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Lambdin P. Milligan

Lambdin Purdy Milligan (March 24, 1812 – December 21, 1899) was a lawyer, farmer, and a leader of the Knights of the Golden Circle during the American Civil War. In 1864, he was unconstitutionally given a capital sentence, and later set free by the United States Supreme Court, setting a precedent later named after him: Ex parte Milligan. His practice was successful, even though he suffered what some thought might be meningitis.[1]


Early life

Milligan was a native of Belmont County, Ohio, derived from Irish descent, and born of Moses Milligan, a soldier in the American Revolutionary War, and Mary (Purday) Milligan. His formal schooling ended when he was eight years old. When seventeen years old, his father wanted Milligan to gain a college education, in order to later practice medicine, but his mother stopped that from occurring, desiring that if none of the other children could have it, neither should Milligan. This caused Milligan to leave his home, despite his father promising to disinherit him if he did. He became a lawyer on October 27, 1835 as the head of a class of nine which included Edwin M. Stanton, a member of Abraham Lincoln's cabinet during the war. Later that same day, Milligan married his first wife, Sarah L. Ridgeway. He later moved to Huntington, near Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and mostly represented small railroad companies. Throughout this he suffered from either meningitis and/or epilepsy.[2][3]

Although outspoken in political affairs, he was never a politician as he was too "frank" to do well as such.[3]


Military commission that originally convicted Milligan.

He publicly protested the Union's waging war against the Confederacy, with Indiana governor Oliver P. Morton his most frequent target. It was widely believed that Milligan was involved in a huge conspiracy against the United States of America by the end of 1863.[1]

Union authorities were convinced that by May 1864 Milligan was in touch with Confederate agents. Milligan was among those arrested on October 5, 1864 by order of General Alvin P. Hovey and tried before a military tribunal starting on October 21 1864. Since August, Milligan had been bedridden, with his left leg becoming useless due to erysipelas since the previous August. No warrant or affidavit was given to show Milligan's arrest was authorized, and the arresting officers were told to shoot Milligan should any unwarranted noise be made when they dragged him from his home at four o'clock in the morning. Milligan was told that he must prove his innocence.[4]

The charges against Milligan and the others were:

  1. Conspiracy against the Government of the United States
  2. Affording aid and comfort to rebels against the authority of the United States
  3. Inciting insurrection
  4. Disloyal practices
  5. Violation of the laws of war

Specifically, Milligan, William A. Bowles, Harrison H. Dodd, Stephen Horsey and Andrew Humphreys were accused of planning to steal weapons and invade Union prisoner-of-war camps to release Confederate prisoners. They were convicted and sentenced to death by hanging on December 10, 1864, with the date of execution set to May 19, 1865. During the trials, the military commission actually made speeches at Republican rallies.[1][5][6]

Milligan was forced to walk to his prison after sentencing, even through his leg was useless and he was unused to using a cane. He was thrown into a filthy prison where the smell of a nearby hog slaughtering shop lingered. His arm had been paralyzed and he gained a fever during his incarceration. In spite of this, the Union officials threw him into the cell with one inch cracks that allowed chilly winter air to permeate. On at least one occasion, Milligan's food was thrown on the filthy floor.[7]

The four prisoners appealed and were able to argue the case after the Civil War ended, claiming that they should not have been tried by a military court. Two days before the hanging, the five men had their sentences reduced by then-President Andrew Johnson to life sentences (Dodd had escaped to Canada by this time). On April 3, 1866, citing habeas corpus, the Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase ruled that they should be released. Milligan's lawyers, which included future President of United States James A. Garfield, used in defense of Milligan such things as English jurisdiction from the eighteenth-century involving a royal governor in one case, and the Royal Navy in another. The Supreme Court granted Milligan and the others petitions to be released from custody on December 17, 1866, stating that since the civilian courts were still in effect in Indiana, that military commissions were unconstitutional, a precedent for future cases known later as Ex parte Milligan, named after Milligan. The ruling was against the procedure, as Milligan and the others were indeed involved in a conspiracy[1][8][9]


Milligan later sued Hovey for conspiracy, false imprisonment, and libel, asking for $500,000 in damages. Milligan won, and received the small settlement of five dollars.[1][10][11] The defendants were represented by future President Benjamin Harrison, and Harrison's argument that Milligan's actions prolonged the war was the cause for Milligan receiving only five dollars.[12]

Upon returning home to Huntington after the trial, Milligan was given a "great ovation". He returned to practicing law, and was kept in high esteem by his peers. After his wife Sarah died on November 20, 1870, Milligan married Mrs. Maria L. (née Humphreys) Cavender, a native of Madison, Indiana, on August 12, 1873. His health improved in his later life.[3]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Heidler p.669
  2. ^ Marshall pp.71,72
  3. ^ a b c HoHC p.514
  4. ^ Marshall p.73
  5. ^ Bodenhamer pp.444,1482
  6. ^ Marshall p.75
  7. ^ Marshall p.77
  8. ^ "Ex parte Milligan, 71 U.S. 4 Wall. 2 2 (1866)".  
  9. ^ Bodenhamer pp.445,1482
  10. ^ "The Chase Court 1864-1873". Supreme Court Historical Society. Retrieved 2009-04-28.  
  11. ^ "L. P. Milligan's suit for Damages.". New York Times. March 23, 1868. Retrieved 2009-04-28.  
  12. ^ Calhoun p.28


  • Bodenhamer, David (1994). The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0253312221.  
  • Calhoun, Charles William (2005). Benjamin Harrison. Macmillan. ISBN 0805069526.  
  • Heidler, David Stephen (2002). Encyclopedia Of The American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 039304758X.  
  • Marshall, John A. (1869). American bastile: A history of the illegal arrests and imprisonment of American citizens during the late civil war. T. W. Hartley.  
  • History of Huntington County, Indiana. Walsworth Publishing Co. 1987.  

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