Henry Alexander Wise
(December 3, 1806 September 12, 1876) was an American statesman from Virginia.
born in Drummondtown, Accomack County, Virginia, to Major John Wise and his second wife Sarah
Corbin Cropper, whose families had been long settled there.
He was privately tutored until his twelfth year and then entered
Margaret Academy, near Pungoteague in Accomack County. He graduated from
Washington College (now Washington &
Jefferson College) in 1825.Wise was admitted to the bar in 1828, and settled in Nashville, Tennessee, in the same year, but returned to Accomack County
He was married three times, first in 1828 to Anne Jennings, the
daughter of Rev. Obadiah Jennings and Ann Wilson of Washington,
Anne died in 1837 leaving Henry with four
children: two sons and two daughters. A fifth child died with her
in a fire.
Wise was married a second time in November 1840, to Sarah Sergeant,
daughter of Whig Congressman John Sergeant
Watmough of Philadelphia. In nineteen years of marriage with two
wives, Wise fathered fourteen children, only seven of whom survived
to adulthood. Sarah gave birth to at least five children. She and
the last child died soon after its birth on October 14, 1850. Henry
married a third time to Mary Elizabeth Lyons in 1853.
After serving as governor, Wise settled with Mary and his younger
children in 1860 at Rolleston, an plantation which he bought from
his brother John Cropper Wise, who also continued to live there.
located on the eastern branch of the Elizabeth River near Norfolk,
had first been developed by William and Susannah Moseley, English
immigrants who settled there in 1649. After the Civil War,
Henry and Mary Wise lived in Richmond where he resumed his law career.
Henry A. Wise served in the United States Congress
from 1833 to
1844. He was elected to Congress in 1832 as a Jacksonian Democrat
. On the question of the
rechartering of the United States Bank he broke with the Jackson administration, and
became a Whig, but was
sustained by his constituents.
After his first election in
1832 he fought a duel
with his competitor for
the seat in Congress. He was reelected to Congress as a Whig in
1837, serving till 1841, and was reelected as a Tyler Democrat in
Wise was active in securing the election of John Tyler
as Vice President
appointed Wise as United States minister to Brazil from 1844 to
1847, where two of his children were born in Rio de Janeiro.
After his return, Wise identified with the
Democratic Party. In 1855, after a remarkable campaign, he was
elected governor of Virginia over the Know
candidate. Wise supported the annexation of Texas by the
United States. Wise County, Texas, was named in his honor.
In the statewide election of 1855 Wise defeated Thomas S. Flournoy
and subsequently served as the
Governor of Virginia
to 1860. Wise County, Virginia, was named after him when it was established in
One of his last official acts as Governor was to sign
the death warrant of John
. He was a member of the Virginia secession
convention of 1861, and opposed immediate secession.
Upon the withdrawal of the
commonwealth from the Union, however, he joined the Confederate
army and was commissioned as a brigadier general
Wise during the American Civil War.
Wise served as a brigadier general in the Confederate Army
. He commanded the
District of Roanoke
Island during the Battle of Roanoke Island.
His part in the decision to cede the island when faced with much
greater Union forces drew the ire of some of the Confederate
His forces were attached to the division of Maj. Gen. Theophilus H. Holmes
during the Seven Days Battles
. For the rest of 1862
and 1863 he held various commands in North Carolina and Virginia.In
1864 Wise was in command of a brigade in the Department of North
Carolina & Southern Virginia. His brigade defended Petersburg and was
credited with saving the city at the First Battle
of Petersburg and to an extent at the Second
Battle of Petersburg. He then commanded a brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia during
the final stages of the Siege of Petersburg, and was promoted to the rank of major general after the Battle of
He was with Robert
E. Lee at Appomattox
Court House, where he fought bravely but urged Lee to
He was the brother-in-law of Union
Maj. Gen. George G. Meade
After the war Wise resumed his law practice in Richmond, and
settled there for the rest of his life. In 1865 he was unable to
reclaim Rolleston, his plantation outside Norfolk
, before he received pardon from the
president. After Wise entered Confederate service, he and his
family abandoned Rolleston in 1862 as Union troops were taking over
Norfolk. Wise arranged then for residence for his
family in Rocky Mount, Franklin
As a result, Maj. Gen. Terry of the U.S. command in the Norfolk
area did not permit Wise to reclaim the Rolleston property. In an
exchange of letters published in the New York Times
stated that under conditions of parole, Wise had claim only to the
Rocky Mount property where he had been living when he went to war.
The Freedmen's Bureau
Rolleston Hall and other plantations in the Norfolk area as schools
for freedmen. Two hundred were said to be at Rolleston.
Wise returned to law and made a career in Richmond after the war.
In addition, he wrote a historical work based on his public service
entitled Seven Decades of the Union
(1872). His two
surviving sons were both active in state and Federal
One of his sons, John Sergeant Wise, wrote a memoir entitled
The End of an Era.
John Wise was fourteen in the summer of
1860 and served in the Confederate Army late in the war. He wrote
about his own memories of Rolleston and the war years, as well as
about his father's role and their family members. In addition,
Henry A. Wise's grandson Barton Haxall Wise wrote a biography of
the former governor called The Life of Henry A. Wise
(New York, 1899).
- Washington and Jefferson College Digital Archive
- Jennings Cropper Wise, Col. John Wise of England and
Virginia (1617-1695): His Ancestors and Descendants, Richmond:
Virginia Historical Society, 1918; Digitized 2007 by University of
California, p. 196, accessed 20 Mar 2008
- Simpson, p. 23.
- 1850 US
Census, St. George's Parish, Accomack Co, VA, accessed 5 Mar
2008; John S. Wise, The End of an Era, New York:
Houghton Mifflin & Co., 1899, p. 39; Documents of the South
Collection, University of North Carolina Website, accessed 11
- Simpson, p. 95.
- Simpson, p. 222.
- Idris Bowen, "Rolleston Hall, Virginia", The
Rollestonian, Spring 2002, accessed 2 Feb 2008
- New International Encyclopedia, Henry A.
- The Wise and Terry Letters, 31 Jul 1865, The
New York Times, accessed 4 Feb 2008; Idris Bowen, "Rolleston Hall, Virginia", The
Rollestonian, Spring 2002, accessed 2 Feb 2008
- John Sergeant Wise, The End of an Era,
Documenting the South, University of North Carolina
- Henry A. Wise, New International
- Simpson, Craig M., A Good Southerner: A Life of Henry
A. Wise of Virginia, Raleigh: University of North
Carolina Press, 1985
- Wise, Barton Haxall. The Life of Henry A. Wise of
Virginia, 1806-1876. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1899.
googlebooks Accessed January 29, 2008
Retrieved on 2008-02-13