Asa Bird Gardiner
|Asa Bird Gardiner|
September 30, 1839|
Manhattan, New York City
|Died||May 24, 1919
Suffern, New York
|Place of burial||Green-Wood Cemetery|
|Allegiance||United States of America
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||1861-1888|
|Awards||Medal of Honor (Revoked)|
He received the Medal of Honor for his service in the American Civil War in 1872 but it was rescinded in 1917 when supporting documentation was not found. As a Judge Advocate in the United States Army, he prosecuted the case of Johnson Chesnut Whittaker, a black cadet at West Point.
He was elected New York County District Attorney in 1897, but was put on trial for corruption, and despite acquittal, was removed from office by Theodore Roosevelt in 1900. He refused to prosecute the corrupt Tammany Hall bosses of New York City, proclaiming "The hell with reform!" (or "Reform be damned!").
Asa Bird Gardiner was born on September 30, 1839 in New York City. His birth name was Asa Bird Gardner - without the "i" which he added when he legally changed his name in 1884. He was born at Fraunces Tavern, where his father and uncle were innkeepers. His father later ran the Philadelphia Hotel.
He graduated A.B. from the College of the City of New York in 1859 and a LL.B. from New York University School of Law in 1860. He was admitted to the New York City Bar Association and began private practice as an attorney.
Civil War service
Shortly after the outbreak of the American Civil War, Gardiner was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the 31st New York Infantry Regiment on May 27, 1861 and was mustered out of service on August 7, 1861. He was commissioned a captain in the 22nd National Guard Infantry (a.k.a. 22nd New York State Militia) on May 31, 1862, served in Baltimore, Maryland, and was honorably mustered out of service on September 5, 1862.
He was again commissioned a captain in the same regiment when it was reactivated on June 18, 1863 due to the movement of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia towards Pennsylvania. Gardiner saw action at Sporting Hill, Pennsylvania on June 30 and at Carlisle on July 1, where he was wounded in action. Gardiner's wound was apparently minor, as there is no indication he suffered from a physical disability and he almost lived to the age of 80. Both actions were minor with the 22nd having no killed in action but it did have 9 and 12 soldiers wounded respectively on the 30th and the 1st. 
Gardiner was mustered out of active service on July 24, 1863. For the above period of service, Gardiner received the Medal of Honor on September 23, 1872, for "distinguished service performed during the war while serving as Captain 22nd New York State Militia". Gardiner's award of the Medal of Honor was later rescinded. (See below.)
On May 16, 1865 Gardiner was commissioned a first lieutenant in the Veteran Reserve Corps to rank from February 11, 1865 and served as adjutant of the 7th Veteran Reserve Corps Regiment until he was honorably mustered out of service on August 13, 1866. Gardiner was brevetted to the rank of captain on March 13, 1865, for "gallant and meritorious service during the war".
Post Civil War Military Service
After the end of the Civil War, Gardiner was commissioned a second lieutenant of the 9th Infantry Regiment of the Regular Army, to rank from July 20, 1866, and was promoted to first lieutenant on February 14, 1868. He transferred to the 1st Artillery Regiment on April 3, 1869 and served for a time as aide-de-camp to Major General Irvin McDowell who was commander of the Department of the East with its headquarters on Governors Island in New York Harbor.
On September 23, 1872 Gardiner received the Medal of Honor for his services in action at Sporting Hill, Pennsylvania on June 30, 1863 and the defense of Carlisle, Pennsylvania on July 1 and 2 of the same year.
In February 1917, the Army revoked Gardiner's Medal of Honor on the grounds that there was no record in the archives of its having been issued. Gardiner refused to return his medal and the matter was controversial until Gardiner died in 1919.
Gardiner served as an aide de camp, presumably to Secretary of War William W. Belknap, from October 4, 1872 to August 19, 1873.
By an act of Congress, the United States Military Academy at West Point established a Department of Law in 1874, with a senior Judge Advocate as its first professor of law. Secretary of War William W. Belknap appointed Gardiner to the post, and he became the first lawyer to teach law at the Academy. Gardiner initiated the entire law curriculum, including study of the Lieber Code and a textbook he himself wrote.
Gardiner served at West Point as Professor of Law from July 20, 1874 to August 28, 1878. Although his obituary in the New York Times stated that he held the rank of lieutenant colonel during this time, and that Gardiner was usually referred to as "Colonel Gardiner", the official Army Registers from this time period list Gardiner as a major. Ironically, Gardiner's government issue headstone gives his rank as captain.
Notable courts martial
While serving as a judge advocate, Gardiner was involved in several high-profile legal proceedings.
In 1875, while still at West Point, Gardiner was chosen by President Ulysses S. Grant to be the presiding judge advocate general at the Whiskey Ring court-martial of Brevet Brigadier General Orville E. Babcock, Grant's personal secretary. The civilian grand jury that had already convened refused to turn over its evidence, however, and the court-martial adjourned; Babcock was later acquitted.
In 1878, a commission reviewed the court-martial of Fitz John Porter, who had been dismissed from the Army in 1863 for his actions at the battle of Second Bull Run. The commission chairman, General John M. Schofield, appointed Gardiner as recorder, but he "took upon himself the role of a judge advocate in a court-martial," contesting evidence favorable to Porter. The commission ultimately re-instated Porter.
In 1880, one of the first black cadets at West Point, Johnson Chesnut Whittaker, was assaulted by three fellow cadets, but administrators at the Academy said he had faked the attack. After a year of inquests and hearings including the attention of the United States Congress, Whittaker was court-martialed, with Gardiner as prosecutor, resulting in Whittaker's expulsion. The verdict was overturned in 1883 by President Arthur on the ground of faulty evidence, but the expulsion was immediately reinstated by the Secretary of War on the grounds that Whittaker had failed an exam. In 1995, acting on a request from Congress, President Clinton awarded Whittaker a posthumous commission as second lieutenant.
In 1884, Gardiner was selected for another high-profile prosecution, that of his superior, Brigadier General David G. Swaim, the Judge Advocate General of the Army. Swaim was convicted of financial improprieties and suspended from duty.
On July 11, 1884 Gardiner legally changed the spelling of his last name from "Gardner" to "Gardiner". This was, according to a letter he wrote the New York Times, to conform to the spelling of the last name by his ancestors who lived in Rhode Island.
In 1887 Gardiner was appointed Acting Assistant Secretary of War and held the position until he retired from the Army on December 8, 1888 for "disability in the line of duty".
New York politics
After his retirement from the Army, Gardiner pursued the private practice of law in New York City. He became active in the Tammany Hall political machine, the major faction of the New York City Democrats. A history of the society calls him a "simon-pure Democrat" who followed his father and grandfather's participation in the Tammany Society, where in 1901 he was elected a sachem.
Gardiner was allied with Tammany Hall boss Richard Croker and, in November 1897, was elected on the Democratic ticket as New York County District Attorney. During the campaign Gardiner said, "Reform be damned!" when confronted with calls to confront the corruption of Tammany Hall.
He took office on January 1, 1898, together with the first elected officers of the newly consolidated City of New York (which added the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island to Manhattan and the Bronx).
In December 1900 formal charges were brought against Gardiner for "interfering with deputies of the Attorney General in presentation of election cases to the Grand Jury and the prosecution thereof". Governor Theodore Roosevelt removed Gardiner from office later that month after Garidner chose not to contest the charges.
Among the beneficiaries of Gardiner's anti-reform attitude was saloonkeeper Frank J. Farrell, who is said to have opened three hundred pool halls (in reality fronts for bookmakers) after his friend took office, building a fortune that he would use to bring the New York Yankees to town.
In 1908 Gardiner was hired by the State of New York to represent the state in opposing the extradition of Harry K. Thaw to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to testify in a bankruptcy case. Thaw had be judged insane in his trial for murdering architect Stanford White in 1906. Gardiner argued that, as Thaw had been adjudicated as insane, Thaw could not be called to testify in court.  The state offered a fee to Gardiner of $2,000 but Gardiner presented the state with a bill for $15,000.  Gardiner's rationalization of the high fee was that he had spent five months on the case while Thaw's mother spent $100,000 in legal fees.
Military and Hereditary Societies
Gardiner was active in several military and hereditary societies including the Society of the Cincinnati (Secretary General and President of the Rhode Island Society), the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (elected November 6, 1867, insignia number 586), the Grand Army of the Republic (member of James Monroe Post), the Sons of the Revolution (founding member in 1876, insignia number 83), the Military Society of the War of 1812 (Vice Commandant with rank of lieutenant colonel in 1890 and Commandant with rank of colonel in 1908), the Veteran Corps of Artillery of the State of New York (Commandant with rank of colonel in 1908) and the General Society of the War of 1812 (elected to membership in 1892).
Although the highest rank attained by Gardiner in the United States Army was major, Gardiner was commissioned a lieutenant colonel in the New York State Milita when he was elected vice commandant of the Military Society of the War of 1812 in 1890 and was promoted to colonel when he was elected commandant in 1908. This is why Gardiner was frequently referred to as "Colonel Gardiner".
On September 10, 1913 he was the orator at the centennial commemoration of the Battle of Lake Erie in Newport, Rhode Island. He wore the uniform of the Veteran Corps of Artillery and spoke in his capacity as the Commandant of the Military Society of the War of 1812. A contemporary newspaper article described Gardiner as "one of the ablest orators Newport has ever heard".
Society of the Cincinnati
In 1877 Gardiner joined the Society of the Cincinnati, a military society founded by officers who had served in the American Revolution and perpetuated by their descendants. Gardiner was a key figure the re-establishment of the Rhode Island Society of the Cincinnati - which had been dormant since 1835. In 1878, Gardiner was elected as the Rhode Island Society's Assistant Secretary.
Gardiner joined the Society by right of his descent from his great uncle, Lieutenant Jonathan Willard (1744-1832). Although Lieutenant Willard was a veteran of the 1st New Hampshire Regiment, and the Society has a tradition of members joining the state Society which their ancestor was eligible to join, the Rhode Island Society had an exception in its membership requirements to admit members who were descendants of officers whose state did not have an active society. As New Hampshire did not have an active society in 1877, Gardiner was permitted to join the Rhode Island Society.
Gardiner was elected Secretary General of the National Society in 1884 and, in the same year, authored Precedents and Ordinances of the General Society of the Cincinnati. Through his efforts to recruit new members, define policies and establish administrative procedures, he was probably the single person most responsible for the rejuvenation for the Society of the Cincinnati in the late 19th Century.
Gardiner was elected president of the Rhode Island Society following at a special meeting of the Rhode Island Society on December 14, 1899 which was called as a result of the death of President Nathanael Greene, M.D. (b. 1809) (the grandson of General Nathanael Greene) on July 8, 1899. Gardiner remained president of the Rhode Island Society, as well as Secretary General, until his death in 1919.
In the 41 years that Gardiner was active in the Society it grew greatly both in membership and prestige and all of the dormant state societies were rejuvenated.
In March 1901 Gardiner traveled, on behalf of the Rhode Island Society, to Savannah, Georgia and located the grave of Major General Nathanael Greene, a native of Rhode Island and hero of the American Revolution. Gardiner was able to locate General Greene's grave and although some thought was given to moving Greene's remains to Rhode Island, but it did not come to fruition.
Gardiner was highly involved in the planning for the dedication of a statue of the French nobleman Rochambeau in Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. on May 24, 1902. The ceremony involved an official delegation from France, senior officers the United States Army and Navy, as well as the Society of the Cincinnati. President Theodore Roosevelt gave the keynote address at the ceremony.
In 1905 the Rhode Island Society published The Order of the Cincinnati in France, which Gardiner wrote. The 243 page volume contains detailed biographies of all the senior officers of the French Army who served in America during the revolution.
Gardiner was succeeded in the Society by his son Asa Bird Gardiner, Jr. Gardiner's grandson, Norman Bentley Gardiner, Jr., became a member of the Rhode Island Society upon the decease of his father in 1945 and was a member as of 1974.
Gardiner married Mary Austen (b. 1841) of Baltimore, Maryland on October 18, 1865. They had five sons - Asa Bird Jr., George, Philip, William and Norman. Of the five sons of Asa and Mary Gardiner, three - Asa, Philip and Norman - survived their father. Mary Austen Gardiner died in June 1900.
On November 5, 1902, at the age of 63, he married Harriet Isabelle Lindsay (b. 1878), by whom he had two sons - John and William, who survived him.
In popular culture
Gardiner was portrayed by actor John Glover in the 1994 television movie Assault at West Point: The Court-Martial of Johnson Whittaker which portrays the experiences of African-American Cadet Johnson Chesnut Whittaker.
- Roger D. Cunningham. Always a Storm Centre: The Trials and Tribulations of Lt. Col. Asa Bird Gardiner. Journal of America's Past. Fall 2006.
- The Brown Book: A Biographical Record of Public Officials of the City of New York. Martin B. Brown company. 1899.
- "General Asa B. Gardiner Dies in 80th Year. Ex-District Attorney of New York and Military Leader Passes at His Suffern Home. Was Counsel for Grant. Awarded Congressional Medal for Bravery, He Was Asked 45 Years Later to Return It. Professor of Law at West Point. Head of Society of War of 1812". New York Times. May 29, 1919. Retrieved 2008-02-01. "General Asa Bird Gardiner, at one time District Attorney of New York County, and widely known in military affairs of the State and nation, retiring from the United States Army some years ago with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, died yesterday at his home, Orrell Manor, Suffern, N.Y., in his eightieth [sic] year. His death was the result of a stroke of apoplexy suffered on last Saturday afternoon."
- "Col. Asa Bird Gardiner. An Uncle, Plain John H. Gardner, Says that No Ancestor of His Was a 'Continental.' Alleged "Medal Of Honor". The Democratic Candidate Refuses to Answer Questions about His Genealogy and His War Record. Secretary Belknap's Obligations to Him". New York Times. October 31, 1897. Retrieved 2008-02-03.
- Dyer's Compendium of the War of Rebellion
- Register of Commissioned Officers of the United States Army, 1889. pp. 350-351.
- "COL. ASA BIRD GARDINER; An Uncle, Plain John H. Gardner, Says that No Ancestor of His Was a "Continental." ALLEGED "MEDAL OF HONOR" The Democratic Candidate Refuses to Answer Questions About His Genealogy and His War Record -- Secretary Belknap's Obligations to Him". The New York Times. October 31, 1897.
- "ASKS COL. GARDINER TO RETURN MEDAL; War Department Acts on Report of an Investigating Board of Officers. SCANDALOUS, SAYS COLONEL Declares Medal Cannot Lawfully Be Taken from Him Without Hearing;-Has Had It 45 Years. COL. GARDINER INDIGNANT. Says Right to Medal Was Recognized by Various War Secretaries. Once Omitted from Army Register". The New York Times. February 24, 1917.
- Finnegan, Col. Patrick (2004). "The Study of Law as a Foundation of Leadership and Command: The History of Law Instruction at the United States Military Academy at West Point" (PDF) 181. Military Law Review. p. 112. Retrieved 2008-02-01.
- Army Register 1889, p. 210
- William S. McFeely (1981). Grant: A Biography. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-32394-3.
- Timothy Rives (Fall 2000). "Grant, Babcock, and the Whiskey Ring". Prologue Magazine (National Archives and Records Administration) 32 (3). Archived from the original on 26 January 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-03.
- Curt Anders (2002). Injustice on Trial: Second Bull Run, General Fitz John Porter's. Emmis Books. ISBN 1-57860-110-X.
- "A Black Cadet at West Point" 22 (5). American Heritage. August 1971. Retrieved 2008-02-01. "The judge advocate—the prosecuting officer—was Major Asa Bird Gardiner, formerly a West Point professor and the most famous Army lawyer of his day."
- Purdum, Todd S. "Black Cadet Gets a Posthumous Commission." New York Times (July 25, 1995).
- New York Times, December 4, 1895
- New York Times, December 5, 1895
- Army Register, 1889. pg. 210.
- Euphemia Vale Blake (1901). History of the Tammany Society: Or Columbian Order. "The Colonel is also a simon-pure Democrat, and as such, is in succession to his father and grandfather, a member of Tammany Hall General Committee for the First Assembly District. He is also a member of and Sachem in the Tammany Society."
- "CHARGES AGAINST AS A BIRD GARDINER; Deputy Attorney General Accuses Him of Malfeasance. IT MAY MEAN HIS REMOVAL Has But Five Days in Which to Answer or Appear in Person Before the Governor". The New York Times. December 18, 1900.
- Martin Donell Kohout (2001). Hal Chase: The Defiant Life and Turbulent Times of Baseball's Biggest Crook. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-1067-1. "When Farrell opened his place in the fall of 1891, his only other business was a saloon on Sixth Avenue. In 1897, however, when his friend Asa Bird Gardiner was elected district attorney on an anti-reform platform, Farrell branched out, opening a string of three hundred pool halls which served as fronts for bookmakers taking illegal bets on horse races."
- New York Times. October 16, 17, 20, 1908.
- New York Times. August 31, 1909.
- New York Times. September 3, 1909.
- Newport Mercury. September 13, 1913. pg. 1.
- Members of the Society of the Cincinnati, William Sturgis Thomas, 1929.
- Records of the Rhode Island Society of the Cincinnati. Vol. 2.
- The Order of the Cincinnati in France, pp. 235 - 243.
- Roster of the Society of the Cincinnati, 1974. pg. 19.
William M. K. Olcott
|New York County District Attorney
1898 - 1900
Eugene A. Philbin