Simon G. Griffin by Rev. A, B. Crawford

Gen. Griffin was born in Nelson, N. H., on the 9th of August, 1824. His ancestors, as far back as they can be traced, were prominent men in the communities where they lived, gifted with more than ordinary intellect and force of character.

His grandfather, Samuel Griffin, Esq., came from Methuen, Mass., soon after the Revolutionary war, married a daughter of Rev. Jacob Foster, at that time the settled minister at "Packersfield," now Nelson, and took up his residence in that town. His superior abilities soon brought him forward to fill responsible positions, and for many years he represented the town in the legislature, and held the highest town offices. Both he and the General's maternal grandfather, Nehemiah Wright, were patriot soldiers in the Revolutionary army, and both were present at the battle of Bunker Hill.

His father, Nathan Griffin, was equally gifted with the earlier progenitors of the race; but, losing his health in the prime of his manhood, the care of rearing the family of seven children fell upon the mother. Her maiden name was Sally Wright,—one of the loveliest of her sex, both in person and character,—and the General owes much to her wise counsels and careful training. She died recently, at the age of ninety-four, in the full possession of her mental faculties.

When but six years of age, in consequence of the illness of his father, the boy was sent to live for some years with his uncle, Gen. Samuel Griffin, of Roxbury, N. H. He, too, had a decided talent for military affairs, had been a volunteer in the war of 1812, was prominent in the state militia, and was fond of repeating the military histories and descriptions of battles and campaigns that he had read, thus producing a deep and lasting impression on the mind of the lad. But never, after he was seven years old, could the boy be spared from work on the farm to attend school during summer. Ten or twelve weeks each winter at the district school was all the "schooling" he ever had; but his leisure hours were spent in reading and study, and, in spite of his want of advantages, at eighteen years of age he began to teach with marked success. He had also read much history, and the lives of the great military chieftains of ancient and modern times; and thus by inheritance, and by his early training and reading, he had become unconsciously fitted for the special work before him, and had cultivated the patriotic spirit and ability for military affairs which have won for him an honorable place among the distinguished soldiers of our state, and made him, as confessed on all sides, one of the best volunteer officers in the war of the rebellion.

Continuing his studies while teaching winters and working on the farm summers, he mastered all the higher English branches usually taught in colleges, studied Latin and French, and went through a large amount of miscellaneous reading. In 1850 he married Ursula J., daughter of Jason Harris, Esq., of Nelson; but soon after the birth of a son, the following year, both mother and son died. Returning to his former occupation of teaching, he took up the study of law, and while thus engaged represented his native town two years in the legislature, serving the second term as chairman of the committee on education.

He was admitted to the bar in 1860, and had just begun the practice of his profession at Concord when the war broke out. Throwing aside his law-books, he took up the study of military tactics, joined a company then forming at Concord, under the first call for troops,—volunteering as a private, but when it came to organization was chosen captain,—and finding the quota of New Hampshire full under the first call, immediately volunteered, with a large number of his men, for three years or the war, under the second call. Recruiting his company to the maximum, he joined the Second Regiment at Portsmouth, was mustered into the United States service in June, 1861, and commanded his company at the first battle of Bull Run, handling it with coolness and bravery, although it was under a sharp fire, and lost twelve men, killed and wounded. It was the celebrated "Goodwin Rifles," Co. B, 2d N. H. Vols., armed with Sharp's rifles, by the exertions of Capt. Griffin and his friends,—the only company sent from the state armed with breech-loaders.

In 1861 he was promoted to be lieutenant-colonel of the 6th N. H. Vols., and joined that regiment at its rendezvous in Keene. The regiment was assigned to Burnside's expedition to North Carolina, and landed at Hatteras island in January, 1862. In March it removed to Roanoke island, and on the 7th of April, Lieut.-Col. Griffin was sent in command of an expedition, composed of six hundred men with five gunboats, to break up a rebel rendezvous near Elizabeth City, N. C. Landing at daybreak the next morning, he attacked and broke up the camp, capturing seventy-four prisoners, three hundred and fifty stands of arms, and a quantity of ammunition. On the 19th of April, at the battle of Camden, N. C., he commanded his regiment, which formed the reserve. At the critical moment he moved it forward in line of battle, within short musket range, halted the line, gave the command to fire, and the regiment poured in a volley with wonderful coolness and precision. The enemy broke and fled, and the battle was won.

On the 22d of April, 1862, he was commissioned colonel of the regiment. Assigned to Reno's division, which was sent to aid Pope in Virginia, he commanded his regiment at the second Bull Run, where it was ordered, with its brigade, to attack the enemy in a piece of wood. Forcing their way for some distance, they received a murderous fire in front and from the left flank and rear. Thinking it must be friends firing into them by mistake, Col. Griffin took the colors and waved them in that direction, but the fire only came the sharper; and finding himself nearly surrounded by an immense force, and deserted by the other regiments, he gave the order to retreat, and brought off the remnant of his men, bearing the colors himself.

At the battles of Chantilly and South Mountain he commanded his regiment; and at Antietam, after one attempt to carry the bridge in front of Burnside had been made and failed, Col. Griffin was ordered to make the assault with his own regiment and the Second Maryland. The charge was gallantly made, but the approaches were difficult, the enemy's fire destructive, and the column was checked; but re-enforcements were brought up, and the bridge was carried, and the Sixth New Hampshire, with Col. Griffin at its head, was the first to plant its colors on the heights beyond. For gallantry in this action he was recommended for promotion to brigadier-general. At Fredericksburg he commanded his regiment, which again suffered severely in the assault on the heights. Soon after that battle he obtained a leave of absence, and was married to Margaret R. Lamson, of Keene, N. H., with whom he is still living, and by whom he has two sons.

Early in the year 1863, the ninth corps was transferred to the department of Ohio, and Col. Griffin was placed in command of the second brigade, second division, serving in Kentucky. From there the first and second divisions were sent to aid Grant at Vicksburg; and, upon the fall of that city, Sherman moved upon Jackson, Miss., the capital of the state, driving Johnston before him. While approaching the town, Col. Griffin was at one time in command of the advanced line, consisting of three brigades, when a sharp attack was made by the enemy, at three o'clock in the morning, with a view to breaking our lines by surprise, but was repulsed with considerable loss. Returning to Kentucky, he took command of the second division, and marched over the Cumberland mountains, joining Gen. Burnside at Knoxville. Several regiments of the corps had been left in Kentucky, and Col. Griffin was sent to conduct them forward to Knoxville. Before they had started on the march, however, Kentucky itself was threatened with raids, in consequence of our defeat at Chickamauga, and Col. Griffin and his troops were retained for the defense of that state. While on that duty his regiment re-enlisted for three years, or the war; and in January, 1864, he was ordered with it to Covington, Ky., where they were remustered into the United States service, and immediately proceeded to New Hampshire on their thirty days' furlough, granted by the terms of re-enlistment.

In the spring of 1864, the ninth corps re-assembled at Annapolis, under Gen. Burnside, and Col. Griffin was assigned to the command of the second brigade, second division. On the 5th of May the corps joined the army of the Potomac, on the Rapidan, and at two o'clock on the morning of the 6th, Col. Griffin was sent with his brigade to attack the enemy, and later in the day made a brilliant charge in repelling an attack made on the second corps. At Spottsylvania Court-House, May 12, Gen. Hancock made the assault at four o'clock in the morning. Griffin occupied the right of the ninth corps, on the left of Hancock, though some distance from him, with orders to support that officer. Promptly at four o'clock Griffin advanced with his brigade in line of battle, and made directly for the point of attack indicated by the sound of Hancock's guns. As he approached, he galloped forward to see just where to make the connection. Passing out of a wood into an open field, he found Hancock's troops wild with excitement over their success, but with organizations completely broken up by the charge they had made. Looking across a valley to a slope beyond, he saw a large force of rebels advancing rapidly to make a counter attack. Hastening back to his command, he brought it forward into position just in time to take that advancing column in front and flank with a destructive fire. Other brigades came up and formed on his left, and for five hours a terrific fire was kept up, and the furious onslaught of three Confederate divisions was repulsed. The loss on each side was fearful, but Hancock's corps, and possibly the army, was saved from being swept away, and a victory was won. By this gallant act Col. Griffin "won his star," being made a brigadier-general of volunteers by President Lincoln, on the recommendation of Generals Burnside and Grant, and confirmed by the senate without debate, reference, or a dissenting vote.

On the 18th he made a reconnoissance with his brigade, and handled it with coolness and skill in the fights of North Anna, Tolopotomy Creek, Bethesda Church, and Cold Harbor. On the arrival of the army in front of Petersburg, June 15, he was placed in command of two brigades, and made a skillful attack on the enemy's advanced lines at daylight next morning, capturing one thousand prisoners, fifteen hundred stands of arms, four pieces of artillery, with caissons, horses, and ammunition, and opening the way into Petersburg had supports been ready in time. At the battle of the "Mine" he commanded his brigade, and did every thing that could be done in his place to insure success; also at the Weldon Railroad, Poplar Grove Church, and Hatcher's Run.

At the final breaking of the lines in front of Petersburg, on the 2d of April, 1865, after charging the enemy's picket line and capturing two hundred and forty-nine prisoners during the night previous, he formed his brigade near Fort Sedgwick, in column by regiments, with three companies of pioneers in front armed only with axes to cut away the abatis. Just at daybreak, at a preconcerted signal, in connection with Gen. Hartranft on his right and Col. Curtin on his left, he led his column to the charge. Nothing could exceed the coolness and intrepidity with which officers and men pressed forward under a terrific fire of grape, canister, and musketry; for our artillery had opened and given the enemy warning. Tearing away the abatis, they dashed over the parapet, seized the guns, captured hundreds of prisoners, and held the line. The loss was frightful, but the backbone of the rebellion was broken; and when the news of the assault reached Richmond, on that Sunday morning, Jefferson Davis crept out of church and stole away, a fugitive; and Petersburg and Richmond were occupied by our troops next morning. For gallantry in that action Gen. Griffin was brevetted a major-general of volunteers, and succeeded to the command of the second division, ninth corps, holding that position till the close of the war, with the exception of a short time while he was president of an examining board of officers at Washington. He joined in pursuit of the rebel forces, and his division formed a part of the column that encompassed Lee and compelled him to surrender. Returning with the army and encamping at Alexandria, he led his division in the Grand Review, on the 23d of May; and when the last regiment of his command had been mustered out, he also, in August, 1865, was mustered out of the service of the United States.

Gen. Griffin's service had been a most honorable one. Brave, able, and patriotic, he was always in demand at the front, and his service was of the most arduous kind. He took an active part in twenty-two great battles, besides being engaged in numberless smaller fights and skirmishes, and his troops were never under fire, or made a march of any importance, except with him to lead them. Yet he never received a scratch, although he had seven ball-holes through his clothes, and had two horses killed and five wounded under him in action; and he never lost a day's duty from sickness,—the result, no doubt, of temperate habits. As an example of the severity of his service in Grant's campaign of 1864, he left Alexandria with six regiments, reporting twenty-seven hundred fighting men. At the close of the campaign he had lost three thousand men, killed and wounded,—three hundred more than his whole number,—new regiments having been assigned to him, and the older ones filled up with recruits.

At the close of the war the government appointed him a field officer in one of the regiments in the regular army; but he had no desire for the life of a soldier when his country no longer needed his services, and he declined the offer. In 1866, 1867, and 1868, he represented Keene in the New Hampshire state legislature, serving the last two years as speaker of the house, which position he filled with marked ability, showing rare talent as a presiding officer. In January, 1866, he presided over the Republican state convention; and Dartmouth College that year conferred on him the degree of Master of Arts, causa honoris. In 1871 he was nominated for congress by the Republicans of the third district, but the opposition carried the state that year, and, although making a good run, he was defeated by a few votes. Renominated in 1873, he was again defeated by a small majority.

The habits of study so diligently cultivated by Gen. Griffin in youth have never been laid aside, but are still kept up in the midst of an active and busy life, he being engaged in large enterprises in the South and West. As a public speaker he is able, graceful, and convincing, and his work always shows thorough preparation, correct taste, and sound judgment. In a book of Garfield's speeches, with a short sketch of his life, published by a firm in St. Louis, a few memorial addresses, selected as the best delivered in the country, are inserted as a supplement, and Gen. Griffin's, delivered at Keene, and the same day at Marlborough, is found among them.

In his home, where he is cordially seconded by Mrs. Griffin, there is a tender and affectionate union of the members, a courteous hospitality, a library rich in choice books which are read and known, and all the comforts and enjoyments of a true New England home; and from that home abundant good works go out that make for the well-being of a community.