Lambdin P. Milligan

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Lambdin Purdy Milligan

Birthdate: (77)
Death: 1889 (77)
Immediate Family:

Son of Moses Milligan and Mary Milligan
Brother of Martha Pumphrey

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Lambdin P. Milligan

Lambdin Purdy Milligan (March 24, 1812 – December 21, 1899) was a lawyer, farmer, and a leader of the Knights of the Golden Circle during the American Civil War. In 1864, he was unlawfully given a capital sentence, and later set free by the United States Supreme Court, in the case which still bears his name, Ex parte Milligan.

Early life

Milligan was a native of Kirkwood Township, Belmont County, Ohio, derived from Irish descent, and born of Moses Milligan Sr, a soldier in the American Revolutionary War, and Mary (Purday or Pourday) Milligan. His formal schooling ended when he was eight years old. When seventeen years old, his father wanted Milligan to gain a college education, in order to later practice medicine, but his mother stopped that from occurring, desiring that if none of the other children could have it, neither should Milligan. This caused Milligan to leave home, despite his father threatening to disinherit him if he did. He became a lawyer on October 27, 1835 as the head of a class of nine which included Edwin M. Stanton, a member of Abraham Lincoln's Cabinet during the war. Later that same day, Milligan married his first wife, Sarah L. Ridgeway. He later moved to Huntington, near Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and mostly represented small railroad companies. Throughout this he suffered from either meningitis and/or epilepsy.

Although outspoken in political affairs, he was never a politician as he was too "frank" to do well as such. He always seemed to have a better understanding of issues.


He publicly protested the Union's waging war against the Confederacy, with Indiana Gov. Oliver P. Morton his most frequent target. It was widely believed that Milligan was involved in a huge conspiracy against the United States by the end of 1863.

Federal authorities were convinced that by May 1864 Milligan was in touch with Confederate agents. Milligan was among those arrested on October 5, 1864 by order of General Alvin P. Hovey and tried before a military tribunal starting on October 21, 1864. Since August, Milligan had been bedridden, with his left leg becoming useless due to erysipelas since the previous August. No warrant or affidavit was given to show Milligan's arrest was authorized, and the arresting officers were told to shoot Milligan should any unwarranted noise be made when they dragged him from his home at four o'clock in the morning. Milligan was told that he must prove his innocence.

The charges against Milligan and the others were:

Conspiracy against the Government of the United States

Affording aid and comfort to rebels against the authority of the United States

Inciting insurrection

Disloyal practices

Violation of the laws of war

Specifically, Milligan, William A. Bowles, Harrison H. Dodd, Stephen Horsey and Andrew Humphreys were accused of planning to steal weapons and invade Union prisoner-of-war camps to release Confederate prisoners. They were convicted and sentenced to death by hanging on December 10, 1864, with the date of execution set to May 19, 1865. During the trials, the military commission actually made speeches at Republican rallies.

Milligan was forced to walk to his prison after sentencing, even though his leg was useless and he was unused to using a cane. He was thrown into a filthy prison where the smell of a nearby hog slaughtering shop lingered. His arm had been paralyzed and he developed a fever during his incarceration. Despite this, the U.S. Army officials threw him into the cell with one inch cracks that allowed chilly winter air to permeate. On at least one occasion, Milligan's food was thrown on the filthy floor.

The four prisoners appealed and were able to argue the case after the Civil War ended, claiming that they should not have been tried by a military court. Two days before the hanging, the five men had their sentences reduced by then-President Andrew Johnson to life sentences (Dodd had escaped to Canada by this time). On April 3, 1866, citing habeas corpus, the Supreme Court ruled in an opinion by Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase that they should be released. Milligan's lawyers, which included future President of United States James A. Garfield and future Governor of Indiana Albert G. Porter used in defense of Milligan such things as English jurisdiction from the eighteenth-century involving a royal governor in one case, and the Royal Navy in another. The Supreme Court granted Milligan and the others petitions to be released from custody on December 17, 1866, stating in a case named after Milligan that the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act did not authorize military tribunals, that as a matter of constitutional law the suspension of habeas corpus did not itself authorize trial by military tribunals, and that neither the Act nor the laws of war permitted the imposition of martial law where civilian courts were open and operating unimpeded. The ruling was against the procedure, as Milligan and the others were indeed involved in a conspiracy.


Milligan later sued Hovey for conspiracy, false imprisonment, and libel, asking for $500,000 in damages. Milligan won, and received the small settlement of five dollars. The defendants were represented by future President Benjamin Harrison, and Harrison's argument that Milligan's actions prolonged the war was the cause for Milligan receiving only five dollars.

Upon returning home to Huntington after the trial, Milligan was given a "great ovation". He returned to practicing law, and was kept in high esteem by his peers. After his wife Sarah died on November 20, 1870, Milligan married Mrs. Maria L. (née Humphreys) Cavender, a native of Madison, Indiana, on August 12, 1873. His health improved in his later life. He eventually died, though not of hanging, as initially feared.

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Lambdin P. Milligan's Timeline

Age 77