Part of the Cool Civil War Names series.
This guy’s tale helps puncture a few holes into the Abraham Lincoln Was An American Jesus Who Was Perfect In Every Way story that kids get fed in grade school. Milligan was a lawyer from Indiana (who had actually taken the bar exam with future Secretary of War Edwin Stanton), who held fervent anti-Union views that were pretty commonplace where he was living in northeastern Indiana. The problem was Milligan and some compadres took their views to another level by plotting in 1864 to steal weapons and free Confederate prisoners of war.
Now Lincoln, who by this time in the war had become quite adept at locking up rabble-rousers and outspoken critics under questionable Constitutional authority, took things a little too far with Milligan and his crew. The men were tried in a military tribunal and sentenced to death, which was a big Constitutional no-no for regular citizens so they appealed for their right to habeus corpus. Since Indiana wasn’t under attack, Milligan wasn’t involved with the military, and the civilian courts were up and running at the time, the Court swatted Lincoln back a little bit and released Milligan. He later sued the General who tried him in the tribunal for libel and false imprisonment, asking for $500,000 in damages. He got $5. Ouch.
But get this: the Supreme Court Justice who wrote the majority opinion of his case – David Davis – was a Lincoln appointee and close friend. He even chaired Abe’s 1860 campaign. Very ouch.
Bonus trivia: One of Lambdin’s lawyers in his first trial was future U.S. president James Garfield, and the lawyer who represented the General in the libel case was future U.S. president Benjamin Harrison.
Up next in CCWN, the zealous ZEBULON BAIRD VANCE.