Col. Jonathan Franklin Hale, USA

The commanding officer of the 13th R.I. at the time of its spectacular victory against the Richmond Special Legionnaires at The Battle of Pussy Willow Creek.

b: November 3, 1839, Seeping Springs, GA
d: March 23, 1907, Fire Island, NY

(Scroll down to watch video!)

Born the thirteenth child and only son of Wilbur Hale and Melodia Kracher Hale, Jonathan Franklin Hale exhibited early interests in swordsmanship, the equestrian arts, and ladies’ fashion.  In 1856 he entered the US Military Academy at West Point, where he began his up-and-down association with fellow cadet and future Confederate officer, Sinclair Whittier.

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Hale as a West Point cadet

Upon graduating as a Second Lieutenant from the Academy in 1860, Hale was assigned to the First Cavalry at Ft. Larned, Kansas, where he took part in what was then termed “Indian Duty,”  but which is now more commonly known as “The Genocide of the Indigenous Peoples of North America.” Not long after the outbreak of the Rebellion, (the now Captain) Hale was transferred East to General McClellan’s command.


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Capt. Hale, Spring, 1861

Various “personality conflicts” most likely arising from the discomfiting allure of his pillow lips and bedroom eyes had him enduring a series of rapid transfers to General Rosencrans, General Reynolds, and back to General McClellan, respectively.  During this time Hale participated in the battles of Rich Mountain (where he was brevetted major), Carnifax Ferry, Cheat Mountain, and Greenbrier River.


On October 9, 1861 Hale was appointed aid-de-camp to Colonel Senator Edward D. Baker.  Hale was at Baker’s side during the disastrous Battle of Ball’s Bluff, which saw Baker killed and 350 of his men captured.

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Death of Colonel Baker at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, October 21, 1861

Hale, who numbered among the POWs, was subsequently sent to the Confederacy’s notorious Libby Prison in Richmond, VA.  While interned,  he lost a third of his body weight, was subject to all manner of deprivations and miseries, and became quite an accomplished whist player.  He also orchestrated the celebrated “Libby Follies Breakout”, which saw the successful liberation of 27 Federal officers.  Tragically, Hale was not amongst these, having sustained gunshot wound during the escape attempt.  On February 4th a near-dead Hale was released to the Union during a prisoner exchange.

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Papaver Somniferum (Opium Poppy)

After seven weeks convalescing at Washington’s Seminary Hospital, a miraculously revitalized Hale was now Colonel in command of the Thirteenth Rhode Island Infantry and an inveterate opium addict.  It was in these two capacities that Hale would deliver the Union from almost certain annihilation at the Battle of Pussy Willow Creek a year and a half later.

Watch an excerpt from the documentary featuring Hale’s diary entry from Libby Prison.


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