A Husband’s Revenge

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Later that year Sickles, in a gesture of generosity, took Teresa back as his wife—an act for which he was bitterly denounced by the same people who had acclaimed his “defense” of his bed and home. She never appeared with him in society again, however, and died eight years later, a wasted ghost of the young hostess who had charmed Washington. As for Congressman Sickles, another kind of gunfire along the Potomac soon converted him into a national hero of sorts. Wangling himself a major-generalship, he served courageously on a dozen Civil War battlefields. But even here, his genius for personal imbroglios made him a controversial figure. One school of thought, led by Sickles, argued that Dan really won the Battle of Gettysburg by taking a highly exposed position in a wheat field and orchard. Other military thinkers accused him of almost losing it, because his corps was torn to bits by a three-sided Southern assault, leaving a huge hole in the Union line. (Sickles lost a leg to a Confederate cannon ball.) But Dan insisted that the whole battle had gone exactly according to his plan: he had taken the position with clear foreknowledge that he was inviting the Southern onrush, which his brave boys blunted, enabling a reinforced second line to stop the Rebs for good. His powers of persuasion later inspired no less than James Longstreet, the Confederate general who had delivered the assault, to agree with him.

After the war Sickles served as minister to Spain under Grant, won himself a third term in Congress in 1893, and ended his days with another scandal—the New York State Monuments Commission, of which he was chairman, suddenly discovered it was some twenty-eight thousand dollars short of funds. Friends and relatives made up the difference, and Dan died at ninety-five, still one jump ahead of the bailiffs. Well into his eighties he continued to chase the girls, listing among his conquests ex-Queen Isabella of Spain—who, however, was easily his match in promiscuity. His second wife, whom he married in Spain, left him (after bearing two children) because he was habitually unfaithful. Perhaps George Templeton Strong summed up Daniel E. Sickles best when he wrote in his diary, “One might as well try to spoil a rotten egg as to damage Dan’s character.”