Friday, November 23, 2007

ON THIS DAY: Sunday, Nov. 24, 1861

“The Best Hated Man”

His mustachios tapered down to dangerously sharp-looking stiletto points. His snapping dark eyes were so piercing that photographers almost always posed him looking off to one side. Trying to look at the man head-on simply would be too daunting to the viewer.

That’s William Babcock Hazen (pictured above), a brave and talented soldier without an ounce of tact. His friend Ambrose Bierce would call him the “Best Hated Man” he knew, and meant it as a compliment. Hazen knew his business. He just didn’t know how to hold his tongue.

Born in Vermont, Hazen grew up in Hiram, Ohio, where James A. Garfield was a close friend. A West Pointer and career army officer, before the Civil War Hazen served primarily in the Indian Wars and was severely wounded during a fight with the Comanches. While convalescing he was given light duty as an instructor at West Point, where he squirmed in frustration as the Civil War broke out without his participation.

By mid-September, however—probably with Garfield’s help and only after an appeal directly to President Lincoln—Hazen had won the colonelcy of the 41st Ohio, then in training at Camp Wood near Cleveland. The newly minted colonel hit the parade ground running, issuing order in rapid-fire order on everything from cleanliness to haircuts. He drove his young charges mercilessly from reveille to lights out, seemingly as “insensible to fatigue as a threshing machine,” two veterans of those days recalled later. It was drill, endless drill, all day long with intervals during which the panting young soldiers had to study military books, on which they could be expected to be tested. "There was no idle time," as Hazen himself put it.

In mid-November, Hazen and the 41st Ohio were ordered to Gallipolis, on the Ohio border with western Virginia. Hazen quickly demonstrated his tactlessness by treading on the toes of Brig. Gen. William S. Rosecrans, who has responsibility for western Virginia. Today, Hazen, who is not under Rosecrans’ direct authority, is planning a lightning strike in Rosencrans’ territory with no regard for Old Rosy’s wishes on the matter.

Hazen’s hard-headedness, predilection for feuds, and fearlessness as a whistle-blower will win him enemies throughout the rest of his life (and some examples will be reported here at appropriate times). No one will ever doubt his courage, however.

>>> Skirmishing erupts at Johnstown and Lancaster, Missouri. A loyal Missouri infantryman is killed, two others injured. The Navy warship San Jacinto, carrying the captured Confederate envoys Mason and Slidell arrives in Boston, where the Confederates will be held in Fort Warren. Lincoln and his cabinet puzzle over what to do about them.

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