Friday, March 17, 2017

Bunch of Biddles, Part 6

So, for the past five posts, I’ve been telling tales about the Biddle family, the ultra-wealthy Philadelphia brood that served in all four corners of the Army of the Potomac. We learned about Copperhead dissident Charles, quiet warrior Chapman, sentry-spooking Alexander, battle-scarred warhorse Transportation, and precocious cigar-thief James. You may have noticed that all of my choices survived the war. Did any Biddles give their last full measure of devotion?

Yes. At least one did. Captain Henry Jonathan Biddle.

Captain Biddle was born on May 16, 1817. He was the older brother of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Williams Biddle, who appeared in several previous posts. I know precious little about him. Henry Biddle attended West Point, and after graduation, he became a member in his father’s firm. When the war broke out in 1861, Biddle asked for a position in the Pennsylvania Reserve Division, the same unit where his distant cousin, Charles, served. When Curtin appointed Major General George A. McCall as commander of that division, McCall selected Biddle for his staff. Biddle operated as assistant adjutant general.

Generally, Biddle’s service was exemplary. He excelled at his job and contemporaries considered him an asset to the divisional staff. He served with the Pennsylvania Reserve Division until his death. He fought at Mechanicsville, Gaines’s Mill, and Glendale Cross Roads. At the latter battle, June 30, 1862, McCall gave Biddle orders to redirect the fire of two nearby artillery batteries. After carrying out the order, he collided with a group of soldiers belonging to the 47th Virginia. They fired on him. Biddle was hit twice—once in the shoulder and again through the left arm. He fell from his horse and was captured. The Confederates took him to a nearby field hospital and then to Richmond (to Chimborazo Hospital Number 3).

In Philadelphia, newspapers reported that Biddle had died, for he had not been seen by friendly faces since being shot. But soon, Biddle managed to get information through the lines, telling loved ones that he had, in fact, survived. He made it clear that his accommodations were not great. On the battlefield, he watched another captured Union officer—Colonel Seneca Simmons—die of his wounds, while lying right next to him. He wrote, “I laid out in a field, mudhole, house and woods, till dusk on [the] 2d, and reached here [Richmond] at midnight.” Biddle told readers that the Confederate surgeon who examined him pronounced his wound non-mortal. General McCall, who had also been captured, likewise sent an optimistic message through the lines to Biddle’s brother, Thomas, telling him not to worry. He wrote, “Do be pleased to express to Mrs. Biddle my sincere and deep sympathy; but at the same time, my sincere and deep conviction that it will not be long until her husband joins her, with all his honors.”

None of these predictions held true. Biddle died in captivity, July 20, 1862. The Confederates returned his body to Union lines and it was eventually interred in Philadelphia.

Biddle’s death is a reminder that the Civil War culled from illustrious families just as well as it did from those of more modest means.

Captain Henry Jonathan Biddle

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