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  • Codie Eash

“The son of my very dear friend” – Lincoln, Curtin, and a favor for Edward Baker Jr.

In the aftermath of the death of Colonel Edward Baker at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff in October 1861, President Lincoln sought the assistance of Pennsylvania’s governor in promoting the fallen officer’s son to a position in a Keystone State military unit.

Following an embarrassing defeat at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff on October 21, 1861, United States forces along the Potomac River near Leesburg, Virginia, entered the first autumn of the Civil War in disrepair.

For the California Brigade, the battlefield loss at Ball’s Bluff was a particularly vicious one. Its beloved commander, Col. Edward Baker, a sitting U.S. senator from Oregon and close personal friend to Abraham Lincoln, had been killed in action. Six months earlier, a joint effort by the president and West coasters led Baker (like Lincoln, a former Illinois state and federal legislator) to raise a regiment of new recruits from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the name of California, rather recently admitted to the Union in 1850.

Now, Baker’s death led a lamenting Lincoln to proclaim that Baker was another in a quickly growing list of fallen U.S. officers “sealing their faith with their blood” in defense of the fractured republic, as patriots who “did all that men could do.” According to Lincoln’s private secretary, John Hay, one day after Baker’s death, the Philadelphia-born major general and soon-to-be U.S. general-in-chief George McClellan professed to the president, “‘There is many a good fellow that wears the shoulder-straps going under the sod before the thing is over. There is no loss too great to be repaired.’”[1]

Meanwhile, the soldiers in Colonel Baker’s unit forged a new identity. The First, Second, Third, and Fifth California infantry regiments rebranded as the 69th, 71st, 72nd, and 106th Pennsylvania infantry regiments to better distinguish themselves, preferring to be recognized not as representatives of their sponsored state, but rather as members of their native commonwealth. With that, the California Brigade adopted the name which has since solidified its legacy: the Philadelphia Brigade.

“The loss of General Baker cast a gloom over the Brigade,” reflected Joseph R.C. Ward, a corporal and the regimental historian of the 106th Pennsylvania (formerly the Fifth California). “The short time that he had been with us endeared him to us and had gained him the title of ‘Father Baker,’” Ward added. “Many were the expressions of sorrow and regret, which were in some measure overcome by the gallantry of his death, and the country lost one of its most gifted orators, an eminent statesman and one who would no doubt have become one of its most gallant soldiers.”[2]

Despite the tragic and untimely demise, Corporal Ward remarked that although California “furnished the necessary funds for organizing, uniforming and equipping the brigade...with the death of General Baker at the battle of Ball’s Bluff, in October, 1861, the interest of California in the brigade was gone, Pennsylvania claimed it as her own, and it became known as the Philadelphia Brigade, Second Brigade, Second Division, Second Army Corps.”[3]

As the Philadelphia Brigade earned martial laurels on battlefields throughout the rebellion’s Eastern Theater, President Lincoln attempted to aid at least one of Baker’s heirs. Like Abraham’s and Mary Todd’s second son, Edward Baker Lincoln, the fallen brigade commander’s son was also named in the elder Baker’s honor: Edward Dickinson Baker Jr. (Eddie Lincoln died in 1850, a month shy of his fourth birthday.)

On May 26, 1862, Lincoln sent a message to Pennsylvania Gov. Andrew Curtin, inquiring about the possibility of a military promotion for Baker the younger, then a second lieutenant in the Fourth U.S. Cavalry.

“The bearer of this, Edward D. Baker, is the son of my very dear friend Col. Baker, who fell at Ball’s Bluff,” wrote Lincoln. “He thinks you might be induced to make him a field officer in a Pennsylvania Regiment. Disclaiming all wish to interfere in a matter so purely belonging to you and your State, I still say I would be much pleased if he could be obliged.”[4]

Two days later, Curtin replied. “Your letter by Lieutenant Baker was handed me yesterday,” wrote the Keystone State’s chief executive. “I have every desire to give the young gentleman a place in one of our Pennsylvania regiments not only from my respect to the memory of his father but my disposition to oblige you personally.”

But, “I make all appointments...from the men in service and wherever possible in the order of seniority,” Curtin continued. “To make an exception to my order the application must come from the regiment and I have advised Lieut. Baker to a course in reference to places now, or soon to be vacant in the California regiment under which I have reason to hope he will soon receive a commission.” Two months later, on July 17, 1862, Edward Baker Jr. earned an advancement to first lieutenant in the Regular U.S. Army, though he “did not receive an appointment from Curtin.”[5]

The following January and February, Lincoln again sought recognition for Baker Jr., who the president touted as “Adjutant of the Regiment” and a veteran of “the battle of Perryville, and Murfreesboro” who “now wishes to be a Commissary with the rank of Captain.” On those occasions, Lincoln hoped to fill “one of the places or vacancies created by” a recently passed legislative act “to promote the efficiency of the commissary department.” By the end of February, Lincoln additionally informed Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs, “What I said within for Lieutenant Baker to be a Commissary I now say for him to be a Quarter Master.”[6]

Lincoln’s advice worked once more. On March 13, 1863, the lieutenant earned an appointment as a U.S. Army captain and assistant quartermaster. He operated in that role through the remainder of the Civil War, and into the decades that followed, leading to another promotion, this time to major, in 1879.

Edward Baker Jr. died on January 25, 1883, in his mid-forties, his exact age unknown, still serving as chief quartermaster of the U.S. Department of the Columbia. According to one eulogy printed by the Vancouver Independent in his adopted home state of Washington, at the time of his death, Baker remained “one of the biggest hearted men in the United States Army....Active, energetic and intelligent in the performance of his duties he was an efficient and valuable officer in all cases of emergency.”[7]


[1] Abraham Lincoln to Carl Schurz, Nov. 24, 1862, in Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler (Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), vol. 5, p. 510; George McClellan to Abraham Lincoln, quoted in William Roscoe Thayer, Life and Letters of John Hay (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1908; reprint, 1920), vol. 1, p. 122.

[2] Joseph R.C. Ward, History of the One Hundred and Sixth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers (Philadelphia: F. McManus, Jr. & Co., 1906), p. 11.

[4] Lincoln to Andrew G. Curtin, May 26, 1862, in Basler, Collected Works, vol. 5, p. 239.

[5] Curtin to Lincoln, May 28, 1862, in Basler, Collected Works, vol. 5, p. 239, n. 1.

[6] Lincoln to Joseph P. Taylor, Jan. 31, 1863, in Collected Works, vol. 6, p. 86; Lincoln to Taylor, c. Feb. 5, 1863, in Basler, Collected Works, vol. 6, p. 94; Lincoln to Montgomery C. Meigs, Feb. 27, 1863, in Collected Works, vol. 6, p. 119.

[7] Vancouver Independent (Vancouver, WA), Feb. 1, 1883, p. 5, column 2.



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