"Edmund Mallet"

This article was generously contributed by Bill Young, on his great-uncle, Edmund Mallet, of the 81st NY Vols.  Bill writes, the Major’s full name was James Edmond (Mallette) Mallet. The newspaper article was written by Mrs. Corrine R. Rouleau, of  Montreal, Canada, and the article was posted in the Palladium Times issued on Friday, January 28th 1944, Page 10. 

A few changes have been made from the original newspaper clipping. Example, reference to Washington was changed to Washington D.C to define it from the State of Washington. All the punctuation marks are as made in the newspaper column.

Freighter to be christened in honor of Edmund Mallet, Who raised contingent of Civil War volunteers here, was wounded in the Battle of Cold Harbor. Had interview with Lincoln. Directed Indian affairs under Grant, Harrison and Cleveland.

**Bill is seeking information on his Family Tree: Branagan, Chappell, Dion (Canada), Harris, Morelhan (Ireland),  Mallet ( Mallette), Canada.

"Edmund Mallet"

       There was a bond drive recently among New Englanders of French extraction, the goal being a six-million dollar pledge. Which carried the privilege of naming one of the new Liberty ships for each half-million dollars raised. 

       These Yankees of French blood, who justly pride themselves of being among the oldest inhabitants of this continent, are very sturdy Americans, and went “all out” in this drive more then doubling their quota and buying nearly thirteen million dollars in war bonds. Among the names chosen for their half dozen ships, names submitted to the President of the United States, who has the final choice in such matters, was that of a major in the Civil War. President Roosevelt has approved the name and it is hoped that some day soon, in one of our ship yards, there will come a pause in the incessant hum, to allow of a gaily bedecked bottle being smashed across the bow of a new liberty freighter still in its cradle. While these words ring out: “I christen thee the Edmund Mallet”! And a new vessel slips slowly down the ways in the water. 

       Just who was this Edmund Mallet? He was a lad living in Oswego, N.Y., when the Civil War broke out. He came of venture-some stock. One of his direct ancestors having been among the fondling fathers of Montreal, another with Cadillac at Detroit, and a third in the founding of Villa-a-Mallet, now Peoria, Illinois.

                It was in Montreal that young Mallet himself first saw the light of day, in 1842. But, while he was still an infant his parents moved to Oswego, N.Y., which to the day of his death, Edmund Mallet considered his hometown. 

      In Oswego, N.Y., he grew up, a sturdy boy, short of stature, but husky and self-reliant, gay and spirited; attractive too, with a fresh color, steady blue eyes an open countenance and an ever-ready smile.

       When Lincoln called for volunteers in the outbreak of the Civil War, young Mallet, although but in his teens, immediately raised a contingent of volunteers, nearly all of then being, like himself, of French descent. They hoped to stay together as a military entity; in fact, Mallet had been encouraged in this venture with this hope, also having been given to understand he would have a commission in the Union Army. But, although the Federal authorities gladly accepted all of his volunteers, they were immediately dispersed among several military bodies and young Mallet himself went in as a soldier in the ranks. However, he very soon won his shoulder strips and was made a Lieutenant after his first battle, although not quite twenty years old at the time. He was with the Second Oswego Regiment, Eighty-first New York State Volunteer Infantry, and his military record is as follows:

                   J. Edmund Mallet, Second Lieutenant,  Oct. 21, 1862: promoted.
                    To First Lieutenant and Adjutant. Dec. 24, 1863;
                  Wounded at the battle of Cold Harbor, Va. June 3rd, 1864
                   Discharged on account of wounds received in action promoted 
                   From Sergeant.

       For three years, he saw the hardest sort of service, as Brigade Aide-de-Camp, Divisional Chief of Staff and then Provost-marshal, serving as first with Generals McCLellan and Butler, and later under Grant with the Army of the Potomac, but throughout this time he remained only a lieutenant in rank. Twice he had a horse shot from under him in battle, and finally at Cold Harbor, Va. he fell, grievously wounded.

       Hours after that battle had ended. He still lay on the filed where he had fallen, in a pool of blood, apparently dead. A party of stretcher bearers passing by, gave him a cursory examination, finding him alive, but considering him doomed. He could hear and understand dimly what was being said, but was so weakened by shock and the loss of blood that he showed no signs of consciousness. So was left there while the stretcher-bearers picked up a comrade less badly wounded. 

       Fortunately, these same stretcher-bearers felt impelled to return later, and finding the young officer still slowly breathing, decided to have him carried to the nearest field hospital where the medical officers deemed his case hopeless, yet decided to give him a chance. Do an ambulance took him to a streamer. Where he lay on a cot for days while the vessel slowly went down the Pamunkey river, crossed a part of the Chesapeake Bay and ascended the Potomac to Washington, DC. Where at last young Mallet, still miraculously alive, was taken to a base hospital. There he was fated to spend several months, and object of study and wonder on the part of the Surgeons and Nurses. His case being considered so unusual that it was mentioned at length in the Medical History of the Civil War.

       While still hospitalized, he was twice cited in the order of the day for conspicuous gallantry in action and was promoted to the rank of Captain and then to that of Major. Of course, this was gratifying to the young man but finding that others, who had seen far less active service and borne but a fraction of the responsibilities he had carried for over three years, were now above him in rank. The young officer was moved to ask why he could bot be advance another peg. He was answered that he was far to young and “ being two inched under the minimum height required of officers of such rank…..”
The reason given astounded him, he had not been considered to young or short to fight his country’s battles from the beginning of the war to near it ending. Now, four years later, when he lay invalid with a wound from which he would suffer more or less all his life. It seemed hardly the proper time for the brass hats to begin looking askance at his youth or lack of physical stature.


       Later on, when he walked out of the hospital in 1865, still shaky from his wound and still smarting from the undeserved snub of the aforementioned brass hats. Young Mallet was undecided about staying in the service. But, the congressman of his district, Mr. Littlejohn, of Oswego, N.Y., thought it would be a much to the advantage of the government to keep such a promising young man as it would be a good thing for Major Mallet to take up some branch of government work. The congressman saw President Lincoln about the matter. The President asked that the young officer be brought to him for an interview. 

          When congressman Littlejohn and the Major presented themselves at the White House, a military aide-de-camp led them up a wide stairway to a door on which he knocked. A mans voice bade then to enter and then were ushered in the presidential bedroom. There sat Abraham Lincoln with his coat off, occupied in massaging a large bare and very bony foot. He had probably just returned after one of those long daily walks he took to military camps and hospitals around the capital; and the stiff high leather boots of the period were hard on the feet and made less for comfort then for wear.

        Imperturbably, for those were war times and the President granted interviews at all hours and in all sorts of circumstances, the aide-de-camp introduced the visitors and withdrew. At the sight of the President got up, and pushing aside the heavy boat he had just removed, greeted his callers with his usual self-possession. To the young officer, Abraham Lincoln, with his towering physique and his air of granite fortitude, seemed a human bulwark. Even standing thus, in his shirtsleeves and with one foot bare, he retained his native dignity and calm thought out the interview. His thick black thatch of hair framed and brought into relief his rough-hewn features lined by care and thought. The mask of weary sadness he wore in repose lifted in conversation, a kindly smile came and went over his face, and as he grew interested and animated, his black eyes slowed and flashed in their deep sockets. Those eyes, soon to be closed n death by the hand of an assassin. The President had already 

       Taken pains to inform himself of the young mans record, and expressing the hope that Major Mallet would remain in the service of the United States, perhaps in the treasury where a place was available.

       The young officer thanked the President and said he give the matter consideration: and after a few more minutes of easy conversation, the callers left. But, the memory of the War President was now thanked him for the services he had rendered the country, to remain alive in young Mallet the day of his death.


       Major Mallet accepted the post offered him in the Treasury. He had been there for some time when he was asked, one day, to change the figures in a certain report. Knowing that his particular report was important, and that the figures were accurate he refused to be party to any falsifications; where upon things were made so disagreeable for him in that department that he asked for a transfer, which were granted him. 

        Still later, he was appointed examiner in the Post Office Department. Meanwhile he studied law and was admitted to the bar but never engaged in private practice, although his legal studies were invaluable to him throughout the remainder of his career 

       Eventfully, his old commander –in-chief, General grant, came to Washington as President of the United States and in 1876 he named Mallet special agent to the Indian tribes around Puget Sound, but after two years of rough traveling around, his old wound trouble him and he returned to Washington. Where, in time his health improved. When Glover Cleveland came in as President and looked around for an experienced and tactful man to serve as inspector general for Indian affair, it was expected that he would pick out a Democrat for the post. He chose instead Major Mallet, who happened to be a Republican in politics, at that time. What was known as the Indian Territory composed most of the states of Wyoming, Utah, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Nebraska and New Mexico, am enormous slice of our continent. Over which the major traveled for years. Mostly on horseback, going from one far post to another, with a guide and a few pack horses, and getting to know to like most of the Red men that dwelt in this vast territory. To the Indians of 25 or 30 different tribes. Major Mallet grew to embody the United States government and the Great White Father in Washington, Dc. 

       The major was friendly and fair, patient and firm, he was respectful of the Red Mans personal dignity and tribal customs. He was careful to make no promises, which he felt that he, or the government, might not be able to keep. But, he scrupulously carried out such promises as he did make. All or which won him the full confidence of the Indians, who steadfastly remained his friends to the end of his life, and invariable sought him out in later years, whenever they sent delegations to Washington. So well did he fill this post of special agent to the Indians that he was re-appointed and served until President Harrison named him Chief of the bureau of swamplands, in the Department of the Interior with a permanent berth in the capital.


       Here our doughty little major, the gray hair, had another battle on his hands, on that lasted several years. A sort of civil war more complicated then his first one had been because the second one was fought mostly under cover. His adversaries being a group of politicians through whom a private combine tried to lay hands on the largest and most mysterious swamp of all, the Everglades, home of the Seminole Indians.

        There has been much twaddle about the White Man’s burden. Well the Red Man has had his burden too, chief of which has been, since 1490, the White Man’s unquenchable desire for the lands of the Red Man. Grazing, timber, farming, mining, oil land and even swamp land. Fifty years ago, although the Indians had already been dispossessed of much territory. They were still free to live and to roam vast tracts if the continent which they had deemed theirs by right of occupation during several millenniums. But what the past half century or so has done to the Red Man can be best be gauged by looking at the maps made during the eighteen-sixties or seventies and comparing tighten with the maps today. How much of that still imperial domain in the great west that was then called the Indian Territory can the Indians claim as theirs now? They would also have lost the vast eastern tract of the Everglades had not Major Mallet providentially been on guard over the swamplands, where a Machiavellian grab was made for them.

       During Harrison administration, a bill was presented in congress, perhaps in good faith, proposing that a certain large part of the Everglades should no longer be listed as swampland. Also, that in the matter of lands classification. The decision should be left to the governor of the state, in this case Florida, where the land was located. Much pressure was brought to bear on the Secretary of the Interior, Mr. Noble, to allow such a change. Mr. Noble, however did not care to assume full responsibility for such a transfer of authority, in case it were eventually made. He asked Major Mallet, as head of the division of Swamplands. for a written report on that particular tract of land, not telling the Major what the report was wanted for. Major Mallet, however, already knew what was in the wind; having been approached him-self by sundry gentlemen desirous of getting his opinion on the matter. Of which he did not give them and hinting of fortunes to be given if things were handled just right, those lands, in their opinion, being of any use, tied up as they were. 

                                             Stood BY INDIANS

       The Major, however, thought differently. He felt this would be just another old raid on the Indians domain, and he knew that land was doing a lot of good to the aborigines who still inhabited it. Accordingly, brushing aside all quibble and graft, he made a report entirely adverse to any change, and condemning the bill presented in its favor in the house. The fat was on the fire, at first, it had been Republicans: but the men who coveted the Everglades were out to get his scalp at any cost, and as another presidential campaign came around, politics were injected into the issue. Harrison was defeated and Secretary Noble, of course, stepped down from the Department of the Interior and Hoke Smith stepped into his shoes and another group of congressmen asked the Chief of the Swam Lands to make changes in the status of the Everglades. Again Major Mallet refused, though he will knew that this time it would probably cost him his job, the opposing political party being in power now, Nevertheless he stood by his guns and his report, his swamp lands and his Indians. So the afore-mentioned clique got his immediate superior, Secretary Hoke Smith, to recommend the dismissal of Mr. Mallet, claiming that he was a troublemaker, lacking foresight, and so forth, and so on; and they asked that it be quickly done, before their own guns could be spiked again.


       But now the Major’s ole fighting spirit was aroused, and he immediately sought out his congressman, the Mr. Tracy of Oswego, NY, and together they went to see President Cleveland, who heard the Major out and examined the papers in the case. The President and the congressman, both democrats, sided with the Republican guardian of the Swam Lands. The President then took up from his desk the list of the men in the federal service already proposed to him for dismissal, “ of the good of the party,” finding Major Mallet’s name thereon. Taking up his telephone, President Cleveland called Secretary Hoke Smith in person and told him then and there that before he would dismiss Major Mallet, he would ask Secretary Smith of his own resignation, that ended the fight. The private land grab fell though and the Indians kept their big swamp, and have it intact to this day. Thanks principally o doughty little Major Mallet, who, like the great Lincoln, had a soul and heart large enough to envision, and a courage and resolution strong enough to battle for, the rights of free humanity, were it red, white or black.

       The rest of the Major’s life was spent in peace, but also in loneliness. He was alone in Washington, D.C. his wife, both Cristelle Lyon’s having died before the turn of the century, and their sons living they’re own lives out of his orbit. Of the three sons, who grow to manhood. Edmund and Louis died long ago; Charles is, or was until recently, still living in Camden. NJ.

       Major Mallet, who could have enriched himself, had he been less conscientious, lived and died with nothing but his very modest pay as a government official in Washington, D.C. his last years were very quiet occupied with his books and studies, which he so loved. He had a fine library of Americana, which after his death, was purchased y a Franco-American Benevolent Association of Woonsocket, RI. Where it is today, intact and often consulted by those in the know.

Back to Oswego Co. NY Military Page 

Return to the Oswego County homepage 

Copyright © 2000 Bill Young / Laura Perkins
All Rights Reserved