Asa Bird Gardiner: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Asa Bird Gardiner
September 30, 1839(1839-09-30) – May 24, 1919 (aged 79)
Place of birth Manhattan, New York City
Place of death Suffern, New York
Place of burial Green-Wood Cemetery
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Union Army
Years of service 1861-1896
Rank Lieutenant Colonel
Other work District Attorney of New York County

(removed from office)

Asa Bird Gardiner (September 30, 1839[1] – May 24, 1919) was a controversial American soldier, attorney, and prosecutor. Awarded the Medal of Honor for his service in the American Civil War, it was later rescinded. As a Judge Advocate General in the United States Army, he prosecuted the case of Johnson Chesnut Whittaker, a black cadet at West Point. He was appointed District Attorney of New York County in 1898, but was put on trial for corruption, and despite acquittal removed from office by Theodore Roosevelt. He was famous for his refusal to prosecute the corrupt Tammany Hall bosses of New York City, proclaiming "The hell with reform!" (or "Reform be damned!").[2]



Gardiner was born Asa Bird Gardner (no "i")[3] in New York City.[1] He was born in the Fraunces Tavern, of which his father and uncle were keepers. The father later ran the Philadelphia Hotel.[3]

He graduated with an A.B. from the College of the City of New York and an LL.B. from New York University in 1860. He was admitted to the bar and began private practice as an attorney.


Military career

Civil War service

He was commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant in the 31st New York Infantry Regiment on May 27, 1861 at the outbreak of the Civil War. He was mustered out of service on August 7, 1861 and was commissioned a captain in the 22nd New York on May 31, 1862 and was honorable mustered out on September 5, 1862. He was again commissioned captain in the same regiment on June 18, 1863 and was again mustered out on July 24, 1863. During that time he served in the Gettysburg Campaign and was awarded the Medal of Honor on September 23, 1872 for "distinguished service performed during the war while serving as Captain 22nd New York State Militia".

Late in the war, Gardiner was commissioned 1st Lieutenant in the Veterans Reserve Corps on February 11, 1865 and served as regimental adjutant until he was honorably mustered out of service on August 13, 1866. Gardiner received a brevet to captain dated March 13, 1865 for "gallant and meritorious service during the war".

Judge Advocate and West Point

After the end of the Civil War Gardiner was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant of the 9th Infantry Regiment of the Regular Army and was promoted to 1st lieutenant on February 14, 1868. He transferred to the 1st Artillery Regiment on April 3, 1869. Gardiner was promoted to the rank of major on August 18, 1873 and served as a Judge Advocate for 15 years until he retired from the Army on December 8, 1888.

Gardiner served from 1874 to 1878 as Professor of Law at the United States Military Academy at West Point. By Act of Congress, the Academy established a Department of Law in 1874, with a senior Judge Advocate General as its first Professor of Law. Secretary of War William W. Belknap appointed Gardiner to the post, and he became the first lawyer to teach law at the Academy. Gardiner initiated the entire law curriculum, including study of the Lieber Code and a textbook he himself wrote.[4]

Involvement in notable courts-martial

In 1875, while still at West Point, Gardiner was chosen by President U. S. Grant to be the presiding judge advocate general at the Whiskey Ring court-martial of Gen. Orville E. Babcock, Grant's personal secretary.[5] The civilian grand jury that had already convened refused to turn over its evidence, however, and the court-martial adjourned; Babcock was later acquitted.[6]

In 1878, a commission reviewed the court-martial of Fitz John Porter, who had been drummed out of the Army in 1863 for his actions at Second Bull Run. Chairman John M. Schofield appointed Gardiner as Recorder, but he "took upon himself the role of a judge advocate in a court-martial", contesting evidence favorable to Porter. The Commission ultimately reinstated Porter.[7]

In 1880, the sole black cadet at West Point, Johnson Chesnut Whittaker, was allegedly assaulted by three fellow cadets, but the white commanders at the Academy decided in an inquest that he had faked the attack. After a year of public outcry including the attention of the United States Congress, Whittaker was court-martialed, with Gardiner the prosecutor. The result was Whittaker's expulsion.[8] {The verdict was overturned in 1883 by President Arthur; Whittaker was still expelled from West Point on the grounds of failing a exam. In 1995 President Clinton presented a commission to Whittaker relatives}

In 1884, Gardiner was selected for another high-profile prosecution, that of his superior, Brig. Gen. David Swainn, the Judge Advocate General of the Army; Swainn was convicted.[4]

New York politics

After retiring from the Army, Gardiner pursued the private practice of law in New York City and became active in the Tammany Society (better known as Tammany Hall) as well as the Democratic Party. A history of the society calls him a "simon-pure Democrat" who followed his father and grandfather's participation in the Tammany Society, where in 1901 he held the rank of sachem.[9] In 1884 he changed the spelling of his name from Gardner to Gardiner.[3]

In 1897 Gardiner was appointed United States Attorney for New York and left office three years later. Gardiner was notorious for having said, "Reform be damned" when confronted with calls to confront the corruption of the Tammany Hall political machine. The Tammany history lists two deputies to Gardiner as members.[9]

Among the beneficiaries of Gardiner's attitude was saloonkeeper Frank J. Farrell, who is said to have opened three hundred pool halls (in reality fronts for bookmakers) after his friend took office, building a fortune that he would use to bring the New York Yankees to town.[10]

In 1916 the Army revoked his Medal of Honor under the grounds that there was insufficient evidence of his heroism. Gardiner refused to return his medal and was controversial until the day he died in 1918.

Gardiner was active in numerous military and hereditary societies including the Society of the Cincinnati, the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, Sons of the Revolution, Society of Colonial Wars and the Veteran Corps of Artillery. In the Society of the Cincinnati he served as the President of the Rhode Island Society and as General Secretary of the National Society for many years.

See also


  1. ^ a b The Brown Book: A Biographical Record of Public Officials of the City of New York. Martin B. Brown company. 1899.  
  2. ^ "General Asa B. Gardiner Dies in 80th Year. Ex-District Attorney of New York and Military Leader Passes at His Suffern Home. Was Counsel for Grant. Awarded Congressional Medal for Bravery, He Was Asked 45 Years Later to Return It. Professor of Law at West Point. Head of Society of War of 1812.". New York Times. May 29, 1919, Thursday. "General Asa Bird Gardiner, at one time District Attorney of New York County, and wideiy known in military affairs of the State and nation, retiring from the United States Army some years ago with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, died yesterday at his home, Orrell Manor, Suffern, N.Y., in his eightieth year. His death was the result of a stroke of apoplexy suffered on last Saturday afternoon."  
  3. ^ a b c "COL. ASA BIRD GARDINER; An Uncle, Plain John H. Gardner, Says that No Ancestor of His Was a "Continental." ALLEGED "MEDAL OF HONOR" The Democratic Candidate Refuses to Answer Questions About His Genealogy and His War Record -- Secretary Belknap's Obligations to Him". The New York Times. October 31, 1897. Retrieved 2008-02-03.  
  4. ^ a b Finnegan, Col. Patrick (2004) (PDF). The Study of Law as a Foundation of Leadership and Command: The History of Law Instruction at the United States Military Academy at West Point. 181. Military Law Review. pp. 112.$FILE/Volume181Finnegan.pdf. Retrieved 2008-02-01.  
  5. ^ William S. McFeely (1981). Grant: A Biography. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0393323943.  
  6. ^ Timothy Rives (Fall 2000). "Grant, Babcock, and the Whiskey Ring". Prologue Magazine. National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved 2008-02-03.  
  7. ^ Curt Anders (2002). Injustice on Trial: Second Bull Run, General Fitz John Porter's. Emmis Books. ISBN 157860110X.  
  8. ^ "A Black Cadet at West Point". 22. American Heritage. August 1971. Retrieved 2008-02-01. "The judge advocate—the prosecuting officer—was Major Asa Bird Gardiner, formerly a West Point professor and the most famous Army lawyer of his day."  
  9. ^ a b Euphemia Vale Blake (1901). History of the Tammany Society: Or Columbian Order. "The Colonel is also a simon-pure Democrat, and as such, is in succession to his father and grandfather, a member of Tammany Hall General Committee for the First Assembly District. He is also a member of and Sachem in the Tammany Society."  
  10. ^ Martin Donell Kohout (2001). Hal Chase: The Defiant Life and Turbulent Times of Baseball's Biggest Crook. McFarland. ISBN 0786410671. "When Farrell opened his place in the fall of 1891, his only other business was a saloon on Sixth Avenue. In 1897, however, when his friend Asa Bird Gardiner was elected district attorney on an anti-reform platform, Farrell branched out, opening a string of three hundred pool halls which served as fronts for bookmakers taking illegal bets on horse races."  
Legal offices
Preceded by
William M.K. Olcott
District Attorney - New York County, New York
Succeeded by
Eugene Philbin


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address