JACKSON SPEED AND THE CASE OF THE DA PONTE DIAMOND
If the prosecuting attorney had bothered to ask, I’d have been delighted to tell ’em that there was nothing temporary about Dan Sickles’ insanity. The man was doololly from the word “go.” And the Queen of Spain, who fluttered her eyelids at your faithful biographer as well as every other man she ever encountered, was a fat heifer of a woman and as unappealing as any I’ve ever laid eyes on.
It was ’57 when I had the unfortunate opportunity to meet Dan Sickles for the first time, long before he lost that leg at Gettysburg where he went a long way to proving he was still insane in ’63. Much has been written about his decision to move his men forward and off Cemetery Ridge, and I suppose it’s the sort of thing that will trouble military historians from now until forever.
I could tell you why he pushed his men forward into the peach orchard where they should have never been, but you wouldn’t believe me if I did. I’ll say this, though, his jealousy over his wife was a terrible thing to behold, and it wasn’t too much for that maniac to send an entire Corps of the Army of the Potomac after a man who’d disgraced his marriage bed, or whatever Sickles would call it.
In ’57, I’d nearly put my name in for political office. J.H. Lumpkin decided that he would rather be governor in Georgia than a representative in Washington, and when he announced he wouldn’t run reelection to his House seat, some of my friends in the Democratic Party started tossing my name about as a replacement. 1
The war hero from Mexico who’d found gold in California – even then my name was pretty well known back home in Georgia, and I was certainly running in the right circles to be assured a victory should I choose to run. For residency purposes, it would have meant taking a house in Rome, but it wasn’t as if I’d have to actually live there. But just as I was about to pay my qualification fee and send a man to find me a house up near Rome, I thought better of it. A career in politics had always been in the back of my mind, and if you’re as opposed to performing honest labor as I am then there is no better way to get rich than by getting yourself fixed up in a seat in Washington D.C.
But I was already rich, and I couldn’t see how arguing with Republicans about slavery could prove to be much entertainment to me.
“But Jack,” my sweet Eliza whined at me when I told her I’d changed my mind, “political office is the right sort of pursuit for a man of your stature in the community.”
“Aye,” I agreed, “no doubts about that, and I’m certain sure I could turn it into a profitable venture. But the truth is, dear, I’ve spent nearly all of the 10 years of our marriage engaged in one adventure or another, away from home and hearth more than I’d care to be, and I think I’ve earned the right to stay here in Milledgeville and live a life of ease and comfort.”
“But think what fun it would be to attend the finest parties and meet the most important people in the country,” she said. “I was so looking forward to taking a house in our nation’s capital and being one of the Belles of Washington Society.”
“Oh, the papers would all say you are the loveliest and most sophisticated of ladies in all of the capital,” I said. “But how would you like to have to play hostess to Republicans like John Fremont? Wouldn’t care for that a bit, now would you?” 2
She frowned at the thought. If there was one thing my beautiful wife hated more than all others, it was Yankee Republicans. Why, if Johnny Booth hadn’t put paid to Lincoln, the papers might one day have written about the pretty red-headed woman from Milledgeville, Georgia, who shot ’im in the back of the head.
“I suppose not,” she said.
“Besides, dear, I’ll gladly take you to Washington D.C. any time you’d like to go, and I’m confident we could get invited to parties, and the papers will still write about you. And, the best part of that is we don’t have to actually live in Washington, we can just go on a visit.”
“Well, what will you do if you’re not in Washington D.C. serving the people?” Eliza asked.
“‘Serving the people,’” I scoffed. “As if that’s what I’d be doing. Oh, my lovely, I expect I’ll piddle about the homestead here, go down to the store some days and see how our hammers and blankets and tobacco pipes are selling, and play cards with the boys.”
Eliza, who ten years into our marriage was still as shockingly beautiful as the day we’d met, screwed up her face and frowned at me. “I was looking forward to being a senator’s wife. Senator and Mrs. Jackson Speed,” she said, trying out the phrase. “I like the sound of it.”
“I was going to run for a seat in the House of Representatives. It would be Representative and Mrs. Jackson Speed,” I corrected her.
She stared at me for a bit, and I could tell she was rolling that phrase over in her mind. “It’s a bit more cumbersome, isn’t it,” she said after a moment. “Yes, I think I’d rather you be a senator.”
Well, that was the end of the discussion of my running for office. But I was fully involved in the local Democratic Party by that time, and when Gus Wright won the election, I was part of the delegation selected to escort him to Washington D.C. I didn’t know Wright, but the Democrats were viewing me as one of the state’s young, rising stars, and I suppose some of the king makers in the party thought that if I accompanied Wright and got to see Washington from a politician’s point of view – visiting the upper class brothels and getting belly-to-belly with some of the expensive whores, smoking cigars and drinking sherry in parlors where powerful men made fortunes for themselves, and generally living in luxury at someone else’s expense – well, I suppose they thought that would appeal to me enough that come the next election I’d go through with the thing, pay my fee and serve the people, don’t ye know.
So it was in ’57 that I boarded a train in Milledgeville with a half dozen other Democrats who were all going to escort Gus Wright to Washington D.C. 3 Of the others in our group, I only knew Tom Cobb. His star was shining as bright as mine, perhaps a bit more because of his family connections. His brother was our governor and his wife’s father was the retiring Representative J.H. Lumpkin whose seat I’d nearly sought. Tom was some sort of legal genius and an upright and proper sort of man. Given their choice, the king makers would have preferred me over Tom. They knew sooner or later I’d get caught with my pants around my ankles and some pretty young wife of some colleague astride me, and they’d be able to blackmail me into doing whatever they liked. Tom, on the other hand, was a Presbyterian who did nothing if the Bible didn’t say it was all right to do.
I was standing up on Marye’s Heights when Tom Cobb took the wound that killed him at Fredericksburg. The official story went that Cobb was hit by shrapnel from a Yankee shell, but the truth of it is some damned fool private misfired his rifle and shot Tom in the butt. I liked Tom fairly well, despite our differences, but I never mourned another man’s death too much for I was always relieved it was him and not me. 4
But in ’57 we were aboard a train bound for Washington with a stop in Atlanta to pick up our new Congressman.
“Speedy, old boy, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m surprised we’re not accompanying you to Washington,” Tom was saying as the train pulled up to the Atlanta depot. “I thought it was a sure bet you’d be representing us in national affairs, and I’m disappointed it’s not. If any man has the gumption to stand up to them Yankee radicals on this issue that’s most important to us all, well, it’s you.”
I was chomping a cigar, and rather than take it out, I slid it to a corner of my mouth and talked around it. “What issue is that, Tom?” I asked him, knowing full well the issue he had in mind.
“Slavery, Speed!” Cobb spat. “If it ain’t coming to a boil, too! What worries me is the sectional division taking shape. Why, if the Republicans would have won a majority, or if they ever do, all the power in this country will shift to the North and the South will be without a voice. Y’know, I hear more and more folks from the radical side of our party talking about disunion.”
“Aye, ’twon’t happen,” I said around the cigar. “We’ve got a Democrat majority and a Democrat president, and too many people would have to give up too much if states started leaving the union. Lord, Tom, likely as not it’d come to war if states left the union.”
At that time, Cobb was still much opposed to disunion, and he and his brother Howell were forever standing up at political meetings to denounce the notion. But when Lincoln was elected, all that changed. Tom Cobb formed up a legion and went to fight and be killed just so that he could go on owning Negroes.
You’ll know that in addition to catching a bullet in the butt at Fredericksburg, T.R.R. Cobb’s other big contribution to the Southern Cause was his treatise on why slavery is good and proper and right and a blessing bestowed by God hisself. He also did something to make it easier to jail a man for crimes, but that was for lawyers to worry about and not me.
Just then, Tom dropped the subject for we could hear a band playing at the station as the train came rolling to a stop, and the Honorable Augustus Romaldus Wright was standing atop a box waving to a crowd of supporters who were at the depot to see him off.
Meeting him for the first time as he boarded the train, I had to agree with Tom that Gus Wright was not the man Georgia needed fighting Yankee Republicans. I thought he lacked a certain flair, a certain sense of charm, and his oratorical skills were dreary and uninspiring. Wooing the public as a politician, I believe, is very much like wooing women: It takes charm and flash, it takes a smoothness of attitude and a gleam in the eye. A good politician needs to be able to turn a phrase just right or poke a jibe to get the newspaper editors talking about him. Gus Wright, another lawyer politician, was too interested in making certain that his legislation was worded in such a way that only he and his fellow lawyers would be able to find the loopholes. Well, nobody reads the laws except for lawyers, but a verbal dressing down of a political opponent gets read and repeated from one end of the country to the next.
Worse for Congressman Wright, his wife certainly wouldn’t be the most popular girl in Washington Society. She didn’t make up in grace or beauty for his shortcomings. Well, at least Eliza would be pleased to know the woman taking her place among Georgia’s congressional wives wasn’t her better.
No, Tom Cobb was right: Georgia needed Ol’ Speedy with his flashing smile and winking eye and his cutting wit in Washington D.C., and after my first introduction to Gus Wright, I all but made up my mind that I’d give politics further thought before the next election came round.
But Gus Wright was of little interest to me then and now. It says something of the man that Lincoln offered him a position as Georgia’s provisional governor when the state seceded. Wright declined, politely, no doubt, and served in the Secession Conventions and he went on to be colonel of a regiment in Lee’s army.
Boarding the train with Wright, though, was a young beauty who immediately caught my eye. Teresa Bagioli Sickles was an olive-skinned beauty with a long neck and pert teats that were near to bursting out of her dress as she climbed up the steps to board the train behind her maniac husband. I noticed her right away, as I stood back in the narrow aisle waiting my turn to be introduced to Gus Wright and his wife.
Now, if you’re as practiced in seducing women as I am, once you lay eyes on a girl who catches your fancy, your next move is to scan the room for the man who might be attached to her. And if he’s seen you looking, give him a defeated smile and a bit of a shrug – let ’im know that ye’ve admired the jewelry but she’s as good as locked away in a safe – and likely as not he’ll let down his guard and ye’ll be belly-to-belly with her post haste.
But I didn’t bother with the defeated smile or the shrug, for when I locked eyes with Dan Sickles I saw he was already boiling. The man’s eyes were on me and his jaw was set, and for a moment I thought he would push past everyone in Gus Wright’s party and have a swing at me right there on the train for nothing more than casting my gaze upon the heaving, olive bosom of his pretty young wife.
But he kept calm and I purposefully didn’t glance at Mrs. Sickles again.
Now Gus Wright’s hand was in my face and someone was introducing me as the hero from the Mexican War and he was pumping my fist and thanking me for helping him to get settled in Washington D.C.
“And this is Congressman Dan Sickles of New York City,” Wright said, squeezing Sickles through the crowd so that he could shake fists with all of those around. He gave me a pretty nasty glare when we shook hands and squeezed my hand rougher than was necessary.
“Congressman Sickles was elected to the House just last year, and before that he served as part of the United States legation to London,” Wright cooed. “The Congressman was good enough to come all the way to Georgia to escort me to Washington!”
Teresa Sickles was five or six years younger than me, so she’d have been not much more than twenty years old when we took the train together to Washington. Devil Dan must have been ten years older than me, putting him around thirty-six. He wore a bushy moustache and his forehead was already growing larger, and I remember that he had cold, gray eyes and a clenched jaw.
By contrast, his young wife had lovely brown eyes, warm and inviting – at least they seemed mighty inviting to me. She wore her hair in a braided knot at the back, revealing her long neck and shoulders. When she finally made her way through the introduction line down to me, I gave her hand a kiss and – making certain that Devil Dan was engaged in conversation with his back to me – a quick wink and grin to let her know that I was ready when she was.
I caught her olive skin turning pink and a smirk on her lips, and I knew right away she was a sport.
These were heady times for the Democrats. We’d won a majority in the House, we’d retaken the White House, and the Whig party had all but dissolved. The Party was playing up every victory it could find, and there were plenty to be found.
Sickles, of course, was a Tammany Hall Democrat from New York City, and I understand he had some business interests in the South. But what he was really doing was forging the alliances of party, attempting to make certain, no doubt, that this new Georgia congressman could be counted on to vote properly on issues important to the Yankee Democrats.
We had hired two private sleeper cars for our journey north, and so I did not see the man in the bowler hat boarding the train a couple of cars farther up. If I had seen him, I probably would have made an excuse, canceled my trip and walked back home to Milledgeville. I’d only met Allan Pinkerton once before this, and he’d nearly gotten me killed. I had no desire to renew our acquaintance and, of course, I didn’t know then how many times he would drift in and out of my life, always bringing me to the brink of destruction.
The stop in Atlanta was brief – just long enough for the train to take on passengers and water, and soon we were in motion again. It was already late afternoon, and with necessary stops and the rate of travel of the day, our trip to Washington would take three days.
It wasn’t long before Tom Cobb hemmed up the Yankee congressman to satisfy himself that the Northern Democrats would not join the Republicans in attempting to abolish slavery. I was sitting there with them, trying to watch the scenery passing by over Sickles’ shoulder, but their conversation held almost no interest for me. Other than a couple of dower house slaves, I owned none and had no interests in the business. With the English chasing slave ships off the coast of Africa and the political winds very clearly blowing in the direction of abolition (you could not sit in a Yankee parlor in those days without being regaled with the horrors of slavery by panting hens with heaving breasts near to fainting with passion over the way white masters use their slave girls), I saw no future prosperity in investing in the Negro trade.
Not that I cared about freeing the Negroes, either. Having seen both sides of it, I can say they’re no better off today than they were before the war and maybe worse. At least as slaves they always had some hope of escape, traveling the Underground Railroad, getting up North and going on tour to talk with white Yankee women with heaving breasts about what the masters do to their slave girls. These days, the Negro has nothing to look forward to.
So as Cobb made his case to Sickles about the importance of slavery, not just to the nation’s economy but also to the “proper order of things,” and I watched the scenery slipping by, I noticed young Teresa Sickles slip from our car to the next one up, which happened to be the dining car.
“Think I’ll have a drink,” I said, patting Tom on the back. “You just keep making your case, Tom, so Congressman Sickles here can clearly articulate to his Northern fellows why all this abolitionist talk is so much hogwash.”
Sickles gave me a suspicious glance as I walked up toward the dining car, but I knew as long as Tom had his audience that the congressman would be well occupied for at least another hour. After all, we’d been talking for half an hour already, and Tom hadn’t yet gotten to the part about how it was God’s intention for us to enslave the Negro and that’s why He made ’em in the first place. Tom could easily talk for an hour just on that bit of it.
Besides, all I was doing was walking up to the dining car to have a drink, and I couldn’t help who I might find sitting alone and wanting for company in the next car up.
I didn’t know then that Devil Dan had left his beautiful wife at home in New York and taken a prostitute with him to London, or that he’d made quite a scandal by taking the whore to Buckingham Palace to meet Queen Victoria herself. It was in the papers, but I never got too interested in Yankee scandals and had missed this one altogether. So it was not by design that my first bit of conversation with Teresa reminded her of the scandal and what most certainly was a humiliating insult at the hands of her husband. 5
I took my glass of whiskey and sat down at the table across from Mrs. Sickles.
“They say your husband was serving in some delegation in London,” I said to her conversationally, giving her my best Speedy grin. “Did you enjoy England?”
Teresa shot me a bit of a nasty look, but I think she must have realized from my grin that I wasn’t intentionally insulting her, so she dropped the nastiness and said merely, “I did not accompany my husband on his business in London. Our daughter was young, and we did not feel that she should be made to endure the voyage.”
The icy tone to her voice let me know this was no subject for pleasant conversation, so now I cast about for some other bit of small talk to make. “Well, how’s about your visit to Georgia? Have you enjoyed your time here?”
She gave me a bit of a smile, and I thought, you’re in now, old son.
“It has been pleasant enough. The weather has been very mild. At home it is already very cold and we’ve had our first snow, but here it has been warm and pleasant during the days and only a bit chilly in the evenings.”
“Summers in the South are hot and balmy,” I said, “but on the whole I prefer the weather in my native Georgia to that of any other place I’ve been. Except perhaps California, the weather there near the coast is extraordinary. Never too hot, never too cold. It seldom rains. Aye, California is a decent place to spend time.”
She perked up a little more. “You’ve been to California?” she asked.
“Aye,” I said. “Went looking for gold in ’49.”
She gave me a sly smile now, and I saw that she had a pretty set of teeth, gleaming white against her olive skin and plump lips. “And did you find any?” she asked.
“Oh, aye, loads and loads of it. They’re still digging it out of my mines.”
And now we made more small talk, sipping our drinks and getting more relaxed with each other as we went.
I asked her about life in Washington D.C., and she talked at length about how much she enjoyed the social activities. There was a seemingly never-ending schedule of fetes and balls that provided her a wonderful distraction, and she hosted dinners each Thursday. Once a week she was at home for callers.
She said with just the tiniest note of frustration that her husband was often away at the club or busy with his work legislating. I assumed, rightly I’ll add, that she was dropping a hint that her husband was a womanizer and when he was busy legislating he was likely as not getting belly to belly with some woman somewhere. Sickles, you’ll know, was particularly fond of whores. I wasn’t much of a man for paying for sex, myself, but to each his own.
We’d been chatting for perhaps an hour or longer, and I could see through the windows that it was getting on to evening. The gaslight was lit, and more people were drifting in to the dining car for their supper, and before Devil Dan had a chance to catch us together, I left the table and bought a cold meat sandwich for my dinner.
The sleeper cars, even the private ones, were not particularly luxurious in those days when compared to today’s standards. In our cars, the seats on each side of the train faced the aisle so that there was no opportunity to watch the countryside out the window without looking over someone’s shoulder. At night, tiny, narrow beds dropped down out of the ceiling and the seats folded out into beds. There were no curtains, and that first night aboard the train I found it impossible to get to sleep for the noise of the train, the snoring of the other passengers and the complete lack of comfort afforded by the bed. I’d agreed to take one of the beds that came out of the ceiling, and it was too short for me by half a foot and I was forever worried about rolling off the thing and landing on Tom Cobb, who was sleeping below me.
So finding myself awake, I decided to venture out to the dining car for a drink. There were other passengers in the car, despite the late hour, and I took no notice of any of them when I first walked in. But after getting my drink, I turned to find a seat, and that’s when I heard that thick Glaswegian accent coming from underneath the bowler hat.
“Ach, noo, as I live and breathe, if it isnae Jaggy Speed!”
I recognized the voice even before my eyes found the speaker. “Pinkerton?” I said, and seeing him stick his fist out at me as he stood from his seat, I shook his hand and pretended to be delighted to see the Scotch maniac. “Why, hello Pinkerton,” I said. “Are ye chasing train robbers?”
Pinkerton smiled and didn’t release my hand. “Ach, Jaggy, let’s not speak too freely, eh? Come noo, have a seat with me!”
I took the seat across the table from him and set my glass down on the table. Pinkerton immediately leaned in toward me, shifting his eyes up and down the car before speaking in a harsh whisper. “I’m on official business,” he said, “but there isnae a thing to despair. This train is as safe as can be. I’ve been meeting with the president of the road to discuss the possibility of providing my company’s services to ’im.”
“Then why are you whispering, Allan?” I asked out loud.
Pinkerton frowned – with him everything was always a conspiracy of secrets. “Ach, the less people kin of my business, the better I can conduct my work. And how have ye been, Jaggy? I sent ye a letter some months ago but ye never responded.”
I’d ignored the letter. Pinkerton had invited me to join his detective agency as a fulltime detective, but I had no interest in doing any such thing and, upon reading the letter, thought the man had lost his mind. It seemed more polite to ignore the letter than to reply and tell him that he was a damned maniac and to not contact me again.
Now I scratched my head and looked wonderingly into the distance. “Letter, eh?” I said. “I don’t seem to recall a letter. Well, that’s the post service for you!”
“Ach, I should have sent it by courier,” Pinkerton said. Now he eyed me closely. “Me business is growing, Jaggy, and I can use good detectives.”
“Well, b’God I hope you find ’em, Allan!” I said, cutting him off before he could offer me a job. “I’m escorting Georgia’s newest congressman to Washington D.C. and thinking on a career in politics.”
Pinkerton sat up like I’d kicked him in the knee. “Ye’re thanking on politics?” he asked, full of shock. “Ach, nae, Jaggy, not ye! Political life couldnae afford ye the sense of adventure ye need,” he said. “Where’s the excitement in politics? Nae, ye should come and work for me at the Detective Agency,” he said. “Ye could be my manager and chief detective in the South! Oh, it’d be fine work for ye, Jaggy Speed!”
Well, for being one of the most famous detectives ever, Pinkerton’s ability to read a man was evidently lacking. He was forever convinced that I was just like all his other detectives, as eager to get into the death as he was himself. Of course, our first meeting left him with the wrong impression, and he was never to get me straight in his head after that.
Pinkerton and I had a couple of drinks together and he told me all about his latest experiences in catching thieves and bandits – no doubt believing he was enticing me into a romantic life of adventure – and eventually I made my way back to the uncomfortable bed where, thanks to the whiskey, I was finally able to drift off to sleep.
We were stopped in some tiny North Carolina town when I finally had opportunity to get Teresa Sickles alone.
Most stops along the road were not for more than twenty minutes, time enough for passengers to get off the train and get something to eat if they desired (for the prices in the dining card were exorbitant) or stretch their legs, and for the train to take on water. But for whatever reason, the porter announced that we’d have a two hour stop over in this town.
Most all of the passengers exited the train and began to walk around to stretch, and I was among ’em. Tom Cobb was still keeping Sickles well occupied, and now he’d brought Gus Wright into it so that the three of them were forever together with Cobb holding services and preaching on the inferiority of the Negroes.
The town where we stopped was barely large enough to qualify. There was a hotel and a dry-goods store and a couple dozen houses laid out in an irregular fashion. A dirt road swept into the town from one end, made a big curve around and exited the town at the same end, so that it seemed as if the engineers cutting the path of the road had missed the town and remembered just in time that they had to go back and take it in.
There was a large tobacco plantation with a number of outbuildings down the road, too, and I caught sight of Teresa walking by herself toward the farm. I looked back to be sure Tom Cobb was still in his sermon, and seeing Devil Dan Sickles thus engaged, I decided to follow Teresa for a bit.
Presently, we’d walked a good ways from the depot and the other travelers, so that it was just the two of us out on this end of town. Teresa had not noticed me behind her, so I sped my pace to catch her up.
“Hello, Mrs. Sickles,” I said, taking her by the elbow as I reached her. “Lovely day for a stroll, isn’t it?”
She smiled brilliantly at me. “Hello, Mr. Speed!” she said. “I’m delighted you’ve joined me.”
She looked out at the plantation. “What strange barns,” she said. “They’re very tall and narrow, and the boards are all poking out.”
“Well, those are tobacco drying barns,” I said. “They’re growing tobacco here, and they take the leaves and hang them in rows inside the barns to dry out. Some of the slats are on hinges so that they can be opened up like that to allow air in to dry the tobacco.”
“Really?” she asked, and there was something inviting about her tone. “I’ve never seen such a thing.”
I looked around for any sign that anyone – Dan Sickles in particular – was watching us, and when I concluded that we were unobserved I offered to show her one of the barns.
“Won’t the farmer mind?” she asked.
“I can’t imagine he would,” I said with a wink.
It was dark and dusty when I pulled the barn door closed behind us, but there was light enough for the work I had in mind. The tobacco leaves were hanging on racks so that only a little of the light from the openings in the walls could peek through, and there was little room to maneuver about. I purposefully bumped up against Mrs. Sickles, and she turned to face me. I’ve always found a long neck on a woman to be an appealing thing, and I was looking at Teresa’s neck and thinking about giving it a bit of a bite when I noticed the diamond at the end of a gold chain around her neck.
The diamond fell low enough that it was just inside the top of her dress, tucked neatly between her plump teats.
“That’s quite a rock,” I said to her, sliding my finger between the chain and her bare skin and lifting the thing up to have a look at it. It was encased in a round, gold design with rubies glittering on the sides.
“This is the Da Ponte Diamond,” she explained. “It was a gift from the Pope to my grandfather many years ago.”
“That right?” I asked. “Da Ponte, eh?”
“My grandfather was the famed librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte who worked with Mozart. My family is Italian.” 6
“Well that explains your lovely olive complexion,” I offered.
“You flatter me, Mr. Speed,” she said, cooing.
“That’s not all I intend to do to ye,” I answered, and I pulled her up to me and planted my lips on that gorgeous neck of hers.
I only spent an hour in that tobacco barn with Teresa Sickles, so maybe there was something I was missing, but I don’t mind saying she knew her business well and it was a delightful time we had together. Old Devil Dan could certainly have done worse than staying at home with that one. Of course, I’m not the sort of man who can pass judgment on cheaters and rascals.
But I will say, that if you’re a rascal like me, and Dan Sickles certainly was, then you should be prepared to overlook whatever diversions your spouse chooses for herself. In the years of our marriage, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to suspect my dearest Eliza was not always pining away waiting for me to return from war or adventure but instead was finding for herself her own amusements. But I never pursued those suspicions very far because I didn’t care to discover the truth of it. No, Eliza never questioned me and I never questioned her, and we’ve been as happily married a couple as I’ve ever seen.
But Dan Sickles was the worst kind of hypocrite. He pranced around London with his prostitute and went about murdering, or attempting to murder, his wife’s lovers.
“It would be dangerous for us to be seen walking back to the train together,” Teresa said as we dressed ourselves and prepared to leave the tobacco barn.
“Right,” I said. “You go ahead first, and I’ll follow in a few minutes. Maybe I’ll take the scenic route back so that I’m coming back from a different direction.”
She gave me one last, sincere kiss, and I knew that I was parting ways with yet another woman who would carry with her into old age fond memories of Ol’ Speedy. It’s worth noting that as I pushed open the barn door for her and the light flooded in, I saw the glint of the Pope’s gift perched there in her bosom, so when the thing came up missing later, I never worried that she’d lost it in the barn.
True to my word, and out of concern for my own good, I waited a few minutes, then took the long way around back to the train. It was good that I didn’t wait any longer, for nearly everyone else was already aboard and the thing was nearly ready to pull out of the station.
I entered one of the private cars and found Wright, Sickles, Cobb and a few of the others of the delegation all together, and I took a seat near them.
Cobb was no longer talking about slavery, but now the discussion had shifted to the failure of a bank in the Midwest which held no more interest to me than slavery. 7
A short while later, after the train was again journeying north, Teresa brought a glass of something over to Sickles. She didn’t even glance at me, and I almost paid them no mind until I heard Sickles say, “What is that in your hair?”
Quite suddenly he stood up, and there was violence in the way he did it so that the conversation stopped abruptly and all eyes were now on Devil Dan. He reached up and snatched something from his wife’s hair. He held it between his fingers, studied it for a moment and then gave it a sniff.
“That’s a piece of tobacco leaf,” he said. But it wasn’t a statement, rather it was an accusation. Immediately, Sickles looked directly at me, and I prayed to God I didn’t have a tobacco leaf in the collar of my coat or tucked behind my ear. He looked back to Teresa.
“When I went for a walk,” she said hesitatingly, “I saw a strange looking barn. I looked inside it out of curiosity. I must have picked up a passenger while looking in the barn.” And she gave a bit of a smile, took the tobacco from between Sickles’ fingers and brushed the thing onto the floor.
Teresa then turned and walked away as if nothing had happened, as if her husband’s bizarre outburst had been perfectly normal behavior.
Now he looked back at me, and I swear his gray eyes had turned red. His cheeks were flushed, too. There was hot rage inside that man, and I don’t mind saying that even though he was just a little man, it unnerved me to be under his glare like that.
“Just a bit of tobacco, Congressman,” Tom Cobb said, confused by what had just transpired. He looked from Sickles to me and back again. “Nothing to get upset over, surely.”
Sickles resumed his seat, but it was a long time before he stopped glaring at me.
For my part, I tried to act as if nothing had happened and avoided looking at the man. But there was no doubt that Devil Dan Sickles knew the moment he saw that tobacco leaf what had been happening in the barn, and he knew, too, who’d been engaged in that happening.
It was coming on to evening, and I was in the dining car sharing a table and a drink with Pinkerton. After the episode with Sickles, I’d decided to avoid the man for the rest of the trip. We were at one end of the car, and Sickles was at the other end, eating by himself. Teresa had eaten earlier with some of the other women among the delegation, and the girls had all gone off to play whist.
Presently, the door to the car opened over near Sickles, and Teresa came in. She was flushed and crying and nearly hysterical.
“Oh, Dan!” she exclaimed, and I could hear her across the car. “It’s the Da Ponte Diamond!”
Devil Dan jumped from his seat just as he had before. He took his wife by the shoulders, looked down at her heaving bosom, and then looked around the car again.
“Ach, Jaggy, did the lass say she’s missing a diamond?” Pinkerton said, and being the nosy sort who couldn’t keep out of other people’s business, he stood up and walked over to where Dan was hurriedly questioning Teresa.
I wasn’t going to follow him, but nearly everyone else in the car was now walking that way, and I didn’t want to do anything to raise Sickles’ suspicions any farther.
“And you’re sure you were wearing it when you came to dinner?” Sickles was saying as I walked up.
“Allow me, if ye will, to introduce meself,” Pinkerton said. “I’m Allan Pinkerton of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. If ye’re suspecting a thief is aboard this train, I might be of assistance.”
“My wife was wearing an extremely valuable diamond,” Sickles said. “It is a family heirloom. She seems to have misplaced it.”
“I didn’t misplace it,” Teresa sobbed. “Oh, Dan, I was wearing it to dinner. I know I was. And when we went back and took our places at the table to play whist, Mrs. Wright noticed that it was gone.”
Sickles looked like he was going to be sick. “Are you sure you didn’t take the thing off and put it away?” he asked.
“Oh, I’m quite sure!”
Now Pinkerton went to work. “It appears we have a thief aboard this train!” he announced to everyone in the car. “But do not fear, for I will apprehend the miscreant before the next stop!”
And now Pinkerton looked at me. “Jaggy Speed, I must insist that you lay aside your misgivings about any future business relationship with me, and assist me now in the investigation of this dastardly deed!”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Oh, all right. I suppose it can’t hurt.”
“Excellent! First, we will need a private place where we might question the victim.”
“You can use one of our cars,” said Tom Cobb, who’d come to see what the commotion was about.
Cobb led Pinkerton, both Dan and Teresa Sickles, and me back into the next car. Gus Wright was asleep in one of the seats, but Tom woke him and told him that Pinkerton needed to use the car, so Tom and Gus left the four of us in the room together.
I knew that the diamond was worth quite a bit, for I’d fingered the thing and rolled it over, and being a gift from the Pope probably increased the value of it some, and Devil Dan knew his wife’s purity was worth a good bit less than that diamond, for he never once even glanced at me as Pinkerton questioned his wife.
First, he got a description of it from her so that he knew what he was looking for. Then, he gave her a thorough questioning about the last time she was “absolutely sartin” about having it about her neck.
“So ye kin ye had it on ye when ye went to the dining car?” Pinkerton asked. “And ye kin ye didnae have it when you sat down to play your game of whist?”
“Yes, that’s right,” Teresa said, still nearly hysterical.
“When ye were in the dining car, did anyone bump into you or squeeze past ye or touch ye in anywise?”
Teresa stopped for a moment as she remembered something.
“Yes,” she said. “Yes, there was someone. As I was getting ready to leave the dining car, a young man, I think. I don’t really even remember. But he brushed past me, and I remember thinking it was rude of him not to apologize.”
“Ach!” Pinkerton howled. “If ye can describe him, I can guarantee we’ll have our culprit!”
But Teresa was mute. I could see her working in her memory, but she was coming up empty. Now she started to cry again and she looked at Pinkerton and said, “I’m sorry, Detective, but I cannot remember the man.”
“Was he wearing a hat?” Pinkerton asked. “Or do you remember the color of his hair?”
She thought for a moment. “Oh, I think he had black hair,” she said. “Or perhaps he was wearing a hat.” And the crestfallen look on her face made it plain enough that even she realized she was of no help at all.
Pinkerton actually punched his fist in disappointment. “Aye, it’s aright, lass. We’ll have him anyway.”
Just then, Tom Cobb burst back into the car. “Mr. Pinkerton!” he called to us. “There’s been another theft! Another man who was in the dining car just discovered his watch is missing!”
Pinkerton turned and actually ran the length of our private car to get back to the dining car. A moment later, he was leading the second victim into the car where he set about questioning him as well.
This one was even more useless than Teresa, for he didn’t even remember someone bumping into him.
Once the interview was complete, Pinkerton suggested the man should wait in the private car, though he was not one of the fellows of our group.
“Jaggy,” Pinkerton said, “I want ye to escort Mrs. Sickles the length of the train and back again. Go slowly along the aisles so that she has opportunity to look into every face to see if she recognizes the man who bumped into her, apprehend that man and wait for me. And you watch each face, too, Jaggy, for the culprit of the crime, by the guilty expression on his face, will give himself away when he sees his victim.”
“I’ll go with them,” Dan said quickly, catching a suspicious glance at me.
So I set off through the cars, trailing behind Devil Dan and Teresa Sickles. This theft of the Da Ponte Diamond, a gift from the Pope, don’t ye know, was providing a rare moment of entertainment on what was otherwise a dull journey, excepting of course the whistle-stop romps in barns.
I did as Pinkerton instructed, closely considering every visage we passed. It was not yet late enough that any of the cars had been converted for sleeping, but most all of the passengers were seated, either engaged in a game of cards or reading by gaslight. Inevitably, as we entered a car and walked along the aisle, every passenger we passed would pause in what they were doing and take a glance up at us. A few of the men we passed allowed their gaze to linger lustily on Teresa, for she was beautiful woman, but I did not see a single guilty expression.
We walked from one end of the car to the next, but if we passed by Pinkerton’s culprit, he failed to feel enough guilt to express it to me.
During our walk down the aisle, Sickles periodically turned back and looked at me, and his expression was one of absolute fury. He’d figured for hisself that I’d been belly-to-belly with his wife in a tobacco barn, and the knowledge was eating away at him. Each time he looked at me, his jaws were clenching in rage. His eyes were cutting through me. Hatred coursed through his visage.
I wondered if his glares caused a guilty expression on this culprit.
When we reached the end of the passenger cars and turned to go back, I suggested to Sickles and his wife that they go on ahead and I would catch them up. I tried to keep my voice casual, but the man was glaring murder at me and I heard my own voice crack like a prepubescent juvenile.
My Lord! If Pinkerton was here he’d sure to think I’d stolen the diamond myself from the guilty expressions issuing from me.
With Teresa and Devil Dan on their way back toward our private cars, I stood outside between two of the cars and breathed in the chill night air. I was perspiring furiously, and the cold air, full of smoke and coal embers though it was, offered some relief to my conscience.
Oh, it wasn’t guilt I was feeling, for I had no remorse over what I’d done. In fact, I rather enjoyed it and was wondering if there’d be any tobacco barns at the next whistle stop. But the threat of being punished for what I’d done was what worried me.
Sickles wasn’t much of a man, if the truth was known. Not particularly tall or strong, and he was ten years older than me, or more. If it came to fisticuffs, I felt confident I could knock him down. I was no fighter, but if it meant not getting my nose broke, I didn’t mind throwing the first punch and had done it before. But I was feeling a bit nervous being trapped aboard this train with a man who had guessed what I’d done to his wife and wanted to kill me over it.
It was not the first time a jealous husband had been prepared to do me in, and it wasn’t going to be the last, either. But something about the look in Dan Sickles’ eyes unnerved me.
Just keep away from him, Ol’ Speedy, and all will be right, I told myself.
I started back toward the dining car, thinking I might get into a game of cards to ease my worries.
As I went, somewhere in the middle of the train, I passed a boy coming from one of the men’s washrooms. The runt of the litter, I thought to myself. He couldn’t have been much more than fifteen years old. He was short and scrawny. A few whiskers were sticking out of his face, but they were long and soft and sparse. His clothes were worn and threadbare. There were holes in his coat and his shoes were tied together with strings. He had that hungry sort of look that made me think he probably lived on the street and found his meals from scraps tossed behind restaurants.
Ho-ho, I thought to meself, what’s this poor rascal doing aboard a train bound for Washington D.C.? And more to the point, how would he ever have afforded the fare?
Tied to his belt, I noticed, was a felt bag cinched at the top. Just the sort of bag that might be useful for carrying trinkets such as diamond necklaces and gold pocket watches.
I considered whether or not I should apprehend him based solely on my suspicions, but as he neared me, I saw behind him Pinkerton coming through from the next car.
I stepped to the side and allowed the boy to pass me by. He stank of dirt and sweat. As he stepped past me, I rocked with the motion of the train so that I bumped into him, and as I did I reached down and grabbed his bag with my fist – not so much that he would even know I’d touched it, but enough so that I might feel what was inside. Small pieces of something touched my finger tips, my palm felt something the size of a pocket watch.
“Pardon me, sir,” I said. “You’d think by now I would have my sea legs!”
The boy looked up at me, but he said nothing and kept going.
As Pinkerton approached me I whispered to him, “See the lad there? The one crossing into the next car? If you take him into custody and search that felt bag tied to his belt, I believe you’ll find the Da Ponte Diamond and any number of other valuables.”
Pinkerton’s face lit up with wild excitement. “Ach, Jaggy Speed, aye but you’re a wonderful detective. Come with me, and the game is up!”
“Oh, no, Pinkerton, you go on and catch this one on yer own. You’ll be all right, he’s just a wee lad. Surely you won’t need my help. And that way, all the credit goes to your detective agency.”
Pinkerton gave me a broad smile and slapped my shoulder.
“Aye, ye’re a good man, Jaggy. And now I will apprehend this miscreant and make good my promise to put an end to this investigation before the next stop!”
Then he set his expression to determination, pulled the bowler hat down over his eyes, and leaning forward with his shoulders rounded, he set off after his quarry.
Feeling pleased with myself over my detective work, I started back down the cars looking for that game of cards and not giving even the slightest considerations to Devil Dan.
As I passed one of the washrooms at one end of the next car, I noticed the door was opened just a crack. I thought nothing of it, but as I made to pass by the doorway, the door quite suddenly flew open, and standing in the doorway was Devil Dan Sickles. Before I could comprehend what was happening, the madman grabbed me by the arm, jerked me into the washroom and slammed me up against one of the walls.
I balled up my fist to strike, but he’d pushed himself up against me and was breathing foul breath into my face.
“Oh, you defiler!” he whispered, into my face. “Oh, you vile villain! You have dishonored my house, and you’ll pay for that with your life!”
He was shorter than I, and so I was looking down at him anyway as he threatened my life, but it was at that moment that the gleam of the knife caught my eye. The maniac had a stiletto, and the tip of it was playing with the front of my trousers!
B’God! This madman intended to unman me before killing me!
I believe if he’d have had that damned dagger pointing a few inches higher, I’d have been too slow to react and he’d have gutted me. But Devil Dan’s knife was threatening damage to my vital organ, and it was enough to spur me to action.
With every bit of strength I had, I pushed the man back away from me. He stumbled over the cabinet and lost his balance, and as he reached out to try to catch himself – that knife waving dangerously about – I landed a punch on his eye that sent him reeling to the ground.
And now I was out of that washroom like a dancer, and running back up the aisle of the car. I did not know where I was fleeing to, but flight was the only instinct I had.
People were beginning to look, and I thought for a moment the presence of witnesses would be enough to keep this maniac from pursuing me, but then I heard the devil shriek from the washroom.
“You villain!” he shouted. “Come back here you scoundrel and take what you deserve!”
I stood long enough to turn and face him, and saw that he was coming down the aisle at me. He wasn’t running, though. He knew there was no escape for me. He knew I could only go so far before I reached the end of the train. He knew I was already cornered, no matter how fast I ran.
But then I thought of Pinkerton. B’God, old Pinkerton wasn’t going to let Congressman Dan Sickles slice my bits and pieces!
I turned and dashed to the car door. Pinkerton couldn’t be more than two or three cars in front of us. I jerked open the door, and just as I did, the door to the next car jerked open as well.
Now I was face-to-face with the young thief. His face bore the same appearance of panic as mine, and I reasoned right away that Pinkerton must be chasing him. Both of us were in flight from our pursuers, but I could not get past him and he could not get past me.
I looked back through the door’s window and saw Sickles was nearly there. I reached down and held the door handle so that he could not open it.
“Let me past!” the young thief yelled at me. It was dark outside, and I could see the orange embers from the train blowing past in the sky. Now the train’s whistled sounded, and I realized that the train was slowing. We were coming to the next stop.
Sickles now had hold of the door and was trying to jerk it open. Through the next car, over the thief’s shoulder and through the window, I could see Pinkerton also trying to open the other door. The young thief was clutching the handle with both hands.
But then Pinkerton’s strength won out. He jerked open the door and the thief fell against me. As he did, I lost my grip on the door handle and Sickles pulled the thing open.
“Grab him Speedy!” Pinkerton shouted. “Apprehend that miscreant!”
For a moment, time stood completely still. The madman Sickles was within striking distance. The thief was pushing himself off me. Pinkerton was shouting triumph, believing his suspect caught. And I was wondering if Pinkerton had a pepperbox I could borrow.
And then, quite suddenly, the pressure of the young thief leaning against me was gone, and all that stood between me and Pinkerton was open air – the boy had leapt from the train.
“Excellent thinking!” I hollered, and jumped after him.
B’God it was a sore ankle that greeted me when I hit the ground. I rolled over the thing and sprained it, but my first instinct was to reach down to my crotch and make sure all the important bits were still intact. The pain from my ankle was nothing compared to the relief I felt to be off the train and away from Devil Dan Sickles’ knife.
I laid on my back, wondering how far it was to the next town and if I’d be able to make it there with a limp, but then I heard a sobbing nearby, and in the dark I could make out the shape of the young thief lying in a pile on the ground. He’d not been nearly as successful in his leap to freedom as I had been. He’d landed on a boulder, and not the soft ground.
Now I rolled over and pushed myself up, putting all my weight on my left leg and just using the toe of my right foot to balance myself, and I hopped over to where the boy was, maybe twenty yards down the tracks from me.
“Oh, mister,” he said, as I came up to him. “That man on the train, he’d gone insane. He was trying to kill me! You must protect me!”
“Humbug!” I said to him. “That man was trying to take you into custody. He is a detective and you are a thief.”
I reached down and snatched the felt bag from his belt and shoved my fist into it. My fingers landed on rings and pocket watches and – what’s this? – a necklace with a charm at the end. I withdrew the necklace and held it up toward the sky hoping for enough light from the sliver of moon and stars that I might see it and know what it was.
“Aha!” I exclaimed. “The Da Ponte Diamond! Do you know, son, that this diamond was a gift from the Pope hisself to the grandfather of the wife of a congressman? I believe if you read your Bible you’ll find it is an unforgivable sin to steal gifts bequeathed by the Pope!”
I dropped the diamond back into the bag and felt around a bit more. Then my hand landed on something that felt so familiar, I withdrew my hand and immediately put it into my vest pocket.
“B’God, ye’ve stolen my pocket watch, too!” I exclaimed.
Now the youth attempted to push himself up from the boulder that had broken his leg, but all the rage I was feeling toward Dan Sickles welled up inside me, and I took my frustrations out on the young thief. He’d raised himself up to his elbows, but I dropped his bag to the ground and hopped a step closer to him, and I balled up my fist and punched him square in the nose. The boy howled in pain and fell backwards onto the boulder. Even in the dim light, I could see a dark patch forming on his face where his busted nose was bleeding.
Now I sat down on the ground, with the boys increased sobbing to keep me company, and wondered what to do next.
I had no idea how far the next stop was, but I could hear the train’s whistle off in the distance. It must have slowed and come to a stop, and surely Pinkerton would soon be round to fetch me and the boy thief.
Well, the truth of it was, I didn’t want to be in Washington D.C. anyway, not as a congressman and not as an escort for Gus Wright.
It had been the lure of willing young women that had brought me to this absurd situation, but the truth of it was I had a perfectly willing young woman back home in Milledgeville, and I was fool enough for leaving her.
Eliza. I’ll tell you, ye’ve never seen a woman as beautiful as she. Pearly white skin, hair the color orange flames, soft, pink lips, and a pair of teats so full and round, and bright pink nipples, so that you’d think she’d posed as Aphrodite. Oh, my, but I’d married well!
My damned, wandering eye had nearly got me killed, and not for the first time.
And what for? Teresa Sickles was a lovely lady, but she could not compare with my Eliza, either in beauty or enthusiasm.
And in that moment, I swore off women for once and for all. I’d keep with Eliza and be damned to the rest of ’em. I even bargained with God, promising to keep my vow if only He’d speed Pinkerton on his way, for my ankle ached desperately.
And while I was engaged in deal making with the Lord, another thought came to my mind. What if it was not Pinkerton, but Devil Dan Sickles who came back down the tracks looking for me? With my wounded ankle, there’d be no chance for flight. And I’ll confess, my belly started to turn over at the thought of it.
“Say, boy, you ain’t got a pepperbox on your person, have you?” I asked, hoping to arm myself.
His sobbing by now had died down to a mere moan.
“If I did, I’d shoot you dead!” he cried at me.
“Ha!” I laughed. “Ye’d have to stand in line to do that.”
And then, to reward his threat, I reached up and took him by the foot. I gave it a slight twist and said, “Is this the leg ye broke?”
“Ah!” he screamed. “Ah! Ah!” and he went back to sobbing with renewed vigor.
I sat there for perhaps three quarters of an hour, but finally I heard noises off in the distance, and then could see the bouncing lights of lanterns. Some crowd was coming along the tracks.
I renewed my deal making with the Lord in the hopes that it would be Pinkerton bringing a posse to assist me and round up the thief and not Sickles bringing a lynch mob. Truthfully, I’d conjured a hundred scenarios where it could have gone either way.
When they were very near so that I could count about a dozen lanterns bobbing their way at me, I heard Pinkerton’s voice call out: “Ach! Jaggy Speed. Is that ye?”
There were not many times I cared to hear that Scotch accent, but it was pure relief now.
“I’ve got your miscreant here,” I called back to Pinkerton. “Hope ye’ve brought stretcher. His leg’s broke, and I can’t walk.”
When the train pulled into the station just a mile up the tracks from where the thief and I had made our separate escapes, Pinkerton had been quick to round up a posse from among the townspeople. To my recollection, Tom Cobb was the only man from the train who accompanied Pinkerton as he came back down the tracks in search of us.
The local sheriff and his deputy and several other men were in the party, and though none of them had brought a stretcher, one of them had been smart enough to grab a couple of good blankets. So I laid down on one, and they dropped the thief down on the other, and the men took turns taking a corner of the two blankets and in that way transported us back along the tracks to the town.
Pinkerton’s young miscreant howled in pain with each step, and they jarred him and shook him so much that I was sure that by the time they got us back to town the local doctor would decide the leg was beyond setting and would have to be removed.
Whatever happened to him, I cannot say. The last I knew, they were taking him in his blanket to the local jail and calling for a doctor. I suppose they probably fixed up his ankle and when he was fit to stand nailed his ear to a board, for it was still a rural enough town that I suspected that was the sort of thing they did.
Pinkerton hailed me as a hero for leaping after the thief. In his mind, my jump from the train was only evidence of my adamant desire to see the thief apprehended and the stolen goods returned. The thief had looted merchandise from something approaching half the passengers aboard the train, and none but Teresa and the man with the missing watch even realized they’d been pilfered.
Being a newly appointed local hero, the sheriff hisself put me up in a spare room in his house to give my ankle time to heal, and the deputy fetched me a cane to use.
I concluded that continuing the journey to Washington D.C. would be a mistake – not so much because of my banged up ankle but because of the presence of Dan Sickles aboard that train. Pinkerton arranged for me to get passage aboard a train headed back south in a day or so.
Tom Cobb, who secured my trunk and baggage for me, offered to accompany me home, but I told him with a couple day’s rest I’d be fine to travel alone.
The man who’d lost his pocket watch stopped by the sheriff’s house before our train departed and thanked me for getting his watch back, but neither Devil Dan nor his lovely wife came by to thank me for securing the Pope’s gift. I was just as pleased not to see either of them again, and relieved that Sickles’ fury seemed to have subsided enough that he didn’t seek me out in my weakened condition.
And that was that for me and the case of the Da Ponte Diamond. I went home with a slight limp, grateful to be back in the bosom of my loving wife and away from New York Democrats.
Of course, Dan Sickles never forgave me, even after his wife was abandoned and in her grave, and he tried to pay me back a couple more times. Had one of Bobby Lee’s gunners not shot his leg off at Gettysburg, he’d have had me at his mercy there and then, and I don’t doubt that he’d have shot me in the groin and then in the head, just as he did to poor Phil Key. It wouldn’t surprise me, even today, if the old one-legged bastard didn’t show up unexpected and gut me, but I always keep a pistol on my person now, and if I ever see him coming I’ll gladly put him in his grave.
Devil Dan Sickles
In an age of colorful characters, “Devil” Dan Sickles (1819-1914) ranks high among the most colorful.
He was a skilled politician and part of the New York City Tammany Hall political machine. He was a womanizer who engaged in public affairs with prostitutes and also had a public affair with the Queen of Spain while serving as U.S. Minister to Spain after the Civil War. He was also rumored to have had an affair with Teresa Bagioli’s mother, Maria Cooke Bagioli, while his future wife was still an infant.
He married Teresa Bagioli (1836-1867) when she was just 16 years old and he was 33 years old. Seven months after the wedding, the couple’s only child was born.
His competence as a general in the Union army during the war is questionable. During the Battle of Gettysburg, on the second day, Sickles inexplicably pushed the Third Corps out of its position on Cemetery Ridge into the famous Peach Orchard. The act caused the destruction of the Third Corps and nearly lost the battle for the Union.
In the battle, Sickles lost a leg to a Rebel shell and was effectively removed from command for the rest of the war as U.S. Grant refused to reinstate him after he had healed from his wound. Nevertheless, 34 years after the battle, Sickles was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Sickles was also the first defendant in the United States to successfully use the “temporary insanity” defense to beat a charge of murder. In 1859, Sickles – then serving in Congress – learned that his wife was having an affair with Philip Barton Key II, son of Francis Scott Key. Philip Key was then the district attorney for Washington D.C.
Sickles forced his wife Teresa to sign a confession, and when he saw Philip Key outside his home, Sickles armed himself and went after Key. In front of witnesses, Sickles shot Key multiple times, including once in the groin.
Edwin Stanton (who served as Lincoln’s Secretary of War) was Sickles’ defense attorney and for the first time in American jurisprudence used the temporary insanity defense.
The scandal and the trial drew much attention from the press, and Sickles won much popular support throughout the nation. Sickles publicly forgave and briefly reunited with Teresa, but the public turned against him when he forgave his wife. After his acquittal, the couple remained estranged until Teresa’s death from tuberculosis in 1867.
1 John Henry Lumpkin (1812-1860) was a Georgia politician and lawyer. He served twice in the U.S. House of Representatives, from 1843 to 1849, and again from 1855 to 1857. He did not seek reelection to the House in 1848 to take the position of superior court judge in Georgia’s Rome Circuit and in 1856 he sought election as Georgia’s governor.
2 John C. Fremont (1813-1890) was the first presidential candidate from the newly formed, anti-slavery Republican Party. He lost his 1856 presidential campaign to Democrat James Buchanan. Like Speed, he made his fortune in the California Gold Rush and served in the American Civil War as a Union general.
3 Augustus Romaldus Wright (1813-1891), an attorney from Rome, Georgia, was elected to Georgia’s 5th Congressional District seat in 1856 and served in the 35th Congress from 1857 to 1859. Wright later served as a delegate to the Georgia Secession Convention and the Confederate Secession Convention and the first Confederate Congress. During the Civil War, he organized “Wright’s Legion” and served as a colonel in command of Georgia’s 38th Regiment in the Army of Northern Virginia.
4 Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb (1823-1862) was a Georgia attorney and Civil War general. The brother of Howell Cobb, a politician and governor of Georgia, T.R.R. Cobb was among the founders of the University of Georgia School of Law. He is probably best known for serving on the commission that drafted what became the Official Code of Georgia, the first successful effort in the United States to codify the penal law. In 1858 he wrote “An Inquiry into the Law of Negro Slavery in the United States of America,” a lengthy treatise defending slavery on legal, economic and religious grounds. Defending the sunken road at Fredericksburg, Cobb took a hip wound, officially the result of an exploding Union shell. However, some of the men who saw the wound claimed it was a Confederate rifle shot that hit him, clearly a theory to which Speed subscribes. In 1857, Cobb was still opposed to secession and worked to silence radical elements among the Southern Democrats who were calling for disunion; however, when Abraham Lincoln was elected, Cobb quickly became an ardent supporter of secession. Before becoming a colonel in the Army of Northern Virginia, Cobb served in the Confederate Congress and helped draft the Confederate constitution. He was promoted to brigadier general, but the promotion was not confirmed prior to his death.
5 Daniel Sickles, known to his men of the Army of the Potomac’s III Corps as “Devil Dan,” served as secretary to the U.S. legation in London led by James Buchanan from 1853 to 1855. Sickles was involved in any number of scandals. He was censured by the New York State legislature for escorting Fanny White, a known prostitute with whom he cavorted, into its chambers. Sickles also took White to London with him and presented her to Queen Victoria.
6 Teresa Bagioli Sickles’ family tree is complicated, and made no easier by the appearance of Dan Sickles. Her grandfather, Lorenzo Da Ponte, had lived an extraordinary life as a musician in Europe. He had been a priest, worked for Mozart, was a friend of Casanova and an employee of the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II. He emigrated to America in his 70s. There, he adopted Maria Cooke, who was rumored to be his natural child. Antonio Bagioli, a maestro for a traveling opera company, visited Da Ponte and fell in love with Maria Cooke. While the rest of the opera company moved on, Da Ponte stayed and married Cooke. Teresa was their daughter. Sickles came into the household as a student learning music and languages from Da Ponte’s son, also Lorenzo. It was widely rumored that he had an affair with Maria Cooke, Da Ponte the older’s adopted/natural daughter and the mother of his future wife. Teresa Bagioli was an infant when Sickles first came to the Da Ponte house to live and study.
7 The Panic of 1857 was caused by the failure of a bank in the Midwest which resulted in fewer exports of foods and manufactured goods spread the recession of 1857 and 1858 through the West and North. The economy in the South was largely unaffected, however, because cotton remained in high demand in Britain.
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