American Scoundrel: The Life of the Notorious Civil War General Dan Sickles
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Hero, adulterer, bon vivant, murderer and rogue, Dan Sickles led the kind of existence that was indeed stranger than fiction. Throughout his life he exhibited the kind of exuberant charm and lack of scruple that wins friends, seduces women, and gets people killed. In American Scoundrel Thomas Keneally, the acclaimed author of Schindler’s List, creates a biography that is as lively and engrossing as its subject.
Dan Sickles was a member of Congress, led a controversial charge at Gettysburg, and had an affair with the deposed Queen of Spain—among many other women. But the most startling of his many exploits was his murder of Philip Barton Key (son of Francis Scott Key), the lover of his long-suffering and neglected wife, Teresa. The affair, the crime, and the trial contained all the ingredients of melodrama needed to ensure that it was the scandal of the age. At the trial’s end, Sickles was acquitted and hardly chastened. His life, in which outrage and accomplishment had equal force, is a compelling American tale, told with the skill of a master narrative.
rested on that sad, earnest, good face most of them beheld for the first and last time.” At the end of the review, Dan invited Lincoln to speak to the men. The President was uneasy about that. “These men are going again to battle, where I cannot be with them.” But as he departed he called Sickles aside and said, “Tell them I think I have never seen a better show.”7 Now known as the Second Division of Hooker’s Third Corps, Dan’s eight thousand were sent forward on November 1 into the Virginian
morning. So Dan’s pickets stayed in place, and he ate his rations near the farmhouse, occasionally interrupted by the arrival of reports and dispatch riders. Even today and on the most modern of mediums, on Civil War sites on the Internet, the merits of Dan’s pushing out against Stonewall’s men and even of his clinging to the higher ground at Hazel Grove are debated. Most historians squarely blame Hooker’s inertia for the failure at Chancellorsville, but many, with some unfairness, see Dan’s
legal action, which brought from George Templeton Strong the memorable line “One might as well try to spoil a rotten egg as to damage Dan’s character.” Caroline de Creagh, unfamiliar with the details of Dan’s past, was particularly abashed to find him attacked so slightingly and with such vituperation.7 In Spain in 1873, another republican uprising caused King Amadeo to flee to Portugal, and again the great chimera of Cuba rose up. Dan felt that the pressure from Washington on King Amadeo had
AUTHOR’S NOTE MY FASCINATION WITH THE TALE RECOUNTED IN THESE pages began with Australia and Ireland, and specifically with an Irish political prisoner named Thomas Francis Meagher, transported on a life sentence to Australia in 1849. Meagher was young, famous, eloquent, wealthy, and charming. He had brought back to Ireland from the French republic of Lamartine the tricolor, now the flag of the Republic of Ireland. For his involvement in an Irish uprising that was, in part, a protest against
up trade with Japan. In 1849, with Dan as a wedding guest, Belmont would marry her, and he remained a friend to Dan and a reassuring and stabilizing presence in the Democratic Party. Dan was wise enough, however, not to presume on his friendship with Belmont as a means of raising credit to finance his expensive tastes.18 Among the men he frequently met at Delmonico’s famous establishment downtown was the great Shakespearean actor Edwin Forrest, who long remained a friend, and toward whom Dan