Joseph Dana Webster

Joseph Dana Webster, military confidant of U. S. Grant and W. T. Sherman, was born on August 25, 1811, in Hampton, New Hampshire. He was graduated from Dartmouth College in 1832 and began the study of law, but in 1835 he became a civil engineer in the employ of the government and in 1838 accepted a commission in the Regular Army's topographical engineers. He served in the Mexican War and, resigning as a captain in 1854, settled in Chicago, the home of his wife. He was a member of the body which arranged the early sewerage system and raised the downtown level of the city above the encroaching waters of Lake Michigan. When the storm of civil conflict was at hand, Webster was one of a delegation of Chicago citizens who in January, 1861, signed an uncompromising manifesto against extremists in both the North and South. He was reappointed in the army on July 1, 1861, as a staff paymaster, but was sent immediately to Cairo, Illinois, where he superintended the construction of defenses. On February 1, 1862, he received the token appointment of colonel of the 1st Illinois Light Artillery (none of whose batteries ever served together), which afforded him the necessary rank to discharge the duties of Grant's chief of staff at Belmont, Forts Henry and Donelson, and Shiloh. In the course of the opening day of Shiloh, when the possibility that the Union forces would be completely overwhelmed and driven into the Tennessee River was strong, Webster, on Grant's orders, maneuvered fifty-odd pieces of artillery into line on the bluff almost overlooking Pittsburg Landing, where thousands of skulkers and wounded milled about. The last Confederate attack sputtered out; the Federals were victorious the following day, and Webster returned to his staff duties. He was commissioned brigadier general of volunteers to rank from November 29, 1862, and during the Vicksburg campaign was in charge of all the railroads supplying Grant's forces. Thereafter, he became chief of staff to Sherman and during the Atlanta campaign remained in Nashville, where he operated as an administrator backing up Sherman's gigantic column as it advanced on the line of the Western & Atlantic Railroad toward Atlanta. He acted in the same capacity for G. H. Thomas at Nashville, where he was posted by orders of Sherman and discharged his duties and responsibilities in exemplary fashion. At the end of the war he was brevetted major general and returned to the Chicago area. From 1869 to 1872 he was city assessor of internal revenue, and in July, 1872, was appointed collector of internal revenue. He died at the Palmer House in Chicago on March 12, 1876, and was buried in Rosehill Cemetery.

Previous Page

Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.