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Marsena Rudolph Patrick possessed a high degree of personal integrity and a strong sense of justice. He was also deeply influenced by his religious convictions. At the same time, he was a strict, and sometimes severe, disciplinarian. These attributes enabled him to thrive in the position he held for most of the Civil War—Provost Marshal General for the Army of the Potomac. While a competent if not wholly effective battlefield commander, Patrick enjoyed much success as the army’s chief law enforcement officer, serving in this position from the Fall of 1862 through the end of the war and earning the trust of Generals McClellan, Burnside, Hooker, Meade, and Grant. His position was unenviable and his duties were many and difficult. Naturally, because he was charged with maintaining order and enforcing discipline in the army, he was somewhat unpopular with the soldiers. However, for the troops who served directly under him during his tenure as brigade commander the opposite was true. He was tough, for certain, but he was also kind, making sure his men were well-provided and cared for. But General Marsena Patrick had three strikes against him—at least as far as the Radical Republicans in Congress were concerned. He was a Democrat, for starters, and his support of General George McClellan made him a target. Finally, Patrick was viewed by the Radical Republicans to be far too lenient in dealing with the white southern population. All of these factors led to his removal from command in June 1865.
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Born on March 11, 1811, in Watertown, in northwestern New York, Marsena Rudolph was the tenth child of John and Miriam Patrick. The Patricks were a farming family, and Marsena would one day pursue this vocation, but during his childhood the young boy sought an escape from the hard and sometimes unprofitable labors of agriculture and from what has been described as the “domineering Puritanism of his mother.”
At the age of ten, he ran away from home and for the next decade found work first as a boat driver on the Erie Canal and then as a schoolteacher. Attempting to make a life for himself, Patrick came to befriend the aging Stephen van Rensselaer, a one time lieutenant-governor of New York and general in the War of 1812. Through his offices, Rensselaer was able to secure an appointment for Patrick to attend the United States Military Academy. Entering West Point at the age of twenty in 1831, Patrick struggled academically but was able to graduate four years later, ranked forty-eighth in a class of fifty-six. Future Union Generals George Meade and George Morell graduated alongside Patrick in 1835.
Brevetted a second lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Infantry upon graduation, Patrick spent the next fifteen years in the army, rising steadily through the ranks. Promoted to first lieutenant in 1839, Patrick resigned eleven years later as a captain. Throughout these years, Patrick saw action battling Seminoles in Florida and fought throughout the Mexican-American War, where he served as the Chief Commissary for General John Wool’s command. After his resignation on June 30, 1850, Patrick returned to New York and became quite successful in farming and in the railroad business. Settling in the small village of Ovid, in Geneva County, Patrick experimented with agricultural techniques while managing his farm and helped found the New York State Agricultural College in Ovid as well as the New York State Agricultural Society. In 1859, Patrick served as president of the college and held this position until the outbreak of civil war. Throughout the 1850s, Patrick also served as president of the Sackett’s Harbor & Ellisburg Railroad.
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In May 1861, Governor Edwin Morgan appointed Patrick as Inspector General of the New York State Militia and commissioned him a brigadier general of militia. Patrick soon grew weary of all the paperwork inherent in such a position and longed for active command. Finally, on March 17, 1862, and after much lobbying, he was commissioned a brigadier general of U.S. Volunteers and given command of a brigade in Irvin McDowell’s corps. The following month, as McDowell’s men made their way south in an aborted effort to reinforce McClellan’s Army of the Potomac on the Peninsula, Patrick was named military governor of Fredericksburg, and immediately took steps to protect the citizens of this Virginia town. He posted guards at homes occupied by women and children, and made it clear that he would not tolerate looting or destruction of property. His sometimes harsh punishment for the violation of his rules earned him enmity of many, but Patrick was guided by his belief that the army’s good behavior would go far in reestablishing the loyalty of the Southern citizenry. Patrick later held true to this philosophy as the army’s provost marshal general.
Marsena Patrick remained in Fredericksburg until the late summer of 1862 when he rejoined his brigade as it formed part of General John Pope’s Army of Virginia. His first battle of the war came a short time later at 2nd Bull Run where his New Yorkers were heavily engaged. Patrick retained command of his brigade when McDowell’s Corps was incorporated as the First Corps, Army of the Potomac, in early September 1862. He led his men in battle again at South Mountain, and three days later at Antietam his brigade suffered nearly thirty percent casualties attacking Lee’s left flank north of the West Woods.
Forming into line at 5:30 on the morning of September 17, Patrick’s Brigade—consisting of the 21st, 23rd, 35th, and 80th New York—marched south along the Hagerstown Turnpike behind General John Gibbon’s and Colonel Walter Phelps’s Brigades. After Gibbon’s leading regiments came into contact with Confederate troops posted to their front and right, Phelps deployed his men to Gibbon’s left while Patrick led his men west of the pike, on Gibbon’s right. While forming his regiments in battle formation, Patrick, under orders, detached the 80th New York to provide support for Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery, which was posted opposite the D.R. Miller farmhouse, where they remained for the duration of the battle. Patrick’s remaining three regiments succeeded in driving Colonel Andrew Grigsby’s Virginians through the West Woods, but were forced back when General William Starke led a counterattack through the woods. Taking cover behind a rock ledge that ran parallel to the Hagerstown Turnpike, Patrick’s men later engaged John Bell Hood’s troops as they pushed their way to the Cornfield. After lending support to Colonel William Goodrich’s Twelfth Corps Brigade a short time later, Patrick’s Brigade fell back to the Miller Farm where they remained for the rest of the day. Of the estimated 850 men Patrick took into battle at Antietam, 235 were either killed, wounded, and missing. In the face of the severe loss he witnessed during the battle, Patrick was deeply disturbed by suggestions made by some officers the following day that the Army of the Potomac should again attack Lee. In his diary entry for September 18, 1862, Patrick wrote: “It is fairly understood, that only the madcaps of the Hooker stripe, would have pushed our troops into action again without very strong reinforcement—We had all that we could do to hold our ground yesterday & if we attempted to push the enemy, today, with the same troops, we should have been whipped.”
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Two and a half weeks after the battle of Antietam, General McClellan named Marsena Patrick as the army’s Provost Marshal General. Although he would never identify exactly why he chose Patrick for such a position, McClellan was, no doubt, well aware of Patrick’s reputation as a strict but thoroughly fair disciplinarian. He had done well as military governor of Fredericksburg earlier in the war, and, perhaps more importantly, he shared many of the same views as McClellan in regards to how the army should treat the white Southern population. And although competent in brigade command, McClellan possibly did not have confidence in Patrick as a battlefield general. Regardless of the reason, or reasons, behind his appointment, Patrick quickly proved to be ideally suited for the role although his responsibilities were vast and tremendous. General Orders Number 161, issued on October 6, 1862, officially made Patrick the army’s chief of law enforcement and outlined his many duties. He was, for example, charged with preserving good order in the army both in camp and on the march, preventing straggling and skulking, carrying out the sentences of courts-martial, caring for Confederate deserters and prisoners-of-war, dealing with the complaints of citizens, preventing looting and marauding, and suppressing gambling houses and brothels. A tall order, to be sure, but Patrick performed so well in his position that he retained the trust and confidence of not only General McClellan, but of his successors to army command as well.
From October 1862 until April 1865, Patrick served under Generals McClellan, Burnside, Hooker, Meade, and Grant as the army’s provost general. In the spring of 1863, he helped create the Bureau of Military Intelligence, or B.M.I, which served the Army of the Potomac well in gathering intelligence. Following the surrender of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in April 1865, Patrick was given command of the District of Henrico, Department of Virginia, with his headquarters in Richmond, but he soon ran afoul of the Republican controlled United States Congress. While Patrick’s political persuasion and support for George McClellan were well-known, many felt that he was far too lenient in dealing with former Confederate soldiers and the white population in his district. General Grant himself wrote that Patrick’s “well-known kindness of heart might interfere with the proper governance of [Richmond],” and on June 9, 1865, Patrick was relieved. He tendered his resignation from the army three days later. Historian David Sparks, who edited Patrick’s wartime diary for publication, may have said it best when he wrote: “It would appear that Patrick was too kind, too civilized, too much the Christian gentleman to hold an important position in the Confederate capital after Lincoln’s assassination had loosed the Northern desire for vengeance.”
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Following his resignation, General Patrick returned to his home and family in New York, and in the summer and fall of 1865 attempted to enter the political arena by running as a Democrat for state treasurer. He was defeated. Once again engaging himself in agriculture, Patrick served for a number of years as president of the New York State Agricultural Society. Patrick was plagued throughout his life by a host of physical maladies, especially by intestinal disorders. Throughout the late 1860s and into the 1870s, it became impossible for him to continue working on his farm. Even during the war, in 1864, Patrick suffered from the partial paralysis of his left arm and shoulder, and by 1872, the sixty-one-year-old former general was unable to walk even a short distance. After his wife, Mary, passed away in 1880, Marsena Patrick left his native New York behind and accepted the position of Governor of the Central Branch, National Home for Disabled Soldiers, in Dayton, Ohio. Here he remained until his death eight years later, on July 27, 1888. Marsena Patrick’s remains were buried in the National Soldiers’ Home Cemetery in Dayton.
Marsena Patrick's Grave in Dayton (www.findagrave.com)
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 Marsena Patrick, Inside the Army of the Potomac, edited by David Sparks (New York: Thomas Yaseloff, 1964): 12.
 Marsena Patrick, Inside the Army of the Potomac, 151.
 Patrick, Inside Lincoln’s Army, 19.