A continuing tale of life in the boonies

No. 320


Henry Wilson...the sex scandal

FARMINGTON – Hands up who remembers Herman Cain. What! Nobody, at all? Well he was a presidential candidate, up until mid-November, whose campaign was bolassed by a whirr of sexual allegations. If only he’d stuck it out, like his fellow competitor Newt Gingrich.
Newt, when he was a Congressman, called for the impeachment of President Clinton over that Monica Lewinsky business while he, Gingrich, was having a fling with a Congressional staffer. Barely a soul recalls that now, so Newt’s chutzpah and confidence in American amnesia has paid off wonderfully. So has Clinton’s come to that.
Washington, D.C. has been stuffed with such people over the decades who have refused to fall on their swords – Ted Kennedy, Strom Thurmond, Chuck Robb…dozens of ‘em all the way back to Grover Cleveland and beyond. Good ol’ Grover even rode out that scurrilous couplet alluding to his child out of wedlock: Ma, ma, where’s my pa? Gone to the White House. Ha, ha, ha.
So where is all this heading, you ask?
To Henry Wilson, I’m afraid, Farmington’s most famous son, who became U.S. Vice President under Ulysses Grant.
It was an episode of Ken Burns’ documentary on the Civil War that tipped me off to Henry’s unhappy peccadillo. Hitherto, I had put Wilson a pedestal as the epitome of decency, and only assumed that in later years, when he was reincarnated as stoves and freezers repairman Royce Hodgdon, that his enjoyment of the occasional Bud or two was just making up for lost time. Faith misplaced. Henry was infected with the same rotten bug that has overtaken so many American politicians, but as the verses below reveal, he was one of the survivors of the plague.
With Henry Wilson’s 200th anniversary fast approaching, I have been arm-twisted, I mean requested, to do a presentation on his life and times, and so, in the interests of full disclosure, I have written the Ballad of Henry and Wild Rose as part of the evening’s program.
As it takes place during the Civil War period, the song is set, ironically, to an adaptation of the Irish anti-recruiting tune Arthur McBride. It’s worth noting that prior to the outbreak of hostilities, Wilson, then a U.S. Senator, had raised a regiment in Massachusetts, and he carried the rank of Brigadier-General. The widow Rose O’Neal Greenhow was a prominent member of Washington high society.

The Ballad of Henry and Wild Rose

1. Now Senator Wilson, a man of renown,
    So highly respected in Washington town,
    Nigh witnessed his fine reputation go down
    O’er a widow named Wild Rose O’Neal, sir!
    Though he was a Christian, the God-fearing kind,
    He paid his poor wife up in Natick no mind,
    And consorted with Rose, for love’s reckless and blind,
    But that’s not the worst of this deal, sir!
    And Senator Wilson’s a fallible man.

2. These were dangerous days with Secession declared,
    And Henry, a martial committee he chaired,
    But ‘twas rumored that tactical secrets he shared,
    With the head next to his on the pillow,
    For little knew he Rose O’Neal was a spy,
    Who with the Confederacy saw eye to eye,
    And to Rebels slipped Union war plans on the sly,
    While the dark clouds of conflict did billow.
    And Senator Wilson’s a gullible man.

3. To the battle of Bull Run our Henry rode out,
    Expecting his regiment Rebels to clout,
    But to his surprise it turned into a rout,
    And his carriage was smashed for good measure.
    The senator-general escaped with his life,
    But he paid a stiff price for deceiving his wife,
    While wise Union heads looked back over the strife,
    And Rosie incurred their displeasure.
    Now Senator Wilson’s a risible man.

4. House arrest followed and then she was jailed,
    Still spying, O’Neal to the South was expelled,
    Where Jefferson Davis knew how she’d excelled,
    And laid on a great celebration,
    While Senator Wilson went back on the Hill,
    He pressured Abe Lincoln to swallow the pill,
    And issue an order to cure a grave ill,
    Proclaiming Emancipation.
    So it’s Senator Wilson – redeemable man.

5. Rose went to raise money in England and France,
    The Confederate war chest she aimed to enhance,
    But sailing back home she was dogged by ill chance
    And her ship ran aground near Cape Fear, sir.
    She fled in a rowboat the treasure to save,
    But weighed down by gold, she was swamped by a wave,
    And Rose O’Neal’s fate was a watery grave,
    1864 was the year, sir!
    And was Senator Wilson a sorrowful man?

To any member of Farmington Historical Society who might think the program on Henry, next June, will now be the more poorly attended because of these disillusioning revelations, I say this – think of Cain, think of Gingrich. Nobody in this country can remember anything after a few weeks.


Dec. 11, 2011

FC Part 5            Previous             Next