Manson was born in Piqua, Ohio, about 1820. His father died when Manson was three years old. As a young man, he became a clerk in a druggist store and continued to pursue that profession. In 1842, he moved to Montgomery County, Indiana, where he taught school and pursued a medical degree by attending classes at the Ohio Medical School in Cincinnati and by taking a course or two in New Orleans. Although he pursued a medical degree, it appears he never practiced medicine and instead continued his career as a druggist.
Like Lew Wallace, when the Mexican War broke out Manson volunteered for service. Unlike Wallace, Manson saw significant action in General Winfield Scott’s campaign from Vera Cruz to Mexico City. After the War, Manson returned to Montgomery County and resumed his career as a druggist. Again like Wallace, he became heavily involved in the Democratic Party and in 1851 was elected to the State House of Representatives. In 1856, he was a delegate to the National Democratic Convention that nominated James Buchanan and John Breckinridge. He continued his support of the Democratic Party in 1860 when he supported Stephen A. Douglas for President.
When War broke out in 1861, he took an active part in raising the first company in Montgomery County under Lew Wallace. Company G of the 10th Indiana selected Manson as Captain. He was quickly promoted to Major and just ten days later to Colonel. In June 1861, he participated in the Battle of Rich Mountain in (West) Virginia and in January of 1862 he was involved in the Battle of Mill Spring (Kentucky). His troops then removed to Louisville, Kentucky, and for much of the spring and early summer he remained in the area, receiving a promotion to Brigadier General.
In 19th century biographies that praised Brigadier General Mahlon Manson, some authors skipped over aspects of his military career. One battle that some early biographers minimized was the Battle of Richmond, Kentucky. Kentucky was a border state during the War and Indiana Governor Morton was deeply concerned about the possibility of losing Kentucky to the Confederates. In the summer of 1862, rumors began circulating about a large Confederate army massing near Knoxville and Chattanooga. By late August, Morton had rushed almost 15,000 men into Kentucky with another 5,000 on the way. General Don Carlos Buell, who had served at the Battle of Shiloh with Lew Wallace, was in charge of the district that included central Kentucky and sent Major General William Nelson along with Brigadier Generals Mahlon Manson and Charles Cruft to take command of the Union troops that were massing in Kentucky. Unfortunately, Buell didn’t send any significant troop support as he believed this Confederate threat was a ruse and that their true aim was to regain parts of Tennessee lost after Shiloh.
On August 29, the Confederate cavalry moving north in Kentucky encountered Union troops. Manson was in charge of the Union army in the area of Richmond. On August 30, after some early Union success, the Confederates began to take control of the field of battle. Out of a force of approximately 6,500 Union men, 206 were killed, 844 were wounded and 4,303 were taken prisoner. In contrast the Confederates saw 78 men killed, 372 wounded, and 1 missing. As some historians have reported, the Battle of Richmond was the closest thing to a battle of annihilation in the entire war. Manson was one of the Union men wounded (in the thigh) and captured. He was exchanged in a prisoner swap two months later. The few Union troops left after the battle fled to Louisville leaving much of central Kentucky and Cincinnati open and vulnerable—enter Lew Wallace.
|Some of Manson's items on display at Richmond, KY|
Photo by Stephanie Cain
In spite of his stunning defeat at Richmond, Manson’s military career was not over and he continued to serve as a Union leader. In May of 1864, he was involved in the Battle at Resaca (part of the Atlanta campaign) where he was again wounded. In an effort to demonstrate to General Haskell how he might best avoid enemy fire, Manson jumped up on the defensive works and was struck by a piece of shell that injured his right shoulder, forever disabling his arm. He was carried from the field, returned to duty a few days later and then had to be taken to Nashville where he was hospitalized for almost three months. Realizing that he would not be able to be fully effective, he resigned his commission in December of 1864.
The lives of Manson and Wallace would continue to influence one another. As a result of the Battle of Richmond, the Buell Commission was formed to inquire into Major General Don Carolos Buell’s performance with respect to the invasion of Kentucky. Buell was Manson’s superior who placed Manson in command, but failed to send significant troop support. Wallace was appointed chair of this commission which effectively removed Wallace from battle command for the balance of 1862 and much of 1863.
After the war, Manson continued his active involvement in the Democratic Party. In 1864, he was nominated for Lt. Governor, but lost. In 1866, he was nominated for Secretary of State, but lost. Then in 1868, he was nominated for as Representative of the 9th District in Congress—and again, lost. In 1870, he was nominated as Representative a second time, and he won—defeating Lew Wallace!
At this time, Manson also served on the Committee on Invalid Pensions. In 1873, he became a member of the State Democratic Committee, became its chairman in 1875 and was in an official capacity lobbying on behalf of Democratic interests in the controversial election of 1876 where Wallace represented Republican interests. In 1876, he was elected State Auditor and in 1884 elected Lt. Governor. He resigned his post as Lt. Governor to accept a post as a Collector of the Internal Revenue Service in Terre Haute.
Beyond their political intersections, Manson and Wallace would have crossed paths in other ways. The Mansons and Wallaces were both members of the Methodist Church in Crawfordsville, both men were members of the Grand Army of the Republic and the local Masonic Lodge, both were involved with the building of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Indianapolis and finally, both were laid to rest in Oak Hill Cemetery.
The parallels in the lives of Manson and Wallace, two of Crawfordsville’s five Civil War generals, are striking. Even the closing comments of one 19th century Manson biographer would equally describe Wallace.
"An eloquent orator, he commands the attention, convinces the reason, arouses the enthusiasm and awakens the zeal of his hearers. A brave and gallant soldier, a prudent and conscientious statesman, a public spirited citizen, a faithful friend, an honest man in business, and a true man in all the relations of life, it is not surprising that he holds a high position in the esteem and affection of the people of the State. He rose from poverty to justly deserved eminence and the bright light which beats upon his life discovers no flaw in his character. Not by accident or aid of others, but by earnest toil, constant perseverance, through smoke and blood of battle, he has attained success in life, military glory, political and social popularity and the love and honor of his fellow-citizens. Such men as he make all men their debtors."