Henry Lawrence Burnett life and biography

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Henry Lawrence Burnett biography

Date of birth : 1838-12-26
Date of death : 1916-01-04
Birthplace : Ohio, United States
Nationality : American
Category : Famous Figures
Last modified : 2010-06-10
Credited as : Soldier and lawyer, ,

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Burnett, Henry Lawrence (December 26, 1838 - January 4, 1916), Union soldier and lawyer, was born in Youngstown, Ohio, the son of Henry and Nancy (Jones) Burnett, and a descendant of William Burnet, colonial governor of New York, 1720-28.

At fifteen, determined upon getting an education, he stole away from home, equipped with a bundle of clothing, forty-six dollars, and copies of Thaddeus of Warsaw and The Lady of Lyons, and walked about one hundred miles to Chester Academy. Admitted to the school, he remained for two or three years, when he entered the Ohio State National Law School, from which he graduated with the degree of LL.B. in 1859. In the same year he began the practise of law at Warren. On the outbreak of the Civil War he became active in support of the Union. At one of these meetings he was challenged by a man in the audience with the question, "Why don't you enlist?" "I will," he promptly replied. He at once volunteered in Company C of the 2nd Ohio Cavalry, of which he was chosen captain on Aug. 23. With his regiment he was sent to Missouri and saw service in the actions at Carthage, Fort Wayne, and Gibson, later taking part in the campaigns in southern Kentucky. In the fall of 1863, with the rank of major, he was appointed judge-advocate of the Department of the Ohio. A year later at Gov. Morton's request, he was sent to Indiana to prosecute members of the Knights of the Golden Circle and later took part in the cases growing out of the Chicago conspiracy to liberate the Confederate prisoners at Camp Douglas. In these trials he obtained seven convictions. He was also prominent in the trial of L. P. Milligan for treason before a military commission. He was brevetted a colonel of volunteers Mar. 8, 1865, and in the omnibus promotions of Mar. 13 was brevetted a brigadier-general. In the prosecution of the assassins of Lincoln he served under Judge-Advocate Joseph Holt [q.v.] with Gen. John A. Bingham [q.v.] as a special assistant, and seems to have borne a major part in the preparation of the evidence. After the trials he moved to Cincinnati, where he practised law with Judge T. W. Bartley until 1869, and then with Ex-Governor J. D. Cox and John F. Follett until 1872. He then moved to New York, where at various times he was in partnership with E. W. Stoughton, with B. H. Bristow, William Peet, and W. S. Opdyke, and with Judge James Emott. He was for a time counsel for the Erie railroad, and was engaged in many noted cases, including the litigation over the Emma mine, in which he acted as attorney for the English bondholders. Probably his greatest case was that of the Rutland Railroad Company against John B. Page: in the closing argument he spoke for sixteen hours with a "consummate ability" that stamped him "the peer of the greatest advocate of the age" (D. McAdam and others, Bench and Bar of New York, 1899, II, 64). He was an organization Republican, a participant in the party councils, and was on especially close terms with McKinley who used to call him "Lightning Eyes Burnett." In January 1898 McKinley appointed him federal district attorney for the southern district of New York, and on the completion of his four-year term he was reappointed by Roosevelt.

Burnett was married three times. His last wife was Agnes Suffern Tailer, of a prominent New York family, who survived him. In his later years he spent much of his time at his country home, Hillside Farm, Goshen, N. Y., where he kept a large stable of harness horses which he drove on the track of the Goshen Driving Club. In the middle of November 1915, while at the farm, he was taken ill with pneumonia. Despite his serious condition he insisted on being taken by train to his city home, where, two months later, he died.

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