Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Brigadier-General Fitz Henry Warren


Fitz Henry Warren and Grenville Mellen Dodge, the only Iowa general officers whose native State is Massachusetts, are both fair representatives of that proud old Commonwealth. Although differing in their mental constitutions, they are each earnest and persevering — two traits for which the sons of the old Bay State are noted.

General Warren is the son of a tanner, and a native of the town of Brimfield, where he was born on the 11th day of January, 1816. His education was not liberal. He first attended the common schools of his native town, and later was a member of the Wilbraham Academy, Massachusetts. At that institution he completed his education. He subsequently entered a mercantile house as salesman, and still later, in company with his father, became an extensive manufacturer of boots and shoes in Chicopee, now embraced within the limits of the city of Springfield, Massachusetts. In 1837, General Warren, who was the financial head of this firm, carried it safely through that terrible financial crisis which wrecked, hopelessly, thousands of merchants throughout the country. The firm continued its business successfully till the year 1843, when, for reasons unknown to the writer, it was brought to a termination.

General Warren, who was now only twenty-seven, started in pursuit of a location in the North Western States, and, after traveling through nearly all of them, finally selected Iowa in which to make a home. He arrived in Burlington in the month of August, 1844. In Burlington, he first engaged in mercantile pursuits but, being at that day somewhat of a politician he was, in the spring of 1849, appointed by President Taylor Assistant Post Master General. I need not speak of the great credit that accrued to our State from his connection with this office. The judgment he discovered in his appointments and the great business tact he displayed in all matters connected with the Postal Department challenged general attention; and I think it may be said that, in his fitness for this office, he had been before unequalled. Unfortunately, General Warren's connection with the Post Office Department was of only two year's duration; for, when Fillmore was cajoled into signing the new edition of the Fugitive Slave Law, the general refused to be connected longer with that Administration, and tendered his resignation.

His connection with Fillmore's Administration, and the spirit he showed in refusing to join hands with unprincipled men, in the furtherance of that policy which has so nearly precipitated the nation in ruin, made him a prominent public man; and the year following his resignation he was made Secretary of the National Executive Committee in the Scott Presidential Campaign.

Retiring now from public life, he established himself in the banking business in the city of Burlington; but in this enterprise he was unsuccessful; for, in the year 1857, he failed with large liabilities. Enterprising and public spirited, he was all the time alive to all political questions, but more especially to the great leading issue, which was being tried so slowly but surely; and there was never a Presidential, and rarely a State canvass, in which he did not take the stump. He took an active part in the Presidential Campaign of 1860, and, after the election of Mr. Lincoln, stood prominent among those whose names were being used for the position of Post Master General. His former position in the Post Office Department, I am advised, was tendered him; but this he declined. He entered the War of the Rebellion in the summer of 1861, as colonel of the First Iowa Cavalry — one of the first volunteer cavalry regiments mustered into the United States service.

But, in passing, I should not omit stating that General Warren was one of those who, in the early stages of the war, believed the fate of the Confederacy would be decided by the fall of the rebel Capital. His opinions he published to the world in his celebrated letters — "On to Richmond." It was said at the time that these letters were the cause of the Bull Run disaster; but, had the weak-hearted Patterson been as prompt to duty as McDowell, these very letters would have made General Warren one of the chief heroes of the rebellion. In that case, Greeley would never have denied their authorship.

At the suggestion of General Warren, the 1st Iowa Cavalry was, I think, tendered to the General Government and accepted, under a resolution of the Iowa General Assembly. It rendezvoused at Burlington, and in the early part of October reported at Benton Barracks, Missouri. In the latter part of that month, the 1st and 2d Battalions of the regiment were ordered to Central and Western Missouri, and stationed, by companies, at different points, to secure order and to protect the country from guerrilla incursions. The 3d Battalion, under Colonel Warren, remained at Benton Barracks through the following Winter, and until the 6th of March, 1862, when that was also ordered into the field.

Colonel Warren was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general on the 20th day of August, 1862. In the winter of 1862-3 he held a command under General Curtis, in Missouri. He was stationed at that point with head-quarters at Huston at the time of General Marmaduke's invasion of Missouri, early in January of that year, and on receiving a telegram from General Brown at Springfield, announcing the approach of the enemy, at once dispatched a part of his force, under Colonel Merrill, of the 21st Iowa, with orders to report at that place. The battle of Hartsville, in which the enemy in despite of his vastly superior numbers was severely handled, resulted from this movement.

In the summer of 1863, the name of General Warren was urged in the Union Gubernatorial Convention for the office of Governor of Iowa; and but for a heedless blunder he might have been the candidate for the position. From the first he was the choice of a plurality of the delegates and finally, as was thought, of a majority; but the history of the thing is well known and need not be related. It illustrates well how some men rise suddenly above others to places of honor and responsibility. It was the grace and high-toned honor which the general displayed in withdrawing his name from the convention that won the heart of every delegate present, and which, had another vote been taken, would doubtless have secured him the gubernatorial chair.

In the fall of 1863, General Warren was sent to New Orleans, whence he was ordered to Matagorda Island, and there assigned to a brigade command. He soon after succeeded General Washburne in the command of the 1st Division, 13th Army Corps, which was stationed in the vicinity of Indianola, Texas. During the following Winter, he made several expeditions from this point into the adjacent country, the most important of which was that to Port Lavacca, just before Christmas. He was once attacked by a large cavalry force at Indianola; but after considerable skirmishing, and the loss of several prisoners, the enemy retired. In June, 1864, he was given a District command in Louisiana, with head-quarters at Baton Rouge, and by his administrative ability, succeeded in correcting many abuses. He was popular with his command, but unpopular with interlopers, and with many of the citizens of his district. Among the many newspaper notices of his command while stationed here, I give the following:

"General Warren now in command of this district is establishing a very rigid system of surveillance over the speculators and citizens here in regard to passes and permits for trafficing through the lines: although it is one of the most difficult matters to regulate, he will approximate as nearly to a solution of the problem as any general in the Department."

During the summer of 1864, having lost his health, which was never vigorous, he was relieved from his command and permitted to come North on leave of absence; but many weeks of medical treatment being ineffectual in removing the disease he had contracted in a debilitating climate, he was finally, in consideration of this, placed on duty in New York city, where he is still serving.

In personal appearance, General Warren is excelled by no officer of the volunteer or regular service. Tall, slender and erect, neat and precise in dress, and active and graceful in his movements, he is, in public and among strangers, the first to attract notice. As a military man, he possesses many excellent traits. He is energetic, has good executive ability, and is a fine disciplinarian. When, in the spring of 1862, he left Benton Barracks with the 3d Battalion of his regiment, there was not an equal number of men in the regular or volunteer service more perfect in drill and general efficiency than these. But, in his military career, if we are to judge by his reputation, he has been only ordinarily successful. The reason why he has failed to attain that distinction which his talent and military taste insured, is known by those who hold high authority at the National Capital.

The general's native talent is great and versatile, and enables him to attain eminence in any public position: indeed, he has never failed, as a public man, to acquit himself with credit.

As a public speaker, he is polished, eloquent and forcible. Iowa has many more popular men than he, but few more able. His great independence of character and the bitterness with which he has been accustomed to treat his opponents has been an impediment to his popularity.

General Warren is graceful and dignified in his manners, is a rapid, though not a garrulous talker, and has a voice of wonderful capacity. To show its power it may be stated that, in drilling a brigade of troops, he was accustomed to give all commands viva voce, dispensing with all aids and orderlies.

SOURCE: Addison A. Stuart, Iowa Colonels and Regiments, 541-6

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