1 March 2007
I had a kind email from the g-g-granddaughter of Oliver D. Green, medal of honor recipient and staff officer at Antietam. She corrected my error on AotW in his middle name (it’s Davis). I’m very glad she brought him to my attention.
A career Regular Army officer from west-central New York State, Oliver Davis Greene graduated from West Point in 1854 and saw duty in the West with the 2nd US Artillery Regiment. At the start of the War in 1861 he was 1st Lieutenant, Battery G, and was in action as the battery’s commander at First Bull Run in July. He was then assigned as Captain and Assistant Adjutant General (AAG) on Major General Don Carlos Buell’s staff.
In that service Captain Greene made a powerful enemy: Andrew Johnson, then military governor of Tennessee. In 1864, of course, Johnson was elected Vice-President of the United States, and became President himself on Lincoln’s assassination in 1865.
It was at Nashville in the summer of 1862 that Greene and Johnson bumped heads …
Known as a “War Democrat” and staunch Union man,
“… Johnson ruled [Tennessee] with a heavy hand. He arrested critics of the federal government and held them without trials; such critics included clergymen who supported the Confederacy in their sermons. Johnson also dismissed state officeholders who were unwilling to denounce secession, closed anti-Union newspapers, seized all railroads in the state, supervised military operations from Nashville, and levied heavy taxes on planters and large landholders”. (from the Miller Center at the University of Virginia)
Lieutenant Greene, stationed at Nashville and operating independently of his boss, Major General Buell, was apparently “soft” on the Rebels. The trail of correspondence about him is fascinating:
NASHVILLE, June 17, 1862.
There is much I would like to say in reference to the management of affairs in Tennessee since I received the State. I left my position in the Senate not for the purpose of obtaining place and emolument, but to give whatever aid I could in mustering my adopted State to the former position in the Union … Since I have been here there has been a constant struggle between staff officers, provost-marshal, and brigadier-generals left in command, which has paralyzed all the efforts of Union men in bringing about a healthy and sound reaction of public sentiment. I have now to ask of Gen. Halleck, without going into detail or specification, that he will remove some of these impediments. Capt. O. D. Greene, a staff officer, who has been assuming much more that either you or Gen. Buell would have done or even allow …
With great respect,
ANDREW JOHNSON, Military Governor.
CORINTH, June 21, 1862.
Gov. ANDREW JOHNSON, Nashville:
The enemy is driven out of all West Tennessee. East Tennessee will soon be clear of the rebels. Obstreperous women in and about Nashville you can easily manage. The regeneration of the entire State is not far off. I shall call Gen. Buell’s attention to your complaints of Capt. Greene, the provost-marshal, and others. If he does not afford a remedy soon I will.
H. W. HALLECK,
CORINTH, June 21, 1862.
Governor Johnson complains bitterly of Capt. Greene, assistant adjutant-general, the provost-marshal, and others, at Nashville and asks that they be removed. I hope you will inquire into this, as it is not the first time that such complaints have been made. None but undoubted Union men should be in office in Nashville.
H. W. HALLECK,
I wonder who else had complained, and if it was Green or someone else the target? In any case, Greene’s boss isn’t buying it:
HDQRS., June 22, 1862.
Has any charge of disloyalty been made against Col. Stanley Matthews [provost marshall] and Capt. Greene? I should have no hesitation in believing such a charge frivolous and absurd. It is difficult to make inquiry without knowing the matter complained of.
D. C. BUELL.
Later, the Governor wrote the President:
Nashville Tenn. July 10, 1862
His Excellency A. Lincoln
Last night I received despatches from Genl Boyle Commanding in Kentucky stating that a raid by a cavalry force of 2000 has been made into Ky & asking me to send one or two Regts to his relief-This morning I have 3 more dispatches from the same source asking that troops be sent immediately as the raid is of magnitude[.] Capt O D Greene, Ass’t Adjgt Gen; of Buell’s staff who exercises command over the troops here so far as to order them where ever he wished refuses to take notice of these despatches & afford the necessary relief for Kentucky & Tennessee-This attack is aimed at the highway the Louisville & Nashville R. R. which should be protected by all means as necessary for the safety of this place and all middle Tennessee. This Captain Greene has not only refused to cooperate with me but has used his position of Ass’t Adj’t Gen’l in locating the troops here directly in opposition to enemy view & with great damage to the cause. Right in the face of these important dispatches an order sending away nearly all the force from this place, is persisted in-I consider the policy which has been pursued by Buell’s adj’t Genl here in the absence of Buell’s a most decidedly determntal to the public interest-My opinion is that he is at this time in complicity with the traitors here & shall therefor have him arrested & sent beyond the influence of rebels and traitors if he is not immediately removed … Mr President since I have reached this place there has been a struggle & a contest going on between the provost Marshall’s Brigadier Generals & Staff officers of Genl Buell which has retarded the reaction development of Union sentiment here. All I ask is to be sustained by the President & I will sustain the President. Please send me an answer immediately as it is highly important . . . that Capt. Greene shall not be allowed to damage the cause we are laboring to maintain
With great respect
And later the same day:
NASHVILLE, TENN., July 10, 1862.
His Excellency ABRAHAM LINCOLN, President:
Capt. Greene, professing to act by authority of Gen. Buell, who has not been here since March, defies my authority and issues orders nullifying my acts. He has since my dispatch to you of this afternoon put Lewis D. Campbell, Sixtyninth Ohio Volunteers, and provost-marshal, under arrest, because he obeyed an order I issued to him as provost-marshal, and has appointed a provost-marshal in whom I have no confidence. I was informed by dispatch from Secretary of War that the Sixty-ninth Ohio was ordered to report to me. I desire an order from you at once reinstating Col. Campbell and a transfer of Capt. Greene to some post beyond the limits of this State. This change must be made as necessary to our successful operations here. The commission I hold, as I conceive, give me full and ample power to appoint a provost-marshal, yet I prefer the order from you. I must have the means to execute my orders or abandon the undertaking.
With great respect,
WAR DEPARTMENT, July 12, 1862.
The President having been informed that you have put under arrest Col. Lewis D. Campbell, who was acting under authority of Governor Andrew Johnson as provost-marshal, he directs that Col. Campbell be immediately discharged from arrest. He also orders that hereafter you abstain from interfering with or resisting any order of Governor Johnson or with any officer acting under his authority. The President also directs that without delay you turn over your command to the officer next in rank, and leave the city of Nashville and report yourself in person to Gen. Buell.
By order of the President:
EDWIN M. STANTON,
Secretary of War.
That would seem to be that.
But by the end of July, Captain Greene was promoted to Major. In August he was given the temporary rank of Lieutenant Colonel (to December 1862) in the Adjutant General Corps, and assigned as Chief of Staff to Major General William B. Franklin, Sixth Army Corps. Hardly likely for a disgraced “traitor”, I’d have thought.
It was in that capacity that he served valiantly on the Maryland Campaign of September 1862, later receiving the Medal of Honor for his actions as he formed troops under fire at Antietam, and brevets–honorary promotions–for bravery at Crampton’s Gap and Antietam.
In 1864, while Greene was on the staff of Major General William S. Rosecrans in the Department of Missouri, the ugly insinuations returned. This time the President personally asked about him. Lincoln’s inquiry has been lost, but General Rosecrans’ response has not:
St. Louis, Oct 4 1864
A private note by hand from your Excellency inquires about Maj O D. Greene A. A. Gen, Col J V Dubois & Col. Myers [Col. Dubois was chief of cavalry and Myers chief quartermaster for the department]. Maj Greene is an able honest but strongly prejudiced officer but a true man Col Myers is prudent honest and of more than ordinary capacity, but not of vast foresight. Col Du Bois is gallant efficient and true to the nation. They are all good men here, Col Du Bois ought to have been a brigadier Genl. for general qualifications and ability as well as for gallantry in the battle of Corinth. I think it an injury to the Union cause to remove, such good men because it gives a handle to the ?ìOAK¬ù [Order of American Knights, a secret, pro-Confederate organization] and their adherents to accuse the President of unscrupulous personal proscription of those who are not his political friends which in this community causes us to lose more than we gain. I hope you will not listen to such stories as will in future as in the past reach your ears about matters and things in this department without letting me know about them. Please see the inclosed, which is like the sinister lies sent out by telegraph on my removal from the command of the Army of the Cumberland. If you do not stand by & defend your honest and faithful officers to whom shall they look?
W. S Rosecrans
I wonder if the Vice President was behind this, or if there’s more to the story. It’s probably not a coincidence that Generals Buell, Franklin, and Rosecrans were all friends of General McClellan and perhaps of similar political outlook.
Clearly there were tensions here than I do not entirely understand, but our friend Oliver Greene seems to come out alright. By War’s end he was brevetted (his 4th) to Brigadier General. Afterward, he continued in Regular Army service as a staff officer, retiring in 1897 as Colonel.
The photograph of Greene is from the Meserve Collection–8,000 cartes de visite portraits in 27 bound volumes–at Harvard University.
The Johnson photo above was taken between 1855 and 1865, and is from the Library of Congress. The 1862 correspondence is quoted from the Official Records (OR) Series I, Volume 16, Part 2 and the Papers of Andrew Johnson (U of Tenn Press), Vol. 5, and was gathered online by the Tennessee Civil War Sourcebook, a project of the Tennessee Historical Commission. The Rosecrans letter is from the Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress as annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois.
A volume of the OR owned by Oliver D. Greene is/was for sale recently, online.