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William Emory papers

 Collection 0081-MDHC

William H. Emory (1811-1887) was born in Queen Anne's County, Maryland. After graduating from the U.S. Military Academy in 1831, Emory devoted most of his life to the U.S. Army. Upon retirement in 1876 he had attained the rank of brigadier general and had served in the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, and on what is historically known as the "Indian Frontier," land in south-central United States that the US government established after forcibly removing Indigenous people in the east from their land. The documents in the collection consist of a letterbook, a biography drawn up shortly before retirement, and some loose correspondence with his wife, Matilda Wilkins Bache Emory. Several of his letters center around a period of transition in the early 1860s when Emory was serving in Indian Territory but preparing for removal to the East for service with the Union forces against the Confederacy.


  • 1861-1873

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.


1.50 Linear Feet

Scope and Content of Collection

The William Emory papers cover the period 1861 to 1873 with the bulk of the material dating from 1861 when he was trying to remedy the problems connected with his hasty and much regretted resignation. The collection consists of letters to Emory from his wife, Matilda Bache Emory, and his brother, J. R. Emory, and manuscript copies of letters in Emory's behalf from General Winfield Scott and Lieutenant A. V. Colburn during the "resignation" period. Also included among the papers is a biographical sketch entitled "Synopsis of the Services of Bvt. Major General Wm. H. Emory, Colonel 5th Cavalry," as well as a letterpress copy notebook from the 1872 to 1873 period containing approximately thirty pages of Emory's miscellaneous notes and correspondence. Topics covered include the Mexican-American War; Gadsen Treaty; Civil War; Emory's resignation from the military and subsequent reinstatement; military life, and social conditions in Maryland during the Civil War.


William Hemsley Emory was born on September 7, 1811 in Queen Anne's County, Maryland, the son of Thomas and Anna Maria (Hemsley) Emory. Emory was graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1831, where he was know as "Bold Emory," and promoted to brevet second lieutenant, 4th Artillery. He resigned from the service in 1836. Two years later, upon the reorganization of the army, he re-entered the service and was commissioned first lieutenant in the Topographical Engineers. He also married Matilda Wilkins Bache, a great-granddaughter of Benjamin Franklin in May of that year. Emory served as principal assistant on the Northeastern boundary survey between the United States and Canada from 1844 to 1846. At the outbreak of the Mexican-American War in 1846, he became the chief engineer officer and acting assistant adjutant-general of the Army of the West and subsequently as a lieutenant-colonel of volunteers in Mexico.

While with the Army of the West, he won two brevets for distinguished service at the battles of San Pasquale, San Gabriel, and the Plains of Mesa. After the war, he became chief astronomer for the team appointed to determine the boundary line between California and Mexico (1848-1853). During the course of these duties, in 1851, he was promoted to captain. In 1854, he was appointed commissioner and astronomer with full powers, under the Gadsen Treaty. When the army was again reorganized in 1855, he was promoted to major in the 2nd Cavalry, a newly-formed regiment. After completing the work connected with the Gadsen boundary surveys in 1857, he was brevetted lieutenant-colonel in recognition for his service. Moved by familial concerns at the outbreak of the Civil War, Emory resigned his command on May 9, 1861, an action he immediately regretted. He tried to intercept the written dispatch of his resignation before it could be delivered, but failed in his efforts. Although within a week after this action, he was commissioned major general of the newly organized 3rd, later 6th Cavalry, it took several months for his reinstatement to be formally recognized. Not until General Winfield Scott, Lieutenant A. V. Colburn, and Emory himself testified to the Secretary of War and the Senate regarding his character, military performances, and loyalty to the Union, was his resignation formally rescinded and his reinstatement and current rank confirmed. Emory was appointed brigadier-general of volunteers in 1862 and served with distinction as brigade, division, and corps commanders. He received four brevets for separating the wings of the Confederate Army at Hanover Court House, destroying the railroad bridges between Hanover Junction and Chickahominy River, and driving the enemy out of Ashland Virginia. In 1865, he was commissioned major-general of volunteers and commanded the Department of West Virginia until mustered out of the volunteer service in January 1866. He commanded successively the Department of Washington, District of the Republican (1869-1871), and the Department of the Gulf (1871-1875) and retired with the rank of brigadier general on July 1, 1876 after forty-five years of service. He died December 1, 1887 in Washington, D. C., and was buried in Congressional Cemetery.


The collection is organized as one series.

Series 1
Correspondence and Notes

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The William Emory papes were purchased by the University of Maryland Libraries form Charles Apfelbaum in 1990.

Existence and Location of Copies

Digital copies of the letters in this collection are available at in the University of Maryland's Digital Collections.

Processing Information

A 19th century metal clip was removed from the grouping of biographical material in the correspondence file and was replaced with a plastic clip over acid-free paper. Acid-free paper has been inserted at the front and back of the correspondence file as well as between the bindings and the onion skin of the letter-press copy notebook. All materials have been placed in acid-free file folders within an acid-free storage box.

Guide to the William Emory papers
Processed by Mary Anne Greenwell-Plautz.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742