Historian

 

 

Henry John Steiner is the village historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York.

 

 

 

The following column was written in April, 2005 and revised slightly in February, 2008 .  A complete annotated version of the 2005 article is in the collections of the Historical Society Serving Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown.

 

 

A Little Pale Blue-eyed Man

A Biographical Sketch of Adam Badeau

 

A stroll through the Old Dutch Burying Ground of Sleepy Hollow triggers questions, and the questions trigger stories.  Near the maintenance shed of the burial ground is the grave of a Civil War general.  The old burying ground shelters the remains of many soldiers, but few generals.

General Adam Badeau was raised in Beekmantown—that part of Sleepy Hollow which today forms the inner village.  Descended from French Huguenots, Badeau was born in New York City in 1831.  His parents later moved to Beekmantown and owned one of the three most imposing homes in that sprouting little suburb.  In the 1840s, we find Adam a student at the Irving Institute, which had just been established a few years before.

The father, Nicholas William Badeau, is referred to as Dr. Badeau in at least one source.  He and his eldest son endured much personal loss in Adam’s early years:  An infant daughter, Alise died in 1848, then fourteen-year-old Edgar (1849).  It appears that Jane, Adam’s mother, died in childbirth (1849), her infant daughter, Deborah, died seven months later (1850).  Nineteen-year-old John Wesley died in 1860 and N. W., Jr. in 1862. 

 

Grant and Badeau

 

Adam was an intelligent, well-educated young man when he left Beekmantown, about 1856.  He went to work in New York as a theater critic for a Sunday paper, and, in 1859, his compilation of his theatre reviews was published, entitled, The Vagabond.  The book demonstrates a refined knowledge of literature and an intimate familiarity with the leading actors of that day. 

At the outset of the Civil War, Adam Badeau served as a clerk at the state department.  He then accompanied a military expedition to Port Royal, South Carolina, as a reporter for the New York Express.  It is said that during this period he coined the expression “the New South.” He then volunteered as a Union officer and was appointed to the staff of Major-General Thomas W. Sherman.  By April 1862, Adam Badeau had risen to the rank of captain.

About one year later, Lt.-Colonel James Wilson, a member of General Grant’s staff, suggested that Badeau would make a fine military secretary for Grant.  Wilson described him as a  “short, stoop-shouldered, red-headed fellow who wore glasses.”  Grant remembered seeing, “a little pale, blue-eyed man, who wore spectacles and looking like a bent fo’-pence.”  Badeau was duly ordered to report to Grant’s headquarters near Vicksburg, but on that very day, May 27, 1863, he and his general were wounded in an unsuccessful assault on the Confederate fortress at Port Hudson.

Badeau was sent back to New York City to convalesce.  According to one source, there he was cared for by two theatrical friends—the famous actor, Edwin Booth, and his soon to be infamous brother, John Wilkes Booth.  If this is true, an even greater irony was to occur in 1864, when Edwin Booth saved the life of President Lincoln’s son, Robert, during a railroad mishap at Jersey City.  Robert Lincoln, who later joined Grant’s staff, told the story to Badeau when the two were stationed at City Point, Virginia, and Badeau wrote to Edwin Booth congratulating him.  Robert Lincoln had fallen between the platform and the train as the train began to move.  Booth hauled him up by the coat collar.

In February 1864, Badeau had sufficiently recovered from his wound to join Grant’s staff in the West, with the rank of Lt. Colonel.  Grant was shortly thereafter appointed commander of the Army of the Potomac.  Badeau proved to be an intelligent and thorough military secretary to Grant and was promoted to the rank of Colonel. 

Adam Badeau served in the Wilderness and Appomattox campaigns and accompanied Grant at Lee’s surrender.  He was then placed in charge of the Richmond Relief Commission.  In a letter of May 1865, he writes of Grant, “What a wonderful man he is.  His goodness is greater than his greatness.”

After the war, Badeau was a constant member of Grant’s entourage.  In 1869, he retired from the military with the brevet rank of Brigadier-General as Grant took up residence in the White House. Badeau waited for a diplomatic appointment and encountered American writer, Henry Adams, who was to include him in his tour de force, The Education of Henry Adams.  “[Badeau was] exceedingly social, though not in appearance imposing.  He was stout; his face red, and his habits were regularly irregular, but he was very intelligent, a good newspaper man, and an excellent military historian.” 

Adams and Badeau drank and dined together and visited the Grants at the White House.  Adams wrote that Badeau was loyal to Grant, and even “more so to Mrs. Grant who acted as his patroness.”  He added that Badeau was waiting for a consulate.  Badeau described Grant to Adams “as an intermittent energy, immensely powerful when awake, but passive and plastic in repose.”

Badeau was ultimately appointed consul-general to London from 1870 to 1881.  On April 29, 1875, he married Marie Elizabeth Nils.  They had a lavish New York wedding, but I have found few details of their marriage life.  In 1877 and 1878 he toured the world with former President Grant.  He also spent a good deal of time in New York from April 1880 to January 1881, in a whirlwind of social events.  We find him first at the Hotel Brunswick, then a Delmonico’s’ breakfast for Edwin Booth, then at a reception for future President Garfield, then up to Boston with the Grants, then back to Delmonico’s to honor Grant, then staying at the Clarendon Hotel, and then to the Union League Club to honor Grant.

In March of 1881 Badeau was nominated Charge d’Affaires to Denmark, but declined.  From 1882 to 1884, Badeau served as consul-general to Havana, but resigned over a dispute with the state department.  In 1884, both Badeau and Grant were having financial difficulties.  Badeau was out of a job, and Grant was financially wrecked, tainted with allegations of swindling, and dying of throat cancer.  Badeau agreed to help Grant with fact checking and research on his memoirs.  By May 1885, they had fallen out over the book. 

In 1884 Badeau had assisted Grant with an article about the Vicksburg campaign.  In that year Badeau also published his three-volume Military History of Ulysses S. Grant.  It was in August 1884, that Grant engaged Badeau to assist him by “locating documents, checking facts, and reviewing the manuscript.”  On April 19, 1885, the New York World reported that Badeau was writing the memoirs based on notes by Grant.  It is not clear whether Badeau had a hand in this inaccuracy; nevertheless, Grant promptly denied the story.  On May 2, 1885, Badeau offered to complete the memoirs for $1000 per month and ten percent of the profits; he told Grant that he (Grant) would be incapable of completing the task alone.  On May 5, Grant dismissed Badeau.

Before making his aggressive proposal for compensation, Badeau complained bitterly over the “drudgery” of the work he was doing.  Grant replied, “You are petulant, your anger is easily aroused and you are overbearing even to me, at times, and always with those with whom you have done literary work.  Think of the publishers you have quarreled with.  As an office holder you have quarreled with your superiors until you have lost your office.” When we consider that Badeau’s connection with Grant had brought him favor and prominence, these words must have cut deeply; yet his own behavior had brought them on.  Grant finished his memoirs without Badeau, and they were a hit.  Grant soon died on July 23, 1885 and Badeau continued to write his own books—often about Grant.

Grant was probably right about Badeau, as future events suggested. In April 1887, Badeau and the state department were still in court over the Cuba affair.  In the same month Badeau was rebuffed for remarks made about Robert E. Lee’s family.  Lee’s nephew, the Governor of Virginia, took issue with a remark attributed to Badeau that Lee’s family was destitute after the war.  During this period he was also in court with Grant’s family, seeking compensation for his work on the memoirs. This was settled in October of 1888.  In 1889, he sued his own publisher, Charles L. Webster, for not publishing his book, Grant in Peace. 

In August 1890, the President and the Secretary of War decided to drop Badeau’s name from the army rolls, retroactive to 1869, when he first took a diplomatic assignment.  The Supreme Court later ruled that Badeau was entitled to two salaries, as diplomat and a retired army officer.  Details of his later life are sketchy; on May 28, 1894, Badeau attended an informal dedication of a memorial at Appomattox Court house.

References to his wife are also rare.  In 1889, Mrs. Adam Badeau gets a mention in the New York Times.  But, it appears that Marie Elizabeth Badeau and her husband may have led separate lives.  She never seems to be mentioned in a context with her husband, and she is not mentioned in his obituary although she survived him.  In April 1889, Mrs. Badeau is mentioned as serving on a committee of New York ladies raising funds for Paris shop girls—they raised $200.  At some later date we find her leasing her summer home in the Catskills.  In July 1908 Badeau’s widow attended a society event at Lake Placid.  She died on May 17, 1915 at 39 Claremont Avenue, Jersey City and was buried at Greenwood Cemetery—a different resting place from her husband’s.

Currently, it is not clear to me how Adam Badeau ended up in Ridgewood, New Jersey, where he had been in poor health “for some time.”  On March 19, 1895, he suffered a stroke while speaking with his adopted son, George Corsa.  He died after his adopted daughter, Miss Kittie Chillman, “was summoned.”  He was sixty-five years old.  I have found no announcement of the interment at the Old Dutch Burying Ground, which took place some time after a Catholic funeral at Ridgewood.

Who were these adopted children?  How long did he live in Ridgewood?  What was the nature of his marriage life?  Why was his wife buried at Greenwood Cemetery?  The questions trigger stories and the answers trigger more questions.  A short while ago Adam Badeau was no more to me than a name on a headstone.  After scratching the surface of this man’s life, he emerges as a very interesting man living among significant American figures and events.  There appears to be much more to discover about the life of Adam Badeau.

 

 

 

From the introduction to

The Place Names of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown

 

The names attached to places, landmarks, topographical features can remind us that a given place had a function or significance before our time.  Place names lend character to the landscape and stand as milestones to history.  They can be elusive too.  They change, are displaced, and fade from use.

Place names often evolve through an accident of speech or writing.  They are commonly created to identify, describe, or memorialize a place.  Some place names are universally accepted, others are known only to a few people.  I prefer to believe that place names do not die, they merely fall from fashion—somewhere amid a tangle of modern highways lies Youngs’ Corners, a place frozen in history where ancient, now invisible roads meet.  There Loyalist troops sought out their rebellious Whig enemies, engaged them in deadly combat, and there they lie entombed in peace together.

Place names can demonstrate a remarkable wanderlust.  Few realize that the name Westchester was adopted from a town which stood in what is today the Bronx (then the county seat of Westchester County).  The upstate New York names of Utica, Rome, Ithaca, and Syracuse are obvious examples of place names on-the-move.

 

The Yellow Rocks

 

Some place names refer to vague and amorphous geographical areas, others to concretely defined boundaries.  A modern example of a loosely defined place name is that portion of the Hudson River shore in the Village of Sleepy Hollow known as the Yellow Rocks, or simply Yellow Rocks.  It is difficult to say exactly where that particular place begins and ends.  Yellow Rocks is also a good example of a place name for which written references are quite rare; but in some Native American form it could be the oldest place name in the two villages.

The place names, Village of North Tarrytown (now the Village of Sleepy Hollow) and Village of Tarrytown, are very specific.  They are creations of the 1870s when the two municipalities were incorporated.  They refer to well-described locations and boundaries, unlike earlier place names for these communities.

In the late eighteenth century, Tarrytown was not a “village” incorporated under the laws of New York State, but a hamlet—amorphous in its shape and extent.  At that time the place name Tarrytown referred to a settled nucleus with indistinct boundaries.  The exact limits of early Tarrytown are subject to interpretation and vary with time.  A cow standing by the Pocantico River might be described as being “in Tarrytown” or “near Tarrytown” depending on how the reporter interpreted the place name.

The name Tarrytown began as a reference to a central district or a cluster of buildings.  By contrast, today’s Village of Tarrytown describes the precise geographic limits of the municipality.  In Revolutionary times the name Tarrytown applied to a center, “at Tarrytown,” but the name also furnished a convenient way to identify outlying lands associated with the quiet hamlet—these places were said to be “near Tarrytown,” “by Tarrytown,” “at Tarrytown,” “Tarrytown.”  The pre-1870 name, Tarrytown, is an important local place name, and a difficult one to define.

When I travel past long familiar places in and around the villages of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown, I am fond of remarking, “This is where I used to go to get in trouble when I was a kid.”  Trouble was never far from home, and the places where I could find it seemed limitless.  We were a group of boys who lived on Crest Drive near the cul-de-sac which we called “the Circle.”  Our forays to find trouble took us anywhere from Axe Castle to Catfish Pond.  Very close at hand was Lemonade Rock, further off was Hackley Pond (by the old shooting range, not far from the site of the old stables).  Down between the Lakes and the old Marymount Secondary School was Marymount Pond.  Did anyone else call these features by the same names, or had we invented them?  We all knew where Catfish Pond was (as do many other residents of the two villages), but I have yet to see the name on a map or in a book.  Later on, in adolescent years, with a somewhat different team of comrades, the allure of trouble called from Pennybridge to the very boundaries of Rockwood Hall.

One of my reasons for writing this book is to help preserve the old names.  Some of them can be found only in fragile limited editions more than a century old.  It is a sad fact that the work of collecting and preserving local documents is often pursued with scant resources. This means that irreplaceable records are constantly threatened with extinction due to a lack of time, money, and interest.

I hope this collection will also serve as a source book for local research.  Efforts in local research and preservation are often interrupted by long periods of inactivity, and valuable work is easily lost.  This can make it difficult for those conducting research to pick up the thread of earlier efforts.  Since many of the local histories of the nineteenth century do not offer source information, it can be a painstaking or impossible task to judge their accuracy.  My hope is that the references to be found in this work will make it easier for those interested in local history to locate, evaluate, and interpret some of the old source material.

 

 

 

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