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Template:Infobox Governor Henry Alexander Wise (December 3, 1806  – September 12, 1876) was an American statesman from Virginia, as well as a general in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War.

Early life[]

Wise was born in Drummondtown, Accomack County, Virginia, to Major John Wise and his second wife Sarah Corbin Cropper, whose families had been long settled there. He was privately tutored until his twelfth year and then entered Margaret Academy, near Pungoteague in Accomack County. He graduated from Washington College (now Washington & Jefferson College) in 1825.[1] He was a member of the Union Literary Society at Washington College.[2] Wise was admitted to the bar in 1828, and settled in Nashville, Tennessee, in the same year, but returned to Accomack County in 1830.

Marriage and family[]

Wise was married three times, first in 1828 to Anne Jennings, the daughter of Rev. Obadiah Jennings and Ann Wilson of Washington, Pennsylvania.[3] Anne died in 1837, leaving Henry with four children: two sons and two daughters. A fifth child died with her in a fire.

Wise was married a second time in November 1840, to Sarah Sergeant, daughter of Whig US Congressman John Sergeant and Margaretta Watmough of Philadelphia. In nineteen years of marriage with two wives, Wise fathered fourteen children, only seven of whom survived to adulthood.[4] Sarah gave birth to at least five children. She and the last child died soon after its birth on October 14, 1850.[5] Henry married a third time to Mary Elizabeth Lyons in 1853.[6]

After serving as governor, Wise settled with Mary and his younger children in 1860 at Rolleston, an 884-acre (3.58 km2) plantation which he bought from his brother John Cropper Wise, who also continued to live there.[7] It was located on the eastern branch of the Elizabeth River near Norfolk, Virginia. It had first been developed by William and Susannah Moseley, English immigrants who settled there in 1649.[8] After the Civil War, Henry and Mary Wise lived in Richmond, where he resumed his law career.

Political career[]

Henry A. Wise served in the United States Congress from 1833 to 1844. He was elected to Congress in 1832 as a Jacksonian Democrat. On the question of the rechartering of the United States Bank he broke with the Jackson administration, and became a Whig, but was sustained by his constituents. After his first election in 1832 he fought a duel with his competitor for the seat in Congress.[9] He was reelected to Congress as a Whig in 1837, serving till 1841, and was reelected as a Tyler Democrat in 1843.

Wise was active in securing the election of John Tyler as Vice President in 1840. Tyler appointed Wise as United States minister to Brazil from 1844 to 1847, where two of his children were born in Rio de Janeiro. After his return, Wise identified with the Democratic Party. In 1855, after a remarkable campaign, he was elected governor of Virginia over the Know Nothing candidate. Wise supported the annexation of Texas by the United States. Wise County, Texas, was named in his honor.

In the statewide election of 1855 Wise defeated Thomas S. Flournoy and subsequently served as the 33rd Governor of Virginia from 1856 to 1860. Wise County, Virginia, was named after him when it was established in 1856. One of his last official acts as Governor was to sign the death warrant of John Brown. He was a member of the Virginia secession convention of 1861, and opposed immediate secession. Upon the withdrawal of the commonwealth from the Union, however, he joined the Confederate army and was commissioned as a brigadier general.

Military career[]


Gen. Wise during the American Civil War.

Wise served as a brigadier general in the Confederate Army. He commanded the District of Roanoke Island during the Battle of Roanoke Island. His part in the decision to cede the island when faced with much greater Union forces drew the ire of some of the Confederate government leadership.  

His forces were attached to the division of Maj. Gen. Theophilus H. Holmes during the Seven Days Battles. For the rest of 1862 and 1863 he held various commands in North Carolina and Virginia. In 1864 Wise was in command of a brigade in the Department of North Carolina & Southern Virginia. His brigade defended Petersburg and was credited with saving the city at the First Battle of Petersburg and to an extent at the Second Battle of Petersburg. He then commanded a brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia during the final stages of the Siege of Petersburg, and was promoted to the rank of major general after the Battle of Sayler's Creek. He was with Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House, where he fought bravely but urged Lee to surrender. He was the brother-in-law of Union Maj. Gen. George G. Meade.

Postbellum activities[]

After the war Wise resumed his law practice in Richmond, and settled there for the rest of his life. In 1865 he was unable to reclaim Rolleston, his plantation outside Norfolk, before he received pardon from the president. After Wise entered Confederate service, he and his family abandoned Rolleston in 1862 as Union troops were taking over Norfolk. Wise arranged then for residence for his family in Rocky Mount, Franklin County, Virginia.

As a result, Maj. Gen. Terry of the U.S. command in the Norfolk area did not permit Wise to reclaim the Rolleston property. In an exchange of letters published in the New York Times, Terry stated that under conditions of parole, Wise had claim only to the Rocky Mount property where he had been living when he went to war. The Freedmen's Bureau used Rolleston Hall and other plantations in the Norfolk area as schools for freedmen. Two hundred were said to be at Rolleston.[10]

Along with working at his law career, Wise wrote a book based on his public service entitled Seven Decades of the Union (1872). His two surviving sons were both active in state and Federal politics.

One of his sons, John Sergeant Wise, wrote a memoir entitled The End of an Era.[11] John Wise was fourteen in the summer of 1860 and served in the Confederate Army late in the war. He wrote about his own memories of Rolleston and the war years, as well as about his father's role and their family members. Henry A. Wise's grandson Barton Haxall Wise wrote a biography of the former governor called The Life of Henry A. Wise of Virginia (New York, 1899).[12]


  1. "Washington College 1806–1865". U. Grant Miller Library Digital Archives. Washington & Jefferson College. Archived from the original on 2009-05-01. Retrieved 2010-02-22. 
  2. McClelland, W.C. (1903). "A History of Literary Societies at Washington & Jefferson College". The Centennial Celebration of the Chartering of Jefferson College in 1802. Philadelphia: George H. Buchanan and Company. pp. 111–132. 
  3. Jennings Cropper Wise, Col. John Wise of England and Virginia (1617-1695): His Ancestors and Descendants, Richmond: Virginia Historical Society, 1918; Digitized 2007 by University of California, p. 196, accessed 20 Mar 2008
  4. Simpson, p. 23.
  5. 1850 US Census, St. George's Parish, Accomack Co, VA, accessed 5 Mar 2008; John S. Wise, The End of an Era, New York: Houghton Mifflin & Co., 1899, p. 39; Documents of the South Collection, University of North Carolina Website, accessed 11 Feb 2008
  6. Simpson, p. 95.
  7. Simpson, p. 222.
  8. Idris Bowen, "Rolleston Hall, Virginia", The Rollestonian, Spring 2002, accessed 2 Feb 2008
  9. New International Encyclopedia, Henry A. Wise
  10. The Wise and Terry Letters, 31 Jul 1865, The New York Times, accessed 4 Feb 2008; Idris Bowen, "Rolleston Hall, Virginia", The Rollestonian, Spring 2002, accessed 2 Feb 2008
  11. John Sergeant Wise, The End of an Era, Documenting the South, University of North Carolina
  12. Henry A. Wise, New International Encyclopedia


  • Simpson, Craig M., A Good Southerner: A Life of Henry A. Wise of Virginia, Raleigh: University of North Carolina Press, 1985
  • Wise, Barton Haxall. The Life of Henry A. Wise of Virginia, 1806-1876. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1899. googlebooks Accessed January 29, 2008

External links[]

Template:Start box |- ! colspan="3" style="background: #cccccc" | United States House of Representatives Template:USRepSuccessionBox Template:USRepSuccessionBox Template:S-off |- style="text-align: center;" |- style="text-align:center;" |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"|Preceded by
Joseph Johnson |width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|Governor of Virginia
1856 – 1860 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
John Letcher |- |- ! colspan="3" style="background: #FACEFF;" | Diplomatic posts

|- style="text-align: center;" |- style="text-align:center;" |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"|Preceded by
George H. Proffit |width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|United States Minister to Brazil
August 10, 1844–August 28, 1847 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
David Tod |- |} Template:Governors of Virginia

de:Henry A. Wise it:Henry Alexander Wise la:Henricus Alexander Wise ja:ヘンリー・アレクサンダー・ワイズ