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Duty, Honor, Country, and Skullduggery: Lincoln's Secretary of War Meddles at West Point Eugene C. Tidball In midsummer 1 862 George B. McClellan's Army of the Potomac looked Southwest across the Chickahominy River and saw Richmond less than twelve miles distant. This was too close for General Robert E. Lee, who sent his forces across the river to strike the northern end of McClellan's line and push his army off the Peninsula. By June 27 Lee had swept into Mechanicsville and, with the help of Stonewall Jackson, who had just arrived from the Shenandoah Valley, was applying unrelenting pressure to Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter's Fifth Provisional Corps, which anchored McClellan's right flank. Starting about noon, in the action which would be known as the Battle of Gaines' Mill, wave after wave of fresh Confederate troops was thrown into the attack, floundering through swamps, struggling against tangled brushwood, and clambering over the corpses of their fallen comrades. Union brigadier general George W. Morrell's First Division was in the thick of it as the Northern line bent but did not break. Stiffly holding Morrell's center was Brig. Gen. Charles Griffin's Second Brigade, comprised of volunteer regiments from Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania. Early in the afternoon the 62d Pennsylvania, under the command of Colonel Samuel W. Black, moved up to support the 9Ü1 Massachusetts. After delivering a volley, the Pennsylvania regiment, as Griffin later reported, "was pushed forward by its gallant colonel at charge bayonet. Colonel Black was instantly killed at the head of his regiment during the charge." Two years later, the death of this Union officer, only one of twenty-eight officers in Morrell's Division killed that week, would be largely forgotten. But one man would remember and, in a singular display of vindictive pique, would summarily punish three admired veterans of the war and distinguished graduates of the United States Military Academy.1 1 The War ofthe Rebellion: A Compilation ofthe Official Records ofthe Union and Confederate Armies, 128 vols., (Washington, D.C: GPO, 1880-1901), ser. 1, vol. 11: 277, 313 (hereafter cited Civil War History, Vol. xlv No. 1 © 1999 by The Kent State University Press 6 CIVIL WAR HISTORY Samuel Black was born in Pittsburgh in 1818, the son of "an eminent Scotch divine and professor." He was admitted to the bar in 1838, and he married the daughter of a prominent judge. He practiced law with brilliant success, and by the time the Mexican War broke out he was a prominent member of the Pittsburgh bar. Appointed lieutenant colonel of the 2d Pennsylvania Volunteers, he was present at Vera Cruz, Puebla, and Chepultepec. Returning to Pittsburgh after the war, he was known as a popular and strongly partisan Democrat, and after losing a close race for Congress, he was appointed U.S. judge for Nebraska by President Buchanan. He subsequently was appointed governor of Nebraska territory, an office he held until 1861, when he resigned to organize a regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers. During the time he practiced law in Pittsburgh between wars, his office was located at 1 05 Fourth. Just down the street at 81 Fourth was another prominent Pittsburgh lawyer and strongly partisan Democrat—Edwin M. Stanton.2 John C. Tidball, captain of Light Battery A, Second artillery, was also at Gaines' Mill on June 27. On the following day, he reported to General Porter before daylight and received instructions to post his battery on a rising piece of ground on the road leading from Mechanicsville and, by "judicious use" of his battery, to delay the enemy. A few minutes after the last of the Northerners passed (at five a.m.), the enemy made their appearance, and Tidball announced the presence of the U.S. artillery; all three sections of his battery opened fire and checked their advance. He remained there until all Union troops had passed beyond Gaines' Mill, then moved slowly to the rear. He then reported to Brig. Gen. George Sykes, who directed him to place his battery on the extreme right of the Union position, where he engaged in an artillery duel with Confederate guns. By late...