Thursday, June 27, 2013

Rufus Dawes, Class of 1860

Marietta College was represented by 181 men during the Civil War, including alumni, undergraduates, and students of the preparatory academy.  One of the best known among these valiant soldiers was Rufus Dawes, Class of 1860, who achieved a remarkable record of military service and contributed significantly to the Union Army’s success at Gettysburg.

Rufus Dawes in 1859
 Rufus Dawes was born at Malta, Morgan County, Ohio, on the Fourth of July, 1838, son of Henry and Sarah (Cutler) Dawes. He was the great-grandson of William Dawes, who rode with Paul Revere during the American Revolution, and also of Manasseh Cutler, who negotiated with Congress on behalf of the Ohio Company to purchase the land that opened the Old Northwest Territory to settlement.

Much of Dawes’ childhood was spent in his grandfather’s home near Marietta, where his mother found refuge following a legal separation from his father. Henry Dawes moved to Mauston, Wisconsin, and Rufus joined him there, entering the University of Wisconsin in 1856. After two years he came back to Ohio and enrolled at Marietta College, obtaining a degree with the Class of 1860.

By 1861 Dawes had returned to Wisconsin, to help his father with business matters.  He was only 22 years old when President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion.  In April of 1861, Dawes raised a company in Mauston called the “Lemonweir Minutemen.”  On July 6, Captain Rufus Dawes, along with 94 men of Company K, went to Madison to join the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers. This regiment became a part of the “Iron Brigade” and fought in the Army of the Potomac.

Rufus Dawes' commission as captain of the Lemonweir Minutemen, May 3, 1861. Marietta College Library Special Collections.

On the first day of fighting at Gettysburg, July 1, 1863, Lieutenant Colonel Dawes commanded the Sixth Wisconsin in a gallant charge upon a Confederate brigade and
Rufus R. Dawes
rescued the 147th New York from a perilous position.  In this charge the Sixth carried the enemy’s position at the point of the bayonet and captured parts of two Confederate regiments. Dawes’ horse was shot under him in the charge, and he led the men on foot. Upon the issue of the engagement hung the possession of Cemetery Hill, and upon the holding of Cemetery Hill hung the issue of the Battle of Gettysburg itself. General Abner Doubleday, in his official report, said that “the moment was a critical one, involving the defeat, perhaps the utter rout, of our forces.”  

Dawes position at Gettysburg, diagram from Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, ed. by R. U. Johnson and C. C. Buel, New York (1887).

Mary (Gates) Dawes
During the Civil War, Rufus began a courtship of Mary Gates, daughter of Beman and Betsey (Shipman) Gates of Marietta.  Eight months after the couple's engagement, Rufus was granted a furlough due to re-enlistment.  He returned to Marietta, and he and Mary were married on January 18, 1864.  They honeymooned in Milwaukee, where Rufus received his only war-time injury.  His horse slipped and fell on the ice, causing Rufus to suffer a sprained ankle and gaining him three additional weeks of leave from the army.

One of the heroes of the Iron Brigade, Rufus Dawes fought in 20 battles. He was made major in 1862, lieutenant colonel in 1863, colonel in 1864, and finally, brigadier general by brevet at the close of the war.  

Rufus Dawes' commission as brigadier general by brevet, signed by President Andrew Johnson, May 22, 1866.   Marietta College Library Special Collections

Following the War, Rufus and Mary lived the rest of their lives in Marietta, Ohio.  They had six children:  Charles Gates Dawes (Vice President of the United States under Coolidge); Rufus Cutler Dawes; Beman Gates Dawes; Mary Frances Dawes Beach; Henry May Dawes; and Betsey Gates Dawes Hoyt.  

Home of the Dawes family on Fourth Street in Marietta, Ohio.

Rufus Dawes operated a lumber business and was involved with the railroad.  He served on the Marietta College Board of Trustees from 1871 until his death.  He was elected to a term in the U.S. Congress in 1880, and was one of the leading candidates for nomination as governor of Ohio in 1889.  President McKinley offered Dawes the post of Minister to Persia in 1897, but he declined.   

At the age of 50, Dawes' health began to deteriorate, and he spent the last three years of his life confined to a wheelchair due to partial paralysis.  In the summer of 1899, the Marietta High School Cadets performed a dress parade in front of Dawes' home to honor the old general.  He died in Marietta on August 2, 1899, aged 61.

Rufus Dawes with family members and the Marietta High School Cadets in 1899.

On hearing the news of Dawes’ death, a soldier who had served with him during the Civil War said, “I was very much impressed with his nobility of character, his sterling worth as a man, and his earnestness and bravery as a soldier.  He was a man of high ideals and firmness, and was popular with the soldiers of his regiment.”

In 1890 Rufus Dawes published a memoir, Service With the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers.  Regarded as a Civil War classic, it contains important descriptions of the military campaigns of the Army of the Potomac.  This book has been digitized and is accessible on-line, courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society:

Dawes' original Civil War diary had also been made available by the Wisconsin Historical Society:

Many additional materials related to the life and career of Rufus Dawes, including diaries for 1859 and 1893, are available in the reading room of the Marietta College Library Special Collections:

Linda Showalter
Special Collections Associate
Marietta College Library