Franklin, William Buel
, Group of Incoming Letters to General William Buel Franklin, of York, Pennsylvania, Civil Engineer, Veteran of the Mexican and Civil Wars, 1867-1887

33 letters, 74 manuscript pages, 1867-1887, also includes 9 newspaper clippings, either obituaries, or stories about General Franklin’s correspondents.

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William Buel Franklin (1823-1903)


       William Buel Franklin was born on February 27, 1823 in York, Pennsylvania. He attended West Point from 1839 to 1843, graduating first in his class. He was then assigned to the U.S Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, supervising many projects, including mapping expeditions, the construction of lighthouses, and the construction of the Capitol dome in Washington D.C.


        While serving in the Mexican War in 1847, under future Union General Philip Kearny, Franklin was promoted to brevet first lieutenant for his actions in the Battle of Buena Vista.


       When the Civil War began in 1861, Franklin was a natural choice for command, and he led a brigade at the Battle of First Manassas, a division during the beginning of the Peninsula Campaign, and was a corps commander by the time of the Seven Days Battles. Franklin had a close relationship with General George McClellan, and it was perhaps due to their comradeship more than personal skill, that Franklin rose through the ranks so quickly.


       Franklin’s performance in battle was far from stellar. During Second Manassas he was charged by General John Pope with failure to obey orders, and he also failed to relieve the garrison at Harper’s Ferry before it was captured by General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson on September 16, 1862, just prior to the battle of Antietam. After General Ambrose Burnside took command of the army in November 1862, he appointed Franklin commander of the “Left Grand Division” during the battle of Fredericksburg.


       At the time, some government officials blamed the defeat of Union forces at Fredericksburg on Franklin’s failure to aggressively attack the Confederate right flank, which led to a total repulse of federal troops. It is believed by historians, that Franklin may have misinterpreted Burnside’s orders and not committed enough men to the initial attack. This decision would come back to haunt him.


       After the battle, Franklin went on the offensive against Burnside and proposed another campaign plan directly to President Lincoln without Burnside’s approval. When the news of this reached Burnside, he removed Franklin from his command. Shortly afterwards, however, Burnside himself was removed from command by Lincoln. Franklin was called to testify at the Joint Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War, where he was subsequently blamed for the failure at Fredericksburg.


       Reassigned to a corps command in Louisiana, Franklin again saw defeat in the Battle of Sabine Pass in Texas on September 8, 1863. This served as another bad mark on Franklin’s record. He then took part in the Red River Campaign in Louisiana and was wounded at the battle of Sabine Crossroads in April 1864. While returning from the field in July, Franklin was taken prisoner when the train he was traveling on was captured by Confederate partisans. Although hindered by his leg wound, Franklin managed to escape when his guard fell asleep.


        Franklin was never given another command during the war, and in 1866 he resigned from the army. He moved to Hartford, Connecticut and became general manager of the Colt Firearms Manufacturing Company. He also continued in engineering, supervising the construction of Connecticut’s Capitol building. In 1872 he was asked to run for President of the United States on the Democratic ticket, but declined. His retirement years were spent serving on the board of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. William Franklin died on March 8, 1903, and was buried in Pennsylvania.


       Description of Correspondence


       Many of the letters in the collection discuss business or politics. Besides being an engineer, Franklin also appears to have been involved in various financial investments, railroads etc. All of the letters were written after the Civil War (1867-1887), many of them were written by veterans of the Mexican and Civil Wars, and sometimes veterans of both.

       Of the 33 letters in the collection, 5 were written by Rear Admiral Daniel Ammen (1820-1898). Ammen was a U.S. naval officer during the American Civil War and the postwar period, as well as a prolific author. He was a boyhood friend of President U.S. Grant and served in the U.S Navy from 1836-1868. He was in charge of the Bureau of Yards and Docks and the Bureau of Navigation (1868-1878), and served as Secretary of the Isthmian Canal Commission (1872-1876). He was also an advocate of a Nicaraguan canal route, a representative of the U.S. at the Interoceanic Canal Congress in Paris (1879), and designer of the Ammen ram. His letters discuss a case involving General Franklin’s brother as well as Ammen’s discussion of the canal.

       Some of the other notable correspondents in the collection are:

       Lt. Charles Braden (1848-1919), West Point grad, 7th Cavalry with Custer, wounded prior to Little Bighorn.

       W. C. Church (1836-1917) Civil War veteran, author, publisher United States Army & Naval Journal

       Dr. Henry Coppee (1821-1895), Lehigh University President and Mexican War veteran

      John Schuyler Crosby (1839-1914) Civil War officer, Governor Montana Territory, U.S. Consul

      General James B. Fry (1827-1894) Mexican and Civil War officer, author of historical books

       Hon. James Gallagher (1820-1896), Connecticut legislator, Chairman Democratic State Central Committee of Connecticut

       Abram S. Hewitt (1822-1903) Mayor of New York

      Col. Wickham Hoffman (1821-1900) Civil War veteran, diplomat, Minister to Denmark

      William Henry Hurlbert (1827-1895) journalist, author

      Kilburn Knox (1842-1891) Civil War officer, worked for Schuyler, Hartley & Graham, military suppliers

      James W. Latta (1839-) lawyer, Civil War veteran, Clerk of Quarter Sessions, Philadelphia

      Dr. John T. Metcalf (1818-1902) West Point graduate, eminent consultant and medical educator

      Sylvester Mowry (1830-1871) Arizona explorer, author

      Col. A. L. Rives (1830-1903) engineer and Confederate officer

      General Wm. F. “Baldy” Smith (1824-1903) Civil War General

      General Wm. P. Trowbridge (1828-1892) engineer, military officer, naturalist

        Richard M. Upjohn (1828-1903) architect, son of architect Richard Upjohn, Connecticut State Capitol architect

        Sample Quotations

        [8 July 1867]

         “My dear General,

               I thank you very much for your kind letter, and I am very sorry that you were committed to [McMahon]. I shall give him and all the rest “the best fight I have got” and it is no small one. I wanted your help because I loved you at West Point and even tried but some how my d—d luck for there … makes me miss the very thing I could have had if I had asked a moment before … Always yours, Sylvester Mowry.”

        “March 7th [1868]

            Dear Franklin,

               I send you stock & dividend. I go alone & shall be back about the middle of May. I am staying at the Brevoort with my wife till I sail. I am “most froze” to see you. I will bet 100 to 1 against Andy in this business & only hope his sacrifice will bust the Radicals. I stand ready to vote tomorrow for Vallandigham.  Give my best regards to your wife. Direct to me in London care of the Legation. I hope to go as official agnt.

       Yrs ever, Wm. F. Smith”

       “Democratic State Central Committee of Connecticut, New Haven, Sept. 10, 1868

        My dear Sir,

            The campaign must begin at once. The contest, sharp, quick & decisive that this may be done we must have the sinews of war. Please recruit what you are expected to give promptly in order that we may move on the enemy at once. Care must not only belong to the Union but the Democratic party too… Yours in faith, James Gallagher”

       “New York 29 Nov /71

        My dear Gen’l,

           I find that in all probability the financial troubles of the Mobile & New Orleans R. R. will come to an end in a day or two. The question of President is now up, and in consequence of our conversation last night. I have enlisted for you the good will of a gentlemen daily consulted in the matter & himself a large stockholder and ex-director. If on further consideration you would really like the position, I feel almost assured from what I have just heard, that you can secure it.

           If I am to remain in that section, it would be a source of real pleasure to learn that such offers were made you as would justify your acceptance. I should have mentioned that the great difficulty encountered heretofore, by the Mobile & New Orleans R.R., has been the opposition of Morgan of New Orleans. This, I understand, will soon be withdrawn, & he will become shortly a large stockholder in the railroad.                              

Very Truly yours, A. L. Rives”

        “Association of Graduates of the United States Military Academy, West Point, NY Aug 4, 1886

        Gen. Franklin,

        Dear Sir,


            The printer informs me that the lowest price at which he can print fifty copies of the McClellan pamphlet, similar to those sent you, will be eight dollars. Fifty copies will cost within 50 cents as much as 25, the main expense being the type setting. If you wish to get them at the above price, I can have them done inside of two weeks.

Yours very truly, Charles Braden, Lieut. U.S.A.”