Franklin Archibald Dick

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Franklin Archibald Dick (May 2, 1823 – February 18, 1885) was a St. Louis, Missouri attorney. He was assistant adjutant general to Nathaniel Lyon at Camp Jackson (the first Missouri Civil War incident); Missouri provost marshal general under Major General Samuel Curtis; and law partner with Montgomery Blair at the Blair House in Washington D C after the Civil War.


Dick was born in Philadelphia on May 2, 1823, the only son of Archibald Thomas Dick and Hannah Rogers. Dick entered the University of Pennsylvania at the age of sixteen in 1839 as a law student. He graduated in 1842 and moved to the frontier town of St. Louis, Missouri, where he practiced law from 1844 to 1861. He married Myra Madison Alexander, (January 12, 1832 - December 22, 1919) on November 25, 1851. Myra's sister, Apolline, was married to Dick's close friend, Frank Blair, the son of Francis P. Blair Sr., a journalist and politician who had been an advisor to President Andrew Jackson, and who was an organizer of the Republican Party.

Civil War years[edit]

Franklin Dick actively supported Frank Blair's efforts to keep Missouri in the Union by serving on committees, and at his urging later became provost marshal general. President Lincoln used Frank Blair as an unofficial advisor on Missouri affairs during the war. Frank's brother, Montgomery, was President Abraham Lincoln's Postmaster General.

Dick kept private journals during the Civil War, recording events he observed in St. Louis. He describes a meeting on January 10, 1861 in his law office in which the St. Louis Committee of Safety monitored actions by the Southern sympathizers, and many private meetings with Nathaniel Lyon. In St. Louis, after Camp Jackson was filled with secret rebels anxious for control of the St. Louis Arsenal, Dick told Frank Blair, borrowing their blind mother-in-law's dress, veil and hat for Nathaniel Lyon to use for a disguise. Lyon was driven in Mira Alexander's carriage into Camp Jackson to observe General Frost and his troops, along with other visitors. That night Lyon, Blair, and other Unionists met in Dick's law office and decided to capture Camp Jackson. At Lyon's urging, Franklin Dick served as his assistant adjutant general during the Camp Jackson affair on May 10, 1861. He writes of riding his horse in the midst of the fracas in front of the troops firing, and ordering them to stop in the name of Captain Lyon, when Lyon was on the ground He also describes Lyon's pity and emotion as "almost womanly" on seeing the dead and wounded after the incident, and how they had to gallop around the city back to the arsenal to avoid an ambush.

Next, Dick was sent by Frank Blair to Washington to convey Blair's concerns about General William S. Harney's lenient ways of dealing with secessionists. Montgomery Blair took Franklin Dick to meet with President Lincoln and Secretary of War Simon Cameron. Dick had been directed to lobby for Nathaniel Lyon's ideas for the protection of St. Louis, ask for Lyon's confirmation as brigadier general, and request Harney's removal. Dick returned to St. Louis with Lincoln's promotion for Lyon effective May 17, and an order for Blair to remove Harney at his discretion. When Harney met with Southern sympathizer General Sterling Price to cooperate for peace together, events finally led to Frank Blair delivering the orders on May 30, 1862, opening the way for Lyon to take control of troops in Missouri.

From then on, Dick wrote long letters to Lincoln about his concern with the state of affairs in Missouri.

After Camp Jackson was disbanded, Missouri was under martial law, and remained so for the entire Civil War. Dick served on the Board of Assessments which identified and fined Southern sympathizers. Through his participation in the seizure of goods and banishment of Rebels and their families, he earned the hatred of many old St. Louisans, Conditional Unionists, and Rebels. On November 5, 1862, Dick became a lieutenant colonel and Provost Marshal General under Major General Samuel Curtis, the new Commander of the Department of Missouri. In this position, Franklin Dick had to keep order in the state and oversee the local provost marshals, enforce Curtis's orders for the Confiscation Act, banish and assess disloyal persons, and supervise prisons and prisoners.

In a letter dated January 26, 1863 to Montgomery Blair about his problems acting as Provost Marshal General, Franklin Dick says,

...The only semblance of the U.S. authority in a large part of the State, is the Provost Marshal system–it is an important matter to determine whether or not it shall be preserved. In a long letter forwarded by Gen. Curtis to Wash'n. some days ago, I gave some facts to show its operation... As I consider these matters of importance, I make them known to you and hope that you will present them to the President.

One more matter it is important to me to speak of   –& that is, that St. Louis is the seat and centre of the rebel plots & Schemes, and spies revel here. The women, & several of them of the better class act as mail carriers–at no time have the rebel sympathizers & secret workers been so active and bold as now–their course, of that of treason–These People ought to be sent South–Our Union People here know this, & urge it constantly upon Genl. Curtis–I assure you that the authority of the Govt. here, before our face is despised & set at naught...

In his journals, Dick talks of the time before the war in St. Louis when

"... we felt as if we were forever safe," and contrasts that with his perspective in 1865, when "the People in the North have become accustomed to the war–here in Phil'a. the People go on just as in ordinary times–They gay[ly] continue their giddy amusements–the errands go on with business as usual, & the war is an interesting topic, which they keep more or less in mind."

Dick did not feel safe in St. Louis. He moved his family back and forth from St. Louis to Philadelphia for safety during the war, though he had to return to his law practice in St. Louis to earn a living. While in Philadelphia, he was involved in a cartridge business with his wife's brother, George Alexander, until the factory exploded. Dick, upset by the dead and wounded, contributed money to the families, and withdrew his investment.

After the war[edit]

After the Civil War ended, at the urging of Francis P. Blair Sr., Dick practiced law with Montgomery Blair, working out of offices in the Blair House on Pennsylvania Avenue across from the White House. The Blair House is now the official guest house for the White House. Franklin Dick died on February 18, 1885, and was interred in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


The Dick family was descended from William de Dick, the first magistrate of Edinburgh in 1296. The family crest shows two unicorns surrounding a sinking ship and the motto, "At Spes Infracta, Via Tuta Virtus," which means "But hope is unbroken, virtue is a safe path." Generations later, Archibald Dick was born in 1715 and immigrated to America, where he served in the Revolutionary War. In his will, he freed his slaves, giving each a legacy. One of his sons, Elisha C. Dick, was a friend of George Washington's and the only doctor attending his last illness who disagreed with the diagnosis and spoke against using leeches. The second son, Thomas Barnard Dick, drowned while fishing, leaving his son, Archibald Thomas Dick, who practiced law and served in the War of 1812. Archibald Thomas Dick's only son was Franklin Archibald Dick.


  • Franklin Archibald Dick, Gari Carter (2008). Troubled state. Truman State University. ISBN 978-1-931112-74-1.
  • Carter, Gari. Troubled State: The Civil War Journals of Franklin Archibald Dick Kirksville, MO:Truman State University Press, 2008
  • Gerteis, Louis. Civil War St. Louis, Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2001
  • Laas, Virginia Jeans. Wartime Washington: The Civil War Letters of Elizabeth Blair Lee. Urbana:University of Illinois Press, 1999
  • Winter, William C. The Civil War in St. Louis: A Guided Tour. St. Louis: Missouri Historical Society Press, 1994

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