Grand Army of the Republic
General Lucius Fairchild
Commander-in-Chief 1886 / 1887

Lucius Fairchild was born in what is now Kent, Portage County, Ohio, on December 27, 1831, the third son of Jairus Cassius and Sallie (Blair) Fairchild. They came to Madison, the territorial capitol of Wisconsin in 1846. Lucius had obtained his elementary education in Cleveland and afterwards, attended an academy at Twinsburg, Ohio. After coming to Wisconsin, he became a student at Waukesha's Carroll College.

Aroused by the gold excitement in California, he accompanied a party there by ox-team in March 1849, when he was only 17. He worked five years in the mines, acquiring some gold and much practical experience. Speaking of his life there, he said, I was forced to depend upon my own energy to attain anything and there was no alternative, but incessant labor. Since that served, I have always been fond of work and glad to have plenty of it. While in California, he had his first political experience as a delegate to a gubernatorial convention. In 1855, after selling his share of the proceeds from the sale of 700 bushels of wheat raised on a claim held by him and his associates in the Scott Valley, he returned to Wisconsin.

In 1858, he was elected Clerk of Circuit Court of Dane County and in 1860, was admitted to the Wisconsin Bar. When the Governor's Guards were organized at Madison, he entered the ranks as a private. In April 1861, the unit was assigned as Co. K, 1st Wisconsin Infantry (3 month). Fairchild was offered the lieutenant colonelcy, but declined. He then was elected captain of the company and fought at Falling Waters on July 2nd. In August, he received both an appointment as captain of the 16th U.S. Regulars and a commission as a major in the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry. Fairchild received a leave of absence from the regular army to serve with the Wisconsin regiment. Not long afterwards, he was commissioned lieutenant colonel of the 2nd Wisconsin, acting as colonel much of the time due to the commanding officer's poor health. The 2nd was brigaded with the 6th and 7th Wisconsin Infantry, the 19th Indiana Infantry and the 24th Michigan Infantry, becoming the Iron Brigade. With the 2nd Wisconsin, LtC. Fairchild participated in the battles of Gainesville, 2nd Manassas, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, besides numerous skirmishes. His left arm was shattered at Gettysburg so that amputation was necessary. He returned to Madison to regain his health and while there, received an appointment as brigadier general of volunteers. While convalescing, much to his surprise, the Union convention of Wisconsin made him its candidate for Secretary of State. Influential friends persuaded him to accept the nomination rather than return to the front.

After resigning his rank in both the regular and volunteer service, General Fairchild was elected Secretary of State in 1864. That same year, he married Frances Bull of Washington D.C., a native of Detroit, Michigan. They later had three children: Mary, Sarah and Caryl.

In 1865, he was nominated unanimously for governor by the Republican convention and was elected by a majority of nearly 100,000. In 1867 and 1869, he was re-elected and was the first man elected Wisconsin governor for three successive terms.

In 1872, President Grant appointed him U.S. consul to Liverpool, England. In 1878, he was promoted to consul-general at Paris and then to the office of minister pleniponteniary at the Court of Madrid. In March 1881, he resigned his post at Madrid and returned to America to educate his children, in part, at home. He arrived a year later to an ovation.

General Fairchild was especially active in the work of building the Wisconsin State Historical Library, where his portrait hangs today.

The general was a charter member of the first GAR post organized in Wisconsin in 1866. He was made Senior Vice Commander-in-Chief of the GAR from 1869 to 1870. In January 1886, he was elected Wisconsin Department Commander and, at the 20th National Encampment at San Francisco in August that year, was elected Commander-in-Chief.

He also served as Commander of the Wisconsin commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion from 1884 to 1887 and Commander-in-Chief of the Loyal Legion from 1893 to 1894.

The general was described as having a remarkably strong face, indicative of kindness, decision and frankness; in person he was of medium size, with a well knit frame, active and powerful; he was direct and positive in speech, sometimes with a soldier's bluntness which men do not dislike, and he was destitute of all cant and affectation.

General Fairchild died May 23, 1896 and was buried in Madison's Forest Hill Cemetery. He was survived by his widow and two daughters.

Sources: Soldiers & Citizens Album of Biographical Record, 1888, Brown & Brown
History of Dane County--Biographical & Genealogical, 1906, Western Historical Association; Madison, Wisconsin

Submitted by: Stephen A. Michaels
Past Department Commander
Department of Wisconsin
Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War
August 2000

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