Orville E. Babcock

Orville E. Babcock
Orville Elias Babcock
Orville E. Babcock Brady-Handy Cropped Portrait.jpg
Orville E. Babcock
Born December 25, 1835(1835-12-25)
Franklin, Vermont
Died June 2, 1884(1884-06-02) (aged 48)
Mosquito Inlet, Florida
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery Arlington, Virginia
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch Union Army
Years of service 1861 - 1869
Rank Brevet Brigadier General
Unit Engineer Corps
Battles/wars American Civil War:

Battle of Fredericksburg

Peninsular Campaign

Siege of Yorktown

Siege of Vicksburg

Blue Springs

Knoxville Campaign

Battle of Fort Sanders

Overland Campaign

Other work Private Secretary for President Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877)

Orville Elias Babcock (December 25, 1835 – June 2, 1884) was an American Civil War General in the Union Army. Immediately upon graduating third in his class as United States Military Academy in 1861, Babcock would go onto serve efficiently in the Corps of Engineers throughout the Civil War and was promoted to Brevet Brigadier General in 1865. Babcock served as aide-de-camp for Lieut. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and participated in the Overland Campaign. After Grant became President in 1869, Babcock was appointed his Private Secretary--in modern terms, the chief of staff—and served until 1876. In 1869, Babcock was sent on a mission by President Grant, to look into the annexation of mostly African island nation of Santo Domingo into the United States.

Babcock's tenure under President Grant was filled with controversy concerning involvement with the manipulation of both cabinet departments and appointments. Grant supported Babcock when he was accused of corruption. Indicted in the Whiskey Ring, Babcock was defended by President Grant in a historical deposition in 1876 that resulted in acquittal. Babcock was also appointed Superintendent of Public Buildings and Inspector of Lighthouses. Babcock served as chief engineer overseeing plans for the construction of Mosquito Inlet Lighthouse until 1884, when he drowned off Mosquito Inlet in Daytona Beach, Florida. His reputation is a combination of efficiency, loyalty to Grant, and involvement in corruption and scandal.


Early life

Orville E. Babcock was born in Franklin, Vermont, on December 25, 1835. While growing up in Vermont he received a common education.[1]

Graduated West Point

At the age of 16, Babcock was appointed to the West Point Military Academy (USMA), where he graduated 3 in a class of 45 on May 6, 1861.[1]

Civil War

Constructed Washington D.C. defense works

At the outbreak of the American Civil War, immediately upon graduation from USMA, Babcock was promoted Brevet Second Lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers, and was assigned duty in Washington D.C. to protect the city from attack. Working as Assistant Engineer, Br. Sec. Lieut. Babcock constructed military fortifications to strengthen the national capital's defenses. The following months through June and August, Br. Sec. Lieut. Babcock constructed military fortifications on the Potomac River and the Shenandoah Valley serving as aide-de-camp under Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks. From August through November, Br. Sec. Lieut. Babcock, worked on military defenses surrounding Washington D.C. since there was at that time dire apprehension the Confederate Army would capture the nation's capital.[1] In December, 1862 during the Battle of Fredericksburg, Br. Cap. Babcock served on Brig. Gen. William B. Franklin's engineering staff.[2]

Peninsular campaign

Orville E. Babcock (left)
and Orlando M. Poe (right)
Union Engineers in Ft. Sander's salient.
Barnard (1863-1864)

On November 17, 1861, Babcock was promoted to First Lieutenant, Corps of Engineers, and a week later was assigned to the Army of the Potomac.[3] During the months of February and March, 1862, while Maj. Gen. Banks moved to Winchester, West Virginia, F. Lieut. Babcock set up military fortifications at Harper's Ferry and guarded pontoon bridges crossing the Potomac River.[3] During the Peninsular Campaign, F. Lieut. Babcock served bravely at the Siege of Yorktown on the Army of the Potomac's Engineer Battalion and was promoted Brevet Captain on May 4, 1862.[1] For the next seven months, Br. Cap. Babcock built bridges, roads, and field works. For his service, in November, 1862 Br. Cap. Babcock was promoted to Chief Engineer Left Grand Division of the Army of the Potomac.[1]

Vicksburg, Blue Springs, Cambell's station

On January 1, 1863 Br. Cap. Babcock was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel , and was named the Assistant Inspector General of the VI Corps until February 6, when he was named the Assistant Inspector General and Chief Engineer of the IX Corps.[3] As Chief Engineer of the IX Corps Lieut. Col. Babcock surveyed and projected the defensive fortifications at Louisville and Central Kentucky.[3] Moving westward to help secure the Mississippi River from Confederate control and divide the Confederacy in two, Lieut. Col. Babcock fought with the IX Corps at the Battle of Vicksburg and the Battle of Blue Springs, and the Battle of Campbell's Station.[1]

Knoxville campaign

After fighting in the Knoxville Campaign, at the Battle of Fort Sanders, he became the Chief Engineer of the Department of the Ohio and promoted to Brevet Major on November 29, 1863.[3]

Overland Campaign

Lieut. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Staff: Ulysses S. Grant (at center table), Orville E. Babcock (right).

On March 29, 1864 Brev. Maj. Babcock was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and became the aide-de-camp to Lieut. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant where he participated in the Battle of the Wilderness, the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House and Battle of Cold Harbor. These battles were part of the Union armies Overland Campaign against Robert E. Lee and the Confederate army in Virginia[1] For his gallant service at the Battle of the Wilderness, Lieut. Col. Babcock was promoted to Brevet.[3] On August 9, 1864, Lieut. Col. Babcock, while stationed at Union headquarters in City Point, was wounded in the hand after Confederate spies had blown up an ammunition barge moored below the city's bluffs.[4] As Grant's aide-de-camp, Brev. Lieut. Col. Babcock ran dispatches between Lieut. Gen. Grant and Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman during Sherman's march to the sea campaign.[3] For his meritorious contributions in the Civil War, on March 13, 1865, Babcock was promoted two times on the same day, first to Brevet Colonel, and then to Brevetted Brigadier General.[3] Brev. Brig. Gen. Babcock delivered Grant's surrender demand to General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox, Virginia, and to escort Lee to his meeting with Grant at the Appomattox Court House. Brev. Brig. Gen. Babcock chose the place at Appomattox where Lee and Grant would meet for the surrender of the Army of Virginia.[3]


Final promotions, marriage, and family

After the War, Babcock remained on Grant's staff throughout America's turbulent Reconstruction Period. On July 25, 1866, Brig. Gen. Babcock was commissioned Colonel of Staff and aide-de-camp for General-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Ulysses S. Grant.[3] On March 21, 1867 Brig. Gen. Babcock was commission Major, Corps of Engineers.[3]

On November 6, 1866, Babcock married Anne Eliza Cambell in Galena Illinois. Their marriage produced four children: Campbell E. Babcock, Orville E. Babcock, Jr., Adolph B. Babcock, and Benjamin Babcock. Benjamin died during infancy. [5]

President Grant's private secretary

In 1868 Ulysses S. Grant was elected the 18th President of the United States. In 1869, Babcock was appointed Grant's private secretary.[6] Babcock retired from active duty in the military, put on a suit, and worked directly with President Grant inside the Oval Office. Babcock was only one of few men who had daily access to President Grant at the White House. Babcock had unprecedented influence over President Grant and planted suspicions in Grant that enemies were out to politically destroy his Administration. His influence even extended indirectly into many Cabinet departments and he was at odds with reformers, that included Sec. Fish and Sec. Bristow, who both had desired to save Grant's reputation from scandal. When cabinet appointments came available, Grant listened to Babcock's recommendations.[7]

Santo Domingo

Harper's Weekly cartoon depicting the Whiskey Ring .
Nast (March, 1876)

After his appointment, in 1869, Babcock was involved in the attempt to annex the Dominican Republic. While Grant believed the southern blacks might want to seek refuge in the Dominican Republic. Babcock, without informing the current Secretary of State, Hamilton Fish, negotiated an Agreement with the Dominicans. This attempt for a treaty split Senator Charles Sumner away from the Radical Republican Party. During the negotiations, Babcock treated the Negro leaders on Santo Domingo as equals.

Corruption: Whiskey Ring

During the early 1870s there was a profit making tax evasion swindle on the part of whiskey distillers to defraud the U.S. government millions of dollars each year. This organized network of tax fraud and bribery, known as the Whiskey Ring, extended nationally and involved "the printing, selling, and approving of forged federal revenue stamps on bottled whiskey."[8] Sec. Bristow, whom President Grant put in charge of the Treasury in 1874, immediately discovered the corruption, investigated, indicted and forcefully prosecuted members of the ring. Sec. Bristow after shutting down the ring, along with Att. Gen. Pierrepont, were intent on prosecuting the ring leaders. One of these suspected ringleaders was Babcock.

In December 1875, Babcock was indicted in St. Louis as a member of the Whiskey Ring, but was acquitted, partially due to testimony given by Grant and partially due to the prosecution leaking important documents to Babcock.[9] After the Whiskey Ring trial, Grant learned that Babcock had been involved with a plot to corner the gold market in 1869. President Grant then distanced Babcock from the White House retaining the position Superintendent of Public Works. Babcock had laundered bribe money from the Whiskey Ring distillers by purchasing grove land in Florida.[10]

Safe burglary conspiracy

In September 1876, Babcock was named in the Safe Burglary Conspiracy case when a critic of the Grant Administration was framed by bogus secret service officers and thieves. Babcock was acquitted during the trial. President Grant, at public urging, removed Babcock from the White House.

Inspector of Light Houses and Death

In 1877, Babcock was appointed Inspector of Light Houses at Mosquito Inlet, Florida. As part of this job, Babcock, a capable engineer, was responsible for the planning and building of the Mosquito Inlet Lighthouse.[11] Before construction could begin, the boat during a storm bringing Babcock to shore from a schooner overturned, and he drowned in Mosquito Inlet, Florida at the age of 48.[11]

See also

External links


  1. ^ a b c d e f g New York Times (June 4, 1884) , Gen. Babcock Drowned; Find A Grave Memorial (January 8, 2000), Orville Elias Babcock (1835-1884)
  2. ^ Find A Grave Memorial (January 8, 2000), Orville Elias Babcock (1835-1884)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k New York Times (June 4, 1884) , Gen. Babcock Drowned
  4. ^ Catton (1969), p.349.
  5. ^ Inventory of the Orville E. Babcock Papers (2008)
  6. ^ Reeves, Thomas C. (1975). Gentleman Boss. NY, NY: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 59. ISBN 0-394-46095-2. 
  7. ^ Woodward (1957), The Lowest Ebb
  8. ^ Fredman (1987), The Presidential Follies
  9. ^ Reeves, Thomas C. (1975). Gentleman Boss. NY, NY: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 80–81. ISBN 0-394-46095-2. 
  10. ^ Robison (December 28, 2001)
  11. ^ a b Mike Pesca (November 2, 2005). "Orville Babcock's Indictment and the CIA Leak Case". http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4986394. Retrieved 01-02-10. 

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