Case Study    

John Singer Sargent's

"Portrait of General Lucius Fairchild"

Before Treatment

Biographical History:

Lucius Fairchild
    Early Years: "The Lure of Adventure"
Lucius Fairchild was born in Kent, Ohio on December 27, 1831, to Jairus Cassius Fairchild and Sally Blair Fairchild.(1) His father worked numerous odd jobs and was often away from home. In 1846 Lucius and his family moved to Madison, Wisconsin. School was never the young boy's love. In fact, he was expelled from several institutions for fighting and pranks. In 1849, he decided to leave home and seek the lure of adventure in the California gold rush. The hard outdoor living provided experiences that proved invaluable throughout his life.
In order to augment his meager gold earnings, Fairchild invested in a number of businesses. He had numerous partners in farming and cattle ventures. It had occurred to him that possibly there was more money in feeding the prospectors than being one. With enough money in his pocket, the young Lucius sold all of his business claims and, in 1855, he left California for New York before arriving back in Madison. On his return he was held in high regard as a successful "gold man" although his earnings were now being wasted on "the good life" of youth. Lucius was not able to hold a steady job and, in 1858, he decided to try politics. As a Democrat, he was elected Clerk of Dane County although he was defeated in his attempt for a second term. Though not a Republican, Fairchild agreed with Lincoln's handling of the Fort Sumter situation. He now saw a very different lure on the horizon.

Fairchild as a Young Man
   Military Years: "Where is the 2nd?"
In 1858, Fairchild joined a volunteer militia known as the "governor's guard."(2) Under his guidance the guard was titled Company K, 1st Wisconsin volunteers and, by 1861, Fairchild had risen from private to captain. In 1861, the company fought at Falling Waters against the "Stonewall Brigade" of Thomas Jackson. In August Fairchild was appointed captain of the 16th US Regulars and major of the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry. Electing to stay with the 2nd, he was soon commissioned lieutenant colonel. Fairchild participated in early actions leading to the second battle of Bull Run.
In September of 1862, he was promoted to full colonel. At this time the 2nd Infantry was brigaded with the 6th and 7th Wisconsin Infantry, the 19th Indiana Infantry and the 24th Michigan Infantry and earned the well-deserved reputation, "The Iron Brigade." It was this brigade that met Jackson and his Confederate troops at Gainesville and Manassas. At one point, although sick, Fairchild was lifted to his horse and led his regiment in hand-to-hand conflict. After the battle, not realizing the heavy losses that his unit had sustained, he questioned his major, "Where is the 2nd?"(3) Of the original 430 men in his unit, 286 had been killed or wounded. A few days later, the survivors, Fairchild, the Iron Brigade and other Union troops pursued Robert E. Lee and met the superior Confederate forces at South Mountain and again at Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg. This latter battle ranks as one of the bloodiest battles of the war. A total of 23,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed in one day. Fairchild's regiment was further reduced from 144 to 18.
He returned to Wisconsin to recruit a new regiment. He spoke out against the South and reviled sympathizers as traitors. He publicly aligned himself with the Republican party and its cause, and is quoted as saying. "I only hope this will be a war of exterminating. I hope never to be ordered to take a prisoner."(4) With his new Wisconsin 2nd, Fairchild led his men into battle at Fredericksburg. A turning point in Fairchild's life was soon to take place. In June of 1863, his regiment was moving toward Gettysburg.
It was here that Union forces under General George Meade and the Confederate army under Robert E . Lee met in what was to become the pivotal battle of the Civil War. On July 1st the Wisconsin 2nd was caught in a surprise attack by the Confederate infantry. Lucius' left arm was shattered by a rifle shot and he was quickly transported to a near-by home where his left arm was amputated just above the elbow. The Wisconsin 2nd once again suffered devastating losses. Only 40 men survived from the "original" 273-man unit.
Realizing his military days were over, Fairchild returned to Wisconsin to convalesce. Shortly thereafter he was rewarded for his gallant service to the Union. President Lincoln commissioned him brigadier-general of volunteers on October 19, 1863.

Colonel of the 2nd Wisconsin

Union Dead at Gettysburg
Where Fairchild was Wounded
  Gubernatorial Years:
"The Office Must Seek the Man"
Fairchild returned to Wisconsin a hero, his "empty sleeve" a mute symbol of his courage and sacrifice. He was immediately seen as a political candidate by the Republican party, and was nominated for Secretary of State in 1863. He routinely campaigned in full military uniform. Rallying around the flag and the soldiers, he was easily elected.
He worked tirelessly for soldiers' families to compensate them for their sacrifice to the Union. As part of his political fervor, he organized Wisconsin Republican voters which helped carry the state for Lincoln in the 1864 Presidential election. With the end of the Civil War in 1865, Fairchild was seen as the people's and soldiers' choice for the prestigious position of Governor of Wisconsin. In his acceptance speech at the Republican nominating convention he bowed to popular will and stated, "The office must seek the man."(5) He garnered almost 55% of the 1866 popular vote campaigning largely on a platform of "loyal blue versus traitor grey."
His political popularity was granitized when, at the 1868 Republican National Convention in Chicago, he was chosen to nominate Ulysses S. Grant as the Republican party's Presidential nominee. Always focusing on the "loyalty issue," Fairchild now carried Wisconsin for Grant as well as his own bid for a second term as Governor. At this time he turned his attention to the growth of his home state as a link between the East and West. He worked to improve shipping on the Fox and Wisconsin rivers and encouraged the expansion of railroad transportation. These internal-improvement programs and his "empty sleeve" were cornerstones of his unprecedented bid for a third term in office which he won in 1870 with a 53% margin.

Fairchild as Governor With His Wife

Diplomatic Years: "I don't Care Much for Dignity"
In 1872, Fairchild decided not to run for a fourth term as Governor. Instead he lobbied President Grant for a diplomatic position. This was granted and in December of 1872, he became U.S. Consul in Liverpool, England. He worked largely on trade negotiations and labor disputes and maintained an active social life. In 1878, much to Fairchild"s surprise for he spoke no French, the Secretary of State in the Hayes administration appointed him Consul-General in Paris. The following year he was transferred to Spain where he became Minister Plenipotentiary. This position had more social responsibility than administrative and in 1881, at the age of 50, President Rutherford B. Hayes accepted Fairchild's resignation. After ten years in Europe he returned home again.

Consul and Mrs. Fairchild
with Friends

Statesman Years: "The Whole Town Was There"
In February of 1882 Fairchild arrived in New York and, after a few days, returned to Madison. It was as if the whole town was there to greet him. Surrounded by his old supporters, who encouraged him to re-enter the political theater, he put his name in for the vacant Senatorial position. But time had moved on. The Civil War seemed distant to a whole generation and "waving the bloody shirt" did more harm than good. He was easily defeated.
It was from this defeat that Fairchild turned his interests toward becoming a national statesman for the "boys in blue." It was the world he knew. In 1884 he was elected Commander of the Wisconsin Commandery of the Loyal Legion, whose members were restricted to officers of the Union. He attended all state Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) functions and quickly rose up the ranks of the organization. A closer study of the GAR will be outlined later in this case study. In February of 1886, he was elected Deputy Commander of the Wisconsin GAR and, at the 20th National Encampment, he was elected to the organization's top position, National Commander-in-Chief.
Fairchild's soul was burning when President Cleveland approved the return of all captured Confederate flags to their respective states. At a New York GAR meeting on June 15, 1887, he made a defiant verbal retaliation, "May God palsy the hand that wrote the order! May God palsy the brain that conceived it! And may God palsy the tongue that dictated it!"(6) Fairchild saw the flags as symbols of treason and their return denied the very meaning of the Union cause. The speech was picked up by every newspaper in America forcing Cleveland to withdraw his order.

Fairchild in 1887
Final Years: "I'm glad to be out of politics"
In 1889, President Harrison appointed Fairchild to his final governmental position, Chairman of the Cherokee Commission. The Commission negotiated unsuccessfully the purchase of current Oklahoma land from the Cherokee Nation. After nine months, Fairchild resigned his position and returned to Madison. He continued his GAR work throughout Wisconsin, attended all of the National Encampment meetings and was a member of the organization's pension committee. In 1893 he was elected Commander-in-Chief of the Loyal Legion, a position he held until November of 1895.
Fairchild took up the cause of state education. He served on a Board for the University of Wisconsin and lobbied for a bill to provide funds for a library for the joint use of the University and the State Historical Society. He was often sought out for speaking engagements and become a willing lecturer on the Civil War. Although "old soldiers never die," Lucius Fairchild passed away on May 23, 1896. His funeral procession was attended by thousands of individuals including politicians, state officials, and "the boys in blue." He is buried alongside his wife in Forest Hill Cemetery, Madison, Wisconsin.

An Old Soldier
(1) The author owes credit to Sam Ross The Empty Sleeve 1964 Worzalla Publishing Company, Stevens Point, Wisconsin for all of the biographical information on Lucius Fairchild. This sole text on Fairchild, funded through the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, is a dramatic and captivating account of the life and times of the Civil War hero. Other biographical information taken from Stephen Michaels, Past Department Commander, Department of Wisconsin, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. All images from the collection of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
(2) Ross. Ibid. p. 23.
(3) Ross. Ibid. p. 45.
(4) Ross. Ibid. p. 47.
(5) Ross. Ibid. p. 71
(6) Ross. Ibid. p. 207.
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