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Military Promotions

Cavalry Captain to Major,   Cavalry to Judge Advocate Corps,   Major to Brevet Colonel
Brevet Colonel to Brevet Brigadier General

Cavalry Captain to Major
Several years after graduating from law school, in August of 1861, Henry Burnett enlisted in the first Ohio Cavalry company formed after the start of the Civil War, the 2nd Ohio Cavalry Company C. The regiments elected officers, and he was first elected to a higher position than his lack of experience deserved. His distribution of liquor before the election, an action that was enthusiasticly received, might have had something to do with his success. But the powers above him were sensible enough to negate the election, and Henry was forced to work for his promotions from Captain, itself a high enough position for a new officer of new soldiers.

The regiment was organized in Cleveland, and sent for training to Camp Dennison. In late January, they were attached to Doubleday's Brigade in the Department of the Missouri, and sent off first for scout duty on the Missouri border, then on an expedition to Fort Scott KS. The letters of Samuel Trescott provide an interesting view into the regiment.

He must have been doing something right, because he received the promotion to Major that he wanted after less than a year in the field.

For the next year Major Burnett was in the field, heading out to Missouri, where the 2nd Ohio took part in small skirmishes, mostly requisitioning the supplies the army needed from "seccesh", people known to have secessionist tendencies. They were put under the command of an incompetent officer, Colonel Weir, and sent out to Indian territory but Weir, an alcoholic, didn't plan for the necessities for his men, and moved them out beyond their supply lines, eventually stranding them in fairly desperate straits. Still acting like a democratic organization, the officers decided to mutiny and imprison Weir. Burnett, as a lawyer, was elected to let Doubleday, back at Fort Leavenworth, know about their mutiny.

In a biography clearly emanating from Burnett, his ride to Leavenworth turns into a race with the released Weir, each one intending to lay their side of the situation before Doubleday first. The biography implies that Burnett made it first, but his military returns do show him under arrest in Fort Leavenworth, so it must not have been quite so clear as Burnett later remembered it.

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March 12, 1862
Charles Doubleday, Colonel and Acting Brigadier General
Headquarters, Doubleday's Brigade
Fort Scott, Kansas

To Adjutant General C.P. Buckingham.

Letter recommending the promotion of senior Captain Henry L. Burnett to the rank of Major in the 2nd Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Cavalry to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Henry F. Willson; and stating that an early action was solicited.

Bears the approval of George W. Deitzler, Colonel, 1st Regiment, Kansas Volunteers, and temporarily commanding Department of Kansas.
1 p. [Series 147-30: 165]

Cavalry to Judge Advocate Corps
It probably didn't seem like it at the time, but the injury Burnett sustained when a horse rolled over on him was, indeed fortuitous. It happened at just the time when a Judge Advocate was about to be court-martialed, and they were searching for someone who could take on the role of prosecutor. So Burnett transferred from the 2nd Ohio Cavalry to the Judge Advocate Corps of the Department of the Ohio, and made no little reputation for himself with his successful prosecution of the case.

So now he had a new position that he enjoyed, and a job at which he was impressively good, but a courtroom was simply not the stepping stone to the promotion that he wanted - at least, not compared with the possibilities on the battlefield. What it was going to take was a strategy. But having married the daughter of the Judge for whom he had read law - a judge who was the law partner of David Tod, the Governor of Ohio - Burnett wasn't slow to take advantage of his connections.

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I certify that I have carefully examined Major H.L. Burnett of the 2nd O.V.P. and find him suffering from injuries received about the 24th of March last by the falling of his horse while in full career, the animal rolling completely over his body -- the accident producing permanent weakness across the diaphragm with occasional attacks of vomiting, and making exercise on horseback impossible without great pain. He is also subject to distressing attacks of rheumatism; and for these reasons a due attention to his own salutary condition requires that he withdraw himself from the exposures of active military life.

Alfred Taylor, Surgeon 2nd O.V.C

Camp near Somerset, Ky
April 29th 1863

To the Senate of the United States:

I nominate the persons named in the accompanying communication for appointment in the Volunteer force now in the service of the United States, as proposed by the Secretary of War.

Washington, December 31, 1863.

War Department,
Washington, December 31, 1863.

Sir: I have the honor to propose for your approbation the following-named persons for appointment in the Volunteer force now in the service of the United States:

* To be judge-advocates with the rank of major. Henry L. Burnett, of Ohio, August 10, 1863, for the army in the Department of the Ohio.

I am, sir, with great respect, your obedient servant,

Secretary of War.

The President of the United States.

Head-Quarters Department of the Ohio
Cincinnati, O. Aug 17th 1863

Brig. Genl. S. Thomas
Adjt Genl. of the Army
Washington, D.C.


I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of a communication from the Secy of War of the 10th Inst. notifying me of my appointment as "Judge Advocate for the Army, in the Department of the Ohio; with the rank of Major". I accept said appointment; and have reported in person to the Comdg General of this Department. Herewith I sent the oath required, duly executed.

I was twenty six (26) years of age December 26, 1862. My birthplace and permanent residence was Ohio. Permit me to call the attention of the Dept. to the erroneous spelling of my name - Burnett not Burnell.

I have the honor to be

Very Respy.
Your Obt. Svt.
Henry L. Burnett
Maj & Judge Advocate D.O.

[Ed Note: General Burnett's signature lent itself to more mistakes than that. On some historical documents he is identified as Henry S. Burnett.]

Executive Department
Sept. 6, 1863

Hon. E.M. Stanton, Sec. of War,
Washington City

Dear Sir

I have a son in law Maj. H. L. Burnett, recently appointed Judge Advocate of the Department of the Ohio, with the rank of Major, who asks my aid in getting such increased rank (say Lt. Colonel), as will afford him sufficient compensation to sustain him. His location, Cincinnati, and at times Lexington K, for holding courtsmartial, and investigating the large amount of business accumulated in his Department, being very expensive these times, renders the pay attached to the rank of Major, inadequate to sustain him, wife & child.

He is very capable & energetic, a first rate officer, & deserves the advantage of more pay, if it can by your rules be given to him appropriately. He has served constantly in the 2nd Cavalry, since Aug. 1861, and most of the time in Kansas and the Indian Territory. It does not become me so well, to priase him. Hence I would refer you to the Governor as to his merits.

If your rules will permit of giving him, as Judge Advocate of the Depart. of the Ohio, the rank of Lt. Colonel, then I beg of you to do him, and your humble servant, the favor. I believe I have never yet bored you or any one, during this weary struggle, for any favor, either for myself or any relative.

Yours Truly,

B.F. Hoffman
P. Secy

[Note Added: Law does not permit compliance with this -- Sept 11, 1863]

Major to Brevet Colonel
But Burnett's connections couldn't get him the promotion that he'd wanted, and ambition must have warred with worries at home when his third child was born and quickly died. Kitty, his young wife, was ill, and the only way out Burnett could see was to resign from the army. He'd already put in the three years he'd first enlisted for.

And so he tendered his resignation to Judge Holt, the man in charge of the Judge Advocate Corps. But even if not enough to win him the promotions he'd wanted, his work had been noticed and, when Judge Holt brought his plight to Secretary of War Stanton, Stanton suggested that Burnett take an indefinite leave of absence.

But even with more time to spend on Kitty and his two small daughters, he couldn't argue his way out of this situation. Kitty, his young wife of only twenty-one, died. And when Burnett again took up his army responsibilities, he must have thrown himself into his work. Given the Camp Douglas conspirators to try, Burnett was able to get convictions, and this led to his being picked to try the Knights of the Golden Circle, another southern conspiracy.

In order to conduct the trials in Indianapolis from his post in Cincinnati, Burnett had to take a train out in the morning, conduct the trial during the day, then train back to Cincinnati and keep his department there running. It was exhausting, but he was in his element. But it must have felt ironic that only now that he no longer had a wife to support, was he able to get the promotion to Colonel.

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Judge Advocate Generals Office
April 18, 1864

Major H.L. Burnett
Judge Advocate


I am in receipt of your letter of the 15 inst. inclosing - addressed to the Adjutant General -- your resignation of the Office of Judge Advocate of the Department of the Ohio. Both of these communications have been laid before the Secretary of War who instructs me to express to you his sincere thanks for the zeal and ability with which you have performed the unusually perplexing and onerous public duties with which you have been charged. A-- as he does the afflicting circumstances in which you are so unhappily placed, he is nevertheless unwilling that your valuable services shall be lost to the Department. While therefore for the present he declines to accept your resignation, he directs me to say to you that he will grant you an indefinite leave of absence to begin as such day as you may name and to continue so long as in your judgement the condition of Mrs. Burnett's health shall require your attention. He greatly prefers this course to your withdrawal from the service and trusts that it will accord with your own feelings and sense of duty -- to your family.

Concurring, as I do fully, in the views of the Secretary and thanking you for and at the same time reciprocating the Kind sentiments with which your letter concludes, I remain very respectfully and

Truly Yours
(Signed) J. Holt
Judge Advocate General

[Note: Henry Burnett's first wife, Grace "Kitty" Hoffman, died June 28, 1864 in Covington, Kentucky.]

Youngstown O.
April 28th 1864

Col. Joseph Holt, Judge Advocate Genl
Washington City D.C.

Dear Colonel

Assuming that the Bill now pending in Congress providing, among other things, for the appointment of two assistants to the Judge Advocate General, with rank of Col. will become a Law, and that you will be placed at the head of the Department, from a desire of Duty to the Government and yourself, I recommend for the position of one of the assistants, Major Henry L. Burnett, formerly of this place, but now stationed at Cincinnati. I have known Mr Burnett from his infancy, and hence speak of him from personal knowledge.

As boy and man, he has ever evinced great energy of Character. He is an accomplished lawyer, and good scholar. His character for integrity & honor is not to be doubted. And, added to all this, the fact that he has seen much service in the Department over which you preside, I am confident that I hazard but little in assuring, that it will be difficult, if not impossible for the Government to find a more suitable man for the position, than Major Burnett.

Respectfully Yours

Tod's signature
David Tod [Governor]

[Ed Note: David Tod (1805-1868) was governor of Ohio from 1862-66. Previously a state legislator, he had run for governor twice before in the 40's and been defeated. Although he worked against the peace movement and draft resistance and was a strong protector of Ohio's southern border against enemy raids, he was not reelected governor, due to his weak support of the Emancipation Proclamation. Who was who in the Union, p. 414]

Judge Advocate's Office
Department of the Ohio and Northern Department
Cincinnati, May 4, 1864

Hon. John Sherman,
Senate Chamber,
Washington, D.C.


I have handed to Captain Moulton to be forwarded to you an endorsement and recommendation of Governor Tod got for my promotion to one of the Assistant Judge Advocate General's positions. I herwith enclose you a copy of a letter recently received by me in answer to a tender of my resignation, that you may see that I stand fair with the Secretary of War and Colonel Holt. If my services are of such value to the Government, I, of course, am willing to stay and give the Government the benefit of my labor. But I do desire of course, and believe I have earned, honorable promotion. Did you but feel willing to take this letter of Governor Fod's in your hand, call upon Colonel Holt, get his endorsement on the letter, and then, by presenting it to the Secretary of War, --, getting Colonel Holt's promise that he would do so, with your endorsement on the letter, my promotion would be secured. I need not say to you that by this act you would be doing me the greatest kindness and favor that I could ask at the hands of any man. I should hope in the coming years in some way to remember and repay in part my great debt.

Very respectfully,
Your object servant
H.L. Burnett
Judge Advocate D.O. and N.D.

[Ed Note: John Sherman (1823-1900) was the brother of William Tecumseh Sherman and one of the organizers of the Republican Party. From 1855-1898, he served Ohio and the Federal Government as a Congressional representative, Senator, Treasury Secretary, Secretary of State under McKinley. His lasting contribution toward the laws of the land were the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and the Sherman Silver Purchase Act. Who Was Who in the Union, p. 367]

Hoffman's letter
Hon John Sherman

D Sir Being in Major Burnett's office, and being shown the above, I can very readily endorse his application for promotion. He is a son in law of mine, of some 6 years standing, and I have good reason to know that he is in every way competent & worthy of all he asks.

Yours Rspt B.F. Hoffman

To the Senate of the United States:

I nominate the person named in the accompanying communication for appointment in the Volunteer force, as proposed by the Secretary of War.

Washington, March 8, 1865.

War Department,
Washington, March 8, 1865.

Sir: I have the honor to propose for your approbation the following-named person for appointment in the Volunteer force now in the service of the United States:

* To be colonel by brevet. Major Henry L. Burnett, judge-advocate U. S. Volunteers, for diligent and efficient service, to date from March 8, 1865.

I am, sir, with great respect, your obedient servant,

Secretary of War.

The President of the United States.

War Department
War Department
Washington City
May 1st 1865

A.F. Chalfin
Ast Adjt Genl
Washington City


I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of my commission as Colonel by Brevet; and hereby accept the same. I am twenty eight years of age, reside at Cincinnati Ohio, was appointed Mar. 8th 1865, was born in Ohio and my full name is as subscribed.

Very Respy
Your Obt. Svt.
Henry Lawrence Burnett
Bvt. Col. & Judge Advocate

Brevet Colonel to Brevet Brigadier General
On April 14th, President Lincoln was shot and the news spread everywhere, leaving the army in shock. As Burnett remembered later,
For no ruler who ever lived, I venture to say, not excepting Washington himself, was the love of the people so strong, so peculiarly personal and tender, as for Abraham Lincoln. Especially was this so among the soldiers; all members of the old army will remember with what devotion and patriotic affection the boys used to shout and sing, "We are coming, Father Abraham!" and will remember what a personal and confiding sort of relation seemed to exist between the soldier boys and "Uncle Abe", and how those brave soldiers -- veterans of four years of terrible war, inured to hardship, to sickness and wounds, familiar with the face of death -- wept like little children when told that "Uncle Abe" was dead.

Three days later, while Burnett was in the middle of his closing arguments in the Camp Douglas trial, he received a dispatch from Secretary of War Stanton ordering him to Washington. He reached the Capitol on the 19th. His first impressions of the mourning city stayed with him through the years, and are still emotionally powerful.

The gloom of that journey to Washington and the feeling of vague terror and sorrow with which I traversed its streets, I cannot adequately describe, and shall never forget. To this day, I never visit that City without some shadow of that dark time settling over my spirit. All the public buildings and a large portion of the private houses were heavily draped in black. The people moved about the streets with bowed heads and sorrow-stricken faces, as though some Herod had robbed each home of its first born.

When men spoke to each other in the streets, there were tremulous tones in their voices, and a quivering of the lips, as though tears and violent expression of grief were held back only by great effort. In the faces of those in authority -- Cabinet ministers, officers of the army, -- there was an anxious expression of the eye as though a dagger's gleam in a strange hand was to be expected; and a pale determined expression, a set of the jaw that said: "The truth about this conspiracy shall be made clear and the assassins found and punished: we will stand guard and the Government shall not die.

By the time Burnett reached Washington, some arrests had already been made, but there was still rampant confusion.

When I entered upon the duty of assisting in the investigation of the murder of the President, on the 19th of April, it must be borne in mind that at that time, it was not positively known who had assassinated the President, or attempted the life of Secretary Seward; Booth was the alleged assassin. How wide-spread was the conspiracy or who were in it, or of it, was not known. There was general apprehension and belief that further assassinations would be attempted, and guards were placed around the primary residences of the Cabinet ministers, General Grant's house, and the public buildings; the shot soldiers patrolled the City, and were scouring the country. All that was positively known as to the assassination of the President, was that a tall dark man, apparently about thirty years of age, had forced his way into the Preisdent's box at Ford's Theatre on the evening of the 14th, had shot the President: stabbed Major Rathbone who attempted to detain him, had leaped over the front of the box onto the stage below, fled across it crying, "Sic semper Tyrannis!" -- then out by the right side to the rear door of the theatre, had there mounted a horse, galloped away into the night crossing the Navy Yard bridge; that another supposed confederate soon after galloped after him and joined him, and this was the sum of the positive knowledge at that time.

The investigation progressed rapidly, and many arrests were made. After weeding through the suspects, the core conspirators, with the exception of Booth and John Surratt, were set aside for trial by a military commission, and Burnett and John Bingham were named as Assistant Judge Advocates to the main nine officers prosecuting the case.

Though the trial was over by the middle of July, Stanton kept Burnett on in Washington to complete the task of cleaning up the paperwork and organizing the vast amount of materials for the historical record, a task that Burnett expected to finish by the end of the year, along with some other odds and ends of responsibilities. Like many other soldiers, he was ready to go home. But the work he had accomplished on the conspiracy trials brought with it a going away present. Burnett was breveted Brigadier General, a title that he used throughout his life.

Among the members of the extended Burnett family, Henry Burnett was always only known as "The General."

Judge Advocate's Office
Department of the Ohio
Cincinnati, 18th Oct., 1865

Brig. Genl. E.D. Townsend
Asst. Adjt. Genl.
Washington, D.C.


I have the honor to submit that by the first day of December next, the duties of my office and Department will be so far closed as to render my further services unnecessary to the Government. Whatever further Judge Advocate's work there may be in this Department can be done, I think, by officers of the Line, detailed for that purpose, and thereby save to the Government the expense of my position as Judge Advocate proper of the Department.

I therefore have the honor to ask that an order may be issued mustering me out of the service as of December 1st, 1865. I would ask for an immediate muster-out, but there is still some official business to be closed up, and a few cases now on trial that require my attention.

Very Respectfully,
Your Obedient Servant

H.L. Burnett
Bvt. Col. U.S. Vols.
Judge Adv. Dept. the Ohio

Stanton's signature
[Note Added: Approved EM Stanton, Secretary of War, Oct 28, '65]

Senate Chamber
United States Senate Chamber
Washington November 10, 1865

Dear Sir

Col. Burnett, Asst Judge Advocate at Cin. of--- submitted --- is about to be mustered out at his --

I suggest and recommend that he be granted an additional Brevet Grade. When mustering it. This would be a handsome and -- recognition.

Senate Chamber
Very Truly Yours
John Sherman

[Note Added: Henry L. Burnett Judge Advocate Recommended for additional brevet by Hon. John Sherman}

War Department
War Department
Bureau of Military Justice

Washington, D.C., Nov 30th 1865

Hon. E.M. Stanton
Secretary of War

I have the honor to submit the names of the following officers, on duty in connection with this Bureau who are believed to be entitled to brevet promotion from their faithful & meritorious service: viz

Col William M. Dunn Ast Judge Adv Genl
Maj William W. Winthrop Judge Advocate
Maj Edgar W. B--
Maj H. Pelham Curtis
Maj Thomas F. Barr

There are two other officers - Maj Montgomery Judge Advocate & Captain Austin A. Yates, V.R.C. - who have been on duty here but a few months. They have been faithful & efficient in the rservices they have rendered.

I may make the same remark in regard to Colonels Burnett and Chipman, whose relations as Judge Advocates to this Bureau have enabled me to form a just estimate of their character as officers in the Military Service. They have been zealous & faithful, & have well earned this token of the confidence & appreciation of the Department.

Holt's signature
Very respectfully
your obt. servt.
J. Holt
Judge Adv General

Cincinnati O.
17th May 1866

Dear Sir

I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of the 5th mes. enclosing commission to me as Brigadier General by Brevet.

Very Respy
Your Obt Svt
H.L. Burnett
Late Judge Adv.

J.C. Kelton
A.A. Genl.

General Burnett
General Burnett

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