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O. W. Holmes, Jr.

O. W. Holmes, Jr.

Federal (USV)


Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr

(1841 - 1935)

Home State: Massachusetts

Education: Harvard, Class of 1861

Command Billet: none

Branch of Service: Infantry

Unit: 20th Massachusetts Infantry

Before Antietam

Wendell, as he was called, attended Harvard College beginning in 1857. Shortly before he graduated, the Civil War began. Holmes left Harvard to join the Twentieth Massachusetts Regiment. The Regiment didn't do any fighting before graduation, so Holmes was able to complete his exams and graduate in uniform.

He was appointed First Lieutenant, Company A of the regiment on 22 July 1861, and Captain (vice Beckwith, resigned) in March 1862.1

Holmes was wounded three times in the Civil War, most seriously in October 1861 at Ball's Bluff (in the chest).

On the Campaign

He was shot through the neck at Antietam and reportedly left for dead on the field. The wound was not as serious as supposed, and he recovered well: rejoining his regiment near Fredericksburg just over a month later on 19 November.1

The rest of the War

He was again wounded at Chancellorsville in May 1863 while commanding Company G.1

After the War

Though he was later to glorify wartime service, he declined to renew his term of service when it expired. Holmes apparently, and justifiably, felt that he had done more than his duty, and had survived one battle too many to continue tempting fate.

Holmes returned to Boston, decided to study law, and entered Harvard Law School in 1864. Holmes was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1867. For the next fourteen years he practiced law in Boston.

Following a brief stint as Professor at Harvard, he was appointed to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, the state's highest court, where he served for 20 years.

In 1902 he was appointed to the US Supreme Court by President Theodore Roosevelt. He would serve on the Supreme Court longer than any other person -- thirty years. He was called "The Great Dissenter" because he was often at odds with his fellow justices and was capable of eloquently expressing his dissents.

Holmes resigned due to ill health in 1932, at age ninety. He died in 1935 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery next to his wife.

References & notes

See a bare bones bio from the Political Graveyard.

More on the Web

There's a lot on the Web. You could begin with a page with articles and links to the whole Holmes Clan, an essay mostly about his legal career, and a feature at the Harvard Regiment site.

For a most excellent treatment of the events following his wounding at Antietam, and his father's journey to find him, see Jim Buchanan's 4 part blog series [one, two, three, four] at Walking the West Woods


3/8/1841; Boston, MA


3/6/1935; Washington, DC; burial in Arlington National Cemetery, VA


1   Bruce, George Anson, The Twentieth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1861-1865, Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1906, pp. 6, 11, 80, 181, 258  [AotW citation 1105]