GEN.   WILLIAM   DUEL   FRANKLIN, ex-major-general of United States volunteers, and ex-president of the board of managers of the National Home for disabled volunteer soldiers, as well as vice-president of the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection & Insurance Co., was born in York, Penn., Feb. 27, 1823, a son of Walter S. and Sarah ( Buel) Franklin.
     Walter S. Franklin, who was clerk of the United States House of Representatives at the time of his death, in 1838, was a son of Thomas Franklin, of Philadelphia, who was commissary of prisoners during the war of the Revolution, and who married Mary Rhoads, daughter of Samuel Rhodes, a member from Pennsylvania of the First Continental Congress, although the family came from Flushing, L. I. Mrs. Walter S. Franklin was a daughter of Dr. William Buel, of Litchfield, Conn., and a descendant of Peter Buel, of Windsor. 
     William B. Franklin in June, 1839, secured an appointment as cadet in the United States Military Academy at West Point, N. Y., passed through the curriculum, and was brevetted second lieutenant of topographical engineers in July, 1843. The following two years he passed in the service on the western lakes and the Rocky Mountains, and after the third year, passed in the topographical office at Washington, D. C., he was appointed second lieutenant, Sept. 1, 1846. His first actual experience as a soldier was had in the Mexican war, and for gallant and meritorious conduct at the battle of Buena Vista he was promoted to first lieutenant Feb. 23, 1847. From July, 1848, to January, 1851, he was assistant professor of natural and experimental phi-losophy at the Military Academy at West Point, and the following two years he was on active duty along the Atlantic, building light-houses on the New Hampshire and Maine coasts. He was commissioned first lieutenant of topographical engineers March 3, 1853, and until 1857 was on duty in connection with lighthouse and custom-house engineering. In March, 1857, he was appointed secretary of the lighthouse board; in October of the same year he was commissioned captain of topographical enigineers; in November, 1859, was appointed superintendent of the Capitol and Post Office buildings; and in March, 1861, was appointed supervising architect of the Treasury Department at Washington. D.C.
     In the terrible conflict, between the North and South Gen. Franklin gained undying fame for himself. Commissioned colonel of the 12th United States Infantry May 14, 1861, he was elevated three days later to the rank of brigadier-general, United States volunteers. In the Manassas campaign, and at the battle of Bull Run, he was in command of a brigade, and until March, 1862, he was in command of divisions about the defense of the Capitol. He also took an honorable part in the Virginia peninsular campaign, and on June 30. 1862, was brevetted brigadier-general of the United States army "for gallant and meritorious conduct" in the battle before Richmond, Va., and was appointed major-general of volunteers on July 4, 1862.
     In the Maryland campaign the General was in command of the 6th Army Corps, and in the battle of South Mountain, Sept. 14, 1862, commanded the left wing of the Army of the Potomac, carrying Crampton's Gap by assault, and gaining a signal victory. He commanded the 6th Corps in the battle of Antietam, Sept. 17, 1862. While on sick leave of absence in the summer of 1864 Gen. Franklin was sent for by Gen. Grant to come to his headquar-ters in front of Petersburg. After spending some days with Gen. Grant, he started to return to his family, then in Portland, Maine. The train on which he started from Baltimore was captured by Major Harry Gilmore's party a short distance from Baltimore. Some one informed Major Gilmore that Gen. Franklin was on the train, and he was at once taken prisoner and started South by the way of Towson and Green Spring Valley in Baltimore county.  During the night he succeeded in making his escape, and he wandered for forty-eight hours without food, not daring to approach any habitation. At last, almost exhausted, he came to a house and asked for food. It proved to be the home of a Union sympathizer named Bitzer, who received, fed and concealed the General for a time. Word was sent to Baltimore, and a large force of infantry was sent to give him safe conduct to that city. 
     Gen. Franklin commanded the left wing of the Army of the Potomac Dec. 13, 1862, when the army was disastrously defeated at Fredericksburg. Of that defeat, and the responsibility therefor unjustly laid on Gen. Franklin, we can best speak by quoting from a paper recently published by Col. Jacob L. Greene, himself a veteran of the Civil war, and an honored resident of Hartford. This paper, with a map specially drawn for the purpose, on which the movements of the troops are traced, was first presented to the Monday Evening Club, and has since been given to the public—a valuable contribution to history and a complete vindication of Gen. Franklin by one competent to undertake such a task and carry it to completion. In opening Col. Greene says:

     On the 13th day of December, 1862, the Army of the Potomac, under the command of Major-Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside, fought the battle of Fredericksburg, and met defeat with the loss of over 12,000 men. Four months later the Congressional Committee on the conduct of the war uttered its opinion to the world that Major-Gen. William Buel Franklin was responsible for the loss of that battle in consquence of his disobedience to the orders of Gen. Burnside. Probably no finding ever announced by that remarkable body ever occasioned more surprise; and none was ever more promptly and completely controverted; but it darked the soul and marred the career of the man it falsely and infamously accused. The slow pen of history has cleared up and will ever more surely clear his pure fame, and his name will stand secure among the posterities.    But for us, whose  lives have happily touched his through the long years since those eventful days, and to whom his rare intelligence, his dauntless heart and perfect truth and lovalty are as familiar as the constant stars, it is but a due tribute from our friendship and our  faith in a manhood that we have never seen fail in  any test, to read again the story of that disastrous day, note his part and bearing therein, and the cause and the manner of that cruel and wanton injustice; to learn how it came to be that the true patriot, the trained soldier, devoted to his profession, proud  to bear its high obligations and  jealous of  its honor, who won distinction on every  field of  action, whose wide knowledge, great skill, clear, sound judgment, and transparent sincerity made him the constant and trusted counsellor  of every superior and the reliable lieutenant of every commander, who shared the brunt at Bull Run, who fought the rear-guard battles from Chickahominy to the James, and held the pass of White Oak Swamp against half Lee's army on the critical day of Glendale, who won at Crampton's Gap "the completest victory gained up to that time by any part of the Army of the Potomac" -- to learn how it came to be that this man was accused of that to which  his every quality and act gave the absolute lie.

     Continuing Col. Greene describes the battle and actions of the various generals, Burnside's inexplicable conduct, etc., the continued confidence between Gens. Burnside and Franklin for several weeks after the battle, Burnside's resignation and the relieving of Gen. Franklin from command, and the hearing by the Congressional Committee, and closes as follows:

     When the committee visited Fredericksburg and Franklin was summoned before it, he asked Burnside if he had given or would give them a copy of the order under which he acted on the l3th, considering that all such orders should come from the commander issuing them. General Burnside assured him that he had already furnished the committee with a copy of it, and General Franklin gave his testimony throughout upon the faith of that word and upon the sup-position that in considering his action the committee had before them and in their minds the order which governed him. But in this he was betrayed. Gen. Burnside never gave them the order or any inkling of it. They never heard of it until months afterward, and too late to prevent the utterance of their damnatory judgment of the man whose great opportunity and great purpose greatly planned that order wholly destroyed.
     Four main points stand out distinct and clear: The only proper battlefield at Fredericksburg was the ground on which Franklin and Jackson confronted each other; the force at Franklin's disposal ought to have been used to adequate and decisive results; his own apprehension of both these facts was perfect, and his accordant scheme of operation was proportioned to both the opportunity and the resistance; at no point of time or of action was it Gen. Franklin's fault that, despite his urgent entreaty, his force was not allowed to essay its proper task on that day.

     In June, 1863, Gen. Franklin was ordered to the Department of the Gulf, and served in Texas and Louisiana until April, 1864, when he succumbed to a wound received at the battle of Sabine Cross Roads (where two horses were shot under him), and was given his first leave of absence, until November of the same year. From December, 1864, to November, 1865, Gen. Franklin was president of the board for retiring disabled officers at Washington, D. C., and in March, 1865, he received additional honor, being brevetted major-general of the United States army. He resigned his commission and retired to private life in November, 1865. In the various trying positions in which Gen. Franklin was placed, he always acquitted himself with honor, and his military record is one of which he has just cause to be proud.
     Selecting Hartford as his future place of resi-dence, the General came to this city in 1865. In November of that year he was chosen vice-president and general manager of the Colt's Patent Fire Arms Co., and retained that position until April, 1888. In 1868 he was elected president of the board of visitors of the United States Military Academy at West Point; was selected as the most suitable person to act as president of the commission for the erection of the new Connecticut State House, in 1872-73; was consulting engineer from 1873 to 1877, and superintendent of construction from 1877 to March, 1880. The magnificent Capitol is now the pride of the citizens of the State, and it is a remarkable fact that the cost of erection was kept within the appropriations made by the Legislature. In all the details of construction Gen. Franklin's controlling hand could be felt, and his vigilance was never relaxed.
     For fifteen years, from 1872 to 1887, Gen. Frank-lin was a member of the board of water commissioners of Hartford, and here his experience as an engineer was useful on numerous occasions; and at the Centennial Exhibition he was chairman of the committee of judges on Engineering and Architecture.
     In 1872 the National Independent Democratic Conventions of New Jersey and Pennsylvania telegraphed Gen. Franklin, asking if he would accept the nomination for President of the United States, to run against Horace Greeley. The General declined, stating as his reason that to defeat Greeley the party must stand as a unit, and concentrate its power. In 1876 he was chosen one of the Presidential electors on the Democratic ticket, and took part in the convention which nominated Samuel J. Tilden. From 1877 to 1879 he was adjutant-general of the State of Connecticut, and from July, 1880, to 1900, was president of the board of managers of the National Home for disabled soldiers.
     Additional honors awaited him. In June, 1888, he was appointed commissioner-general for the United States at the International Exposition at Paris, France, and in October of the following year he received the appointment of grand officer of the French Legion of Honor, a high compliment, and the only one of the kind to be paid an American. His miniature and insignia of the Legion of Honor have been accepted to appear on the "Cullom Memorial" now being erected at West Point Academy. A member of the New York Commandery of the Legion of Honor, the General was for several years its commander. He is a member of the Cinicinnati; Sons of the American Revolution; Sons of Colonial Wars; R. O. Tyler Post, No. 50, Grand Army of the Republic; and of the Army and Navy Club. He still retains his hold on the business world, and is vice-president of the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection & Insurance Co.; a director of the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Co., of the National Fire Insurance Co., of Hartford, of Colt's Fire Arms Co., and of the Panama Railroad Co., New York.
     That Gen. Franklin attained high rank as an engineer is evidenced by his various deserved promotions. No man could have risen to the rank of major-general in the Civil war unless he was a born leader of men, and unless he had rare capacity for handling large bodies of troops. Returning to pri-vate life, unless he had executive ability of the highest order, combined with a superabundance of practical common sense, no man could be the controlling spirit of an immense corporation for over twenty years. Unless he was popular in the truest and best sense of the word, no man could have filled the honorable positions which have been awarded to Gen. Franklin without any seeking on his part.
     Gen. Franklin was married, July 7, 1852, to Anna L. Clarke, daughter of Matthew St. Clair and Hannah B. Clarke, of Washington, D. C. Mrs. Franklin died July 17, 1900, at the age of seventy-six years, at the home in Hartford, after an illness of about one year. They had no children.

(Photo attached)
 
 



Commemorative
Biographical Record
of
Hartford County,
Connecticut

Illustrated

Chicago

J. H. Beers & Co.

1901

pgs 4 - 6

HARTFORD COUNTY BIOGRAPHIES
pages / text are copyrighted by
Elaine Kidd O'Leary
May 2002

Connecticut Biographies Home Page
Hartford County Bio. Home Page