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Background on Governor Henry Wise
By: Judith Cumbea Ware
Judy C. Ware

HenryWise.gif (83012 bytes)     Josiah Ware had several communications with Henry Alexander Wise over the years.  Wise was a native of Virginia himself, and became a member of congress in 1832.  He served from 1833 until 1844 in that capacity.  He was active in the election of President Tyler.

     After his service in the congress, Henry Wise was then elected as the 33rd Governor of the state of Virginia.   He held that office until 1860.  It was during this time (in 1858) that Governor Wise signed the commissioning papers for Josiah that bestowed upon him the rank of Colonel.  One of Wise’s last acts as Governor was to sign the death warrant of John Brown.

     Henry Wise was said to be a “handsome man with a high forehead and a slender, chiseled face.  His hair was only slightly gray, and his jaw was clean shaved.”  (Ref. #1)  He was quite gregarious and definitely ambitious.  In addition to being thought of as good-looking, Wise was also known to be quite a “spellbinder” with his oration skills.  He could talk for hours on almost any subject. Unfortunately, he was also “vain as a peacock” (ref. #1) and on several occasions (in his younger years) he let his emotions govern his good sense.  Most people found him very charming however, especially during his early political years.     

     After serving as governor, Wise settled with his family in 1860 on a large plantation called Rolleston that was located near Norfolk, Virginia.  He wrote a long letter to Josiah from there in which he described how difficult it was moving into his new home which was obviously suffering from disrepair.  (Ref. #2)  He also had the added worry of his beloved 3rd wife.  Her health was declining; a source of great concern for him.

     It was no secret to most people that Henry Wise had his eyes set on becoming President of the United States in 1860.  That very fact is part of the reason why he seemed to initially waffle between supporting secession and keeping the Union intact.  Ultimately, however, he felt “great contempt for Lincoln and the entire Republican leadership.”  (Ref. #1)  As events began to unfold just prior to the war and he knew his hopes of the presidency would never come to pass, his hesitation completely disappeared.  “By February 1861, Henry Wise had become the state’s most influential secessionist.” (Ref.#1)

     When Virginia went to war, so did Henry Wise.  He joined the Confederate army and serviced as a Brig. General during that time.  He was at Appomattox with Lee, and sadly was never allowed to reclaim his home at Rolleston.  He died in 1876.     


1.    Dissonance: The Turbulent Days Between Fort Sumter and Bull Run by: David Detzer   Published by Harcourt, Inc.  Copyright 2006

2.  Letter from Henry Wise to Josiah Ware Dated Feb. 1860  Transcribed by: Judy Ware 2008  Original is owned by Jane & Scott Dudgeon 

3.  Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia  2008

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