American Scoundrel: The Life of the Notorious Civil War General Dan Sickles
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Hero, adulterer, bon vivant, murderer and rogue, Dan Sickles led the kind of existence that was indeed stranger than fiction. Throughout his life he exhibited the kind of exuberant charm and lack of scruple that wins friends, seduces women, and gets people killed. In American Scoundrel Thomas Keneally, the acclaimed author of Schindler’s List, creates a biography that is as lively and engrossing as its subject.
Dan Sickles was a member of Congress, led a controversial charge at Gettysburg, and had an affair with the deposed Queen of Spain—among many other women. But the most startling of his many exploits was his murder of Philip Barton Key (son of Francis Scott Key), the lover of his long-suffering and neglected wife, Teresa. The affair, the crime, and the trial contained all the ingredients of melodrama needed to ensure that it was the scandal of the age. At the trial’s end, Sickles was acquitted and hardly chastened. His life, in which outrage and accomplishment had equal force, is a compelling American tale, told with the skill of a master narrative.
than most how to handle Stanton’s brusqueness, and hoped for good things from it. But he was nervous enough about his coming confirmation to approach his friend Wikoff. My Dear Wikoff: What is the news? Of course I am exceedingly anxious to know what the Senate is doing. . .. Did Mrs. L. [Lincoln] think of the senators? Remember me to her very cordially. As for the soldiers he commanded, Dan assured the chevalier that the Excelsior definitely wanted him for their general. Except for a
Confederate right. Given that screens of woods obscured a clear view of the battlefield even by daylight, many men felt a night attack was as good as a day one. Birney’s men rolled forward and recaptured many of the rifle pits abandoned by the Eleventh Corps, together with a number of cannon. Dan seemed to have had a glittering success. Early the next morning, the Sabbath, May 3, Hooker visited Sickles and looked over the position at Hazel Grove. Dan urged Hooker to let him hold this higher
years past. He declared that the haphazard, state-by-state management of this holiest of battlefields should be now given to the undivided control of the federal government, and he resolved that he would stand for Congress with this issue as one of his chief platforms. To coincide with the unveiling of the monument, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his part in the battle, for having displayed “most conspicuous gallantry on the field, vigorously contesting the advance of the enemy and
1908. Myers, Gustavus. The History of Tammany Hall. New York, 1901. Nichols, Thomas Lowe. Forty Years of American Life. New York, 1969. Nicolay, John G., and Hay, John. Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln. 12 vols. New York, 1905. Petre, F. Lorraine. The Republic of Colombia. London, 1906. Pfanz, Harry W. The Battle of Gettysburg. Conshohocken, Pa., 1994. Pinchon, Edgcumb. Dan Sickles, Hero of Gettysburg and “Yankee King of Spain.” New York, 1945. Plante, Ellen E. The Victorian Home.
him as an Apollo, out of his militia uniform, Key was a sandy-haired, tall, languid fellow of thirty-nine whom people tended to call by his second name, Barton. In the recent years of his widowerhood, before his meeting that night with Teresa Sickles reinvigorated his life, he had sometimes been careless with dress, occasionally coming to dinner with a riding whip under his arm, or appearing at formal occasions still dressed in the top boots and leather leggings he had worn when riding. Barton