Editor’s Note: This is part two in a series of stories from award-winning print and broadcast journalist, historian and public relations professional Brent Engel of Louisiana.
Clinton Fisk was admired by many who met him, but his boldness and steadfast demeanor didn’t always make friends with him.
Early struggles would help define the man who took over Union forces in County Pike after the Civil War ended. He was tough, determined and relentless – perfect traits for a general who faced a seemingly endless stream of Confederate brush.
Neither Whig nor Democrat, 12-year-old Fisk campaigned in 1840 for the nascent Freedom Party and its Southern-born presidential candidate, James G. Birney. The Alabama lawyer was a proponent of immediate emancipation, a position that received little support outside of the more ardent abolitionist groups.
Always resourceful, Fisk sold molasses candy to pay for cotton sheets on which he painted coarse black letters in axle grease to extol Birney’s candidacy. Meanwhile, friends held colorful signs for challenger William Harrison or incumbent Martin Van Buren.
Fisk won a fight with other boys who attempted to destroy his panel, although he couldn’t escape a spanking from his mother for sawing off the broomstick he used to make a stick. flag.
The boy’s father had died when he was almost 4, but the family fortunes changed when he was 13. Lydia Fisk married wealthy farmer William Smith, an ardent abolitionist who quickly forged a solid relationship with her stepson.
Smith House became part of the Underground Railroad transporting escaped slaves to Canada. Fisk happily and stealthily participated, sometimes spending most of the night outside before making the five-mile round trip to school when the day returned.
In 1843, Fisk attended Albion Seminary and the following year enrolled at Michigan Central College, co-founded by his stepfather. Smith died on Christmas Day 1844. Fisk’s second stepfather was the pastor who had baptized him, the Reverend Robert Powell.
At 18, Fisk began teaching while dreaming of going to Ann Arbor and attending the University of Michigan for a degree in education. Sadly, the voracious reading during the long nights spent by the flickering fireplace had damaged his eyes beyond cure.
With “lasting regret, he gave up his long-held hope” and “put away the books he loved so well,” wrote biographer Alphonso A. Hopkins.
Despite the setback, Fisk the previous summer had encountered what the author called a “round-faced, rosy-cheeked, dark-eyed girl” who made the days “brighter for him every month thereafter.” It would prove another stage in life.
Jeanette Crippen was the sister of one of Fisk’s college friends, James Crippen. Their father, Lorenzo, was a prominent businessman in Coldwater, Michigan. Fisk excelled almost immediately, joining the Crippen & Kellogg firm as a clerk in September 1848.
Outstanding treatment of clients and a desire for success made him indispensable. Lorenzo Crippen soon made him a silent partner in the business.
“No wonder he gave himself so freely and with such successful results,” Hopkins wrote. “He was a spendthrift, of good nature, of a cheerful courtesy, of a voluntary zeal. He stopped at nothing that was honorable and profitable.
On February 20, 1850, Fisk married Jeanette. The same year, the newlywed was appointed director of a bank founded by the Crippen family. He was also heavily involved in community affairs, even playing tuba in Coldwater’s First Community Band.
Two passions were rekindled in 1854. First, Fisk promised a return to his Christian roots after his 3-year-old daughter, Mary, asked him one night why he wasn’t praying. Second, he returned to public speaking, with an emphasis on abolition and prohibition.
The economic panic of 1857 forced the bank to close. Fisk was able to keep the farm he had purchased, and providence would strike the following year, when he became an agent for Etna Insurance Co. of St. Louis.
The job required extensive travel and Fisk got a glimpse of the slave trade in the South. While lobbying the Illinois legislature, he met Abraham Lincoln. Hopkins said Fisk “listened to the great man’s quaint stories and intimate conversations” during evenings at the Springfield mansion of the future president.
It was around this time that Fisk also met the future Union Army General and President Ulysses S. Grant. Additionally, he met Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, a congressman from Mississippi who would draft the state’s secession articles, but after the Civil War he would return to Washington as a US Senator and Supreme Court justice.
As a businessman, Fisk had to follow the line in politics, but everyone knew he was a Republican who supported Lincoln and the end of slavery. The problem prompted him to join the Union-backed Missouri Home Guards.
Fisk heard a lot of vitriol but saw little action during the required three months of enlistment. However, his prestige as a man of the Union in a border state that the Union was to keep in the fold led to a trip to Washington in the summer of 1861. At the White House he urged his friend Lincoln to marching the Union Army towards Richmond, and drew a rarely seen smile from the president jokingly over the Confederate capital.
“I ordered my mail sent there, and I’m going to pick it up,” he told Lincoln.
After the Union was defeated in the first Battle of Bull Run in July, Fisk, dejected but determined, met the Commander-in-Chief again before returning home.
“Did you order your mail sent from Richmond?” The president asked with a smile. “You can’t get it unless you have.”
The next time: A “damn institution”.