A Civil War Biography

Alexander Robinson Boteler

Boteler was born 16 May 1815 in Shepherdstown, Jefferson County, Virginia (now West Virginia). His mother died when he was just four and he was sent to Baltimore, Maryland to be raised by his maternal grandmother, a daughter of Charles Wilson Peale, the preeminent painter of his generation. Boteler received the finest education and after graduating from Princeton in 1835 and completing a master's degree, he returned to live on his father's estate, Fountain Rock, in Shepherdstown. He concentrated on writing and experimental farming. In 1850 he agreed, reluctantly, to run as a Whig for state senate but was defeated overwhelmingly by the Democratic candidate. He served as a Whig presidential elector in 1852 and ran twice unsuccessfully for the US House of Representatives. He was elected in 1858 as a member of the Opposition party to represent Virginia's 8th district in the US House. With the House deadlocked in a three-way contest for House Speaker, Boteler, very surprisingly for a freshman congressman, was nominated for the position as a compromise candidate. As the secession crisis worsened he called for the creation of a special committee comprised of one representative from each state. The committee was to be tasked to work to avert disunion. He supported the Crittenden Compromise but ultimately, like many other Virginians, he let the actions of his state dictate his coarse. When Virginia seceded from the Union, Boteler's service in the US Congress ended. He was taken prisoner by Union troops at his own home on 13 August 1861 but was released the same day. He won election to the Virginia state legislature, but on 19 November 1861 accepted an appointment to the Confederate Provisional Congress instead. He was elected to the First Confederate Congress in 1862 and served from February 1862 until February 1864.

When the Confederate congress was not in session, Boteler, with the rank of colonel, served in the army as an aide on the staff of Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. Boteler often took Jackson's appeals to Congress and when Jackson threatened to resign because of War Department interference in his command, Boteler persuaded Jackson to withdrawal the resignation. Boteler was with Jackson at Fredericksburg. After Jackson died Boteler became an aide on the staff of J.E.B. Stuart. Boteler served with Stuart until 12 May 1864. After Boteler failed in his bid to be elected to the Second Confederate Congress he served as an advisor to Virginia governors William Smith and John Lector. In November 1864 Boteler was assigned to the Military Court Department. He was surrendered at Appomattox with the Army of Northern Virginia.

After the war Boteler returned to what was left of his farm. Fountain Head had been a casualty of the war. A Union raiding party had put the house to the torch on 19 July 1864. A popular story was told of how Boteler's daughter Helen stood and sang "Dixie" while the Yankees torched her home. Boteler split his time between agricultural pursuits and public affairs. He did not harbor the ill feelings towards the controlling political party that many southerners did. He was appointed to the US Centennial Commission in 1776 by President Ulysses S. Grant and to the Tariff Commission by President Chester A. Arthur. Boteler served as an assistant attorney in the Department of Justice then as pardon clerk. Later in life he took up painting and although not quite as preeminent as his great-grandfather, he did complete oil paintings of the principle Confederate military heroes. He also wrote historical articles including a detailed account of Jackson's Valley campaign. He died in Shepherdstown on 8 May 1892.

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