Rutherford B. Hayes was wounded at the Battle of South Mountain on this date in 1862. South Mountain is not as well known as it should be because it took place three days prior to the Battle of Antietam. Historians, accurately or not, usually interpret it not as its own set piece but as the prelude to the bloody day at Sharpsburg. That is entirely understandable but has also lessened the focus on the events of September 14. Hayes at the time was an officer in the 23rd Ohio. He and his men were eager to avenge the loss at Second Bull Run and were spoiling for a fight. They found it at Fox’s Gap, where Hayes received his wounds early in the morning. Of course he eventually recovered fully and became a general before entering the world of politics after the war.
In August 1885 now former president Rutherford B. Hayes attended Ulysses. S. Grant’s funeral. There too among the many other dignitaries was President Cleveland and former president Chester A. Arthur. I came across an interesting old newspaper article the other day that claimed that Arthur and Hayes were not selected as honorary pallbearers to avoid Hayes’s involvement in such a capacity. I have no idea if that is conjecture or if the writer of that piece in the 1880s had more information to go on. The standard narrative of the funeral is that former high-ranking officers were selected from the North and South as a reconciliationist gesture to aid in the reuniting of the country. Of course Arthur and Hayes had both been Civil War generals in their own right, so that theory would not necessarily preclude them from participating in such a capacity.
Arthur would have been a good fit for honorary pallbearer. he had been a long time Grant supporter, an ally and protégé of Grant ally Roscoe Conkling, and the first leader of the Grant Monument Association. Hayes’s involvement would have been a little more complicated. He had tried remove Arthur as Collector of the Port of New York in 1877 and replace him with Theodore Roosevelt Sr. That did not come to pass, in large part because of the political machinations of Senator Conkling. If the idea was to keep Hayes out then the idea of excluding Arthur would make sense: to ask one ex-president to be honorary pallbearer would mean having to ask the other. Arthur himself was a forgiving sort who rarely held grudges for long. A good illustration of that is that he attended Theodore Roosevelt Sr.’s funeral in February 1878 just weeks after the Collector controversy. So if a decision was made on Hayes it was probably made by someone else. Both former presidents did participate in the funeral, riding in carriages in the procession. The decision-making in how to incorporate Arthur and Hayes into Grant’s funeral is a rabbit hole worth going down. I am sure the answer is out there somewhere in the literature on the Gilded Age.
(image/Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center)