- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 9, 2002

Chivalry is not a quality that has survived well into the brave new world, but it did exist even during the bitterness of the Civil War. Hilary Herbert, a Confederate officer who survived some of the hardest fighting of the war and became the U.S. secretary of the Navy in the postwar era, granted a pardon based on an act of chivalry on the battlefield of Fair Oaks during the 1862 Peninsular Campaign.
Herbert was born in South Carolina in 1834. His family moved to Alabama in 1846. He attended the universities of Alabama and Virginia but graduated from neither. He "read the law," was admitted to the bar and began practicing in Greenville, Ala., in 1857.
He entered Confederate service in 1861 and became a captain, commanding Company F in the 8th Alabama Infantry Regiment. During the 1862 Peninsular Campaign, he was at Yorktown and Williamsburg and was promoted to major. On June 1, Herbert was wounded at Fair Oaks and captured. As a result of some event occurring after Herbert's capture, Sgt. Ebenezer Allen of the 3rd Maine stopped another Union soldier from shooting Herbert, and Pvt. Jonathan Newcomb of the Maine regiment helped escort Herbert off the battlefield.
Transferred from Fort Monroe, Herbert was imprisoned at Fort Delaware but was exchanged in August. With the regimental commander wounded, Herbert assumed command of the 8th Alabama in time for the Second Battle of Manassas. He was later promoted to lieutenant colonel. At Antietam, he commanded the regiment and was again wounded during fighting around Piper Farm while reinforcing D.H. Hill's division in the Bloody Lane.
During postwar visits to Sharpsburg, Herbert told of the 8th attacking the Irish Brigade and seeing a lone Union soldier who, after firing all his ammunition, turned his back to the Alabamans, patted his buttocks and walked away. Herbert considered ordering his entire command to fire on the contemptuous Yank, but, in recognition of the soldier's audacity, decided not to do so.
Herbert was at Fredericksburg in December 1862. During Chancellorsville in 1863, the regiment fought at Salem Church. Herbert again assumed command after the regimental commander was wounded. Herbert also commanded it at Gettysburg.
In May 1864, permanently disabled by a wound in the arm at the Wilderness, he returned to Alabama, retired a lieutenant colonel and resumed law practice. He was promoted to colonel in December 1864 since he had commanded a regiment (regimental commanders were usually colonels), and fellow officers believed his gallantry warranted the promotion.
From 1877 to 1893, he served in the House of Representatives; as chairman of the House Naval Committee, he helped to revive the Navy. While he served as secretary of the Navy from March 1893 to March 1897, the Herbert-Allen-Newcomb connection from his capture early in the war at Fair Oaks arose. Ironically, all three men were at Gettysburg; two were wounded at the Wilderness.
Allen was one of six brothers, five of whom served in the war. He died in August 1863 after being wounded at Gettysburg. Newcomb was wounded and captured at Gettysburg and paroled at City Point, Va., in August 1863. His record indicates that he was hit in May 1864 in the Wilderness by a "Connical [sic] ball" and that he had "amputation of Middle Tow of Left foot at 3rd Phalangial [sic] articulation." He was furloughed but returned to duty in June 1864.
After the war, Newcomb went to California and worked at the Mare Island Navy Yard. In 1894, Newcomb wrote now-Secretary of the Navy Herbert, inquiring if he was related to a prisoner Herbert captured at Fair Oaks. Herbert responded that he was the prisoner and had been trying to find Newcomb for years.
In May 1894, Herbert visited Newcomb at Mare Island. In September 1895, Herbert wrote Capt. Henry L. Howison, commandant of the Navy Yard, mentioning Newcomb and noting that he had learned that Isaac Allen, a shipwright at Mare Island, was a brother of the dead Ebenezer Allen; Herbert expressed his desire to do whatever he could for Allen consistent with the interests of the government.
Howison replied that Allen requested assistance for his sons, who wanted to learn the machinist or shipwright trades. Allen was also concerned about his eldest son, Cendon, who had enlisted in the Navy at age 17 without his parents' consent and later deserted while his father was trying to obtain a discharge for him. Howison wrote that Allen, "with tears in his eyes," stated that removing the desertion mark from Cendon's name "would be the very greatest service he could possibly ask."
Herbert sent Howison a pardon for the young man, conditioned on Cendon surrendering himself. He also wrote that he would also look into Allen's other requests and that "It affords me great pleasure to be able to do this for him."
A handwritten notation on the reverse of the letter reads, "Oct-21-1895 Cendon A. Allen gave himself up to me & received the Pardon Nov. 15, 1895 H.L.H."
Herbert's frequent mention in the magazine Confederate Veteran describes a man who, while practicing law in Washington, from 1897 to 1919, remained dedicated to monuments, reconciliation and veterans causes. The Survivors Association of the 23rd New Jersey Volunteers passed a resolution wishing Herbert good health, noting that he commanded the 8th Alabama, "our gallant opponents at the battle of Salem Church." Herbert also was active in the Arlington Confederate Monument Association, responsible for a monument commemorating Confederate dead in Arlington National Cemetery.
Confederate Veteran magazine favorably reported Herbert's speech at the 1912 ceremony laying the monument's cornerstone, but criticized that of William Jennings Bryan as more like a "sermon" and for failing to "pay particular tribute to the people of the South."
When speaking in 1917 at Gettysburg at the unveiling of a monument to a Union officer, Herbert noted that he had been introduced as an "Ex-Secretary of the Navy of the government I was trying in 1863 to dismember." He was also grand marshal for the Confederate reunion in Washington that year.
He best summarized his life's ironies at a banquet hosted by a New York newspaper editor for Herbert after he became secretary of the Navy.
Herbert said that in 1862 everyone at the table except him served the Union; as a prisoner of war at Fort Monroe, he had seen naval vessels for the first time; he was now head of that very Navy; and 20 years earlier he had denounced the editor as an enemy of the South.
Herbert died in March 1919 in Florida and was buried in Old Oakwood Cemetery, Montgomery, Ala.
A final tribute and irony was the May 1919 launching of USS Herbert, a destroyer that would earn six battle stars in World War II.
Herbert's survival meant distinguished careers in war and peace made possible by an enemy who, on the battlefield, saved his life.

Charles A. Jones, a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve, lives in Norfolk. The Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, N.C., kindly permitted use of the Hilary A. Herbert Papers (#2481, Southern Historical Collection).

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