In Lincoln’s Bold Lion: The Life and Times of Brigadier General Martin Davis Hardin 1837-1923, James T. Huffstodt tells the remarkable story of Union General, Martin D. Hardin.
In his introduction, the author indicated that he was “puzzled and saddened” that such an interesting individual had essentially been forgotten by the passage of time.
It is, unfortunately, seemingly normal for Americans to only glance quickly at our past heroes who helped develop our great country and then to immediately forget their efforts in creating our heritage.
I firmly agree with the author: Brigadier General Martin Davis Hardin was a fascinating individual who served our country on many difficult fields.
Evidently General Hardin came from excellent stock: The author points out that Brigadier General Hardin was descended from our nation’s early pioneer stock, and more specifically from some of those hardy individuals involved in the early westward expansion.
General Hardin’s background includes family members who had been “. . . frontiersmen, soldiers, lawyers and politicians of note since before the American Revolution.” [Pg. 11] General Hardin’s Great Grandfather, “the first John Hardin (1753-1847) served at Valley Forge.
His Grandfather, Martin D. Hardin, a legal scholar, served as a United States Senator from the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
His father, John J. Hardin, a legal scholar, was a friend of Abraham Lincoln who also served during the Black Hawk War.
John J. Hardin, a young lawyer, brought his family to Jacksonville, Illinois in 1831.
Thus he and Abraham Lincoln possibly would have met as each practiced in the Courts of Illinois.
Their backgrounds, however, were completely opposite: John J. Hardin came from a well-to-do family and had been educated in excellent schools.
Abraham Lincoln, was from a poor pioneer family and was primarily self-educated. Yet, the author concludes “[d]espite the yawning gap in their backgrounds, Hardin and Lincoln grew close and developed a mutual respect” [Huffstodt, Pg. 33]. According to Huffstodt, Lincoln first met Mary Todd “. . .at the Hardin home in Jacksonville” [Pg.13].
Abraham Lincoln, as a young man from the seventh generation of Lincolns in America, survived the hardships suffered as the Lincoln family moved continually northward and westward [Blumenthal, Pgs.1-5].
Young Martin Davis Hardin also survived but his survival is associated with the rigorous training and academia of West Point and service on the western frontier.
His military training at West Point and subsequent military service was not the career young Hardin sought.
Like his counterpart in Illinois, young Hardin’s choice would have been a career in law.
From his mother’s family, Martin Davis Hardin was descended from General Ben Logan, a contemporary of Daniel Boone and “legendary” frontiersman. [Huffstodt Pgs. 11-13]
General Hardin’s Father and Mother, “. . . Colonel John J. and Sarah (Smith) Hardin . . .” had moved from Kentucky to Jacksonville, Illinois. Hardin’s years at West Point would have consisted of study, study, and more study coupled with the amazing opportunity to make friends with soon-to-be officers from across the United States.
General Hardin graduated from one of three graduating classes that suffered through West Point’s decision to add an additional year of study to the classes of 1859, 1860, and early 1861.
He probably, as did so many other cadets, walked off several demerits during his years at West Point
Unfortunately, by 1859, there were already difficulties emanating from various portions of the United States.
In February of 1859, Hardin had written Walworth family servant and former slave – Dolly Smith – questioning his army service of three years to offset the “. . . advantage of an education” at West Point [Pg. 88]. His “West Point Education” would provide many future opportunities.
Martin Davis Hardin completed his years at West Point with many others who would soon -- as did our country – sever ties.
Entering The Point as a plebe, young Martin graduated from the West Point Military Academy in 1859 and was commissioned “. . . . a brand new lieutenant of artillery when he was appointed military aide-de-camp to Colonel Robert E. Lee . . .”, following John Brown’s attack at Harper’s Ferry [Pgs. 90-93].
Major Richard Garnett was Lee’s Second-in-Command at the Point during General Hardin’s training there [Huffstodt, Pg. 79].
He was, quite naturally, looking forward to an upcoming summer leave and the opportunity to travel in Kentucky and Illinois.
Following his leave, young Hardin returned east for additional artillery training at Fortress Monroe [Pgs. 82-90]. Soon after the Harper’s Ferry incident, young Brevet Second Lieutenant Martin D. Hardin was offered an opportunity to help “. . . transport 300 new recruits 2,700 miles up the Missouri River to Fort Benton, Montana . . .”, then onward toward the Columbia River in what was then Washington Territory [Pg. 94].
Hardin’s trip to the far western regions of the North American continent would provide considerable opportunities for this intelligent young man: visits to primitive forts, travel along the Columbia River, a visit to Puget Sound, San Francisco, and finally to Fort Umpqua where he was assigned the thankless task of “shield[ing] the suffering, starving remnants of the various tribes from ruthless white miners and settlers bent on their extermination” [Pg. 120].
From this primitive fort, the tale of Lincoln’s Bold Lion moves into Chapter 9 which the author titles “Armageddon Beckons.”
This critic concludes that Armageddon did much more than beckon: in actuality, the 1861-1865 Civil War and Reconstruction years would both partially destroy and then attempt to re-build the two parts of our country that fought the tremendous American Civil War.
Of course, to fully appreciate the Civil War one must count the tremendous number of soldiers killed, maimed, or left with health issues from which they never recovered.
In addition, we must also count the hundreds – nay, thousands – of civilians who were killed or died from starvation and thus became merely “numbers” of the dead or wounded.
The remaining two hundred plus pages take the reader through the legends and antidotes of War where the Heavens literally rained fire, of Hardin’s severe injury at Second Bull Run, of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the terror and stupidity of some officers at Gettysburg and the “. . .young men with old eyes and dark memories . . . [who] prayed for the “dawn of peace”. Lincoln’s Bold Lion: The Life and Times of Brigadier General Martin Davis Hardin 1837-1923 contains magnificent tales of the Civil War and post-Civil War years.
This wonderful biography brings to its readers the turmoil of the American Civil War, the terrible deaths and destruction caused by that War, the attempts to reconstruct our country, and the heartache suffered by families divided by the War.
Title; Lincoln’s Bold Lion: The Life and Times of Brigadier General Martin Davis Hardin 1837-1923
Author: James Huffstodt