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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,075


This is the grave of Alfred Terry.

Born in Hartford in 1827, Terry grew up in the relative elite of New Haven, where his family moved shortly after his birth. He went to the Hopkins School, Yale, and Yale Law, which he completed in 1848. He soon passed the bar and became clerk of the Superior Court of New Haven County. He was an abolitionist who found the South’s behavior leading up to secession increasingly disgusting.

Thus, it was not surprising that Terry immediately jumped at the chance to put down treason in defense of slavery. Long before he had to do so, Terry formed the 2nd Connecticut Infantry; the number alone shows how quickly Terry acted. As the rich guy, he was appointed colonel. They fought right away–First Manassas was their introduction to the war. The regiment was soon transferred to the Sea Islands of South Carolina, where the Confederates were quickly forced to abandon indefensible plantations. He stayed down there for much of the war. He was appointed brigadier general of volunteers in 1862 in the X Corps. They were involved in the various attacks on Charleston over the next couple of years, including the 1863 siege. They played a key role in attacking and capturing Fort Wagner in September 1863.

In 1864, the entire X Corps, including Terry, was sent to Virginia where the real action was, being placed under the command of Benjamin Butler in the Army of the James. There, it played a big role in a number of actions in Grant’s push to defeat the Confederacy. They fought at Proctor’s Creek and the Bermuda Hundred Campaign and then at New Market Heights in the smaller actions during the Siege of Petersburg. Near the end of the war, Terry was placed in his highest command yet, heading the Fort Fisher Expeditionary Corps. If there’s one thing Grant was good at, it was recognizing military talent. By this time, he had eliminated nearly all the rich guys who had their officer positions based on their wealth, which had deeply plagued the Union army for the first three years of the war. But Terry, well he was actually good at this. Even though he had not risen as quickly in the military as other rich guys, he had the respect of Grant and the other real military leaders of the war. So Grant gave him real commands. Taking Fort Fisher had been Grant’s goal for a long time. Butler wasn’t able to do it because he wasn’t a good military commander and constantly fought with the Navy in a situation where coordination was required to get it done. But Terry had good relations with Naval officers, especially David Porter, in charge of the Navy portion of the Fort Fisher campaign. So they worked together and took the fort in early 1865, with one of the major charges led by U.S. Colored Troops who took on Braxton Bragg and defeated him. For this, Terry got promoted to being a real brigadier general as well as major general of volunteers. Terry continued clean-up duty in the Carolinas for the rest of the war.

Nearly all the rich guys who were left in the Army got out at the end of the war and went back to making money. But Terry, well he had found his calling. Now General Terry, he remained in the military and was heavily involved in Reconstruction. He despised the Ku Klux Klan and wanted to put it down. He became the military governor of the Third Military District in the 1870s, which included Georgia, where he used the military to suppress the growing wave of white supremacist violence against Black voters the best he could. In fact, he pushed harder for military intervention than his both, Henry Halleck, who was hesitant to press for an aggressive Reconstruction. Terry began calling Grant’s policies a failure for not taking the southern threat seriously enough. He urged Congress and the Grant administration to make an example out of South Carolina, with extremely harsh punishments toward those who committed violence against the freedmen. The reason he felt this would work is that he knew the South was too big and the military too small to punish everyone. So if the military made a real example of a particularly awful state, then he hoped the rest of the states would back off so they didn’t face a similar fate. Not a bad idea really, though it wasn’t implemented.

The other side of military involvement in the post-Civil War period was genocide. The goal of the military was to put down all Native resistance to white settlement and this was done with extreme prejudice by the late 1860s. He helped to work out the Treaty of Fort Laramie that got Red Cloud to stop attacking wagon trains and facilitated more white settlement. This was the treaty that also gave the Black Hills to the Lakota in exchange, which is something that whites never had the slightest inclination to respect and of course did not enforce once gold was discovered there in 1876 and a new wave of colonialism and genocide against the Lakota resulted. So when the Lakota and their Cheyenne and Arapaho allies went to war over this in 1876, Terry was part of the military command that once again sought to repress them and force them to give anything valuable they still had to whites. It was troops under his command that ran across the disaster of at the Little Bighorn when the idiot Custer and his men were wiped out. In fact, his aide-de-camp wrote the official report on Custer and absolutely ripped him as an incompetent moron. When Sitting Bull and his people fled to Canada in 1877, it was Terry who went north of the border to negotiate with him. Terry also sent troops to put down the Nez Perce flight to Canada in that terrible year of 1877 as well.

Even after the repression of the tribes, when the military had very little to do, Terry remained in it. In 1886, he was promoted to major general and led the Military Division of the Missouri. He finally retired in 1888 and moved back to New Haven. He only lived two more years, dying in 1890 at the age of 63.

Alfred Terry is buried in Grove Street Cemetery, New Haven, Connecticut.

If you would like this series to visit other officers involved in the military run Reconstruction, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Daniel Sickles is in Arlington as is Edward Ord. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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