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David Hunter
(July 21, 1802–February 2, 1886)


David Hunter was a Union general during the Civil War.  In May 1862, he issued an order freeing all the slaves in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, but it was quickly rescinded by President Abraham Lincoln. 

David Hunter was born in Washington, D.C., on July 21, 1802 to Mary Stockton Hunter and Andrew Hunter, a minister, and was a grandson of Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence from New Jersey.  After graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1818, he served with the U.S. Army on the western frontier, including two trips across the Rocky Mountains.  He was stationed at Fort Dearborn (later, Chicago), 1828-1831, and married Maria Indiana Kinzie.  In 1836, he resigned from the army, but he found his business pursuits in the Chicago area to be unsatisfactory, so he returned to the army in 1842 as a paymaster at the rank of major.  He again served across the western frontier until the Civil War.  Correspondence with Abraham Lincoln resulted in Hunter accompanying the president-elect from Illinois to Washington, D.C., in early 1861. 

On May 14, 1861, Hunter was promoted to colonel, and three days later to brigadier general.  He was wounded at the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, and was promoted to major general on August 13.  On November 2, he replaced General John C. Fremont as commander of the Western Department.  Hunter sent detachments to participate in the Union victories at Forts Donelson and Henry in February 1862.  On March 31, 1862, he was reassigned to command the Department of the South, which encompassed Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.  After capturing Fort Pulaski (Georgia) on April 11, he emancipated all the captured slaves.  On May 9, he declared all the slaves in the Department of the South to be “free for ever.”  Ten days later, President Lincoln nullified Hunter’s emancipation order, reserving the “war power” of emancipation for himself as commander-in-chief.  The president also overruled Hunter when he raised a regiment of black recruits in South Carolina.  He was relieved of the command of the Department of the South on August 22, 1862. 

Hunter served on the court-martial of Fitz-John Porter, who was dishonorably discharged in January 1863 (the sentence was reversed in 1882).  In May 1864, Hunter was placed in charge of the Union offensive in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.  On June 5, he defeated a Confederate force at Piedmont and then set fire to the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington.  He later ordered the burning of the residence of John Letcher, a former governor of Virginia.  Hunter’s actions provoked a Confederate counteroffensive led by General Jubal Early, who penetrated into Maryland, demanding ransom from several towns, and reaching as far as seven miles from the White House.  The Confederates were forced back into Virginia, but Hunter was relieved of his command on August 8, 1864, in favor of General Philip Sheridan.  Hunter spent the rest of the war serving on courts-martial.   

After Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, Hunter accompanied the president’s body back to Springfield, Illinois, for burial.  He then served as first officer of the military commission trying the conspirators in Lincoln’s assassination.  He retired the next year.  Hunter died in Washington, D.C., on February 2, 1886.

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