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S.W. Downey

S.W. Downey

Federal (USV)

Lieutenant Colonel

Stephen Wheeler Downey

(1839 - 1902)

Home State: Maryland

Education: Georgetown College (DC)

Command Billet: Detachment Commander

Branch of Service: Infantry

Unit: 3rd Maryland, PHB

Before Antietam

From Allegheny County, Maryland, and a recent college (law?) student, he enlisted as Private in Company C, 3rd Maryland Infantry, Potomac Home Brigade on 31 October 1861.1 He was promoted to Lieutenant, and by March 1862 was Lieutenant Colonel and in command of Federal troops at Romney, Virginia (now West Virginia). 2 By May he and his command were serving in Augur's Division, Banks' Army Corps. 3

On the Campaign

Early in the Campaign he commanded the post at Kearneysville, between Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry. On September 10th he was leading a patrol of 20 troopers from the 1st Maryland Cavalry, which had earlier crossed into Virginia and was returning in the vicinity of Boonsboro. His patrol encountered Confederate General Jackson and his staff, then in advance of their troops, on the Sharpsburg Road. Jackson fled and his escort came up and skirmished with the Federal patrol. Downey was wounded in this action, and General Jackson escaped unharmed 4. Downey and his command were captured with the garrison of Harpers Ferry on 15 September.

The rest of the War

He was discharged shortly after, because of his wounds, and set up a law practice in Washington, DC.5

After the War

He moved to Laramie, Wyoming, then a Territory, in 1869. He practiced law, was a US Deputy Surveyor, as was his brother William, and was in mining in the Medicine Bow.5 He was Wyoming State Treasurer from 1872 to 18756, and on the Wyoming State Board for the Philadelphia Centenial Exhibition of 1876.7 He was elected Territorial Representative to the US Congress (1879-81), but did not run for reelection. He was then active in Wyoming politics in the Territorial House of Representatives (1886-88, 1890-92); at the State constitutional convention in 1889; trustee of the University of Wyoming (1891-97) for a time its president; in the new State House of Representatives (1893-97) ; and prosecuting attorney of Albany County from 1899 to his death.1

References & notes

Basic bio information from Woods8 and service history confirmed in Wilmer9. The photo above is from one published by Hunt10, crediting Paul R. Teetor's A Matter of Hours: Treason at Harpers Ferry (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1982)

A stained glass window depicting the parable of the Sower was placed in his memory at St Matthew's (Episcopal) Cathedral, Laramie, WY in about 1930 (from their Newsletter, pg. 7). His son Sheridan (1884-1951) was Democratic US Senator from California (1939-50).


07/25/1839; Western Port, MD


08/03/1902; Denver, CO; burial in Greenhill Cemetery, Laramie, WY


1   US Congress, Congressional Biographical Directory, Published c. 2000, first accessed 01 January 2002, <>, Source page: /scripts/  [AotW citation 472]

2   Hall, Charles C, and North River Mills Society for Antiquarian Arts & Diffusion of Knowledge, Historic Hampshire County, West Virginia, first accessed 01 March 2006, <>, Source page: "Romney in the Civil War" (/civilwar/rom-cw.htm)  [AotW citation 473]

3   Bates, Samuel Penniman, History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-65, Harrisburg: State of Pennsylvania, 1868-1871, 109th Inf  [AotW citation 474]

4   Harsh, Joseph L., Taken at the Flood, Kent (Oh): Kent State University Press, 1999, pp. 176-177  [AotW citation 475]

5   US Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Wyoming Bureau of Land Management, Published c. 2000, first accessed 01 March 2006, <>, Source page: /cadastral/surveyors/downey.htm  [AotW citation 476]

6   State of Wyoming, Office of the State Treasurer, Wyoming State Treasurers, Cheyenne: State of Wyoming, 2000  [AotW citation 477]

7   Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania Board of Centennial Managers, Pennsylvania and the Centennial Exhibition, 2 vols., Philadelphia: Gillin & Nagle, 1878, Appendix C, pg. 47  [AotW citation 478]

8   Woods, Lawrence M., Wyoming Biographies, Worland (WY): High Plains Publishing Company, 1991, Pg. 80  [AotW citation 479]

9   Wilmer, L. Allison, J. H. Jarrett and Geo. W. F. Vernon, History and Roster of Maryland Volunteers, War of 1861-5, Volume 1, Baltimore: Guggenheimer, Weil, & Co., 1899, pg. 571
Maryland State Archives, Archives of Maryland Online, Published c. 2002, first accessed 01 January 2002, <>, Source page: Volume 367, Page 571  [AotW citation 490]

10   Hunt, Roger D., Colonels in Blue: Union Army Colonels of the Civil War - Mid Atlantic States, Mechanicsburg (PA): Stackpole Books, 2007, pg. 219  [AotW citation 1073]