A Civil War Biography

Henry Lawrence Burnett

Burnett was born 26 December 1838 in Youngstown, Ohio. At the age of 15, not wanting to become a farmer, he ran away from home to get an education. He attended the Chester Academy then the Ohio State National Law School, from which he graduated in 1859. Following graduation Burnett established a law practice in Warren, Ohio. He was an active supporter of the Union during the times that led up to armed conflict. When the war began Burnett volunteered, joining Company C of the 2nd Ohio cavalry. He was chosen captain of the company on 23 August 1861.

The 2nd was sent to Missouri and saw action at Carthage, Fort Wayne, and Gibson. The 2nd then took part in the campaigns in Southern Kentucky. On 10 August 1863 Burnett, having become no longer fit for active service when a horse rolled over him, was assigned as a major, judge-advocate of the Department of the Ohio. In 1864, at the request of Indiana Governor Oliver Hazard Perry Throck Morton, Burnett was sent to Indiana to prosecute members of the Knights of the Golden Circle. He next took part in the cases growing out of the Chicago conspiracy to liberate Confederate prisoners from Camp Douglas, obtaining seven convictions. Burnett was also prominent in the trial of LP Milligan, a Confederate sympathizer who was tried by a military commission for treason. Milligan had attempted to arm escaped prisoners in order to invade Indiana. Sentenced to death, Milligan appealed all the way to the US Supreme Court resulting in the ruling that military commissions only could try civilians in theaters of active military operations. Burnett was brevetted colonel of volunteers on 8 March 1865, then brigadier general of volunteers on 13 March 1865.

In the Lincoln assassination conspiracy trial Burnett served as a special assistant to the judge advocate, Joseph Holt and John A Bingham, and was a major contributor in the preparation of the evidence. Following the Lincoln trial Burnett moved to Cincinnati, Ohio and practiced law with a prominent former judge, TW Bartley until 1869, and then with former governors JD Cox and John F Follett until 1872. Burnett then moved to New York where he practiced law with various prominent lawyers of the time including EW Stoughton, BH Bristow, William Peet, WS Opdyke, and former judge James Emott. Burnett served as the legal council for the Erie railroad and acted as attorney for the English bondholders in the litigation over the Emma mine. He is probably best known for his work on the case of the Rutland Railroad Company against John B Page during which Burnett delivered a sixteen hour closing argument. He was a Republican and participated in the party councils. In January 1898 William McKinley appointed Burnett federal district attorney for the southern district of New York. He was reappointed after his four year term expired by Theodore Roosevelt. After this term expired Burnett retired to his country home, Hillside Farm, in Goshen, New York where he kept a large stable of harness horses. In November 1815 he came down with pneumonia. He insisted on being taken to his city home where he died on 4 January 1916.

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