Lambdin P. Milligan

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Lambdin P. Milligan

Lambdin Purdy Milligan (March 24, 1812 – December 21, 1899) was a lawyer, farmer, and a leader of the Knights of the Golden Circle during the American Civil War. In 1864, he was unlawfully given a capital sentence, and later set free by the United States Supreme Court, in the case which still bears his name, Ex parte Milligan.

Early life[edit]

Milligan was a native of Kirkwood Township, Belmont County, Ohio, derived from Irish descent, and born of Moses Milligan Sr, a soldier in the American Revolutionary War, and Mary (née Purday or Pourday) Milligan, the eighth of nine siblings. His formal schooling ended when he was eight years old. At age 17, his father wanted Milligan to gain a college education, in order to later practice medicine, but his mother stopped that from occurring, desiring that if none of the other children could have it, neither should Milligan.[citation needed]

This caused Milligan to leave home, despite his father threatening to disinherit him if he did. He became a lawyer on October 27, 1835 as the head of a class of nine which included Edwin M. Stanton, a member of Lincoln's Cabinet during the war. Later that same day, Milligan married his first wife, Sarah L. Ridgeway. He later moved to Huntington, Indiana, and mostly represented small railroad companies. Throughout this he suffered from either meningitis and/or epilepsy.[1][2] Although outspoken in political affairs, he was never a politician as he was too "frank" to do well as such.[2]


Military commission that originally convicted Milligan.

Milligan publicly protested the Union's waging war against the Confederacy, with Indiana Gov. Oliver P. Morton his most frequent target. It was widely believed that Milligan was involved in a conspiracy against the United States by the end of 1863.[3]

Federal authorities were convinced that by May 1864 Milligan was in touch with Confederate agents. Milligan was among those arrested on October 5, 1864 by order of General Alvin P. Hovey and tried before a military tribunal starting on October 21, 1864. Since August, Milligan had been bedridden, with his left leg becoming useless due to erysipelas since the previous August. No warrant or affidavit was given to show that Milligan's arrest was authorized, and the arresting officers were told to shoot Milligan should any unwarranted noise be made when they dragged him from his home at four o'clock in the morning. Milligan was told that he must prove his innocence.[4]

The charges against Milligan and the others were:

  1. Conspiracy against the Government of the United States
  2. Affording aid and comfort to rebels against the authority of the United States
  3. Inciting insurrection
  4. Disloyal practices
  5. Violation of the laws of war

Specifically, Milligan, William A. Bowles, Harrison H. Dodd, Stephen Horsey and Andrew Humphreys were accused of planning to steal weapons and invade Union prisoner-of-war camps to release Confederate prisoners. They were convicted and sentenced to death by hanging on December 10, 1864, the date of execution being set for May 19, 1865. During the trials, members of the military commissions made speeches at Republican rallies.[3][5][6]

Milligan was forced to walk to his prison after sentencing, even though his leg was useless and he was unused to using a cane. He was thrown into a filthy prison where the smell of a nearby hog slaughtering shop lingered. His arm had been paralyzed and he developed a fever during his incarceration. Despite this, the U.S. Army officials threw him into the cell with one inch cracks that allowed chilly winter air to permeate. On at least one occasion, Milligan's food was thrown on the filthy floor.[7]

The four prisoners appealed and were able to argue the case after the Civil War ended, claiming that they should not have been tried by a military court. Two days before the hangings were due to take place, the five men had their sentences commuted by President Andrew Johnson to life imprisonment (Dodd had escaped to Canada by this time). On April 3, 1866, citing habeas corpus, the Supreme Court ruled in an opinion by Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase that they should be released. His lawyers, who included future President James A. Garfield and future Governor of Indiana Albert G. Porter, used in defense of Milligan citations of cases from the 18th century involving a royal governor and the Royal Navy.[3][8][9]

The Supreme Court granted Milligan and the others petitions to be released from custody on December 17, 1866, stating in a case now known as Ex parte Milligan that the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act did not authorize military tribunals, that as a matter of constitutional law the suspension of habeas corpus did not itself authorize trial by military tribunals, and that neither the Act nor the laws of war permitted the imposition of martial law where civilian courts were open and operating unimpeded.[8] The ruling did not affect the facts of the case or the finding that Milligan and the others had indeed been involved in a conspiracy.[3][8][10]


Milligan later sued Hovey for conspiracy, false imprisonment, and libel, asking for $500,000 in damages. Milligan won, and received the small settlement of five dollars.[3][11][12] The defendants were represented by future President Benjamin Harrison, and Harrison's argument that Milligan's actions prolonged the war was the cause for Milligan receiving only five dollars.[13]

Upon returning home to Huntington after the trial, Milligan was given a "great ovation". He returned to practicing law, and was kept in high esteem by his peers. After his wife Sarah died on November 20, 1870, Milligan married a widow, Mrs. Maria L. (née Humphreys) Cavender, a native of Madison, Indiana on August 12, 1873. His health improved in his later life. He eventually died of natural causes at his son's home in Huntington County, Indiana. 34 years after the case which bears his name was decided.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Marshall pp. 71-72
  2. ^ a b c History of Huntington County, Indiana p. 514
  3. ^ a b c d e Heidler, p. 669
  4. ^ Marshall, p. 73
  5. ^ Bodenhamer pp. 444, 1482
  6. ^ Marshall, p. 75
  7. ^ Marshall, p. 77
  8. ^ a b c Ex parte Milligan, 71 U.S. 2 (1866)
  9. ^ Bodenhamer pp. 445, 1482
  10. ^ Bodenhamer pp. 445, 1482
  11. ^ "The Chase Court 1864-1873". Supreme Court Historical Society. Retrieved 2009-04-28. [dead link]
  12. ^ "L. P. Milligan's suit for Damages". New York Times. March 23, 1868. Retrieved 2009-04-28. 
  13. ^ Calhoun, p. 28


  • Bodenhamer, David (1994). The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-31222-1. 
  • Calhoun, Charles William (2005). Benjamin Harrison. Macmillan. ISBN 0-8050-6952-6. 
  • Heidler, David Stephen (2002). Encyclopedia Of The American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-04758-X. 
  • Marshall, John A. (1869). American bastile: A history of the illegal arrests and imprisonment of American citizens during the late civil war. T. W. Hartley. 
  • History of Huntington County, Indiana. Chicago:Brant & Fuller. 1887. 

External links[edit]