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Hunter, David (General)

Born: 1802-07-21 Troy, New York

Died: 1886-02-02 Washington, D.C.

Hunter entered the United States Military Academy in 1818 and graduated with the class of 1822. He received a commission as 2nd lieutenant in the 5th Infantry. For the next six years, he drew assignments at various American forts on the frontier. In 1828, he earned promotion to first lieutenant. From 1828 to 1831, he served at Fort Dearborn at what became the city of Chicago. While living here, he met and married Marie Indiana Kinzie, daughter of John Kinzie, Chicago's first white permanent settler. In 1833, he received promotion to captain of the 1st Dragoons. Hunter resigned his commission in 1836 to pursue land speculation and commercial pursuits around Chicago. Unsuccessful in business, Hunter applied for a restoration of his commission, which the War Department granted in 1842. For the next eighteen years, he served at various frontier posts as a paymaster with the rank of major.

In 1860 while serving at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Hunter commenced a correspondence with president-elect Abraham Lincoln. This correspondence resulted in Hunter receiving an invitation from Lincoln to travel on the inaugural train from Illinois to Washington, DC. Shortly after the Civil War began, Hunter received promotion to colonel of the 3rd U.S. Cavalry, and in May, 1861, he became a brigadier general of volunteers and he assumed command of a division. He saw action at the First Battle of Bull Run, but suffered a wound at the beginning of the engagement that prevented him from exercising leadership of his division. Nonetheless, Lincoln promoted Hunter to major general of volunteers, and assigned him to serve under General John C. Fremont in Missouri. In March 1862, the War Department transferred Hunter to command of the Department of the South. On May 9, 1862, Hunter generated national controversy when he issued a general order freeing all the slaves behind his lines--an order that President Lincoln immediately rescinded. In May 1864, Lincoln placed Hunter in command of the Army of the Shenandoah and Department of West Virginia. Hunter's campaign in the Shenandoah Valley in the spring and summer of 1864 included several controversial acts of pillage and plunder. Upon entering the town of Lexington, Hunter's forces burned the Virginia Military Institute, looted private houses and the library of Washington College, and sacked and burned the residence of John Letcher, former governor of Virginia. These acts of retribution infuriated the Confederates, and in retaliation, General Robert E. Lee ordered General Jubal Early to launch a raid into Union territory that threatened Washington, DC. Hunter retreated when Early attacked, prompting General Ulysses S. Grant to request that Hunter turn over command to a junior officer. Hunter agreed, and in August, Phil Sheridan succeeded him as commander of the Army of the Shenandoah. Hunter remained in titular command of the Department of West Virginia.

After Lincoln's assassination, Hunter accompanied his body back to Illinois. Judge Advocate General Thomas Holt selected him as the head of the military court that persecuted those arrested and charged in connection with the assassination.

Rod Paschall, "Hunter, David," American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 11:516-17; Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1903), 1:557; Thomas A. Lewis, "Sheridan, Philip Henry," American National Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 19:807; Gravestone, Princeton Cemetery, Princeton, NJ.