Civil War Blog

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Francis Wade Hughes of Pottsville – Confederate Sympathizer?

Posted By on May 25, 2016


Francis Wade Hughes (1817-1885) was an attorney in Pottsville at the time of the Civil War and the leader of the county Democratic Party.  A nephew of his, John Hughes, was considered the most famous of all Schuylkill Countians who joined the Confederate war effort.  According to information found in an article that appeared in the Citizen Standard (Valley View, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania) on 25 June 1993:

John Hughes… practiced law in Pottsville with his uncle Francis Hughes.  At the outbreak of the war, John Hughes went south and joined a Confederate Regiment.  As his father and brothers lived in North Carolina, it is assumed that he served with a regiment from that state.  At the Battle of Antietam, he supposedly commanded a battery of artillery, according to rebels interviewed by members of the 96th Regiment [96th Pennsylvania Infantry].  Later accounts in the Miners Journal, claim that he served at Fredericksburg and Gettysburg.

However, there is an ongoing dispute as to whether Francis W. Hughes should have been blamed for his nephew’s sympathies – and whether those sympathies were his as well.  The article continues:

Critics claim that John Hughes story had been invented by the publisher of the Journal, Benjamin Bannan, a staunch Republican, sought to discredit Hughes uncle who served as the leader of the Democratic Party in the county, and hence was a political rival.

Francis W. Hughes died in 1885 and his obituary appeared in newspapers statewide. The Times of Philadelphia, 23 October 1885, printed one of the longest:



A Member of the Schuylkill Bar and Well-Known Politician.

Special Dispatch to THE TIMES.

POTTSVILLE, 22 October 1885 —  Francis W. Hughes died at his home in this place at 8 o’clock this evening.  Mr. Hughes was born near Norristown, Montgomery County, 20 August 1817.  While Mr. Hughes was yet only a boy it was determined for him that he should be a lawyer.  He was sent to the academy of the Rev. David Kirkpatrick, at Milton, then regarded as one of the best schools in Pennsylvania, where he had as classmates ex-Governors Curtin and Pollock and others.  He began the study of law in the office of the late George Farquhar, of Pottsville, in the autumn of 1834, and in the following winter he entered the office of John B. Wallace, of Philadelphia.

In 1837, Mr. Hughes was admitted to practice at the bar of Schuylkill County and established himself in gaining a large and profitable practice, which he retrained until the last.  Mr.Hughes held a high rank as a land lawyer and was well versed in the practice of equity and the intricacies of commercial and patent law.  He was no less accomplished as a criminal lawyer.  When the Mollie Maguire cases came up he took an active and successful part in their prosecution.  Though it was as a lawyer that Mr. Hughes made his reputation, he took a fairly prominent part in politics.  In party faith a Democrat, he was an advocate of a tariff for the protection of American industry.  In 1839 he was appointed Deputy Attorney General by Attorney General Ovid F. Johnson, was reappointed and held the office in all for eleven years.  In 1843 he was elected State Senator from Schuylkill County by nearly a unanimous vote but only served one year, when he resigned for the purpose of resuming his law practice.  When Governor Bilger was elected, in 1851, he appointed Mr. Hughes Secretary of the Commonwealth.  He resigned this office in 1853 to succeed Judge James Campbell as Attorney General, in which position he remained about two years.  in 1856 he was on the Buchanan electoral ticket.  He has been a frequent delegate to State and national Democratic conventions, where his influence was generally felt by his positions upon important committees.

Strangely, the Civil War period was completely omitted from the obituaries.

However, in 1904, with the publication of The Biographical Annals of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, the following appeared amid several pages of the family biography:

[Francis Wade Hughes] regarded a civil war with dread and hope until the last to avert it.  When, however, the resort to arms was inevitable, his support of the Union was prompt, energetic and valuable.  He denied utterly any right of secession and claimed that the government was one of the whole people, not a federation of states.  He aided in fitting out two of the first companies that reached Washington.  He maintained with voice and pen the legal right of the government to put down rebellion with force of arms.  He aided in the raising of regiments when the invasion of Pennsylvania was threatened by the forces of Lee, and one regiment was familiarly known as his regiment.

In those biographical pages, genealogical information is given about the Hughes Family.  There were eight children of John Hughes and Hannah [Bartholomew] Hughes:

Rachel Bartholomew Hughes was born at “Walnut Grove” (Montgomery County, Pennsylvania), 2 August 1801.  She married Jacob Dewees, M.D., of Trappe, Upper Providence Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

Isaac Wayne Hughes, was born in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, 14 February 1804.  He graduated from the medical department of the University of Pennsylvania in 1825 and moved to New Bern, North Carolina, 1 June 1825, and married in 1828, Eliza A. McLin, daughter of Thomas McLin and Eliza McLin of New Bern.

Benjamin Bartholomew Hughes, was married to Mary Rambo, daughter of Jonas and Nancy Rambo, of Upper Merion, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, in 1829, by the Rev. John C. Clay.

Slater Clay Hughes was married to Susan, daughter of Joseph Jarrett and Elizabeth Jarrett, of Upper Merion, 4 August 1836, by the Rev. John C. Clay.

Frances Wade Hughes, was born, 20 August 1817, in Upper Merion Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. He married Elizabeth Silliman, of Pottsville, daughter of Thomas Silliman and Sarah Silliman, in April 1839.

Theodore Jones Hughes was married to Caroline Fonville, daughter of Brice Fonville and Helen Fonville, of Onslow, North Carolina, 19 November 1844, by the Rev. N. Colin Hughes.

Nicholas Colin Hughes, born in Upper Merion, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, was ordained to the deaconate in the Old St. Thomas Church, New York City, 30 June 1844, by Bishop B. T. Onderdonk.  He moved south in August 1844, was ordained a priest in Old Christ Church, Raleigh, North Carolina, in May 1846, by Bishop Ives.  He married Adaline Edmonds, daughter of Dr. Robert Williams and Elizabeth [Ellis] Williams, of Pitt County, Carolina, 17 October 1848, the Rev. J. B. Cheshire officiating.

John Curtis Clay Hughes married, 13 March 1851, Mrs. Emma R. Heebner, daughter of Benjamin Coombe, and Sarah Coombe, of Pottsville.

The biographical and genealogical material in the Annals did not not include the children of Dr. Isaac Wayne Hughes, who moved to North Carolina; presumably he was the father of the John Hughes who was working in his uncle’s law office in Pottsville and who served in a North Carolina regiment.  The children of the two other brothers of Francis Wade Hughes who had North Carolina connections were also not mentioned in the Annals.

John D. Hughes, the son of Isaac Wayne Hughes, was located in pages of a Dewees family history, available on Ancestry.com.  He was born on 30 March 1830 and died on 9 September 1889.  He married Jane Graham Daves of Craven County, North Carolina on 24 January 1854.  From information obtained through Fold3 and through Findagrave, he served as a Major and Quartermaster of the 7th North Carolina Infantry (Confederate) during the Civil War, and after the war applied for amnesty and a pardon from President Andrew Johnson.  Additional information about him will be forthcoming in a future blog post.

With his Southern connections (his brothers and their children) in North Carolina, it is no wonder that the loyalty to the Union of Francis Wade Hughes was questioned.  In addition, he had one other strike against him in that he was the Democratic Party leader in Schuylkill County during the war – a party that in some respects was considered disloyal.  In the Election of 1864, Hughes delivered Schuylkill County for Gen. George McClellan in the presidential contest.  Even after the war, in 1866, he was actively campaigning for amnesty for former Confederate officers to the point where it was suggested in the press that his conduct was traitorous for wanting to allow former Confederate President Jefferson Davis to return to Congress.

Did the Molly Maguire trials help reverse his image?  Perhaps.

It is not known at this time how much of the biographical information about Francis Wade Hughes was manipulated in 1904 to cover his Confederate sympathies and whether those sympathies extended beyond loyalty to his brothers and their families.  Further research could enlighten the discourse on this subject.




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