Albion Tourgee was born on this date—May 2—in 1838 in Williamsfield, Ohio, located in Ashtabula County. He became known in his lifetime not only as a novelist, but also as a judge, lawyer, soldier, and diplomat. He was educated at Kingsville Academy in Ohio and the University of Rochester in New York. When the Civil War broke out, he enlisted in the 27th New York and fought at the first Battle of Bull Run, in which he suffered a severe back injury that plagued him the rest of his life. After a period of convalescence he re-enlisted, this time with the 105th Ohio Volunteers. He would go on to serve at the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky in October of 1862. He was injured again, this time suffering a bullet wound to his hip. He recovered but was captured several months later near Murfreesboro, Tennessee and languished in a series of Confederate prisons before being paroled. Returned to active duty, he fought at the Battle of Chickamauga in September of 1863 but later injured his back again. He was released from active duty on December 6, 1863, and was officially discharged on January 1, 1864.
After his war service, Tourgee first practiced law in Ohio before moving to Greensboro, North Carolina in 1865. Tourgee would remain there until 1879, working as a pension agent, editor and, most notably, judge of the superior court from 1868-1875. Tourgee was a “carpetbagger,” one of the northerners who moved south after the war to participate in Reconstruction. In North Carolina he was a controversial figure who fought against entrenched anti-Reconstruction southern interests, including the Ku Klux Klan.
In 1881 he settled in Mayville, New York and later served as U.S. counsel in Bordeaux, France. Several years before his return to the north, Tourgee began writing the prose works that eventually included sixteen works of fiction, a history of the 105th Ohio, and assorted legal writings. His novels range from historical fictions and entertainments to works dealing seriously with southern politics and racial issues. Some of his better known works include Figs and Thistles (1879), which includes both treatment of political and financial issues in the North during the war and descriptions of battle; Toinette (1874) which concerns a love story between a southern man and a woman of mixed racial heritage; and A Fool’s Errand (1879), which is likely his best known work. A Fool’s Errand concerns the political education of a northerner who goes south after the war to participate in Reconstruction.
Albion Tourgee died on May 21, 1905, just a few weeks after turning 67 years of age. He is buried in Mayville Cemetery in Mayville, New York,
American Literary Almanac: From 1608 To The Present–edited by Karen L. Rood. Bruccoli Clark Layman, Inc. (1988).
Ohio Authors and their Books 1796-1950. Edited by William Coyle. The World Publishing Company. (1962)
The Unwritten War: American Writers And The Civil War by Daniel Aaron. Oxford University Press (1973).