitals for the sick and wounded.

Her energy was matched by her superb managerial skills, and her absolute refusal to take “no” for an answer. She begged, borrowed, “appropriated” and vigorously faced-down commanding officers in order to get proper supplies for her “patients.” She established regular laundry service to wash soiled linens and bedding for the hospital. She scoured the battlefields at night with a lantern, in order to find wounded soldiers who hadn’t been brought to treatment areas. She had the audacity to ”discharge” one inebriated commanding officer. When he appealed to General Sherman, Bickerdyke’s discharge was upheld.

Improvements were made….

One story told about the lack of fresh milk and eggs in Memphis, where there was a large military hospital. Available ”secesh” sources were expensive and of poor quality. Bickerdyke wangled a 30-day furlough to go north and purchase what she needed. Dismissing her request as fruitless, since both the eggs and milk would spoil en route back to Memphis, she said it was nonsense. She would return with the suppliers themselves. In her home state of Illinois, she received a hundred cows – gratis – to be shipped in small herds. Ditto more than a thousand hens – also in small flocks. Before her thirty day leave had ended, she returned with her bizarre procession, mooing and cackling along the way.

An eloquent and articulate speaker, she appeared at numerous Sanitary Commission events to raise needed funds. 

Her continuous devotion to the soldiers earned her the nickname “Mother” Bickerdyke. It also earned her supreme regard and respect of both General Ulysses Grant and General William T. Sherman.

Both Generals were of the opinion that “Mother” Bickerdyke outranked them both, and were happy to say so.

Epilogue to Mother Bickerdyke

Mary Bickerdyke remained in the Union Army throughout the war, and assisted veterans for the remainder of her long life. She helped Union veterans obtain pensions – and that included pensions for more than 300 female nurses. She was awarded a $25/month pension herself in 1886.

An older Mary Bickerdyke

She moved to Kansas after the War, studied law, and continued to help veterans with legal problems, and to settle and begin new lives. It is said that General Sherman authorized government wagons and teams to transport their belongings.

Her later years were spent in California, mostly for health reasons, but she eventually returned to Kansas and died at nearly eighty. She was buried in Galesburg, IL.


Boykin, B.A. (editor) – A Civil War Treasury of Tales, Legends and Folklore – The Blue and Gray Press, 1985

Flagel, Thomas R. – The History Buff’s Guide to the Civil War – Sourcebooks, 2010

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The Tragic Death of Bennie Pierce

Benjamin Pierce was the third and last child of Franklin and Jane Pierce.

The Pierce Parents

When Franklin Pierce (1804-1869) married Jane Means Appleton (1806-63) in 1834, he was nearly thirty, a fine age for a man to marry. Mature, and financially solid enough in trade or profession to provide for a wife. She, at twenty-eight, was considered “old”.

Jane Pierce

She was a nice looking woman, petite, with fine-chiseled features and generally delicate health.  Childhood tuberculosis may have contributed to her frailty. She was well read and extremely pious. She may also have been inclined toward melancholy. Those traits became more pronounced as time went on. 

But the Pierces had courted for some time, and all indications are that he was eager to marry. Her family, however, was reluctant to approve. It was no secret that he liked his whiskey. And politics. But on the plus side, he was an attorney, considered particularly good looking and convivial. And he had been elected to Congress.

So marry they did – and honeymooned in Washington.

Franklin Pierce

Alas, Jane quickly developed a total distaste for the country’s capital. The weather was abysmal, and her easily compromised health suffered from chills and colds. The companionship of other congressional wives was not to her liking. She considered the women ungodly, unladylike and much too focused on (gasp) politics. She wound up staying in their boarding house rooms most of the time, seldom venturing out except for church services. 

Subsequent congressional sessions saw her husband going alone. But Jane now had an excuse. She had become pregnant, and motherhood, being the supreme function of a woman’s life (at least hers), her duty and inclination was to remain home in Concord, New Hampshire. 

The Pierce Children

Alas again, the first Pierce son, Franklin, Jr., lived only a few days. But three years later, Frank Robert, their second son, was born healthy. And his father, elected in 1837, was now Senator Franklin Pierce. 

In 1841, Benjamin Pierce was born. By then, Jane was in her mid-thirties, and realized it was likely her last chance at motherhood. When little Frank Robert was four, he contracted typhoid and died. Jane was understandably devastated, and her inherent melancholy led to two major turning points in the Pierce lives.

She became insistent that her husband resign his Senatorial seat and return to New Hampshire. His place was with his wife and child. In 1843, he duly resigned, pledged to renounce both Washington and alcoholic spirits. He focused on his law practice – and a little “local” New Hampshire politics. On occasion they visited her family in neighboring Massachusetts.

Bennie became her entire raison d’etre. Her life now revolved around her last surviving child.

Bennie had no memory of either of his older brothers. His own life revolved around trying to please his hovering mother.

Little Bennie

Bennie was a healthy child. He was mostly home schooled until he was ready for Philips Academy. Jane was well educated and her attitudes toward education were strong. Her own father had been a minister/educator, and President of Bowdoin College in Maine.

Bennie’s religious education was supreme, however. Sunday school classes were mandatory, and it is said that Jane’s great pleasure was listening to him recite his Bible lesson while she was sewing or knitting. Their pastor was a regular guest for tea or dinner. Jane was happy with her husband home and sober.

Mother and son

As Bennie grew, his attitudes were influenced by his mother’s strong feelings. Against politics. Against alcohol. Against anything that was not heavily dosed with religious morality and convention. 

Some contemporaries have suggested Bennie was becoming priggish.

In 1852, as the great divide of political factions was becoming a chasm, Franklin Pierce had been voluntarily removed from national office for a decade. Nevertheless, he maintained a broad and active correspondence, astutely suspecting that the conflicting dilemmas might cause the Democratic Party (and he was a Democrat) to seek the rare Northerner (like himself) whose politics were acceptable to the South. He subtly pursued, all the while assuring his wife that he had been long forgotten. 

When he received the Democratic nomination (after 49 ballots), he told Jane that no one was more surprised than he was.

14th President Franklin Pierce

But Bennie was said to have remarked to his mother, “I hope Papa loses. I don’t want us to live in Washington. I know we shan’t be happy there, will we Mama?”

The Freak Accident 

Jane Pierce fainted at the election news, and struggled to reconcile her mind that Pierce not only was nominated, but won the election by a landslide. It was obviously God’s will, but why? Why? 

Only weeks before the inauguration, The Pierces spent Christmas with her sister Mary and her husband John Aiken in Amherst – and took Bennie, now eleven and attending Philips Academy. It was not a long trip, and train travel had improved rapidly in time and speed and even comfort.

They planned to return home on January 3, 1853 – a bitterly cold day. Only a mile past the Amherst station (and there are several versions to this story), the train hit rocks (or derailed, or, or…). Bennie, said to be playing between adjoining cars (or standing near a window, or, or…), was thrown from the train (or crushed as it overturned).

It was a freak accident. Bennie was the only one killed. 

His body was taken back to the Aiken home for private funeral services. His grief-stricken mother was too overcome to even attend. Nor could she accompany the casket back to Concord for burial. Nor could she attend her husband’s inaugural ceremony. It was weeks before she even arrived at the White House. It would be two years before she could even assume any limited First Lady duties.

First Lady Jane Pierce

She word black for the rest of her life.

Pierce’s good friend Nathaniel Hawthorne remarked, “Jane was never really of this world.”


Caroli, Betty Boyd – First Ladies – Oxford University Press, 1995

Nichols, Roy Franklin – Franklin Pierce: Young Hickory of the Granite Hills – University of Pennsylvania Press, 1959 (rev.) Townsman

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Corinne: The Long Neglected Roosevelt

Corinne Roosevelt Robinson

Little Sister Corinne

Young Theodore Roosevelt

The iconic Theodore Roosevelt was one of four siblings. The oldest of the four remarkable Roosevelts was Anna (1855-1931), called “Bamie” by her siblings, and “Auntie Bye” by the next generation. Despite an early childhood illness which left her with some spinal deformity, she was a dynamo, both in intelligence and energy. She assumed much of the household management by the time she was sixteen, and never relinquished her “leadership” in the family.

Elliott Roosevelt

Theodore came next, about three years later, followed closely by Elliott. Always considered the best looking and most convivial/likeable among the four, Elliott began a downward trajectory by the time he was twenty. With a substantial inheritance and little motivation or inclination toward a vocation, he became a “sportsman,” with a definite inclination to alcohol. A riding accident with serious injuries added to his problems: a laudanum addiction.

Anna (Bamie) Roosevelt

Not long after Elliott’s birth came Corinne (1861-1933), the baby of the remarkable Roosevelt family.

Practically from birth, she developed a close friendship with Edith Carow, a child of a neighboring family. Some have said that their nannies were close friends and wheeled the baby carriages together.

But while Bamie stood apart as a semi-adult, and both the boys were educated according to their exceptional abilities, Corinne’s education was more circumspect. Just as intelligent as her siblings, she was “a girl,” and her educational needs were adjusted accordingly. Finishing School. Even when the family traveled to Europe, an adolescent (and desperately lonely and homesick) Corinne was “boarded” separately from Theodore and Elliott.  

She was always well read and artistically inclined, and at not-quite thirteen, was a founding member of their Dresden Literary American Club, secretly nicknamed W.A.N.A., which even more secretly stood for “We Are No Asses.” It was then that she began writing poetry.

Young Corinne Roosevelt

Nevertheless a college education was never on the table. A career of any kind was out of the question. She was expected to marry and raise a family. 

What was never unquestioned, however, was her complete devotion to her family, and especially to brother Theodore. 

Douglas Robinson

It was Corinne’s brother Elliott who introduced his little sister to Douglas Robinson. She was eighteen, having made her social “debut;” he was six years her senior. Robinson was half-American (a great-great nephew of James Monroe), but born and raised in Scotland, educated at Oxford, and now returned to his American ties.

He was wealthy, well educated, a financial wizard at property management, and a superb sportsman – which drew him into Elliott’s circle – and he fell in love with Corinne. The Roosevelt family liked Robinson, and encouraged the match. In fact, Corinne Roosevelt was nice looking, athletic, well-read, and indeed marriageable. All the Roosevelts encouraged young marriages, ostensibly to protect them against youthful temptation, it is said. 

Alas, the family failed to consult Corinne. She liked Douglas Robinson pleasantly enough, but was hardly in love with him, nor particularly attracted. To her, he was loud, bullying and bad-tempered. Perhaps most importantly, she did not want to get married – at least not then. She had just begun to enjoy her own autonomy, had several suitors, and was not inclined to give up her freedom.

Douglas Robinson

She hemmed and hawed, and delayed for two years, accompanied by many tears. Robinson was patient enough, but the Roosevelts, including her mother, Mittie Bulloch Roosevelt, pressed somewhat awkwardly, saying that she could “learn to put up with him.”  When they finally married, Corinne was just shy of her 21st birthday, and was said to have spent most of her wedding morning sobbing.

Mrs. Robinson

Corinne and Douglas Robinson had four children and were married for 36 years before Douglas’ death in 1918. It could hardly be termed a happy marriage. Nor could it be termed an unhappy marriage. It was likely stuck in neutral. 

On the positive side, Robinson was an astute businessman with considerable wealth. He was a constant friend to Elliott, who died at 34 of severe alcoholism. He was always a strong supporter of Theodore’s political ambitions. He denied Corinne nothing that money could buy. In fact, his preoccupation with business and making money may have been Corinne’s greatest blessing: he let her do pretty much what she wanted. That included her interest in politics, especially once Theodore rose in prominence.

On the negative side, Corinne may have learned to “put up with him,” but there was never any romance or real love, despite common-for-the-time effusive letters. Plenty of money helped.

Once her children were grown, she began to find her own calling. She had always written poetry.

Corinne: On Her Own

All the Roosevelts (including subsequent generations) were fine writers. And they all loved poetry. Corinne wrote poems as a child. In 1911; when she was fifty, she finally published her first poem in Scribner’s Magazine. The death of Stuart, her youngest son, via a freak accident at Harvard when he was only twenty, had plunged her into an understandable depression, and poetry was her solace.

In 1912 a full volume of her poetry was published by Scribner’s. Additional volumes were published in 1914, 1919, 1924 and 1930. She also wrote and published a memoir, My Brother Theodore Roosevelt, which Scribner’s published in 1924.

Meanwhile, once women had received suffrage, in 1920 Corinne Roosevelt Robinson became the first woman to address the Republican national convention, seconding family friend General Leonard Wood’s nomination in 1920. She was surprisingly good and invitations for public speaking engagements followed, earning a substantial reputation of her own.

Corinne Roosevelt Robinson was the sole survivor of the remarkable Roosevelt siblings. Her health became iffy, complicated by a chronic eye infection that required several surgeries.

In 1933. she died at 71, only weeks before her distant cousin (and husband of Elliott’s daughter Eleanor) took the oath of office that had once been held by Theodore.


Caroli, Betty Boyd – The Roosevelt Women

Dalton, Kathleen – Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life

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