Lincoln Helps Promote General Milroy and Col. Cluseret For Their Gallant Service Battling Stonewall Jackson
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Cluseret was one of the most interesting foreign officers who came to fight for the Union. A Frenchman who opposed their 1848 revolution, then fought in the Crimean War, then with Garibaldi for Italian Unification. After he was arrested and forced to resign due to quarrels with Milroy, he returned to France, and then fought in Ireland’s Fenian Revolution. ABRAHAM LINCOLN.
Autograph Endorsement Signed “A. Lincoln,” Washington, September 27, 1862. One page note on a panel of a folded sheet, accompanied by a letter signed by William Seward on Executive Mansion stationery. Folds, some original ink smudging to date on Lincoln panel and a few stray ink marks, Lincoln’s text and signature dark. 2 pp., 5 x 8 in.
Gen. Milroy is recommended for a Major General; and Col Cluseret for a Brigadier General.
Gen. Halleck, please examine their records.
Sep. 27, 1862
[Endorsement, in Henry Halleck’s hand:] Gen Milroy / Major general W.V./
Col. Cluseret / Mounted Volunteers, Company
My dear Sir
Pray allow me to ask that Genl Halleck be consulted upon the expediency of promoting General Milroy to be a Major General, and Col. Cluseret to a Brigadiership. I think they both come within the rule of promotion by merit.
William H. Seward
Although the Battle of Cross Keys in June 1862 was a Confederate victory, Brigadier General Robert H. Milroy and Colonel Gustave Paul Cluseret distinguished themselves in leading their Union brigades against Confederate General Stonewall Jackson’s forces. Desperate for good news, Secretary of State William H. Seward recommended to Lincoln their promotions. Cluseret was brevetted Brigadier General of volunteers on October 14, 1862, and the Senate approved Milroy’s promotion to Major General on March 10, 1863 to rank from November 29, 1862.
Shortly after these promotions came to Lincoln’s attention, on November 20, 1862, Milroy forwarded to General Jacob D. Cox, Cluseret’s planned troop movements. After reciting Cluseret’s resume, Milroy concluded that “being a gentleman of fine intellect and splendid military knowledge, I think his opinion worthy of consideration.” However, a rupture developed quickly. Milroy considered Cluseret a soldier of fortune, and Cluseret thought Milroy unnecessarily harsh on southern civilians. On January 16, 1863, Milroy had Cluseret arrested. On February 13, Cluseret defended himself by arguing that soldiers threatened to desert, while others were engaged in “commerce” with the “colored girls.” “Nobody exercises authority here. Nobody obeys.” Other officers vehemently denied Cluseret’s charges. Major General Robert C. Schenck forwarded the reports to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck, noting “the absolute necessity of my being rid and of the service being rid of the presence of General Cluseret.”
While Cluseret was under arrest, Major General William Rosecrans requested “a few good division commanders” and reported that he “would like to have General Cluseret.” General-in-Chief Halleck responded on January 25, informing Rosecrans that Cluseret was under arrest and added, “If you knew him better, you would not ask for him. You will regret the application as long as you live; but if you say so, you shall have him.” Rosencrans did not get his man; Cluseret was allowed to resign on March 2, 1863.
Robert H. Milroy (1816-1890) was born in Indiana and graduated from Norwich Military Academy in Vermont in 1843. He looked with suspicion upon all graduates of the United States Military Academy. He served in the Mexican War but saw limited combat. He graduated from the University of Indiana in 1850 with a law degree and practiced law throughout the 1850s. A staunch abolitionist and Republican, he organized a company in April 1861 and soon became Colonel of the 9th Indiana Infantry. Promoted to Brigadier General in September 1861, he commanded a district in the Virginia mountains in 1862, during Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign. In June 1863, he vainly tried to defend Winchester, Virginia, during the Confederate advance that ended at Gettysburg, but the Confederates captured 3,000 of Milroy’s men, and Milroy was arrested, tried, but not court-martialed. At the end of 1863, Milroy was reassigned and served in the western theater in Tennessee in 1864 and 1865.
Gustave Paul Cluseret (1823-1900) was born in Paris and attended a military academy before accepting a commission in the French army in 1843. He helped to suppress the 1848 Revolution but fled to London after Louis-Napoleon’s coup in 1851. Reinstated in 1853, he served in the Crimean War, resigning in 1858. In 1860, he served as Colonel of a French corps fighting with Garibaldi for Italian unification. In 1861, he came to America to “participate in the triumph of freedom.” He served under Generals John C. Fremont and George B. McClellan in western Virginia, rising to Brigadier General before resigning under pressure in March 1863. He co-founded with Fremont a New York City newspaper, New Nation, which advocated radical Republican view against slavery. After participating in the Fenian Rising in 1866-1867 in Ireland, Cluseret returned to France, where he continued to pursue republican and socialist causes there and elsewhere.
Lowell L. Blaisdell, “A French Civil War Adventurer: Fact and Fancy,” Civil War History XII (1966): 246-57. LLCC: microfilm
William J Phalen, The Democratic Soldier: The Life of General Gustave P. Cluseret (2015)
Kevin Campbell, The Opening Battles (2016).