A Civil War Biography

Reuben Delevan Mussey

Mussey was born in Hanover, New Hampshire in 1833. His father was a Dartmouth medical school professor who would gain an international reputation in the medical field and become the fourth president of the American Medical Association. The younger Mussey, often referred to as RD, graduated from Dartmouth College in 1854.

He campaigned for Abraham Lincoln in 1860. When the war started he was appointed from Ohio to the regular army. He was assigned to the 19th US Infantry as a captain on 14 May 1861. The 19th was organized as directed by the President on 4 May 1861 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Mussey's appointment was most likely a political reward for his support during the campaign. The 19th was sent to Kentucky in October 1861 where it joined the Army of the Ohio and later the Army of the Cumberland.

According to Certificate of Records of Soldiers and Sailors Historical and Benevolent Society No. 180017 (Oct. 13, 1903), Mussey was said to have been the first regular army officer to ask permission to raise Negro troops. He supposedly submitted a proposal to the War Department in the winter of 1862-1863 calling for the enlistment of blacks as US Troops instead of by state. In September 1863 he was sent to Nashville, Tennessee to help organize Negro troops. He was made colonel of the 100th US Colored Infantry on 14 June 1864. The 100th was assigned to guard duty at Nashville and fought during the 15-16 December 1864 Battle of Nashville, then took part in pursuing John Bell Hood's army to the Tennessee River before returning to guard duty.

Mussey was brevetted brigadier general of US volunteers on 13 March 1865 for his recruitment and organization of colored troops. He mustered out of the volunteer service later that year but remained in the regular army. He served as Andrew Johnson's confidential secretary from when Johnson took office following Lincoln's assassination until November 1865. He was sent on 7 July 1865 by Johnson, who was recovering from an illness at the time, to observe the military correctness at the hangings of the four prisoners sentenced for Lincoln's assassination.

Mussey resigned from the regular army in 1866 and established a solo law office in Washington DC and served as a adjunct instructor at Howard Law School. A recent widower with two young daughters, Mussey married Ellen Spencer on 14 June 1871. Ellen Spencer had moved to Washington DC in 1869, at the age of nineteen, to lead the women's division of the local branch of the Spencerian Business College, which trained young women for government work. Ellen Spencer Mussey would become well known in her own right as a social reformer and supporter of the women's suffrage movement. She studied the law and went into practice with her husband and later in 1896 would help found the Washington College of Law, a coeducational institution to allow women, as well as men, to study the law. When Reuben Mussey died in 1892 Ellen continued the practice alone.

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