- Patrick Henry Jones: Irish American, Civil War General, and Gilded Age Politician by Mark H. Dunkelman
In his most recent book, Mark H. Dunkelman chronicles the life of Patrick Henry Jones, an Irish immigrant whom the author portrays as a unique figure in the genre of Civil War biography. Jones was one of the few officers of foreign birth who rose to the rank of brigadier general and subsequently entered the political fray of the Gilded Age. Considering the paucity of Jones’s personal papers (Jones’s wife alleged that they were destroyed by mice), Dunkelman does an admirable job of recovering the life of a man who rose from obscurity to become a prominent Democrat-turned-Republican politician. Along the way, the author convincingly argues that Jones’s life illustrates both the promise and the peril of the Gilded Age. [End Page 693]
Jones arrived in the United States in 1840 at the age of ten. His parents settled in Cattaraugus County, New York, and immediately saw to the continuation of their oldest son’s education. At the age of twenty Jones landed a job at a weekly Democratic newspaper published in Cattaraugus County, and by the age of twenty-six he was admitted to the New York bar, having studied under Addison G. Rice, a local lawyer.
Responding to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for troops to suppress the southern rebellion in April 1861, Jones proved himself a leader: he served in the37thand 154thNew York Volunteers—both composed largely of Irishmen—and received promotions up the line to brigadier general by 1865. Repelled by the antiwar sentiment of Copperhead Democrats, Jones allied himself with the Republican Party’s conservative wing. Dunkelman argues that these factors were key components of Jones’s postwar rise to national prominence.
Dunkelman is at his best when he connects the ups and downs of Jones’s life to the vagaries of Gilded Age politics. Jones, who moved to New York City after the war, was a prominent member of the city’s large Irish community and was known for his honesty, loyalty, and hard work. Jones’s reputation stood in stark contrast to those earned by fellow Irishmen who were loyal members of Tammany Hall, an institution knee-deep in corruption. Additionally, Jones found a duo of powerful allies in Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, and Reuben E. Fenton, congressman and governor of New York. Their patronage paid off. Based largely on Jones’s Civil War service and the recommendations of Fenton and Greeley, President Ulysses S. Grant in 1869 appointed Jones the postmaster of New York, the most prestigious job in the city.
Yet in the end, Jones’s involvement in a salacious grave-robbing scandal precipitated his fall from the good graces of Republican Party operatives, leading to a loss of influence and eventual poverty. Though nonspecialists might be hard-pressed to keep up with the dizzying array of political figures in the text, Dunkelman has succeeded in rescuing an important nineteenth-century hero and political figure from obscurity and at the same time has offered a compelling example of one man’s journey through the twists and turns of the Gilded Age.