January 1, 1864: Albion Tourgee is discharged from the Union Army.
Albion Tourgee is one Ohio writer who deserves to be better known. Tourgee was a novelist, lawyer, soldier, and judge who made much of his life’s work the advancement of black Americans. Tourgee went south after the Civil War and was one of the much-disparaged “carpetbagger” Northerners who were part of the Reconstruction effort. He is best remembered for his novel A Fool’s Errand, which details the life of a former Union officer and
his family in the Reconstruction south. Tourgee will be the subject of future posts, but on this occasion I would just like to take note of his military career, as Tourgee was one of only a handful of American authors of note who served in the war.
Tourgee, who was born in Williamsfield, Ohio in Ashland County, first joined a company of dragoons formed by a mathematics professor at the University of Rochester in New York. He was later transferred to the 27th New York Volunteers. Tourgee was at the First Battle of Bull Run and was struck in the back by a gun carriage wheel, causing a serious back injury that kept him bedridden for months and plagued him the rest of his life. Granted an honorable discharge, he returned home to Ohio to study law.
Tourgee strengthened as the months passed, and he wanted to return to the service. By July of 1862 Tourgee had recovered sufficiently to join Company G of the 105th Ohio Volunteers and received a first lieutenant’s commission. Tourgee and his unit were in Kentucky from July through October of 1862, and he fought in the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky on October 8, 1862. Tourgee was once again injured, this time by a bullet wound to his hip, and he spent the rest of October and November in a hospital in Danville, Kentucky. He then rejoined his company, which was busy chasing Confederate General John Hunt Morgan, and Tourgee was captured by Morgan and his men near Murfreesboro, Tennessee in January of 1863.
He spent the next few months in a series of Confederate prisons, including the infamous Libby Prison in Virginia. Despite the harshness of prison life, Tourgee was still able to feed his mind, reading Cervantes and Thomas Carlyle.
After several months confinement he was released and returned north. (It was not uncommon in the early years of the war to have paroles and prisoner exchanges. This changed as the war went on, in part contributing to the overcrowding and misery at places such as Andersonville). Not long after his return to Ohio, Tourgee married Emma Doiska Kilbourne on May 14, 1863 in Columbus. But by late May Tourgee was headed back to the front, noting in his journal on May 25 that “To-day I left for the war again.” He rejoined his company as they readied for the Chattanooga campaign. Tourgee saw his last action of the war at the Battle of Chickamauga in September of 1863. Recurrent back problems led to his being discharged from the service.
Tourgee later tried to rejoin once again, hoping to obtain an officer’s commission in a black regiment, but the war ended. Tourgee would go on to become an editor, a lawyer, a judge, U.S. counsel to Bourdeaux, France, and the author of 23 books. One of those would be a history of old comrades: The Story of a Thousand, Being a History of the Service of the 105th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, in the War for the Union from August 21, 1862 to June 6, 1865.
Albion Tourgee died in Bourdeaux, France on May 21, 1905 at the age of 67. His ashes were interred at the Mayville Cemetery in Mayville, New York.