Sunday, April 19, 2020

“Lt. Col. Duryée Will Oust Every One of Us if Possible!” Marylanders in the Army of the Potomac, Part 2.

In my last post, I told the story of one of Union Maryland’s unsung heroes, Col. Nathan Dushane, who lost his life leading the Army of the Potomac’s Maryland Brigade at the Battle of Globe Tavern. In this post, we’ll learn about an unlikeable Maryland commander, Lt. Col. Jacob Duryée, a man who took counsel of his ambition and connived to deprive the state of capable military leadership. In truth, Duryée wasn’t a Marylander at all, but a New Yorker who hated the Marylanders.

Civil War historians have known about Jacob Duryée for a long time. Battle of Antietam scholars first bumped into his name in June 1960 when Civil War History published a widely read account called, “A Federal Surgeon at Sharpsburg.” This primary account was written by Dr. Theodore Dimon, the surgeon of the 2nd Maryland Volunteer Infantry. (I, for one, first learned about Dimon and Duryée in 1989, when I read John Michael Priest’s Antietam: A Soldiers’ Battle. That book makes use of Dimon’s account.) Dimon’s narrative gave readers a one-sided, positive depiction of Duryée. Dimon portrayed him as a stunning, attentive leader, and his bravery was on full display as he led the 2nd Maryland in its near suicidal attack across Burnside’s Bridge.

Years later, while researching in the Maryland State Archives, I saw a different side of Lt. Col. Duryée. The documents kept by the office of the Adjutant-General painted an unflattering portrait. They revealed Duryée to be a cruel, manipulative officer who cared little for the State of Maryland.

Letters written to the state’s Union Party governor, Augustus Bradford, made it abundantly clear that Duryée did not deserve command of his regiment. Throughout the spring and summer of 1862, the vainglorious Duryée conspired to remove as many Maryland-born officers as he could, harassing, brutalizing, and slandering anyone who threatened his authority. In the end, his despotic tendencies came back to bite him, and in an arrogant huff, he resigned his commission, leaving behind one of Maryland’s hardest fighting regiments, a choice he would later regret.

This is the story of Lt. Col. Duryée’s malevolent rise to power and his haughty downfall.

Jacob Eugene Duryée was born in New York City on March 7, 1839, the son of a prominent Union officer, Brig. Gen. Abram Duryée. Jacob Duryée was one of the Union’s first soldiers. At the war’s outset, he accompanied Company F, 7th New York State Militia (the elite “Dandy Seventh”), during its bloodless thirty-day deployment inside the District of Columbia. On June 3, he returned with his regiment to New York City, and summarily joined his father’s volunteer regiment, the 5th New York Infantry (commonly known as Duryée’s Zouaves”), which was then serving at Fort Monroe. The Governor of New York promoted Duryée to first lieutenant of Company G (under command of Captain Judson Kilpatrick), and with the 5th New York, he participated in the Battle of Big Bethel on June 11, 1861.

In September, President Lincoln commissioned Lt. Duryée to the rank of lieutenant colonel, transferring him to the 2nd Maryland Infantry, which was then stationed at Camp Carroll, near Baltimore. As one of the few officers with combat experience, Duryée was welcomed by the Marylanders with open arms. But quickly, he grew to despise the men he commanded. He hated being second-fiddle to a Maryland colonel, and as the months passed, he schemed to get command of the regiment.

In early April 1862, at 953 officers and men, the 2nd Maryland reached the front lines. The regiment unloaded at Newbern, North Carolina, a Union-occupied town on the Neuse River. The Marylanders joined the 10,000-man unit called the “Coastal Division,” commanded by Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside. Newbern represented a whole new world for the Marylanders. Union troops had been in occupation of the city ever since a dramatic battle occurred there on March 14, 1862. Throughout the spring, Burnside’s men had taken Morehead City, Beaufort, and Washington, leaving Newbern under heavy guard. Many of Burnside’s troops idled away their days, drinking and whoring.

For Lt. Col. Duryée, occupation of Newbern offered an opportunity for advancement. He found political allies in the form of his new divisional commander, Maj. Gen. Burnside, and his brigade commander, Brig. Gen. Jesse L. Reno. It’s not clear how Duryée started his conspiracy, but it is clear that, one by one, his rivals for regimental command began disappearing. 

The 2nd Maryland’s commander, Colonel John Sommer, vanished first. In the midst of the Camden expedition, Brig. Gen. Jesse L. Reno placed Sommer under arrest for “disobedience of orders.” Rather than offer Sommer a court martial, Reno locked him away, and on April 20, 1862, under the duress of incarceration, Sommer resigned his commission. Immediately, the Marylanders suspected something fishy. One of them wrote, “No sooner had the regiment encamped on this soil then there was a dead set made against Col. John Sommer, nor did they rest day or night until the Col. was compelled to resign.”

Next, charges were brought against two line officers, Captain John D. Stinchcomb of Company E and 2nd Lieutenant John W. Davis of Company D. The division staff accused both men of public intoxication. Both officers faced a trial and were cashiered. The officer who defended Lieutenant Davis argued that the verdict might have been justice, except that none of the many other cases of public intoxication were ever prosecuted. He wrote, “Those are the first and last cases I have heard of although I have seen officers so drunk in the streets of Newbern that they could not walk and so drunk as to fall off their horses in the streets and like the sow that was once blessed returned to its wallowing in the mire again.”

Additional harassment forced other company commanders to resign. Captain William F. Bragg of Company D resigned, led away under a corporal’s guard. Then, Captain William E. Conoway of Company G resigned, saying he “could not stand” Lt. Col. Duryée’s leadership any longer. And then, Captain Robert Karns of Company I resigned quietly. Major Henry Howard Jr. also faced harassment, however, he refused to resign. Wrote an officer, “Major Howard has been treated as ungentlemanly as a man could be, and I know of no other cause than that he knew too much for them.” (This was, perhaps, an indication that Howard knew of Duryée’s plans to seek the colonelcy of the regiment.)

Who were Duryée’s fellow schemers, the ever-present “they” mentioned in these letters?

Well, Duryée had several friends in the 2nd Maryland who supported him. The regimental chaplain, Reverend Robert S. Hitchcock, joined Duryée’s cabal. So wrote Captain Andrew Brunner of Company B, “There is but one officer here that does the regiment any injury that is Rev. R. S. Hitchcock, our chaplain.” Lieutenant Charles E. Bowen of Company D called Hitchcock a “contemptible tool,” and that the enlisted men in his regiment had such a small opinion of him that they “will not listen to his preaching.” Bowen explained:

Now for Mr. Hitchcock, I say, Mr., because, in my judgment, it should be a sin in the sight of God to apply the term Rev. to him, as he is a hypocrite of the deepest dye. I have seen him drunk and under the influence of whiskey or brandy, often since he has been attached to his regiment. Why, Sir, he was turned out of the Presbyterian Church in Baltimore for being drunk in the pulpit. What more could we expect of him[?] I would not believe him on his oath in a transaction where he or any of his friends were at stake.

Duryée could also count on the assistance of Lieutenant George A. Zimmermann of Company I, who became captain in the month of April 1862. Apparently deeply anti-Maryland, Zimmermann couldn’t stand the other officers in the regiment. In complaining to Governor Augustus Bradford, Lieutenant Bowen confessed, “Why, sir, I have heard Lt. Zimmermann damn the State of Maryland for every thing he could think of and that too before the Lt. Col., and he laughed at it, and he, Zimmermann, was then compensated for doing so by being placed as acting Quarter Master of this Regiment.”

Finally, Duryée had the assistance of Captain Malcolm Wilson of Company F. Although Bowen didn’t mention Wilson by name, it appears that this officer brutalized him on more than one occasion. After Lieutenant Bowen had chosen to defend his comrade, Lieutenant Davis, at his court-martial, Wilson began taking it out on him. One afternoon, when Bowen served as officer-of-the-day, Captain Wilson approached Bowen and began calling him names, labeling him a “damned negro.” When Bowen tried to remonstrate, Wilson grabbed Bowen by the throat and began choking him, then threw Bowen to the ground. All the while, Lt. Col. Duryée watched approvingly. When the scuffle had ended, Bowen arose and went to Duryée for protection. Duryée told him to get lost. He called Bowen an “unprincipled man,” apparently for defending Lieutenant Davis, and told him that he had received his just desserts.

Furious, Bowen complained to Governor Bradford, demanding something be done to end Duryée’s despotic rule and to terminate the machinations of his cruel minions. “I have been treated worse than you could imagine,” Bowen wrote. Predicting that his promotion to the vacant captaincy of Company D would likely be blocked by Duryée, Bowen guessed, “Was I [a] betting man, I would not be affraid to bet heigh that I am not made captain of Co. D. (My Comp’y).”

Bowen tried to make it clear to the governor that Duryée was leading a vast conspiracy to purge the Maryland-born officers from the regiment. “If we had a Marylander for our commander we would be treated as soldiers and gentlemen (which I am in hopes we will have and we can if you will, I think) but to the contrary we are commanded by a northern adventurer, I mean Lt. Col. J. E. Duryee who will oust every one of us if possible. At this time there is but five captains in the Regiment which goes to prove what I say.”

Governor Bradford took Lieutenant Bowen’s complaints seriously. On June 26, 1862, Bradford commissioned a new colonel, Thomas B. Allard, to take command of the 2nd Maryland. When news of Allard’s imminent arrival reached Newbern, Duryée, Hitchcock, Zimmermann, and Wilson conspired to stop him. They drafted a letter and sent it to the Baltimore American, saying that the officers would resign and mutiny would prevail among the rank-and-file if Duryée was no longer the regimental commander. Publication of this letter shocked Baltimore’s residents, who questioned Bradford’s apparent decision to go against the will of the regiment. However, some of the 2nd Maryland’s officers assuaged Bradford’s fears. All of this, they said, was false reporting. Captain Brunner explained:

I have seen in several news sheets of the day notices that should any one be made colonel of this regiment other than Lieut. Col. Duryee that the officers would resign and mutiny would arise amongst the men. Nothing of the kind was ever thought of with the exception of Capt. W. C. Bigelow of Co. A & Capt. Malcolm Wilson of Co. F, who spoke of resigning, and as to anything like mutiny occurring, the least signes of anything like it are has not occurred.

But this didn’t solve the crisis. When Colonel Allard arrived at Newbern, as soon as he set foot on the wharf, several of Maj. Gen. Burnside’s officers arrived and escorted him to an officer examination board, a tribunal that meant to test Allard’s knowledge of military affairs. At the end of the examination, Burnside’s board declared Allard “incompetent” and consequently relieved him of his command. The Maryland-born officers were incensed. It happened so quickly that none of them even realized that Allard was in camp!

When Allard finally made his way to the regimental headquarters tent, now deprived of his shoulder boards, Lieutenant Charles Bowen found him and told him not to worry. The examination board had been meant to break him. Bowen explained to the Governor:

The whole proceedings were gotten up expressly for Colonel Allard. Such a thing was unprecedented in the Division; the like never had been done before. Why, Sir, Col. Allard was not permitted to visit the Camp, nor did he see but three officers of the Regiment to my knowledge, as very few knew it, and those that did kept it still.

Bowen made it clear that Duryée was behind it all. He wrote, “I believe the plan was concocted, if not directly by Lieut. Col. J. E. Duryeé, [then] indirectly through the agency” of his friends at Burnside’s headquarters.

Allard was forced the leave Newbern immediately. Getting back on the ship that brought him, he returned to Baltimore. Lieutenant Bowen encouraged Governor Bradford to fight his dismissal, to commission Allard a second time and return him to the front. Bowen could not imagine following a tyrannical leader such as Duryée into battle. “Now, Sir,” he implored, “for the sake of the officers and Privates of this Regiment, send him back, for if you do not, the Lord knows what will become of us.”

Bradford did as Bowen asked, reappointing Allard to command and appealing to the War Department, reminding the Secretary of War that the authority to appoint officers to command the volunteer regiments was a sacred right of the governors. If Secretary Stanton wished to have the support of loyal Marylanders, then the army needed to accept Bradford’s choice for the 2nd Maryland’s colonelcy.

As this controversy was hashed out, Lt. Col. Duryée led the 2nd Maryland into its first major combat. At Antietam, the 2nd Maryland executed a dramatic charge against the Rohrbach Bridge (afterwards Burnside’s bridge), losing 67 out of 187 officers and men.

After the Battle of Antietam concluded, Duryée learned that Allard would be returning to the regiment and resuming his command. Unable to accept this, he drafted a letter of resignation and submitted it to General Burnside. Years later, Duryée recounted his meeting with Burnside, presenting himself as the victim. After the battle, Governor Bradford had arrived on the field, escorting the newly-recruited Maryland Brigade, but he purposefully snubbed the 2nd Maryland, whose wounded were crammed into a cowshed hospital. “We needed the Governor’s sympathy,” wrote Duryée, “besides our wants were many, especially for medical supplies, &c.” Seeing governors from other states assisting their men, Duryée concluded that he must do something to bring the governor’s attention to the losses of the 2nd Maryland. He said, “Then to feel that I was entirely unable to help them at this time of their great distress, made the matter to me very trying.”

As Duryée told it, on September 21, he went to Burnside’s headquarters and offered to resign. In his mind, it was the only way to relieve the sufferings of his wounded men. Initially, Burnside refused to accept Duryée’s resignation, but after sleeping on it, he changed his mind, saying, “I see no other course, for as matters appear to me now, you would not get any assistance from the Governor to help you recruit the regiment.” Continuing, “I accept your resignation with great regret, and especially that it should be entirely owing to the unjustified treatment you and your regiment have received from the Executive of the State of Maryland.”

It is unlikely that Duryée’s version of events is true. Governor Bradford would not have purposefully withheld medical supplies from the 2nd Maryland on a mere matter of commissioning. Further, it is impossible that Bradford had the power to determine which regiments in the Army of the Potomac received medical attention. He did not possess that authority. Finally, in Duryée’s narrative, he offered up a key paragraph that amounted to a bald-faced lie. According to him, when he offered his resignation to Burnside, Duryée said, “In these three strenuous campaigns just ended, I have commanded the regiment in every battle and engagement, actually filling two positions, while the Colonel [Allard] who had been commissioned by the Governor and had never commanded, in fact had never seen the regiment, was in Baltimore during these most trying times.”


There was no way Duryée could have uttered those words. Duryée knew—as did Burnside—that Colonel Allard had attempted to take command of the 2nd Maryland back in July. However, due to their scheming, they sent Allard back to Baltimore. He wasn’t loafing around in Baltimore because he wanted to avoid service. He was stuck there because Duryée and his accomplices had sent him away.

Duryée did not want to admit that Bradford had won. Allard planned to return in October, and Duryée needed to leave before he could mete out vengeance.

As Duryée told it, he returned to the regimental encampment, formed up “the remnant of the few brave soldiers left in the regiment and bade them farewell, shaking hands with everyone.” As he related, “I could see plainly by the expression on the face of every man that they all regretted my going fully as much as I did leaving them.”

Again, I call bull-snot. At the very least, Lieutenant Charles H. Bowen, the officer who called the governor’s attention to Duryée’s schemes, was happy to see him go.

In the end, the moral of this tale is clear. Whatever Duryée did at Antietam to prove his bravery, it did not merit command of the 2nd Maryland. By scheming his way to the top, he violated the very essence of what the Army of the Potomac strived to be—a meritocracy. No one in his regiment—save his cabal of close associates—could ever have taken him seriously. Duryée left the Army of the Potomac on September 22, 1862, the day the Civil War was forever changed by the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation.

After the war, President Andrew Johnson nominated Duryée for a brevet brigadier generalship for “gallant and meritorious services” during the war. The U.S. Senate confirmed him on July 19, 1867.

It might also be said that Duryée left the world under curious circumstances. He died on May 25, 1918. He insisted on being laid to rest at Antietam National Cemetery. In the end, his remains were entombed under the soil of the very state he despised.

Lieutenant Colonel Jacob Eugene Duryée (1839-1918) has long been remembered as a hero from the Battle of Antietam. While that may be true, Duryée was also a tyrannical commander who despised the State of Maryland.


  1. Excellent post, Tim. In your research, were you able to discover how Duryee was able to curry such favor with Burnside and Reno, to the point that all of this could be carried out, seemingly with their knowledge, as in the case of Col. Allard?

    1. Kevin, thanks for the question. It's hard to say. For Burnside, I'd imagine that politics had much to do with it. Duryee and Burnside were both Democrats, so I imagine they bonded over their shared love of McClellan. It was something of a trend in early 1862 for Democratic generals to weed out unwanted lts, capts, majors, and cols with "boards of examination." The 2nd Maryland was hardly unique in that regard. It's entirely possible that Burnside and Duryee believed they were doing the army a favor by ridding the 2nd Maryland of its Maryland officers. At the time, Maryland's loyalty was in question. A New Yorker like Duryee might have felt that this was a question of ensuring the regiment had loyal officers, but in the end, it devolved into Duryee just seeking out officers loyal to him. As for Reno, I have less information. It might have been a bit more personal with him, particularly with the removal of Col. Sommer. Something happened during the Camden expedition, but I haven't figured out what. Perhaps some additional research will cast some light on it. Thanks for reading!

    2. All good points! Thanks for following up with me.

  2. An absolutely fascinating account and thank you for delving into this intrigue.

  3. An absolutely fascinating account! Thank you for delving into this intrigue.