Henry Wilson was born February 16, 1812 as Jeremiah Jones Colbath in Farmington, New Hampshire.
In 1833 he had his name legally changed by the legislature to Henry Wilson.
Henry then moved to Natick, Massachusetts and became a shoemaker.
He attended several local academies, and also taught school in Natick, where he later engaged in the manufacture of shoes.
Henry became a member of the state legislature between 1841 and 1852, and was owner and editor of the Boston Republican from 1848 to 1851.
In 1852, Wilson was an unsuccessful candidate for the House of Representatives, however in 1853 he became a delegate to the state constitutional convention.
Henry also ran for and lost as a candidate for Governor of Massachusetts in 1853.
Finally in 1855, Henry was elected to the United States Senate by a coalition of Free-Soilers, “Americans” (Know-Nothings), and Democrats to the vacancy caused by the resignation of Edward Everett.
He was reelected as a Republican in 1859, 1865 and 1871, and served from January 31, 1855 to 4 March 1873 where he was Chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs and the Militia and the Committee on Military Affairs.
In that capacity, Wilson passed on over 15,000 nominations that Lincoln submitted during the course of the War, and worked closely with him on legislation affecting the Army and Navy.
In 1861 he raised and commanded the 22nd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War.
A controversy that swirled around Wilson’s name since 1861 was that he (while Chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs) may have revealed plans for the invasion of Virginia culminating in the First Battle of Bull Run to southern spy (and Washington society figure) Rose O’Neal Greenhow.
Wilson (although married) had seen a great deal of Mrs. Greenhow, and may have told her about the plans by Major General Irvin McDowell, which may have been part of the intelligence Mrs. Greenhow got to Confederate forces under Major General Pierre Beauregard.
If so this information may have led to the Northern rout in that battle. However, in his most recent biography, an alternative (a Northern clerk named Horace White) was suggested as the real leak.
Henry Wilson was elected Vice President of the United States on the Republican ticket with President Ulysses S. Grant to replace the controversial Schuyler Colfax and served from March 4, 1873 until his death.
The election was marred by the report that he was involved in the Crédit Mobilier of America scandal.
Wilson had been one of several “Radical” Republican Representatives and Senators who were offered bribes (and possibly took them) of shares in Crédit Mobilier.
Republicans were considered “Radical” if they supported Reconstruction.
Wilson was cleared by a Senate inquiry, but his reputation remained tarnished.
Declining health and death
Henry suffered a serious stroke in 1873. Although partly paralyzed, he fought to actively perform his duties as presiding officer over the United States Senate.
He suffered what was believed to be a minor attack on November 10, 1875, and was taken to the Vice President’s Room to recover.
Over the next several days, his health appeared to improve and his friends thought he was nearly recovered. However, on November 22, 1875 at 20 minutes past 7 in the morning, Henry Wilson died from a second stroke while working in the United States Capitol Building.
He was interred in Old Dell Park Cemetery, Natick, Massachusetts.
Now WE know em
- The General-in-Chief of the Union Army for most of the Civil War was born today in 1815. Now WE know em (carl-leonard.com)