Col. DONN PIATT was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, June 29, 1819.He was educated partly in Urbana and at the Athenaeum (now St. Xavier College, Cincinnati), but left that school before completing his course.He studied law under his father, and was, for a time, a pupil of Tom Corwin.In 1851 he was appointed Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Hamilton county.He was made Secretary of the Legation at Paris, under Hon. John Y. Mason, of Virginia, during Pierce’s and Buchanan’s administrations.When the minister died in October, 1859, Colonel Piatt served as charge d’affaires for nearly a year.
On his return home he engaged actively in the presidential canvass, in behalf of Abraham Lincoln.In company with General Robert C. Schenck he stumped Southern Illinois, and his services were publicly acknowledged by the President-elect.
During the civil war he served on the staff of General Robert C. Schenck, who was in command of the Middle Department, with headquarters at Baltimore.While General Schenck was temporarily absent from his post, and Colonel Piatt, as chief of staff, in command, he issued an order, contrary to the policy of the administration at that time, to General William G. Birney, who was then in Maryland, to recruit a brigade of negro soldiers—to enlist none but slaves.
The effect of this order was to at once emancipate every slave in Maryland, and it was thought to great embarrass Mr. Lincoln and the cabinet.Colonel Piatt had taken the step against General Schenck’s wishes, at the advice of Henry Winter Davis, Judge Bond and other distinguished Union men from Maryland; and against the wishes of Reverdy Johnson, Montgomery Blair and other earnest Union men and slaveholders.He was summoned to Washington and threatened by Mr. Lincoln, in a stormy interview, with shameful dismissal from the army.This he was spared by the intercession ofSecretary Stanton, and permitted to retain his rank in the army, though, on account of this rash act, he was always thereafter denied further promotion.But it was a consolation for him to know that his one act had made Maryland a free State.Word went out and spread like wild-fire that “Mr. Linkum was a callin’ on de slaves to fight fo’ fredum,” and the hoe-handle was dropped, never again to be taken up by unrequited toil.The poor creatures poured into Baltimore with their families, on foot, on horseback, in old wagons, and even on sleds stolen from their masters.The late masters became clamorous for compensation, and Mr. Lincoln ordered a commission to assess damages.Secretary Stanton put in a proviso that those cases only should be considered wherein the claimant could take the iron-clad oath of allegiance.So, of course, no slaves were paid for.
Having been sent to observe the situation at Winchester, Va., previous to Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania, Colonel Piatt, on his own motion, ordered General Robert H. Milroy to evacuate that indefensible town and fall back on Harper’s Ferry.The order was countermanded by General Halleck.Three days afterwards, Milroy, surrounded by the Confederate advance, was forced to cut his way out, with a loss of 2,000 prisoners.Had Colonel Piatt’s order been carried out, the command would have been saved, and two regiments of brave men (who under Schenck and Milroy were the only force that ever whipped Stonewall Jackson) not needlessly sacrificed.He was Judge-Advocate of the commission which investigated the charges against General Buell, and favored his acquittal.
After the war he became the Washington correspondent of the Cincinnati Commercial, distinguishing himself as a writer of great brilliancy.
Col. Piatt subsequently founded and edited the Washington Capital for two years, making it so odious to government officials that at their instance during the presidential controversy of 1876 he was indicted—but, as he naively says, “though trying very hard, never got into jail.”On the contrary he sold the Capital at a very handsome figure and returned to the peace and quiet of Mac-o-chee, where he has since been engaged in literary work and farming.“In all his writings he is apt to take a peculiar and generally unpopular view of his subject,” says an eminent critic, and the observation is just.
His entertaining volume, “Memories of the Men who Saved the Union,” whom he designates as Lincoln, Stanton, Chase, Seward and General George H. Thomas, is sharply critical, and severe on General Grant.But its strong passages and just appreciation of the great deeds of the other great men atone for this fault.Its sale has been large and is steadily increasing.The Westminister Review describes it as “The record of great geniuses, told by a genius.”
Col. Piatt has published a delightful little book of love stories, true to life and of pathetic interest, mostly war incidents, called “The Lone Grave of the Shenandoah and Other Tales.”In 1888 he edited Belford’s Magazine as a free trade journal, and made the tariff issue strangely interesting and picturesque.He contributes regularly to the leading English reviews, and is at present engaged with General Charles M. Cist, of Cincinnati, in preparing a life of General George H. Thomas.
In 1865 he was elected as a Republican as Representative from Logan county to the Ohio Legislature.“I made a fight for negro suffrage,” says he, “and won, by a decreased majority.Then, after spending a couple of winters at Columbus.I quit, by unanimous consent.”He had opposed local legislation, taken an active part in pushing the negro suffrage amendment through and was accused of doing more legislating for Cincinnati, his old home, than all the Hamilton county delegation together.His ability as a speaker and usefulness in the committee room were widely recognized and praised.
Who can describe the beauty and charm of Mac-o-chee Valley?As seen from his great stone mansion it presents one of the fairest prospects that ever delighted the vision of man.There is no description truer than Tom Corwin’s:“ A man can better live and die here than in any place I have ever seen.”Above is an excellent picture of the ivy-crowned west and south fronts, and entrance into one of the best libraries in Ohio.The beautiful residence harmonizes with the grand scenery about it—like the castles along the historic Rhine, one of which it closely resembles and is modeled after.
Near the old mill on the direct road from Col. Piatt’s to Urbana is the family burying-ground, just back of the old log Catholic church, which is now almost destroyed.Here the Piatts for four generations have worshipped and near by many are buried.
In the hillside just below the old church, Col. Piatt has had erected a substantial stone vault.It is the tomb of the wife of his early manhood, a gifted and charming lady.
A more appropriate epitaph, or one so touching, could hardly be written than that chiseled in marble on the reverse side of the medallion, shown in the picture.It was written by Col. Piatt and reads as follows:
To thy dear memory, darling, and my own,
I build in grief this monumental stone;
All that it tells of life in death is thine,
All that it tells of death in life is mine;
For that which made thy pure spirit blest,
In anguish deep has brought my soul unrest
You dying, live to find a life divine,
I living, die till death shall make me thine.
Howe's History of Ohio