Monday, January 9, 2017

O. Jennings Wise: Editor, Duelist, Soldier, Southerner


Richmond, Virginia's Hollywood Cemetery is a veritable "Who's Who" for the final resting places of notables in Old Dominion and Confederate history. United States presidents James Monroe and John Tyler are there, along with Confederate president Jefferson Davis. A host of Confederate generals, including  J.E.B. Stuart, George E. Pickett, Edward Johnson, John Imboden, and Henry A. Wise, also all rest at Hollywood.

Beside Governor Wise is a lesser known Confederate soldier; his son Captain Obadiah Jennings Wise. Known by family and close acquaintances as Obie, Wise was the governor's oldest son, and seemingly his favorite. Obie grew up to be Southern society's epitome of antebellum manhood.

O.Jennings Wise was born on April 12, 1831. He received his college education at William and Mary, and interestingly, Indiana University. After a term of service as a European diplomat, Wise returned to his native Virginia and eventually obtained the editorship of the Richmond Enquirer, the Capitol city's Democratic newspaper. Wise the younger's stint with the sheet coincided with his father's governorship; a situation that would bring trouble for Obie. Seemingly honor-bound to defend his father's name Wise fought at least eight duels within about two years, many over perceived injustices to his governor father.

Many of Wise's dueling opponents were fellow editors. A veritable war of words played out among Virginia's antebellum newspaper editors who were anything but "fair and balanced" in their coverage of political news. In 1858, he fought Robert Ridgeway, the editor of the Richmond Whig. That same year he battled Virginia politician Sherrard Clemmens. The gun play resulted in Clemmens being wounded in the groin. Wise was unharmed. The following year, 1859, Wise had a dust up with William Old of the Richmond Examiner. That year Obie fought Patrick Henry Aylett, who also worked for Examiner. Apparently Wise lived a blessed life, as it seems he escaped all of his many duels virtually unscathed.

While friends appreciated the pubic service of the Wises, it was not only dueling opponents who held both men in low regard. Virginia arch-secessionist Edmund Ruffin. Ruffin noted in his diary in August 1859: "The former [Obie], as well as his father, is a professional duelist, & a bravo, & by both precept & example, to make him a professional bully for political gain, & a murderer in intention, if not yet in deed."

When the Civil War broke out, Obie was made captain of Company A of the 46th Virginia Infantry. Company A was composed of members of the antebellum Richmond Light Infantry Blues militia unit. While serving on the North Carolina coast and fighting under his father's command at the Battle of Roanoke Island on February 8, 1862, Obie was wounded in the wrist of his sword arm. Shortly after bandaging this minor injury, he received grievous wound to his thigh. The captain was captured by Union forces and then died shortly thereafter. His body was returned to Richmond. A splendid funeral was held at St. James Episcopal church and he was interred at Hollywood Cemetery where he now rests, right beside his father.

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