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New bio on one of Lincoln’s favorite generals, Martin D. Hardin


Martin Davis Hardin is a name not known to most Civil War buffs, a man largely obscure to modern reader. But, in his time, he and his family were well known across the country for their long and faithful service to the United States army, as well as for his father’s deep friendship (and later rivalry) with Abraham Lincoln.

Author James T. Huffstodt has brought Hardin back from the lengthy ranks of the overlooked and ignored Civil War generals. His fascinating new book, Lincoln’s Bold Lion: The Life and Times of Brigadier General Martin Davis Hardin, breaks new ground into the life of the boyish brigadier and examines his relationship with the 16th president of the United States. Huffstodt, an Illinois native is an award-winning writer who currently lives in Tallahassee, Florida. He brings his ample research and writing skills to the forefront in this well-written, fast-paced biography.

Hardin was born in Jacksonville, Illinois, in June 1837. His father, John J. Hardin, was a close family friend to Abraham Lincoln until battles over the Whig congressional seat led to a straining of the relationship. In fact, some accounts (lacking necessary documentation, however) suggest Lincoln met his future wife Mary Todd at an affair in the Hardin house.

John J. Hardin died in the Black Hawk War, and Lincoln for the rest of his life took an interest in young Martin, who graduated from the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY, in the Class of 1859.  Young Hardin, who had a penchant for meeting and interacting with some of the greatest figures of the mid-19th century, served as an aide to Robert E. Lee during the siege of Harper’s Ferry when the army captured abolitionist firebrand John Brown later that year.

Hardin had to have an arm amputated because of a severe wound suffered during a bushwhacking late in 1863, but he stayed in the army after his recuperation until his original term of enlistment expired. He then received an appointment as a brigadier general and later led a division during the defense of Washington during Jubal Early’s July 1864 movement on the capital. He fought with distinction at the battle of Fort Stevens, a fight where his mentor and friend Abraham Lincoln came under Confederate rifle fire.

Hardin had attended Lincoln’s second inauguration in March 1864, not realizing he was standing not far from eventual assassin John Wilkes Booth. At the time of the assassination on Good Friday, 1864, Hardin commanded Washington’s northern defensive perimeter. When notified of that the president had been shot, he roused every available man and put them on alert to watch for the presumed shooter. However, one of Hardin’s men, Sgt. Silas Cobb, on duty guarding the Washington Navy Yard Bridge, missed receiving the message and allowed Booth to ride across the Anacostia River into Maryland.

After the war, Hardin stayed in the army until retiring in December 1870. He became an attorney in Chicago and wintered in Florida. When he died in 1923, Martin Davis Hardin was one of the last remaining Union generals.

Huffstodt has brought General Hardin’s memory back to life for the modern reader in this entertaining and comprehensive biography. It is an interesting narrative, replete with human interest stories and vignettes from Hardin’s life, as well as from his father’s and other family members. This is an excellent addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in Union generals, as well as to those interested in reading about one of Lincoln’s friendships that is not often discussed.

James T. Huffstodt, Lincoln’s Bold Lion: The Life and Times of Brigadier General Martin Davis Hardin (Philadelphia & Oxford: Casemate, 2015), 432 pages, section of photographs, indexed and annotated, ISBN 978-1-61200-339-9.