Gilded Age Collections

Collection ID: GA-10
Location: GA-10

(Description ID: 594233)

Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums

Benjamin F. Coates


Biographical Sketch
Scope and Content

The Benjamin F. Coates Collection was donated to the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in 1941 by the Coates daughters.

Biographical Sketch
Benjamin Franklin Coates, son of Aquila and Rachel Pidgeon Coates, was born in Wilmington, Clinton County, Ohio, in 1827. His parents, Quakers of Winchester, Virginia, migrated to Ohio four years prior to Coates’ birth. Coates studied medicine with Dr. Aquila Jones of Wilmington, the Ohio Medical College in Cincinnati, Ohio, and at the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. He began the practice of medicine in Highland County, Ohio. In 1857, Coates married Elizabeth J. Patterson, the daughter of John J. Patterson, a prominent politician of Adams County, Ohio. In 1861, Dr. Coates was elected to the Ohio Senate as a Democrat. At odds with his party, Coates voted with the Republicans on all matters relative to the Civil War. Concluding his legislative duties in May of 1862, Dr. Coates enlisted as the lieutenant colonel of the 91st Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He received a leave of absence from his military duties in the spring of 1863 and 1864 to fulfill his congressional duties. Colonel Coates was wounded at the Battle of Halltown, Virginia. He was later promoted to the colonelcy of his regiment and brevetted brigadier general in March of 1865.

Following the war, Coates continued his medical practice in Portsmouth, Ohio. He became the deputy collector of internal revenue, the receiver of the Cincinnati and Eastern Railway Co., and a member of the board of elections of Portsmouth. Rutherford B. Hayes, while serving as governor of Ohio, appointed him to serve on the board of the Ohio Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home. During the Civil War, the regiments of Hayes and Coates were brigaded together in the Shenandoah Valley. Dr. Coates died at Portsmouth, Ohio in 1899, leaving a widow, a son, Joseph, and two daughters, Lillian and Sarah.

Scope and Content
The Benjamin F. Coates Collection consists of approximately two hundred letters, the bulk of which were written by Coates to his wife during his Civil War service. Coates served as colonel and lieutenant colonel of the 91st Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He participated in the battles of South Mountain, Cloyd’s Mountain, Winchester, Cedar Creek, and Fisher’s Hill and the pursuit of John Hunt Morgan. The correspondence is arranged chronologically and divided by year. Coates discusses: his motives for enlisting and remaining in the Civil War, command structure, battle plans, court martial inquiries, and the work of the Military Board of Examiners. He describes the capture of General George Crook by Rebel guerillas in February 1865. Coates gives some excellent battle accounts of the 91st. Coates comments on his admiration for Sheridan, the war’s end, and the assassination of Lincoln. Filled with plans for his post-war career, Coates was eager to leave the service. He speculated that Crook’s capture would delay the acceptance of his resignation. Coates frequently relied on his wife’s advice concerning their financial affairs and post-war career plans. Coates was granted leaves of absence throughout the war to take his seat in the Ohio legislature.

A few letters from Coates to his wife exist for the year 1881. A separate file contains photocopies of miscellaneous correspondence to Coates from Hayes, Russell Hastings, Webb C. Hayes and John Sherman. The originals may be found in the John Sherman Papers and the Rutherford B. Hayes Papers. Also filed separately is a series of letters (1876-1880) from Coates’ son, Joseph, to his parents during his years at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.

Ac. 147
201 Items

1. Civil War correspondence: 1862
2. Civil War correspondence: 1863
3. Civil War correspondence: 1864
4. Civil War correspondence: 1865
5. Coates to his wife: 1881
6. Coates correspondence: Undated
7. Photocopies of letters to Coates (Originals in other collections)
8. Joe Coates correspondence: 1876-1880