Lanesville man served at national level
Karen Schwartz, Special to The Corydon Democrat
Did you know that a Harrison County native once served as the United States Secretary of State?
Walter Quinton Gresham was born in Lanesville on March 17, 1832. His father, William Gresham, was a Whig who had been elected Harrison County sheriff. Walter’s mother was Sarah Davis Gresham.
In January 1834, tragedy struck the Gresham family and their lives changed forever.
Levi Sipes, a young man who lived in the northern part of Harrison County, became angry because of a whipping his younger brother had received from his school master. Sheriff Gresham was summoned to Blue River Township to deal with the irrational young man. When the sheriff arrived, Sipes fatally shot him and then cut him in several places with a knife. Sipes was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 21 years but was pardoned by the governor in 1840.
Sarah Gresham found herself the young widowed mother of five children after 10 years of marriage. She later married Nathan Rumley.
Young Gresham, now fatherless, attended schools in Corydon and spent one year at Indiana University in Bloomington. He returned to Corydon and studied law under renowned Judge William A. Porter. He was admitted to the bar in 1854 and opened a law office in Corydon. He married Matilda McGrain of Corydon on Feb. 11, 1858, and Gresham and his family lived in the large two-story house which stands at the north corner of High Street and North Capitol Avenue from 1859 to 1865.
In 1860, he was elected to the Indiana House of Representatives as a Republican. Gresham served as chairman of the House committee on military affairs and was instrumental in directing military preparation for the coming conflict between the states.
On Sept. 18, 1861, Gresham received his commission as a lieutenant colonel in the Indiana Volunteer Infantry and saw action at the Battle of Vicksburg, Siege of Corinth and other engagements.
He continued to move up through the military ranks and, in August 1863, he was commissioned brigadier general and placed in command of the Union troops at Natchez, Miss. He commanded a division in Sherman’s Atlanta campaign in 1864.
His brother, Benjamin Gresham, also was a soldier and served in the Mexican and Civil wars.
At the end of the Civil War, Walter Gresham was serving as a major general with Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s army. He was forced to retire from active service when he received a crippling gunshot wound in his knee, which left him lame for the rest of his life.
In 1865, he received an appointment to brevet major general of the volunteers. After the war ended, he practiced law in New Albany.
In addition to his military career, Gresham engaged in a variety of occupations before and after the war. He was a schoolteacher, lawyer, judge and politician. He was elected to the Indiana General Assembly and served as a district and federal judge.
On the national level, he filled several roles in the U.S. Presidential Cabinet. He served as the 31st U.S. Postmaster General (from April 3, 1883, to Sept. 4, 1884) and the 35th U.S. Secretary of Treasury (from Sept. 5, 1884, to Oct. 30, 1884) under President Chester A. Arthur.
Gresham campaigned for the Republican nomination for United States president in 1884 and 1888, leading the convention balloting at some points in the 1888 race.
Although Gresham’s 1888 candidacy was strongly supported by powerful agrarian groups, including the Grange, Farmer’s Alliance and the Agriculture Wheel, he eventually lost the nomination to Benjamin Harrison of Indianapolis, who went on to capture the presidency.
Continuing his judicial career, Gresham served as judge on the United State Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit from June 16, 1891, to March 3, 1893.
Disenchanted with Republican leadership, Gresham actively campaigned for the election of Democratic candidate Grover Cleveland for a second term in 1892. When Cleveland’s bid proved successful, he appointed Gresham as U.S. Secretary of State on March 7, 1893. Gresham was serving in this capacity when he died on May 28, 1895, in Washington, D.C., at the age of 63. Gresham is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
An Indiana Historical Bureau historic marker was placed in front of the current Lanesville Post Office in honor of Gresham’s accomplishments. The text reads:
WALTER Q. GRESHAM
Union General in the Civil War, U.S. District Judge;
Postmaster General under President Arthur;
Interim U.S. Secretary of Treasury in 1884;
U.S. Secretary of State under President Cleveland.
Was born in Lanesville in 1832.
And lived in Corydon for many years.
Walter Q. Gresham Park is located in Lanesville. There is also an elementary school, Walter Q. Gresham Elementary, named after Gresham in Chicago.
Karen Schwartz, president of the Historical Society of Harrison County, serves on the legacy group of the Harrison County Committee for the Indiana Bicentennial. In preparation of Indiana’s bicentennial in 2016, she is providing a monthly column ‘ focusing on a person, place or event from Harrison County’s history ‘ that gives insight to our history. She said the columns should serve as an introduction and/or summary of a topic but are not intended to include all known facts and information. To suggest a topic, contact Schwartz at 812-736-2373 or 812-738-2828, by e-mail at [email protected] or by regular mail at 5850 Devil’s Elbow Road NW, Corydon, IN 47112.