Lincoln's Bold Lion: The Life and Times of Brigadier General Martin Davis Hardin, James T. Huffstodt

Lincoln's Bold Lion: The Life and Times of Brigadier General Martin Davis Hardin, James T. Huffstodt

Hardin is an unusual choice of topic for a biography. He became a general quite late in the war, and his most significant combat experience in that role was during the defence of Washington against Early’s raid. Before his promotion he served in the eastern theatre, taking part in many of the major battles, including the Peninsula, Second Bull Run, Gettysburg and the first part of Grant’s overland campaign, but in relatively junior ranks. Hardin’s main claim to fame is his family connection with President Lincoln. Hardin’s father was one of Lincoln’s political colleagues in the Whig party in Illinois, although they ended up as rivals within the party after Hardin snr apparently went back on an agreement to only serve one term in the House of Representatives. Hardin lost out to Lincoln, and ended up volunteering to serve in the Mexican War, where he was killed in battle. During the Civil War Hardin jnr’s cause was fairly aggressively pushed by his mother, who frequently asked Lincoln to help her son’s career. Tragically Hardin was also in Washington when Lincoln was assassinated, and played a major part in the hunt for the assassins.

Huffstodt had chosen to include much more material on Hardin’s pre- and post- war lives than is often the case in this sort of biography, a good decision. As a result we get a good understanding of his family background, the connection to Lincoln, his experiences at West Point (he wasn’t terribly impressed with the place), and his brief pre-war military career, which included something of a voyage of discovery, a crossing of the Continental Divide along a route that was still under construction, before he took up his first posting, in the far north-west. This was a chance for Hardin to get a glimpse of a world that was on the brink of destruction.

He was soon pulled back from the wilds by the outbreak of the Civil War. Although he held relatively junior rank for most of his combat career, he did have an interesting war, taking part in many of the key battles in the eastern theatre, including the disastrous Peninsula Campaign, 2nd Bull Run, Gettysburg and part of Grant’s overland campaign. His career was interrupted by several serious wounds – one of which cost him the use of one arm, another cost him the entire arm (luckily the same one), and it was a combination of his determination to remain in the army and his wounds that saw him posted to the Washington garrison. This was seen as a safe post, but by the middle of 1864 the garrison had been hollowed out to provide reinforcements for Grant, and so when Jubal Early carried out his famous raid on Washington, the city’s impressive forts were dangerously under-manned. Hardin had to use bluff and his heavy artillery to stop Early attacking his part of the defences early in the raid, and successfully convinced the Confederates not to attack his vulnerable sector until veteran troops were able to rush back to the city. Interestingly Hardin was one of the many men in the Army of the Potomac who retained his faith in McClellan, despite his hero’s many obvious flaws, some of which Hardin was willing to admit to. During the Peninsula campaign Hardin did criticise his commander, but he also seems to have shared McClellan’s belief that he was being deliberately starved of manpower. 

In the post-war world Hardin joined the social elite in Chicago, where he witnessed the great fire that almost destroyed the city, and its rebirth. He enjoyed the good life during the ‘gilded age’, but survived well beyond that age, outliving most of his contemporise and becoming one of the last Union generals to survive.

This is a well written and entertaining biography of a relatively minor Union commander, but one whose life gives us another viewpoint on the events of the Civil War.

1 - Little Boy Afraid of Ghosts
2 - The Lincoln Connection
3 - Homecoming for a Dead Hero
4 - Saratoga Springs: Enter Saint and Sinner
5 - Shadows in the Forest
6 - West Point: No Place for Weaklings
7 - Adventures Far West
8 - Interlude in the American Eden
9 - Armageddon Beckons
10 - Traitor in Their Midst
11 - The Heavens Rain Fire and Iron
12 - Second Bull Run: "The Sun Never Set on a Braver Man"
13 - Slaughtered for Nothing
14 - White, Hot, Dusty Road to Gettysburg
15 - The Round Tops: Every Man a Coward in the Dark
16 - Attack, Retreat, Endure
17 - Bushwacked: Little Hope of Recovery
18 - Even Brave Men Run: Hard Fighting with Grant's Army in 1864
19 - Desperate Hours: Rebel Raiders Menace Washington
20 - General Hardin Makes a Brave Show
21 - Garrison Soldier in Wartime Washington
22 - Good Friday at Ford's Theater
23 - Commanding Former Enemies in Raleigh
24 - The Gilded Age Dawns, Tad Lincoln Dies, Chicago Burns
25 - Madness, Murder and Scandal, 1873
26 - General Hardin - Gilded Age Prince
27 - Battles Fought with Pen, Ink and Paper
28 - Ghost Hunting in Old Mexico
29 - Lay Down Your Sword and Shield
Epilogue: In the Days that Followed

Author: James T. Huffstodt
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 320
Publisher: Casemate
Year: 2015

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