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Henry Horatio Wells

Gov. Henry Horatio Wells

  • April 4, 1868 - September 21, 1869
  • Republican
  • September 17, 1823
  • February 13, 1890
  • New York
  • Married Millicent Leib; several children
  • Resigned
  • Army


HENRY HORATIO WELLS was born in Rochester, New York. Educated in Michigan, he studied law and served as a member of the Michigan House of Representatives from 1854 to 1856. He was appointed Lieutenant Colonel of the Twenty-sixth Michigan Infantry in 1862. When his unit was ordered to Virginia, Wells was detached as provost marshal of Alexandria and then provost marshal general of the defense south of the Potomac River. After Lincoln’s assassination, Wells played a significant role in the manhunt for John Wilkes Booth and was brevetted a brigadier general as a reward for his services. He settled in Richmond, Virginia in 1865 and began a law practice. Appointed provisional governor of Virginia when the Civil War ended, his administration was marked by efforts toward passage of a constitution under which in its initial form blacks would have been given the right to vote while former Confederate soldiers would have been disenfranchised. Through President Ulysses S. Grant’s intervention, disenfranchisement of former Confederate soldiers was prevented, and Wells was defeated for a full gubernatorial term to begin in 1870. He was then appointed U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, serving in that capacity until 1872, when he returned to his law practice. He later moved to Washington, D.C. and served as U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. He retired from public office in 1880 and resumed the practice of law. In 1900, he died in Palmyra, New York.


Library of Virginia, Virginia Governor, Executive Papers, 1866-1980.  State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA  23219.

Lowe, Richard. Republicans and Reconstruction in Virginia, 1856-70. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1991.

The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 5. New York: James T. White & Company.

New York Times, February 14, 1900, p. 7 (obituary).

Salmon, Emily and Edward D. C. Campbell, Jr.  Hornbook of Virginia History. 4th ed. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 1994.

Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 4. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols

The Washington Post, February 15, 1900, p. 9 (obituary).

Younger, Edward and Moore, James Tice, eds. The Governors of Virginia, 1860-1978. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1982.

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