Commanders-in-Chief Biographies

Major General and President Rutherford Birchard Hayes
Commander-in-Chief 1886 & 1888 - 1893

by Robert G. Carroon, Past Commander-in-Chief
Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States

Major General and President Rutherford Birchard Hayes was both the third and the fifth individual to serve as Commander-in-Chief of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. He served his first term as Commander-in-Chief during the year 1886 and then was re-elected serving from 1888 to 1893.

A native of Ohio, Rutherford B. Hayes was born on October 4, 1822 in the town of Delaware, the son of Rutherford Hayes and Sarah Birchard. In 1842, he graduated from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, and began to read law in the office of Sparrow and Matthew in Columbus. Following a year and a half at Harvard Law School, he was admitted to the bar in 1845 and began the practice of his profession in Lower Sandusky, now Fremont, Ohio. In 1850, he opened a law office in Cincinnati.

Hayes became involved in the political arena and in 1858 was elected city solicitor. Initially a Whig, he was attracted to the new Republican Party and actively supported John C. Fremont in the presidential election of 1856. In 1860, he made a few speeches on behalf of Abraham Lincoln. With the outbreak of the War of the Rebellion, he made patriotic addresses and recruited soldiers for the Union Army; however, he soon decided that he wished to embark on a military career himself. I would prefer to go into it, he wrote, if I knew that I was to die, or be killed in the course of it than to live through and after it without taking any part in it.

Rutherford was commissioned a Major in the 23rd Ohio on June 27, 1861, under Colonel William S. Rosecrans. Rosecrans was soon promoted and by the end of the year, Hayes was in command ofthe regiment. It was with the 23rd Ohio that Hayes was identified both during and after the war. He and his regiment participated in action in West Virginia, serving under General Fremont in the Valley Campaigns against "Stonewall" Jackson. Hayes was severely wounded at the battle of South Mountain just prior to Antietam. Recovering from his wounds, he aided in the capture of the rebel General John Hunt Morgan during Morgan's raid of Ohio. Appointed Brigadier General commanding George Crook's First Brigade, he fought well in General Philip Sheridan's Shenandoah Valley campaign and took command of a division in the Army of West Virginia. In March 1865, Rutherford Hayes was breveted Major General of Volunteers "for gallant and distinguished service" at the battles of Fishers Hill and Cedar Creek.

In October 1864, Hayes was elected to Congress representing the 2nd district of Ohio and in June 1865 he resigned his commission in order to take his seat in the House of Representatives. He was re-elected in 1866 but resigned in 1867 to run for Governor of Ohio. He was elected and then re-elected in 1869. He refused to run for a third term and retired to Fremont where he practiced law and promoted the establishment of public libraries, a special interest of his. He was persuaded by colleagues in the Republican Party to run again for Governor in 1875 and was elected. The reform wing of the Republican Party supported his nomination for the Presidency of the United States in 1876 and he secured the nomination. In what is still regarded as a controversial election, he was chosen by an Electoral Commission over Samuel Tilden of New York. Hayes had promised to end the era of Reconstruction in the South and carried out his pledge following his inauguration. He called out federal troops to suppress the railroad riots of 1877. He also tried to introduce measures to reform the civil service, but failed to get his proposals adopted by Congress. His wife, known as "Lemonade Lucy" was an ardent champion of temperance causes. He had told the convention in 1876 that he would accept only one term as President and so refused to stand for re-election.

Hayes returned to his home, "Spiegel Grove" in March 1881. On May 17, 1881 he applied for membership in the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States through the Commandery of Illinois and was elected a Companion of the First Class on July 6, 1881. His membership certificate was issued on July 10, 1881 and he was assigned Insignia Number 2175. He transferred to the Ohio Commandery and in 1883 was elected Commander of that commandery, the first Companion to serve as Commander of a state commandery prior to being elected Commander-in-Chief. He was elected Senior Vice-Commander-in-Chief in 1885 and, in 1886, upon the death of then Commander-in-Chief Winfield Scott Hancock, General Hayes became Commander-in-Chief. He had served less than six months when Lieutenant General Philip H. Sheridan was elected Commander-in-Chief at the annual meeting of the Commandery-in-Chief. President Hayes was elected to the office of Senior Vice Commander-in-Chief. On the death of General Sheridan in 1888, Rutherford Hayes again became Commander-in-Chief serving until his own death on 17 January 1893.

President Hayes made several notable contributions to the Order while serving as Commander-in-Chief, including the establishment of the Civil War Library and Museum in Philadelphia. He visited a number of Commanderies and made addresses on the purpose and work of the Loyal Legion.

At a meeting of the New York Commandery on October 7, 1891, he said, The Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States is writing the history and biography of the war for the Union on such a scale that they will soon fill many volumes...The Loyal Legion is essentially the organic expression of our comradeship in a sacred war... we stood together as comrades on holy ground, fighting for the eternal right. Where is holy ground? If anywhere, it is where man freely dies for his fellow man. That sublime privilege was the crown of Lincoln's fame. And we of the Loyal Legion, and our comrades of the Grand Army, can reverently thank God that we were permitted to stand by Lincoln in the deadly crisis of our nation's history...

Later General Hayes remarked. The Union of our fathers was imperiled by secession. Our faith is, that the American Republic, in the language of the Supreme Court, is "an indestructible Union of indestructible States." The general Government was threatened by the doctrine that the allegiance of the citizen was due only to his State. Our faith is, that the citizen's allegiance is to the United States, and that the United States in authority and duty, is in the fullest possible sense, a nation. The contention of our adversaries was that slavery was national, perpetual, and of divine origin. Our faith is, that no statute and no constitution can make valid the false and fatal fantasy that man can hold property in man... The corner-stone of the slave-holding system was the impious dogma that 'might makes right.

Finally one of the mistakes of the Rebellion was unduly to exalt what they called 'sovereign States." They thought each State should have its own flag for its people to gaze upon and to admire and love. They would have had thirty four flags in 1861 - forty-four in 1891- and at no distant day a hundred. Each would represent a separate government, a separate army and a separate navy, and all of them would wave helplessly and miserably over 'States discordant, dissevered, belligerent!' The faith of the Loyal Legion is the reverse of all this. We believe that the whole of the American Republic - every State and every acre in every State belongs to one flag - 'the old flag,' the stars and stripes, the flag of Washington and of Lincoln, the flag of the United States.

Their rabble of flags would have represented never-ending petty wars between the inhabitants of petty States. Our one flag represents a people great, prosperous and happy, whose heritage will be, as long as they are guided by wisdom and justice, the enjoyment of unbroken harmony and perpetual peace throughout a continental republic. These, companions and friends, are some of the lessons which the Loyal Legion would teach to our children and our children's children to the end of the chapter. .

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