Finding a treasure trove of historical materials is the dream of every archivist, librarian and most authors (and it still happens from time to time). Jack Mason uncovered more than one hundred unpublished, letters from Union General Israel Richardson to his family. The previously unknown cache covers his career from his cadet days at West Point, service in Florida, Texas, Mexico, New Mexico and the Civil War up to the day before his fatal wounding at the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862.
Richardson was one of a number of career army officers who were graduates of the Military Academy at West Point, New York, during the 1830's and 1840's who remained in uniform and learned their craft in active campaigns large and small. This cadre of officers provided the leadership for the North and South during the Civil War. The level of leadership would certainly be cause for concern in some cases but Richardson was of the group that provided excellent leadership of combat troops, in his particular case, the infantry. His untimely death in 1862 leaves his potential role as commander in chief, Army of the Potomac, a matter of speculation.
Richardson, a Vermont native, settled in Michigan after resigning from the army in the 1850's after a decade of active service. Returning from skirmishing with the Apaches throughout the Southwest, he settled down to do some farming near Pontiac, Michigan but the onset of the Civil War demanded his return to the colors. As Colonel of the Second Michigan Infantry, Richardson saw combat in nearly every engagement in the eastern theater of war and his experience and training led him to higher and more important commands, culminating in his promotion to Major General on July 4, 1862. At Antietam, he was organizing a second attack beyond the "Bloody Lane" when he was struck by a shell fragment and carried from the field. His wound was not considered life threatening but infection set in, followed by pneumonia and he succumbed on November 3, 1862.
It was during hist stay in hospital that President Abraham Lincoln paid him a visit; was it because of Richardson's ties to the Radical Republicans, or was it to ultimately offer him command of the army? Lincoln relieved General George McClellan from his command but only after Richardson's death. Known affectionately as "Fighting Dick" Richardson was a tough disciplinarian who took care of his troops; he was one of the most experienced small unit commanders in the army and was the complete opposite of McClellan in character and demeanor.
Mason has done an excellent job in bringing Richardson back to life through the discovery of these letters. Richardson was truly a forgotten hero until now, this his first biography.