Thursday, November 29, 2018

"I leave my history with my country": Napoleon J.T. Dana and his autobiography

Napoleon J.T. Dana
     Napoleon Jackson Tecumseh Dana has to be the most military name found on the Antietam battlefield. And he seemed to live up to that name. He was born at a military post, graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1842, seriously wounded in the Mexican War, and in 1861 became colonel of the 1st Minnesota Infantry. His men admired him, as he was a soldier's soldier. "We know that colonels such as he, 'like angel's visits,' are few and far between," wrote one Minnesota man upon learning of Dana's likely promotion to brigade command in the 2nd Corps.(1)
     Dana served admirably in brigade command as part of John Sedgwick's division on the Virginia Peninsula. In the swamps and quagmires there, he became ill with a fever at Harrison's Landing in July and reinvigorated his health in Philadelphia. He was well enough to retake command of his brigade in time for the Maryland Campaign. In the West Woods, Dana again fell with a serious wound, this time to the left leg, making him bedridden for the next two months.(2)
     When the Adjutant General's Office asked the generals of the Union Army for reports of their service in the war up to 1864, Dana submitted a succinct report detailing his experiences thus far. However, being the soldier's soldier, he ended his report as follows:
     I beg to remark that it is a delicate matter for a man to write his autobiography and I have aimed
     to do it in obedience to orders, as briefly and succinctly as possible. I could with much more
     pleasure and gratification write those of the brave soldiers who have fallen by my side. I leave my
     history with my country, which will also take care of the memory of those bloody graves. I can
     only say as I drop a tear on the sod that covers them, like Mark Anthony 
[Marc Antony], "My
     heart is in the coffin then with Caesar." There was many a Caesar among them.

1. Warner, Generals in Blue, 111; Moe, The Last Full Measure, 106.
2. Welsh, Medical Histories of Union Generals, 89-90.
3. Napoleon J. Dana, Roll 1, U.S. Army Generals' Reports of Civil War Service, M1098, RG 94, NARA.

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