Biography of Windsor Brown French

D-Saratoga and Kay-ad-ros-se-ra



WINDSOR BROWN FRENCH, the son of Luther and Lydia Brown French, was born in Proctorsville, in the county of Windsor, State of Vermont, on the 28th day of July, 1832. His father was a member of an old Massachusetts family, and a grandson of Joseph French, a lieutenant in the army under Washington, residing in Concord, a branch of which family settled at an early date in the State of New Hampshire, subsequently Vermont. His mother was Lydia Brown, a descendant of Chad Brown of Providence, R. I., and also of Roger Williams, whose daughter Mercy married the Rev. Samuel Winsor. Their grandson, the Rev. Samuel Winsor was the father of Mr. French's grandmother. To this family belongs Prof. Justin Winsor, Harvard's famous historian.

Besides the subject of this sketch there were four brothers and four sisters of this family, of whom Dr. Walton W. French, a practicing physician in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Mrs. Howard Aldrich, of Chicago, Ill., are now living.

When he was four years of age his father removed from the village of Proctorsville, to the town of Wilton in Saratoga county, and carried on the business of farming during his lifetime, and died in 1865. Winsor attended district school in the town in which he lived, and later Clinton Liberal Institute, then one of the most celebrated schools in the State, situated at Clinton, N. Y., and continued his studies and was fitted for college at Woodstock Academy, Vermont, from which institution he entered Tufts College in the State of Massachusetts in the fall of 1855, with the class of 1859. His father was unable to furnish the means necessary to educate his son, and Winsor was obliged to depend largely upon his own energies to accomplish his earnest desire. He taught day and singing school winters, and assisted his father summers; and in that way was able to push his way through college. He became a member of the Theta Delta Chi Fraternity and has always kept up his interest in the society and the prominent and famous men connected therewith, among whom are Col. William L. Stone, the historian; Secretary of State John. Hay; Attorney-General Griggs of President McKinley's cabinet and John W. Hammond, judge of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts. He took a prominent stand in college and graduated with honor, receiving an oration appointment on commencement stage.

After graduation he returned home and began the study of law in the village of Saratoga Springs, first with Hon. James B. McKean, and later with Messrs. Pond & Lester, then the most prominent lawyers in the county. After two years of study and in May, 1861, he was admitted to the bar.

Mr. French had hardly passed his examination when the nation's call to arms rang out and he instantly responded. He was instrumental in raising Company D of the Seventy-seventh Regiment, New York State Volunteers, which became known as the Bemis Heights Battalion. He was made captain of his company, but his colonel, James B. McKean, being then a member of Congress, wished some one as adjutant who could assist him in his duties as colonel and turned at once to his personal friend, the young captain, and requested him to act as his adjutant, to which he consented and was mustered in and went as such to the front with the regiment on November 23, 1861.

On the recommendation of General Davidson, the brigade commander, Adjutant French was promoted for gallant conduct during the "Seven Days Fight" in the front of Richmond, received a Major's commission and immçdiately that of Lieutenant-Colonel, and subsequently, in July, 1862, that of Colonel of the regiment.

This regiment formed a part of the Third Brigade, Second Division, Sixth Corps of the Army of the Potomac, and was recognized as among the best of the army, the brigade having, according to the Mortuary Record of the War, written by William Fox, who is a recognized authority, lost more officers killed in battle than any other brigade in either the Federal or Confederate armies. At the battle of Fredericksburg, fought in May, 1863, this regiment, led by Colonel French on his horse, was in the front line in the celebrated charge on Marye's Heights and captured the Lieutenant-Colonel and a portion of a Mississippi regiment, together with a battery which commanded the Heights and had made sad havoc in the regiment on its advance. While standing on a captured cannon the Colonel was complimented by General Neil in the following language: "Colonel, write your name on it! write your name on it! you have won it! it is yours." And in a few moments after the regiment received an unusual commendation from its division commander, General Howe, who rode up in its front with his staff and taking off his hat said: "Noble Seventy-seventh, to-day you have covered yourself with glory." 1

Colonel French was always a favorite with his command and its love for him was particularly manifested when the regiment was at Stone House Mountain near the Rapidan flyer, where he was presented by his Line Officers with a beautiful gold mounted sword, on which was the Greek inscription: "He fights for his country," and under it were the dates and names of some of the battles in which they had been engaged.

At the battle of Fort Stevens, Washington, D. C., Colonel French led the charge which drove out Jubal Early and his army and received there the first wound of his service. At the battle of Cedar Creek, October 18, 1864, he succeeded General Bidwell, the brigade commander, who was killed in that action, and from that time until his muster out commanded his brigade, and subsequently received his commission as Brigadier-General by Brevet for "gallant and meritorious service on the field." The regiment was mustered out of service in Saratoga Springs on the 13th of December, 1864.

A monument to the regiment stands on Gettysburg battle field with this inscription: "Participated in the Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac, Fort Stevens, Washington, D. C., and Sheridan's Campaign of the Shenandoah Valley." This monument was dedicated on the 17th day of October, 1889. General French made a most fitting and eloquent presentation address, in which he sums up the three years' record of his gallant regiment in the following words: "Saratoga county's favorite regiment, the Bemis Heights Battalion, has a record of noble deeds, without a single blot. It never, by any act in the field, or in the camp, on the march, or in the fight, disgraced the county from which it was sent. It never flinched 'or wavered from any duty, however perilous, which was assigned to it, nor until ordered to do so, did it ever turn its back upon the foe. From the beginning to the end of its service the regiment bore its colors untouched by the hand of the enemy. They were often shattered and torn by shot and shell, often levelled to the dust by the death or wounds of the bearers, but they were always kept sacred and on the muster out of the regiment were deposited in the Bureau of Military Statistics at Albany."

During its service the regiment had accumulated a Regimental Fund of $500 which by vote of its members was at the time of its muster out put into the hands of Colonel French to be disposed of as he deemed best for the regiment. He at once put the same at interest and in ten years it became doubled, and together with voluntary contributions of patriotic citizens of Saratoga Springs was used in the erection of the monument now standing on Monument Square in said village, dedicated to the memory of the "Seventy-seventh Regiment, New York State Volunteers."

During all the years since his muster out General French has taken an active part in military matters connected with the Civil war. He was one of the charter members of Grand Army Post Wheeler No. 92, of Saratoga Springs, and several times its commander. He became early a member of the New York Chapter of the Society of the Loyal Legion, and the Society of the Army of the Potomac. The General may be seen almost daily, well mounted, galloping over the country as erect as a young officer, sitting in the same saddle that bore him in the thick of the fight in so many battles in the war of the Rebellion. The military spirit of the general is manifest in his son, Winsor P., who went out as a private in the Twenty.second Separate Company of Saratoga Springs, Company L, New York State Volunteers, in the Spanish War. He was promoted to a second lieutenancy in the Two Hundred and First Regiment, New York State Volunteers.

Soon after his muster out and in April, 1865, General French resumed his law practice and entered into partnership with his former preceptor, Hon. Alembert Pond. He was admitted to practice in the Supreme, District and Circuit Courts of the United States, and has ever since been and now is an active lawyer in his profession. His partnership with Mr. Pond continued until 1888, a portion of the time Hon. Edgar T. Brackett, now State Senator, was a member of the firm; and the practice carried on by it was of a general character extending through all the courts and became very large and lucrative.

He was elected District Attorney of Saratoga county in 1888 and held the office for three years, and was pressed for renomination, but declined it owing to the large and laborious civil practice of his firm. During his service as district attorney he caused the arrest of one Henry Ray, a member of the State Legislature, on an attachment issued under the direction of Justice Platt Potter of the Supreme Court because of his refusal to obey a subpoena; and had Ray brought to the Court House in Baliston Spa to testify in a criminal proceeding. This arrest occasioned great excitement in the Legislature and out of it grew the famous Breach of Privilege Case, wherein the Legislature undertook, but signally failed to establish the doctrine, that the power of the legislative branch of the government was superior to that 9f the judicial. The case attracted widespread interest in the courts and among the legal profession throughout the country and is reported in the Appendix to Barbour's Supreme Court Reports, Vol. 55.

Mr. French withdrew from the firm of Pond, French & Brackett in 1888 and has since continued his practice alone, except, about three years when Will W. Smith was associated with him. His office is situated in his own building, Nos. 7 and 8 French Building, Saratoga Springs. Mr. French has always been prominent before the courts and juries, demonstrating the characteristics of a careful, painstaking lawyer, extremely loyal to his profession, and displaying in his practice that dignity and courtliness that becomes a gentleman.

In politics Mr. French has always been a Republican and most earnest and energetic in the success of his party, taking a prominent stand as a platform speaker. He was a prominent candidate for the nomi nation of judge of Saratoga county in 1888, and in 1893 was a candidate for the nomination for member of congress from the Twenty-second district, composed of Saratoga, St. Lawrence, Fulton and Hamilton counties. Over thirteen hundred ballots were taken, Mr. French and General Curtis of St. Lawrence being opposing candidates. No nomination was made by this Congressional convention. Subsequently General Curtis was nominated by petition, Mr. French having withdrawn from the contest. In 1896 Mr. French was a McKinley and Hobart Presidential Elector and cast his vote as a member of the Electoral College held at Albany January 11, 1897, for McKinley and Hobart. He was appointed by President McKinley, postmaster of the village of Saratoga Springs, confirmed by the United States Senate, and received his commission as such on the 10th day of March, 1899.

Mr. French has always been deeply interested in religious work He is a member of the Bethesda Episcopal church and one of its wardens. He is also prominent in all philanthropic matters, being president of the board of trustees of the Church Aid and of the Home of the Good Shepherd. He is also president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and of Cruelty to Animals, and an officer of the Saratoga Anthenaeum since its organization; taking an active interest in matters relating to the welfare of the whole community.

General French's family consists of his wife, a daughter of the late Wm. A. Shepard, daughter Georgiana, wife of J. Andrew Harris, jr., treasurer of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, and two sons, Winsor P., at present attending the Albany Law School, preparatory to joining his father in the practice of his profession; and William A. Shepard, a lad of eleven years of age attending the public school.

1 "Three Years in the Sixth Corps," p. 197, George T. Stevens.

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