Dabney Herndon Maury (1822–1900)
Dabney Herndon Maury was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, on May 21, 1822, to Captain John Minor Maury and Elizabeth Maury. He had one brother. Maury’s father was a career officer in the U.S. Navy who died on active duty. Maury’s uncle, Matthew Fontaine Maury, became his guardian after his father’s death. Maury attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point from 1842 to 1846, graduating thirty-seventh out of fifty-nine cadets in what some called one of the best classes ever to attend the academy. Maury served in the Mexican War from 1846 to 1848. At the Battle of Cerro Gordo in April 1847, his left arm was shattered.
Maury married Anne “Nannie” Mason on March 10, 1852, and they had one son.
Maury served as superintendent of the U.S. Army’s Cavalry School at Carlisle Barracks from 1856 to 1860. He wrote Skirmish Drill for Mounted Troops in 1859. This cavalry manual was still being used by the U.S. military at the time of his death, forty-one years later.
Maury resigned from the army and offered his services to the Confederacy in May 1861. He was appointed to the staff of Confederate general Earl Van Dorn, commander of the Trans-Mississippi, and he accompanied Van Dorn from Virginia to Arkansas. Van Dorn and Maury joined Generals Sterling Price and Benjamin McCulloch in the Boston Mountains, near Van Buren (Crawford County), on March 1, 1862. Maury found General Price to be a hospitable host, commenting upon his reception near Van Buren: “He took Van Dorn to share his chamber, and sent a staff officer to conduct Sullivan and me to the bivouac of his staff, where we found sumptuous entertainment. Never before or since have I enjoyed such luxurious accommodations in camp as were at my service that winter night, in camp of Price’s, staff in the Boston Mountains.” The next morning, Van Dorn and Maury were served an interesting breakfast: “I can never forget-for it was the first and last time I enjoyed that dish-kidneys stewed in sherry!”
Van Dorn launched an offensive into northwestern Arkansas on March 4, 1862, during a blizzard. As Maury wrote: “The snow was falling fast we rode to the head of the column: and we did not feel very bright, until we were struck with the splendid appearance of a large regiment we were passing. It halted as we came upon its flank, faced to the front and presented arms, and as General Van Dorn reached its centre [sic], their cheers rang out upon the morning air, and made us feel we were with soldiers. It was the ever glorious Third Louisiana which thus cheered us.”
At the Battle of Pea Ridge, Maury’s service was not recorded in any way, other than that he tried to rally Confederate forces at the Leetown sector of the battle. Maury was revered by his men, who gave him the nom de guerre of “pus and boots,” a reference to the giant cavalry boots that came well past his knees, given Maury’s short stature. General Van Dorn recommended him for promotion after the battle, saying, “Colonel Maury was of invaluable service to me both in preparing for and during battle. Here as on other battlefields when I have served with him, he proved to be a zealous patriot and true soldier; cool and calm under all circumstances, he always was ready, either with his sword or pen.”
After the Battle of Pea Ridge, a loss for the Confederacy, Maury followed Van Dorn to northern Mississippi. Maury was promoted to brigadier general after Pea Ridge and fought with distinction at the battles of Iuka (September 19, 1862) and Corinth (October 3–4, 1862), where he led several Arkansas units. Maury was promoted to major general on November 4, 1862. He then assumed overall command of Confederate forces in defense of Mobile, Alabama, earning a solid reputation for his stern defense of Mobile.
After the Civil War, Maury embarked on a writing campaign. In 1869, he helped establish the Southern Historical Society Papers (SHSP), which chronicled the history of the Confederate armies, and he ultimately became chairman of the SHSP. Maury wrote openly and honestly about his wartime service in the SHSP. Former Confederate officers used the papers to exact revenge, and the SHSP contributed to “Lost Cause” mythology about the war, brought the so-called Redeemers back to power, and aided in the establishment of Black Codes throughout the South.
Maury was appointed United States minister to Colombia by President Grover Cleveland in 1887 and served until 1889; he also reorganized the Army National Guard. He published Recollections of a Virginian in the Mexican, Indian, and Civil Wars in 1894. President Theodore Roosevelt remarked about his book: “No one can help being attracted both to the author and his work.” Maury wrote A Young People’s History of Virginia and Virginians in 1896. He volunteered for the Spanish-American War, in 1898 but was deemed too old.
Maury died at Peoria, Illinois, on January 11, 1900. He was buried in Fredericksburg, Virginia, on February 13, 1900.
For additional information:
Cozzens, Peter. The Darkest Days of War: The Battles of Iuka and Corinth. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
Maury, Anne Fontaine, ed. Intimate Virginian: A Century of Maury Travels, by Land and Sea. Richmond, VA: Dietz Press, 1941.
Maury, Dabney Herndon. Recollections of a Virginian in the Mexican, Indian, and Civil Wars. New York: Scribner’s, 1894.
———. “Recollections of the Elkhorn Campaign.” Southern Historical Society Papers 2 (1876): 180–192.
Shea, William, and Earl J. Hess. Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.
Warner, Ezra. Generals in Gray: Lives of Confederate Commanders. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000.
Kerry King Jones
Last Updated: 04/29/2020