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James Lowry Donaldson
Born Mar. 17, 1814, Baltimore, MD.
Military History. — Cadet at the Military Academy, Sep. 1, 1832, to July 1, 1836, when he was graduated and promoted in the Army to
Second Lieut., 3d Artillery, July 1, 1836.
Served: on Topographical duty, July 23 to Sep. 30, 1836; in the Florida War, 1836‑37; on Recruiting service, 1837; in the Florida War, 1837‑38;
(Transferred to 1st Artillery, May 25, 1837)
in the Cherokee Nation, 1838, while transferring the Indians to the West; on Recruiting service, 1838‑40; on Maine Frontier, at Houlton, Me.,
(First Lieut., 1st Artillery, July 7, 1838)
1840‑41, 1841‑42, pending "Disputed Territory" controversy; on Northeastern Boundary Survey, Feb. 12, 1844, to Sep. 4, 1845; in garrison at Pensacola, Fla., 1845; in Military Occupation of Texas, at Ft. Brown, 1846; in the War with Mexico, 1846‑48, being engaged in the Battle of
(Bvt. Capt., Sep. 23, 1846,
Monterey, Sep. 21‑23, 1846, — Battle of Buena Vista, Feb. 22‑23, 1847, —
(Bvt. Major, Feb. 23, 1847,
(Capt., Staff — Asst. Quartermaster, Mar. 3, 1847)
and as Collector of Customs for the State of Coahuila, Mex., Jan. 17 to
(Captain, 3d Artillery, Aug. 20, 1847: Vacated, Aug. 20, 1847)
Apr. 30, 1848;1 and on Quartermaster duty at Boston, Mas., 1848‑49, — Florida, 1849‑50, — sick leave of absence, 1850‑52, — Baltimore, Md., 1852‑54, — California, 1854, — St. Louis, Mo., 1855, — Baltimore, Md., 1856‑58, — and as Chief Quartermaster of the Department of New Mexico, Sep. 27, 1858, to Sep. 30, 1862.
Served during the Rebellion of the Seceding States, 1861‑66: commanding
(Bvt. Lieut.‑Colonel, May 14, 1861)
(Major, Staff — Quartermaster, Aug. 3, 1861)
District of Santa Fé, N. M., Dec. 26, 1861, to Mar. 9, 1862, being engaged in the Battle of Valverde, N. M., Feb. 21, 1862; as Quartermaster, Pittsburg, Pa., Nov. 20, 1862, to Mar. 12, 1863; as Chief Quartermaster, Middle Department, and Acting Chief Quartermaster, 8th Army Corps, at Baltimore, Md., Mar. 18 to Oct. 25, 1863; as Senior and Supervising Quartermaster, Department of the Cumberland, Nov. 10, 1863, to Aug. 2, 1864; as Chief Quartermaster, Department of the Cumberland,
(Colonel, U. S. Volunteers, ex‑officio, Aug. 2, 1864, to Jan. 1, 1867)
(Bvt. Colonel, and Bvt. Brig.‑General, U. S. Army, Sep. 17, 1864,
Aug. 2, 1864, to June 21, 1865,2 being in command of division of Quartermaster's
(Bvt. Maj.‑General, U. S. Army, Mar. 13, 1865,
(Bvt. Maj.‑General, U. S. Volunteers, June 2, 1865,
forces at the Battle of Nashville, Dec. 15‑16, 1864; and as Chief Quartermaster of the Military Division of the Tennessee, June 21, 1865, to Aug. 16, 1866.
Col., Staff — Asst. Quartermaster-Gen., July 28, 1866.
p638 Served: as Chief Quartermaster of the Department of the Tennessee, Aug. 16 to Oct. 12, 1866; and of the Division of the Missouri, Oct. 12, 1866, to Mar. 19, 1869 (leave of absence, Apr. 8 to Dec. 10, 1868).
Retired from Active Service, Mar. 15, 1869,
Resigned, Jan. 1, 1874.
Civil History. — Author of "Sergeant Atkins," — a Tale of Adventure, founded on facts during the Florida War against the Seminole Indians, 1871.
Died, Nov. 4, 1885, at Baltimore, Md.: Aged 72.
See Annual Association of Graduates, U. S. M. A., 1886, for an obituary notice.º
Bvt. Major-General James L. Donaldson was born, Mar. 17, 1814, in Baltimore, Md., and died in his native city, Nov. 4, 1885. His father, a distinguished lawyer and member of the Legislature of Maryland, fell, while serving as Adjutant of the Twenty-seventh Maryland Volunteers, at the Battle of North Point. Though thus left an infant orphan, the son partook of the military proclivities of his parent. After receiving in his boyhood a good classical education, he became, Sep. 1, 1832, a Cadet of the United States Military Academy, and upon his graduation therefrom was promoted, July 1, 1836, to be a Second Lieutenant in the Third Artillery. At once he was detailed for topographical duty, and two months later was ordered to Florida against the Seminole Indians. The campaign of 1836‑37 was one of great hardship and privation, though productive of little glory. After it, Donaldson, transferred to the First Artillery, went upon recruiting service; but was soon ordered back to Florida, where he continued on duty till detailed to assist in removing the Cherokees beyond the Mississippi. In 1840 he was sent to the Maine frontier, where he remained pending the "Disputed Territory" controversy. While in Maine, he built Fort Kent in mid-winter, he and his men, just from the sunny South, having to sleep in blankets on the snow, which laid the foundation of much of his after ill health. It is a singular circumstance that Donaldson at this time made a map for himself of the Disputed Territory, which was sent to Washington, there becoming the basis of the settlement of the Boundary, as agreed upon in the Ashburton Treaty of Aug. 9, 1842. Subsequently, from Feb. 12, 1844, to Sep. 4, 1845, Donaldson was engaged, under President Renwick of Columbia College, in surveying this Northeastern Boundary. Then he was ordered to Pensacola, and soon after was sent to Fort Brown pending the "Military Occupation" of Texas in 1846.
War with Mexico ensuing, Donaldson accompanied the invading army under General Taylor, being engaged in the Battle of Monterey, Sep. 21‑23, 1846, and of Buena Vista, Feb. 22‑23, 1847, receiving for his "gallant and meritorious services" the brevet of Captain for the former, and that of Major for the latter. Subsequently, Feb. 28, 1853, he received the thanks of the Legislature of Maryland for "his distinguished gallantry displayed during the Wars with Floridaº and Mexico." As Captain in the Quartermaster's Department, to which he had been appointed Mar. 3, 1847, he remained at Saltillo, Collector of Customs for the State of Coahuila, Mexico, till near the end of the Mexican War.
He was the Quartermaster of various posts till Sep. 27, 1858, when he became the Chief Quartermaster of the Department of New Mexico, continuing on that duty till after the breaking out of Southern Rebellion. p639 Whether by design or accident, it is a remarkable fact that, at this critical period, most of the commanding and staff officers of the Western departments, containing the bulk of the Regular Army, were Southern men. Fortunately some, like Donaldson, remained faithful to the flag of the Union, and many more would have continued true, had his earnest entreaties been successful in persuading them of the error of their way.
Promoted Major, Aug. 3, 1861, and holding the brevet rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, he was placed, Dec. 26, 1861, in command of the District of Santa Fé. His double duties were arduous and responsible, and exacted of him the utmost activity. After the Battle of Valverde, in which Donaldson efficiently participated as Chief of Staff to the commanding officer, he, though wearied with the day's contest, asked Colonel Canby to allow him to go that same night around the enemy, over the Socorro Mountains, to meet his wagon trains that were coming with large supplies from the East. Canby declined to give him the order, fearing he would be killed by the enemy, but allowed him to go upon his own responsibility. Donaldson and the Governor of the Territory, with some Mexican guides, started at once, and, when daylight appeared, discovered from the mountain's top the enemy below on the watch. Donaldson tarried not a moment, but pushed on to the town of Socorro, where he met his trains, lightened them of some of the heaviest articles, and started with the remainder on the run to Santa Fé, which was safely reached that night. Santa Fé being commanded by hills, he, deeming it imprudent to trust his supplies in this indefensible position, promptly removed them to the cover of the guns of Fort Union, thus saving these much-needed stores, worth half a million of dollars, and indispensable to the security of New Mexico.
The day after reaching Fort Union, Donaldson, with his wonted energy, proceeded over the plains to Washington, to make requisitions for reinforcements and procure money to pay off the clamoring volunteers. Funds to the amount of $300,000 with difficulty were obtained, but now came Donaldson's great peril in transporting that large sum to New Mexico, for the bandit Quantrell was on his track and rapidly pursuing. Donaldson skillfully eluded this wily knave, and arrived at Santa Fé with a whole skin and the necessary sinews of war, to the great rejoicing of the troops.
After leaving New Mexico, Sep. 30, 1862, Donaldson was ordered to Pittsburg, Pa., and thence to Baltimore, Md. On Nov. 10, 1863, he became the Chief Quartermaster of the Department of the Cumberland, and upon him at once devolved the immense task of providing the army at Chattanooga with provisions, age, ammunition, and all other supplies to maintain that position, the troops being then on less than half rations, and the animals in a starving condition, hundreds daily dying of hunger. From this time till the end of the war, Donaldson's task was truly herculean, for upon him depended the forwarding from Nashville nearly all of the matériel for Sherman's Atlanta Campaign and March to the Sea.
General Sherman, in a telegram of May 1, 1864, to Donaldson, says: "Reports of 29th and 30th are more than satisfactory. I know that you are doing all that mortal can, and it shall not be my fault if the services are not properly acknowledged in time." However, says Donaldson, Sherman did not acknowledge them, nor even recognize them, in his published "Memoirs" — services of which the "London Times" said: "General W. T. Sherman has proved the greatest Quartermaster of the world."
After the capture of Atlanta, Donaldson was called upon to provide for the Army of the Cumberland, falling back before Hood on Nashville. The importance of these services was duly recognized by the Commanding General in an official communication.
p640 Before the date of this communication, Donaldson, by permission of General Thomas, had assumed new responsibilities in thoroughly organizing, drilling, and disciplining his Quartermaster and the Commissary forces as soldiers, with which, as a division of the Army of the Cumberland, he did valiant service, Dec. 15‑16, 1864, in the general Battle of Nashville.
For his eminent services during the Rebellion, Donaldson was brevetted, Sep. 17, 1864, Colonel and Brigadier-General, United States Army, "for distinguished and important services in the Quartermaster's Department, in the campaign terminating in the capture of Atlanta, Georgia;" Mar. 13, 1865, Major-General United States Army, "for faithful and meritorious services in the Quartermaster's Department during the Rebellion;" and June 20, 1865, Major-General United States Volunteers, "for faithful and meritorious services during the Rebellion."
After the war he was promoted, July 28, 1866, to be a Colonel and Asst. Quartermaster-General, and became Chief Quartermaster of the Department of the Tennessee till Oct. 12, 1866, and then of the Military Division of the Missouri, till he was retired from active service, Mar. 19, 1869, "for disability contracted in the line of duty." The following complimentary letter sets forth Donaldson's valuable services under General Thomas:—
Headquarters Department of the Tennessee,
Bvt. Major-General J. L. Donaldson,
Colonel and Assistant Quartermaster-General, U. S. A.
General,— In complying with Special Order No. 508, War Department, C. S., I desire to express to you my great appreciation of the valuable services you have rendered as Chief Quartermaster of my command during the three years just elapsed.
Joining me at Chattanooga, at the period when all looked gloomy and foreboding, you unraveled the intricate meshes then surrounding the Quartermaster's Department within my command, and restored system and order where confusion had triumphantly held sway.
By the marked ability with which you administered the department from that time until the close of the late war, you greatly contributed to the success which crowned the efforts of the armies in the field in overthrowing the Rebellion of the Southern States, and when the troops were dismissed with honor to return to their homes, your labors, although arduous before, remained undiminished for months, caring for the debris which necessarily followed in the wake of our immense armies. Now that all is finished, to make your work complete, the Government has most justly shown its appreciation of your valuable services during the war by appointing you to your present enviable position, thereby confirming the opinions of your ability expressed by all with whom you have been associated in the prosecution of your labors.
I am, General, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
George H. Thomas,
Major-General, U. S. A., Commanding.
Donaldson was deservedly a great favorite with General Thomas, and while under his command he suggested the creation of cemeteries for the scattered remains of soldiers who had fallen in battle, from which has resulted the annual "Decoration Day."
The remainder of Donaldson's life, after a military career of a third of a century, was spent in the bosom of his family, to which he was devotedly p641 attached; in European travel, where he could fully indulge his aesthetic tastes; and in reading works of imagination, his busy and nomadic life having prevented his ever becoming a hard student. He, however, indulged in authorship, and gave to the public a gracefully written and sprightly novel, "Sergeant Atkins," a tale of adventure founded upon facts which came to his knowledge while serving in Florida against the Seminole Indians.
Like all frail humanity, Donaldson may have had his faults, but his virtues were so much more marked and prominent that he was a universal favorite among those who best knew him. His blended harmony of qualities; his even balance of humane and stern proclivities; his soldierly observance of every law and order; his delicate sensibility and moral purity; his kindness, benevolence, and high sense of justice; and his unswerving fidelity to every duty and trust, — made him one of the truest of friends and most upright of officers. Though habitually as gentle as a woman, when roused to action he displayed all the emotional impulse and fiery courage springing from the ancestral Irish blood coursing his veins. Charity was as overflowing in his speech as from his purse, and so guileless and trustful was he that he was familiarly called "Truthful James" and "Innocence Abroad." With difficulty could he deny any favor asked of him; hence his confidence was often abused by measuring others' integrity by his own. These were the lovable weaknesses of a warm heart, generous feelings, and an unsoiled mind; nevertheless he possessed that sterner stuff which made him the energetic business man, the sturdy patriot, and the daring soldier.
After a well-spent life of seventy-two years, this genial gentleman and exemplary officer descended to the grave, embalmed with the affectionate memories of troops of mourning friends, and shrouded in unstained rectitude and the fear of God.
1 Received, Feb. 28, 1853, the thanks of the Legislature of Maryland, his native State, for "his distinguished gallantry, displayed during the Wars with Florida and Mexico."
2 Received, June 13, 1865, the thanks of the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee, for the courtesies extended to that body during the Rebellion.
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