Col. John L. Burleigh was not "apocryphal."

submitted by Wystan Stevens

While I was doing a Google search on John L. Burleigh, I noticed an item about him in the online pages of Stanley Wertheim's A Stephen Crane Encyclopedia (1997), where he is referenced (p. 43) as being "probably an apocryphal character invented by Elbert Hubbard." Nay, it is not so.

Col. John L. Burleigh got his law degree, and his start in politics, in my home town of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Early histories of this area contain references to his activities, especially as the founder in 1878 of a weekly newspaper, the Ann Arbor Democrat. Two years later, it was noted that Burleigh had sold out his interest in that publication to a business partner and left to seek opportunities in Chicago. From Chicago he evidently migrated to New York. The New York Times on January 9, 1895, posted a reference to him as an attorney practicing in NYC:

A Washtenaw County (Michigan) history notes that Burleigh had been an alderman in Brooklyn. Burleigh's death notice (no obit, alas) appeared in the NYT on May 10, 1909, a day after his demise. His death notice in the New York Tribune (again, no obit) stated that the funeral would be held on May 11 at the Church of the Redeemer, in Brooklyn.

In 1877, Burleigh participated in ceremonies at the laying of the cornerstone of the Washtenaw County Courthouse in Ann Arbor (1881 History of Washtenaw County, p. 346).

Discussing his newspaper, the 1881 History of Washtenaw County called Burleigh "a writer of some merit" (p. 568).

The 1881 History of Washtenaw County contains a biographical sketch of Burleigh, which notes his birth in 1842, his military service in the Civil War, his law degree from Michigan, his term in the Michigan Senate, and his 1880 removal to Chicago for business reasons (pp. 569-70):

Burleigh was president of the Ann Arbor school board in 1878-79.

Samuel Willard Beakes, in his Past and Present of Washtenaw County, Michigan (1906), wrote (p.621) that when last heard from, Burleigh "was an alderman in Brooklyn, New York."

A portrait of Col. Burleigh appears in Louis W. Doll's History of the Newspapers of Ann Arbor (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1959.) Unfortunately, that work is not available online.

The fact that Burleigh was a real person should lend authority to his testimony, reported by Hubbard, that he was with Crane at Antietam -- and should reinforce Crane's claims as well.

Comments

Thanks for this note about Burleigh, but you are joking about Antietam, right? Given that Crane was born in 1871.

Here, by the way, is the full quote attributed to Burleigh in the Roycroft Quarterly, May 1896, published after a banquet hosted by Hubbard on Crane's behalf.

"It grieves me greatly to think I cannot be with you at the Feed. I was with Crane at Antietam and saw him rush forward, sieze two of the enemy and bump their heads together in a way that must have made them see constellations. When a Rebel General remonstrated with him, Steve, in a red fury, gave him a kick lie a purple cow when all at onceā€”but the story is too long to tell now."

The "purple cow" is a joking reference to the famous quatrain by Gelett Burgess, published the previous year in his magazine The Lark.


Here is Burleigh's obit:

Col. John L. Burleigh, well known in Grand Army circles in Brooklyn, died on Sunday at the Prospect Heights Hospital in his sixty-second year. Although a native of New Orleans, he enlisted when a boy in the Seventeenth New York Volunteers at the breaking out of the civil war and served with distinction. He was graduated from the University of Michigan, became a lawyer and served two terms as State Senator. He was on the stage for five years as a Shakesperian actor. He settled in Brooklyn about twenty years ago and resumed his law practice. He became active in Republican politics and was elected the first Alderman from the Heights district under consolidation. He was a member of the Loyal Legion, the Crescent Club, the Brooklyn Lodge of Elks and the American Museum of Natural History. He was formerly a vestryman in the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer.

--The Sun, (New York, New York); Tuesday, 11 May 1909; pg. 3, col. 4