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Most of the drama related to the Civil War in Madison played out in citizens’ personal lives. Some individuals, like banker and financier James F.D. Lanier, fully supported the North. Others, including Senator Jesse Bright, were strong Southern sympathizers. Many Madison residents, especially those with Southern ties, struggled with family members connected to both sides like the family of Jeremiah Sullivan and Emilie Todd Helm.
While Madison banker James F.D. Lanier had moved away from his spectacular Greek Revival mansion, highlighted in the Architecture section, in 1851 to make a permanent home in New York City, he was a major financial supporter of Indiana’s war effort. At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the State of Indiana faced bankruptcy, yet Governor Oliver Morton was determined to heed President Abraham Lincoln’s call for troops and supplies for the war effort. Morton, knowing Lanier was a staunch Union supporter, personally approached the businessman for funds. Lanier offered a $400,000 loan at eight percent interest to help outfit Indiana’s volunteer troops. Later Lanier gave a second unsecured loan of $640,000 toward paying interest on the State’s debt. In 1865 and 1868, James Lanier worked abroad convincing European investors of the United States’ financial stability. Although Lanier needed no guarantee because he saw the loans as his patriotic duty, the State of Indiana repaid his generous line of credit, with interest, by 1870.
Jesse Bright lived in Madison between 1840 and 1857 and served in the U.S. Senate from 1844-1862. While the State of Indiana supported the Union cause, many Madisonians with Southern roots were sympathetic to the South, with some outwardly supporting the Confederacy. Despite Senator Bright’s family connection to New York and his childhood in Madison, Bright was an outspoken Southerner at heart, keeping close ties to Kentucky where he owned property and slaves. He openly argued with pro-Union Madison Courier publisher Michael Garber while in Madison, and fellow senator Stephen Douglas in Washington. In 1862, Bright’s Southern sensibilities led to trouble when a Confederate arms dealer was caught with a letter from Jesse Bright addressed to “His Excellency, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederation of States.” While Bright defended the note, saying his intentions were pure, the Senate voted to have him expelled, making him only the fourth non-Southern senator expelled during the Civil War.
Prominent Madison citizen Judge Jeremiah Sullivan and his wife Charlotte had seven children who survive into adulthood, two of whom assumed opposing positions during the Civil War. Algernon Sullivan followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a lawyer and marrying native Virginian Mary Mildred Hammond. By the outbreak of the Civil War, Algernon had established a successful practice in New York City. Openly sympathetic to the Confederacy, he defended Southern sailors from the Savannah, the first vessel captured during the Civil War, when the crew was charged with piracy. This led to accusations of disloyalty and a short imprisonment in New York Harbor’s Fort Lafayette. After his release, Algernon served as president of the New York Southern Society, which offered aid to Southerners regardless of race, while Mary Mildred founded the New York Ladies’ Southern Relief Society. The Sullivans' legacy lives on through The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation college scholarships and the law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, a practice founded in 1878 that is consistently ranked as one of the most prestigious firms in the world.
Younger brother Jeremiah “Jerry” Sullivan, Jr., graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1848 but struggled to find a profession. When President Abraham Lincoln called for volunteers, Jerry helped organize the 6th Indiana Volunteers and led the infantry regiment as a captain. Later Governor Oliver Morton appointed Sullivan as colonel of the 13th Indiana, which helped defeat Stonewall Jackson at the Battle of Kernstown in March 1862. Following this success, Jerry was commissioned as brigadier general, saw battle in Iuka and Corinth, Mississippi, and served as acting inspector general for Ulysses S. Grant. After he resigned from the army in May 1865, Jerry Sullivan spent some time in Maryland before moving west to California in 1878.
Emilie Todd Helm’s family exemplified the complexities of the Civil War. Born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky, Emilie was the daughter of Robert Todd and his second wife, Elizabeth Humphreys Todd. She married Kentucky legislator Benjamin Hardin Helm in 1856. Even though First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln was Emilie’s half-sister, most of Robert Todd’s children from his second marriage supported the Confederacy during the Civil War. In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln offered Ben Helm an army paymaster position which he declined, opting instead to join the Confederate army. After Helm was killed leading the First Kentucky Brigade during the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863, Emilie Todd Helm accepted her half-sister’s invitation to the White House. While in Washington the Todd sisters comforted each other over the deaths of Mary’s young son Willie, Emilie’s husband Benjamin, and three Todd brothers who were also killed while fighting for the Confederacy.
After the war, Emilie Todd Helm moved to Elizabethtown, Kentucky and then Madison, Indiana, supporting herself and her children by teaching piano lessons. When offered the position of Elizabethtown postmistress by her nephew Robert Todd Lincoln in 1881, Helm returned to Kentucky and became the first president of the local United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) chapter, which happened to be named after her late husband. She continued to support the UDC and attend Confederate veteran reunions until her death in 1930 at the age of 93.