Saturday, August 22, 2015

Henry A. Wise's Loss

Wanting to learn more about Virginia's enigmatic politician, Henry A. Wise, I recently completed reading Craig M. Simpson's 1985 book, A Good Southerner: The Life of Henry A. Wise of Virginia. I enjoyed the book and found Wise to be as an intriguing personality as I imagined.

You might remember that Wise was governor of the Old Dominion when John Brown struck at Harpers Ferry in 1859. The book's chapter on Wise and Brown was quite fascinating. Although Wise certainly was at odds with Brown's ideals of racial egalitarianism, the governor had a healthy respect for Brown's courage and commitment to his cause. One might even say that Wise admired Brown.

Wise was succeeded as governor by John Letcher, but his political influence continued. He strongly encouraged the state's secession during its April 1861 convention. When war broke out, Wise, although in his mid-fifties, raised a combined infantry, artillery and cavalry unit appropriately named Wise's Legion. In the summer of 1861, Wise was made a brigadier general. At best, Wise had a checkered track record during the war. His touchiness and honor-bound nature caused him to clash any fellow officers who presented the slightest offense. An 1861 foray into Western Virginia and his inability to work with fellow former governor Gen. John Floyd serves a perfect example.

In early 1862, Wise was transferred to North Carolina. There, he immediately rubbed Gen. Benjamin Huger the wrong way. On February 8, in a fight at Roanoke Island while Wise was sick, his oldest son Obadiah Jennings Wise, a former editor of the Richmond Enquirer, was killed in the battle. Wise the younger was born in 1831, and like his father, held honor most high. Before the war Obadiah fought several duels, some of which came at the defense of his father and his political policies.

Obie, as he was sometimes known, was part of the Richmond Light Infantry Blues, a local militia unit that dated back to 1789. During the Civil War the Blues became Company A of the 46th Virginia Infantry. Apparently Obie was hit in the wrist of his sword-carrying arm while leading his company in the fight at Roanoke Island. Quickly bandaging the injury, he soon received a mortal wound.

Thus, Henry A. Wise not only suffered defeat in northeastern North Carolina, he lost what some considered his favorite son. Obie's body was recovered and when father saw son, Wise exclaimed, "Oh, my brave boy, you have died for me, you have died for me." Obie was buried in Hollywood Cemetery. Father joined son in Hollywood in 1876.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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