La Salle native and 1965 graduate of La Salle-Peru Township High School, James Huffstodt of Tallahassee, Fla., is the author of a recently released biography of one of Illinois’s most heroic Civil War generals who was also a personal protégé of President Abraham Lincoln.
“Lincoln’s Bold Lion: The Life and Times of Brigadier General Martin Davis Hardin (1837-1923) by James Huffstodt is published by Casemate Publisher of Philadelphia and Oxford, England. The 440-page hardback, with a 16-page photo section, will be printed in ten languages.
“History was my passion from a very early age,” Huffstodt said. “My interest in the Civil War grew from listening to my maternal grandmother, Celia Baker Sykes of Utica (1876-1965), tell about her father’s experiences as a soldier in that war. Private Martin Baker of Utica served in Co. K, 11th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment, raided by General W.H.L. Wallace of Ottawa. Baker was seriously wounded at the Battle of Fort Donelson, Tennessee on Feb. 15, 1862.”
Huffstodt currently works part-time in the public health field in Tallahassee and devotes the rest of his time to various writing projects. His other works include: “Hard Dying Men: A History of the Eleventh Illinois Volunteer Infantry.” (1991), “Everglades Lawmen: True Stories of Game Wardens in the Glades.” (2000), and “Journeys In Time: A History of the Huffstodt-Sykes Family” (2014). The last title was privately published in a limited edition of 50 copies.
The subject of Huffstodt’s newest work, Brigadier General Martin Davis Hardin (1837-1923), was born in Jacksonville, Ill., the son of Colonel John J. Hardin, a close friend and political ally of young Abraham Lincoln. The father died a hero’s death at the Battle of Buena Vista during the Mexican War in 1847 at age 36.
During the Civil War, President Lincoln kept in close touch with Hardin’s widow and took a personal interest in her son. Young Hardin fought in 20 pitched battles including Gettysburg, and suffered four wounds. After he was wounded in a Confederate ambush, surgeons amputated Hardin’s left arm.
Despite serious wounds that nearly took his life, the 27-year-old Hardin returned to lead troops in the war’s final year.
On June 30, 1864, President Lincoln wrote the following recommendation for Hardin’s promotion:
“Col. Martin Hardin named within is the son of a very Dear Friend of mine who fell at Buena Vista, has himself a West Point education, has fought in the War, losing an arm and been shot through the body, and if there is any vacancy, send in nomination for him as Brigadier General at once.”
Only a week later, the newly promoted one-armed Brigadier General Hardin played a key role in defending Washington against a threatening Confederate Army. On the night of the assassination on Good Friday, 1865, Hardin helped lead the massive hunt for Lincoln’s killer, John Wilkes Booth, and his accomplices.
After retiring from the army in 1870, Hardin became a Chicago attorney and survived the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. He and his first wife also helped Lincoln’s widow, Mary Todd Lincoln, nurse her terminally-ill son, Tad, at Chicago’s Clifton House.
General and the second Mrs. Hardin, Chicago coffee heiress Amelia McLaughlin, built a mansion called Two Chimneys in 1914, which still stands in Lake Forest. General Hardin was a winter resident of St. Augustine for 40 years, where he died at his home, “The Union Generals House” in 1923. He was the last survivor of the West Point Class of 1859 and one of the last surviving Civil War Generals.
Hardin and his second wife are buried at the National Cemetery in St. Augustine.
Civil War Historian Ezra J. Warner wrote of General Hardin in the 1964 book, “Generals In Blue: The Lives of the Union Commanders”:
“Hardin … embarked upon a combat career which has few parallels in the annals of the army for gallantry, wounds sustained, and the obscurity into which he had lapsed a generation before his death.”
Huffstodt’s work, “Lincoln’s Bold Lion: The Life and Times of Brigadier General Martin Davis Hardin,” is carried by most major book outlets including Amazon.com.
About the author
James Huffstodt, his wife Judy, and their granddaughter, Jade, now reside in Tallahassee, Fla.
The author, 68, is the youngest child of the late Robert W. Huffstodt (1907-1957), who worked his entire career as an advertising man with the La Salle NewsTribune. His older brother, Eugene Huffstodt of Peru, also worked at the NewTribune as the business manager for 45 years before retirement in 1990.
After studying American and European history at Southern Illinois University and the University of Illinois, James Huffstodt worked as a reporter and feature writer for the Ottawa Daily Times. In 1973, he became assistant public relations director at Illinois Valley Community College, leaving in 1978 to embark on a 30-year career in wildlife conservation with the Illinois and Florida state conservation agencies.
originally featured on Illinois Valley News Tribune