Charles Denby Biography Page


Father: Nathaniel Denby
Mother: Sarah Jane Harvey
Date and Place of Birth: 6/16/1830.  Mount Joy, Botetourt County, Virginia
Spouse: Martha Fitch
Children: 8 children, of whom 6 survived: Graham Fitch (b.12/25/1859 - d. 6/19/1919), Charles, Jr. (b. 1861), Harriet Ethel (b. 1863), Wythe (b. 1866), Edwin (b. 1870), Thomas Garvin (b. 1878), 
Date and Place of Death:  1/13/1904.  Jamestown, New York (while on a book lecture tour).
Place of Burial: Oak Hill Cemetery, Evansville, Indiana (Vanderburgh County).
Military History: Wounded at the Battle of Perryville, KY.  Was later commissioned Colonel of the 80th Indiana.  See details below. 
Submitter of Information: Graham Morey, Larry Harms, Cora (Toodie) Nuffer, Tim Beckman

Source: Horrall, S. F., History of the Forty-Second Indiana Volunteer Infantry, p. 10.

 Source:  Horrall, S. F., History of the Forty-Second Indiana Volunteer Infantry, Published 1892. pp 11-12.

Charles Denby was born in the state of Virginia, June 16, 1830.  He was thirty-one years old when he entered the United States army as lieutenant-colonel of the 42d Regiment Indiana Volunteers, and at the time was a lawyer by profession.  Before the organization of the regiment, immediately after the fall of Sumter, he raised a voluntary company and guarded the powder magazine near Evansville, Ind.  Before the organization of the 42d, he drilled company A of the regiment a long time, and that was the nucleus of the regiment.

After organization, and sometime in September, 1861, he made an expedition with four companies up Green River to protect the first lock at Calhoun, Ky.  At the battle of Perryville, Ky., October 8, 1861 (typo in book.  This should be 1862), Col. Denby was wounded twice and had his horse killed under him.  After the battle, for gallantry in action, he was made colonel of the 80th Indiana, remaining in command as a full colonel until February, 1863, when he resigned on a surgeon’s certificate of disability.  After resignation, he resumed the practice of law in Evansville, which he followed until appointed United States minister at Peking, China, by President Cleveland, which position he has continued in to this day.  The fact that he remained in the position under an administration opposite to his own political views would indicate that in diplomatic relations his conduct has been satisfactory to the United States government at Washington, D.C.

Col. Denby is of Revolutionary stock.  His grandfather, Mathew Harvey, was a soldier in “Lee’s Legion.”  Colonel Denby had two brothers in the active Navy and one in the Department – the war for the Union.

His wife, a daughter of Dr. Graham N. Fitch, Logansport, Ind., can boast patriotic lineage.  Her grandfather, Frederick Fitch, lost a leg in the War of 1812.  Her great-grandfathers on both sides were in the Revolutionary war.  Her father was colonel of an Indiana regiment, and his son, Henry S. Fitch, was brigade quarter-master, under Gen. Sherman, his half brother, Leroy Fitch, commanded gun boats on the Ohio River.  His nephew, Frederick Fitch, was in an Indiana regiment.  So, it is seen, all of Col. Denby’s people and all his wife’s were in the war for the Union.

The following is a letter from Col. Denby to Capt. S. F. Horrall:

U. S. Delegation at Peking China
Charles Denby, Minister
June 12, 1892

Capt. S. F. Horrall, Washington, Ind.

SIR AND COMRADE:  I can not write of the 42d Regiment Ind. Vols. without praising it.  It was a splendid body of men, - were disciplined, gentlemanly, properly drilled and steady and brave in action.  It was the easiest regiment in the world to get along with.  I loved it and all its members, and as far as I know, it repaid me with absolute devotion.  I write this to you from Peking, China.


Charles Denby, Minister

 Source: Horrall, S.F., History of the Forty-Second Indiana Volunteer Infantry, Published 1892.  p. 18.

Biographical Sketch of the Hon. Chas. Denby, LL.D.
 Source:  Denby, Charles, China and Her People, Vol. I, Published 1906. pp ix-xvi

CHARLES DENBY, eldest son of Nathaniel and Jane Denby, was born at Mt. Joy, Botetourt County, Virginia, on June 16, 1830. Mt. Joy was the country residence of his grandfather, Matthew Harvey, and it is still pointed out to visitors to Virginia as a place of note.  

Mr. Denby received his early education at the Tom Fox Academy, Hanover County, Virginia, attending later Georgetown College, D. C, and the Virginia Military Institute, from which he graduated with high honours in 1850.

During his early youth, his father, who was a Virginia ship-owner, interested in the European trade, was appointed to a post at Marseilles, France, the functions whereof were similar to those of a consul-general, but then known as Naval Agent of the United States. On taking up his post, Nathaniel Denby took his son with him, and these years of boyhood spent in France formed an important period in the education of the youth. There he acquired the French language, his fluent and idiomatic control of which he never lost, and which, in his later diplomatic career, was of inestimable advantage to him. The years spent in France were also of great utility in laying the foundation of the military training, afterward perfected at the Virginia Military Institute, which enabled him, at the call to arms in 1861, to place at the disposal of his country the services of a master of military drill and tactics. Colonel Denby in after life frequently referred with affectionate pride to the lessons he had learned at the College Royal, at Marseilles, and their great value to him.

On graduating from the Virginia Military Institute, Mr. Denby went to Selma, Ala., where he taught school for three years. In 1853, he removed to Evansville, Indiana, which remained his home until his death. Evansville was then a town of six thousand inhabitants, which, from its position on the Ohio River, at the terminus of the Wabash and Erie Canal, seemed destined to a great development. At Evansville, Colonel Denby devoted himself to the study of law and to newspaper work. He represented his county in the Legislature of Indiana, during the session of 1856-57. While in the Legislature Mr. Denby became acquainted with Miss Martha Fitch, daughter of United States Senator Fitch, of Indiana, and they were afterward married. This union was an ideally happy one, and was only broken by his death.

On the day Fort Sumter was attacked, Mr. Denby realized that a bitter war was upon the nation. Against his Virginia birth and training lay his devotion to his country. Without hesitation his course was chosen, and, closing his office, he at once proceeded to organize a company for home service under the stars and stripes. Under his able command these troops became proficient in military tactics, and finally, on the call for troops in July, 1861, entered active service in the Forty-second Regiment, Indiana Volunteers. Mr. Denby was appointed lieutenant-colonel of this regiment, and served with it until October 10, 1862, when he was appointed colonel of the Eightieth Regiment, Indiana Volunteers. He was several times engaged in battle and was twice struck, though only slightly wounded. In February, 1863, he was compelled to resign, on surgeon's certificate, and returned to the practice of the law at Evansville.

Colonel Denby was always identified with the Democratic party, and was always an active participant in its campaigns. While never a candidate for political office, he was deep in the councils of the party, and was repeatedly delegate at large from Indiana to the Democratic National Conventions.

On the election of President Cleveland, Colonel Denby was put forward by his friends as a candidate for a post in the diplomatic service, and on May 29, 1885, was appointed Minister to China. His peculiar aptitude for the profession of diplomacy, his intense application to the duties of his post, his deep reading and habits of careful observation, as well as the lofty integrity which inspired his whole career, soon showed him to be an invaluable servant of his country in that position. Rarely has an American minister in any capital obtained so universally the approval of his own superiors, his countrymen resident in the country to which he was accredited, and at the same time of the authorities of that country. Colonel Denby's stay in China, covering three administrations and part of the fourth, was marked by the unbroken confidence of the Chinese authorities. To him, more than to any other foreign representative, they turned in their problems and difficulties, and by his advice they were largely guided in their relations with other powers. This exalted regard he merited by the strict integrity and the disinterestedness of his attitude. At all times attentive solely to the interests of his government and his fellow citizens, he never for one instant availed himself of his influence to secure any personal advantage for himself. He was in China at a time when international politics was in a disturbed condition, when mighty governmental forces were at work in the advancement of grants and concessions, when immense sums were spent in the promotion of railway and mining schemes, and when influence or "pull" with the Chinese government was a marketable commodity. During this episode of China's recent history, Colonel Denby pursued unsullied his lofty course, America's name thus coming untarnished out of a period which left its stain on the reputation of several nations.

In no feature of his term of office as minister was Colonel Denby met with more conspicuous success nor warmer appreciation than in his relations with the American missionaries. He early realized what a large part of America's interest in China the missionary interest constituted. One of his earliest duties was to inform himself concerning their work, their personal character, their standing in the communities in which they laboured. To this duty he, with characteristic zeal, devoted attentive efforts. He travelled much about the Empire, visiting and inspecting schools, colleges, hospitals, and chapels. Wherever possible he made personal friends amongst the missionaries, and, hearing at first hand their reports of their success, the stories of their grievances, and being enabled by his official relations with the authorities, high and low, of the Empire to familiarize himself with both sides of all controversies, he was placed in a position to form an opinion of missions and their agents which no man could dispute.

Colonel Denby served as Minister to China during Mr. Cleveland's first administration, Mr. Harrison's, and Mr. Cleveland's second administration, as well as for a year or more under President McKinley. President McKinley accepted his resignation, as he told a personal friend, because of the demand for the post in his own party, not for any reason that reflected on Colonel Denby.

Immediately upon his arrival in this country in September, 1898, Colonel Denby was appointed a member of the commission to inquire into the conduct of the war with Spain. Even before the adjournment of that commission he was made a member of the first commission to the Philippines, together with Admiral Dewey, General Otis, President Schurman, of Cornell University, and Professor Worcester, of Michigan University. To this work he brought the valuable aid of his wide knowledge and experience of the East, which were keenly appreciated by his colleagues on the commission and by the administration itself.

After retirement from official life, Colonel Denby settled down at his old home at Evansville, Indiana, and devoted himself to literary labours, study, and the pleasures of home life. He was always very happy in his domestic relations, and enjoyed throughout life the devotion of a wide circle of friends. Physically he was a specimen of perfect manhood. He drew to himself all who knew him by a noble bearing and generous nature. His physical proportions and handsome face made him a marked man in any community. He died suddenly, at the age of seventy-four years, at Jamestown, New York, to which city he had gone to deliver a lecture.


Evansville Journal-News

Wednesday Evening, January 13, 1904





 Lectured Last Night at Jamestown, N. Y., Having Left
Home Last Thursday for a Ten Days’ Journey.


 Won Fame as a Soldier and Diplomat – United States Minister
to China for Years – Story of His Career.

 Journal-News Special Service.

            JAMESTOWN, N.Y., Jan. 13—Col. Chas. Denby, of Evansville, died here suddenly this morning after having delivered a lecture here last night.

 (By Associated Press)

            JAMESTOWN, N.Y., Jan. 13 – Co. Charles Denby, of Evansville, Ind., United States minister to China, during the administrations of Presidents Cleveland and Harrison; died here suddenly to-day.  Col. Denby lectured here last night.  He was about 70 years of age.

            About midnight Col. Denby was stricken with heart failure.  He grew steadily weaker until death ensued about 8 o’clock.


             News of Col. Denby’s death at Jamestown, N.Y., was received in Evansville by James L. Orr, from the Rev. Otis A. Smith, formerly pastor of the Walnut Street Presbyterian church of this city and a close personal friend of Col. Denby.

            Mr. Orr communicated the sad news to Graham F. Denby, the Colonel’s son, at the family residence, 809 Upper Second Street.

            Mrs. Denby learned of her husband’s death through her son.  She was prostrated, and has been under the care of a physician and a nurse throughout the day.

            Arrangements for the return of the body to Evansville have not been made.  James L. Orr, an intimate friend of the family, to whom the first information came, could not say this forenoon what preparations would be made in the course of the day.  Graham Denby said some one from Evansville would go to Jamestown to accompany the remains, but who he could not say.

            Ned Denby, one of the distinguished man’s younger sons, who lives at Detroit, will probably go directly to Jamestown.


          The shock to the members of Col. Denby’s family at the announcement of his death was extreme.  When Col. Denby left Evansville last Thursday he was in fairly good health and well able to undertake the journey of ten day’s duration which was to take him as far east as Jamestown and as far west as Kansas City, Mo.

            No less shocking was the announcement of the death to the colonel’s intimate and longtime acquaintances in the city.  As the news of his death spread, there were many visitors at the office of Col. Thomas E. Garvin on Third Street to confirm the report, and many expressions of keen regret and sorrow.


             Col. Denby left Evansville last Thursday noon, going direct to Buffalo, N.Y., on a lecturing tour.  Following hi lecture at Buffalo he went to Jamestown, where he delivered a lecture last night.  He planned to go from Jamestown to Kansas City, and to visit his son Ned and Garvin fro a short time before returning home to Evansville.

            Heart failure, the cause of death, attacked the distinguished man at midnight.  The telegram to Mr. Orr conveyed only the brief news of death by heart failure.   Whether the stroke was a direct result of the evening’s strain on the lecture platform is not known.

            For some time Col. Denby was in rather enfeebled health, but his condition was not so serious as to occasion alarm and was not of such a character as to keep him from his ordinary and multifold activities.  During his ministerial service in Chine he suffered slightly from a minor ailment and was three times in the hands of surgeons, once in Pekin, another time at Yokahama; and a third time considerably later in Paris.  These operations were successful but their effect was such as to weaken his physique of a man of his advanced years.


            Of recent years, and since his final retirement from public life, Col. Denby divided his time between literary labors and the lecture platform.  From his wide knowledge of China, and the various phases of civilization in that country, together with the invasion of religious and mercantile civilizing agencies, he was in demand for lectures, and spent a considerable part of his time thus.

            In addition he contributed regularly to magazines and periodical of prominence, his peculiar field of writing being China and her problems.  His long residence in the Orient familiarized him with all the problems of eastern diplomacy and he was perhaps better equipped than any man in the United States to write at first hand of the recent Russian-Japanese imbroglio.

            His literary work began long before his retirement from the ministerial post abroad, and he wrote on the scene many entertaining, historical and instructive articles on phases of Chinese civilization and political development.  Because of his knowledge in this line his writings had wide circulation among missionaries throughout the world.


             Various subjects connected with the history  and modernization of China furnished the topics for his lectures.  He sometimes spoke on the single subject China, and gave a broad and learned review of the Oriental empire’s history and influences of modern thought and action on the country.  Another lecture which was of special interest to church workers in the country was that of “The Missionary in China.”

            As a friend at court of the then condemned missionaries Col. Denby wielded a powerful influence with the rulers of the empire, and the missionaries held him in high esteem.  He was instrumental in getting the missionaries recognized footing in the country.


             Following his retirement from the post of minister plenipotentiary to China, in the first year of President McKinley’s administration, Col. Denby returned to the United States, and resided for a short time in Evansville.  The Spanish war, and questions arising from the accession of the Philippines, brought him again into prominence as one of the few men best equipped for the task of investigating conditions in the Australasian archipelago, and he was appointed in the summer or 1898 as a member of the Philippine commission.  The next year he spent in Manila and in touring the islands, returning to the United States early in the year 1900.  He was still engaged at Washington and in the Eastern states on the report of the commission’s finding when Boxer arisings and subsequent military operations attracted the attention of the world.  He was in this crisis a conspicuous advisor to President McKinley, and the part of United States in that eventful year were largely governed by Col. Denby’s knowledge.


             In his personal traits Col. Denby was a reserved man, but his friendships were long and steadfast.  Thomas E. Garvin, speaking of him this forenoon, said he was a man of peculiar ability.

            “When he entered our law office as a very young man, early in the fifties,” said Mr. Garvin, “He was silent and determined, given to much hard work.  He was a public speaker of extraordinary power, although not gifted with a decorative oratory.  One of the earliest speeches he made in the city was at a meeting in the old Mozart hall on First Street near the corner of Vine.  The slavery question in Kansas was up for debate, and the young Mr. Denby maintained the Democratic argument with conspicuous strength against his opponent, Conrad Baker, who was as it happened was at the very time his preceptor in law.

            “Col. Denby was never an active politician.  His work for the party in years following the war consisted mainly of public speeches, and he attained a wide reputation for them.  His speeches in the campaign of 1884 were frequent, strong, and widely quoted.   In recognition of his service in that presidential election President Cleveland conferred upon him the Chinese post which he held with such distinction for nearly twelve years.”


             Col. Denby was a close friend of many of the leading diplomats of the world.  The delicate questions sp often arising in China, and his peculiar ability to meet them, brought him into close contact with all the foremost statesmen.  Especially was he well thought of by President McKinley. The two were in close consultation in 1899 and 1900 over the Philippines and Boxer trouble, and at the time was sealed a friendship which had originated earlier in the president’s administration for the strong man of the diplomatic service in China.

            It is recalled that one of the last public appearances of Col. Denby in Evansville was at the public memorial morning after the death of the late president.  He read a worthy tribute to the dead president and the tears he could not suppress as he stood before the mournful audience were the solemn sign of a keen personal loss.

            His voluminous writings on the Chinese had reached the proportions of many volumes.  Within the last year Col. Denby had combined and edited that with many large and valuable additions, for publication in a single volume.  This is ready for the press and will be issued as a post-humous publication.


             Col. Denby was one of the few foreigners to have  conferred on him the “Order of the Golden Dragon,” an order of great antiquity and distinguished honor which falls only to the greatest men of the Chinese empire.  This election came to Col. Denby through the efforts of Li Hung Chang, and was in recognition of his distinguished service in arbitrating the war between Japan and China.  Col. John W. Foster, also of Evansville, was the representative of China in the peace conference.

            As a diplomat Col. Denby won the praises of all the nations of the world.  His efforts were largely responsible for the opening of China to modern (unreadable) conditions, and this he accomplished in various ways by educating the leaders in the Oriental country to the necessity of trade.

            In the latter years of his diplomatic service he was dean of the corps in Pekin.


         The Brotherhood of St. Paul, and auxiliary organization of the Trinity M. E. church, had arranged with Col. Denby to deliver a lecture during the latter part of this month, and arrangements were making for that event.  It was the intention of the promoters of the movement to invite all church congregations of the community to join with them and pay Col. Denby the tribute that he so richly deserved.  It was to have been given in the largest hall in the city and was to have been free so far as the public was concerned.  Col. Denby’s long residence in China and his knowledge of Oriental affairs made him thoroughly familiar with missionary work among the heathens of the far east, and the information that he imported from time to time to church workers and missionary societies has been of inestimable value to the causes in general.

            In speaking to-day of the proposed lecture of Col. Denby, Rev. M. A. Farr pastor of Trinity M. E. church spoke in the highest terms of the dead citizen and statesman and expressed deep regret when he heard of his death.


             Col. Charles Denby was nearly 74 years old at the time of his death, having been born at Mt. Joy, Battetout (Botetourt), Virginia, on June 16, 1830.  He was educated at the Tom Fox Academy, Hanover County, Virginia: at Georgetown College, D. C., and at the Virginia Military Institute, where he graduated in 1850.

            The father of Mr. Denby was a distinguished politician and diplomat and served his country as United States counsel at Marseilles, Frances and the son, Charles, was with his father when abroad and there secured the rudiments of his diplomatic education, which afterward brought him international fame and made him a worldwide character.

            In the year 1850 Mr. Denby went to Selma, Ala., where he taught school for three years, when, in 1853, he came to Evansville and located and this place was his future residence.  When Mr. Denby first came to Evansville it had about 6,000 inhabitants, including Lamasco.  While he was a member of the state legislature he introduced a bill to permit the question of consolidating the two towns to be voted on.  The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of consolidation and the name Lamasco, which was the more euphonious of the two, disappeared.  In 1853 there were only fifty miles of railroad out of Evansville, but an enormous business was on the river.

            After arriving at Evansville Mr. Denby took up newspaper work and became a contributor to the Evansville Enquirer, a daily paper published by the late John B. Hall.  While contributing to the press he took up the study of the law in the office of Messrs. Baker and Garvan, the former later becoming governor of Indiana, and was admitted to the local bar in 1854.  Mr. Denby then formed a partnership with Judge James Lockhart, which was latter dissolved by the death of the latter in 1856.  He then had Jacob Lunkenhimer for a partner until his death, which occurred in 1865(?).  After this time several young men were in his office, the most noted being Daniel B. Kumler, who remained as a partner about ten years, or until Col. Denby went to China as minister of the United States in the year 1885.  Mr. Kumler was a very able man and at the time of his death was among the leaders of the Evansville bar with a large a lucrative practice.

            While Col. Denby was not a politician in the sense that we know them today, he was a man who wielded an (unreadable) in party councils and by tact and wisdom attracted more than local attention.  During the administration of James Buchanan as president of the United States Mr. Denby was appointed the surveyor of the local port and while in that office filled the duties with satisfaction to the government and with (unreadable) to himself.  He represented Vanderburg County one term in the state legislature, during the session of 1856-1858.  Then he retired to private life and devoted himself to the rapidly growing law business.  During the presidential campaign of 1884, when Grover Cleveland was the democratic standard bearer, Col. Denby became an active worker in behalf of his party candidate and made a number of speeches for Cleveland.


            On the breaking out of the civil war Col. Denby raised a military company for home service.  The company guarded the powder magazines in April and may.  Col. Denby drilled the troops during leisure hours and they became proficient in military tactics and finally became the 42nd regiment, Indiana Volunteers, after the second call for troops was made, in July, 1861: The 42nd regiment was organized at Evansville in September, 1861, and Col. Denby and most of his troops joined it.  James G. Jones was appointed colonel, Mr. Denby was appointed lieutenant colonel and James M. Shanklin, major of the regiment.  De Witt C. Evans was adjutant, James L. Orr, quartermaster sergeant, and Elder Cooper, commissary sergeant, so that the field and staff were all from Evansville.

            Col. Denby served with the 42nd regiment until Oct. 10, 1863, when he was appointed colonel of the 80th regiment of volunteers.  The 42nd became a distinguished regiment afterward, but while Col. Denby was with it they had but one small fight at Wartrace, Tenn., and one big battle at Perryville, Ky., Oct 8, 1862.  The regiment lost about 145 killed and wounded, one-third of the entire force.  Col. Denby in this battle narrowly escaped death.  He was struck on the lip by a ball, bringing blood, had his leg badly bruised by a minnie ball, while bullet holes were shot through his coat and his horse was shot from under him, but he was not laid up at any time from his injuries.  Col. Denby remained in command of the 80th regiment until Feb. 20, 1863; when he resigned on a surgeon’s certificate of disability.


             On May 29, 1865, Col. Denby was appointed minister to China.  The faithfulness with which he discharged his duties as such minister is shown by the fact that he remained there as minister during the Cleveland’s first administration, Gen Harrison’s administration, Cleveland’s second term, and about seventeen months of McKinley’s term as president.  He left China in August, 1898, having served as minister for thirteen years.

             Col. Denby arrived in Washington, Sept. 10, 1898, and was appointed immediately a member of the commission to inquire into the conduct of the war with Spain.  He served on that commission until it adjourned in January, 1899.  Before adjournment he was appointed a member of the first commission to the Philippines, together with Admiral Dewey, Gen. Otis, President Schurman of Cornell University, and Prof. Dean C. Worcester of Ann Arbor University.  This commission returned to the United States in October, 1899, and was soon succeeded by the Taft commission.

            Col. Denby returned to Evansville after an absence of nearly fifteen years.

            During the stay of Col. Denby in China the most important event to transpire was the Chinese-Japanese war.  In the negotiations for peace Col. Denby took a prominent part, he acting as a representative of Japan while our minister in Japan represented China.  Col. Denby’s legation managed the preliminary negotiations for peace.

            Perhaps the other most important negotiation with which Col. Denby was connected was the incorporation of the Philippines into our government.  These negotiations were largely promoted by the commission of which Col. Denby was a member, but the treaty was signed after he left China.


             Col. Denby is survived by his widow and six children.  Mrs. Denby was a daughter of United States Senator Graham N. Fitch, of Logansport, Ind., and was married to young Denby long before he had attained prominence.  The children surviving are Graham F. Denby, a lawyer of  this city; Charles Denby, Jr., European advisor to viceroy of Chih Li, China, and the European representative in China of a number of European mercantile houses; Mrs. Harriet E. Wilkes, of Evansville, widow of Lieut. Gilbert Wilkes, U.S.N.; Ned Denby, a lawyer of Detroit, Mich.; Garvin Denby, superintendent of a large chemical plant at Detroit, and Wythe Denby, interested in mining and located at Juneau Alaska.


From: The Military History of the Virginia Military Institute from 1839 to 1865
by Jennings C. Wise.  Lynchburg, VA, 1915.  pp 496-498.





There were fifteen (l5), and to all but one we would accord the meed of praise and honor; and we enshrine their memories in our hearts.

Here are the fourteen who conscientiously (we must believe) clung to the Union, and dedicated their lives and fortunes to the cause for its preservation:

Brigadier-General Edward C. Carrington, 

Colonel Charles Denby, 

Colonel Benjamin Sharp, 

Colonel John F. Tyler, 

Lieutenant-Colonel John T. Hall, 

Major James R. Hall, 

Major William C. Cuyler, 

Major John A. Thompson, 

Captain Samuel S. Malcolm, 

Captain Ulysses D. Floyd, 

Captain James B. Hamilton, 

Lieutenant A. B. Williams, Private James Seabrook,

all of the Army (except probably Hamilton), and 

Surgeon Stephen D. Kennedy, of the Navy.


    Of the above-named, five met death during the War, and two soon after, in the line of duty……..

    charles denby graduated "First Captain" of his Class (1850). Some years afterwards, Georgetown University conferred upon him the degree of LL. D.

    He was born in Botetourt County, Virginia. His parents were Nathaniel Denby, a merchant of Richmond, Virginia (who, at one time, was United States Consul at Marseilles, France), and Sarah Harvey, of Botetourt County, Virginia. He taught several years in the Masonic University at Selma, Alabama, and then removed to Evansville, Indiana, and was assistant editor of the Enquirer, of that City, till 1855, when he was admitted to the bar. The next year he was elected to the Legislature, as a Democrat.

    When the Civil War began, he was active for the Union cause, and was made colonel of the Forty-Second Indiana Volunteers, and afterwards, colonel of the Eightieth Indiana Volunteers. At the battle of Perryville, in 1862, he was severely wounded, and had his horse killed under him. Three years later, his injuries forced him to resign his commission.

    He then took up politics, and was for years one of the shining lights of the Democracy of his State. He was a delegate to the St. Louis Convention of 1876, and nominated Tilden and Hendricks, and, in 1884, to the Chicago Convention which nominated Cleve­land and Hendricks. Five months before the death of Vice-President Hendricks, Colonel Denby was appointed by President Cleveland, Minister to China. He was reappointed by President Harrison (who was his warm friend and admirer), and was again reappointed by President Cleveland.

    In his thirteen years of service, from 1885 to 1898, Colonel Denby became close to the Chinese statesmen. His efforts in aid of peace with Japan, after the war with the Celestial Empire, put him high in Chinese favor; and Li Hung Chang had a great regard for him. Immediately on his retiring, President McKinley ap­pointed him a member of the Commission which investigated the conduct of the War with Spain. The next year, he was appointed a member of the Philippine Commission. He was a man of inter­national fame, and was one of the galaxy of statesmen that shed lustre upon Indiana.

    In 1858, he married a daughter of United States Senator Graham N. Fitch, of Indiana, who survived him, with the following children: Edwin, T. Garvin, Graham F., Charles, Jr., Wythe, and Mrs. Gilbert Wilkes.

    Colonel Denby never denied that, although he was relieved, on an Army surgeon's certificate of physical disability, from further service in the field, he resigned his commission in the United States Army because of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. This was generally believed.

    One of his sons wrote that he "treasured more than one memento of his cadet days, until his death; and they are now valued keepsakes of some of his children." In this connection, it will not be out of place to insert here a letter from Colonel Denby, received by the Chairman of the Virginia Military Institute Semi-Centennial Executive Committee, in 1889:

                             "legation of the united states,
                                     "peking, July 16, 1889.

"joseph R. andersen, jr., esq.,
    "Chairman, etc.,
        "Richmond, Va.

    "dear sir—Your kind letter of May 14th, inviting me to attend the Semi-Centennial Celebration of the Virginia Military Institute, on the 3d and 4th instant, reached me this day. You correctly assume that attendance on the occasion mentioned would have been a great pleasure for me. Nothing would be more agreeable to me than to visit Virginia where the most of my relations reside, and especially—

                                'The schoolboy spot we ne'er forget,
                                Though there we are forgot.'

    "I was contemporary with Rodes, Garland, Alien, and many others who won fame in our great War. Here, in China, I have a classmate, General A. C. Jones, Consul at Chinkiang; but we are eight hundred miles apart.

    "Trusting that I shall have the pleasure of meeting you, and other 'Old Cadets/ at no distant day,

                                 "I remain, very truly yours,
                               "charles denby."


    In another letter, written many years afterwards, he said that, at a gathering of V. M. I. Alumni, in San Francisco, he had had "the honor of drinking a toast to [Judge] Evans, the gallant color-bearer at New Market."

    Colonel Denby died suddenly of heart trouble at Jamestown, New York (having lectured there the night before), January 18, 1904.


Source: Cushman-Eberle, Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. III. Copyright 1958, 1959. pp 233-234.

Charles Denby was born at Mountjoy, Botetourt County, Virginia, on June 16, 1830.  His grandfather emigrated from England and settled in Virginia where his father, Nathaniel Denby (1798-1854), a merchant at Richmond, was born.  His mother was Sarah Jane Harvey (1789-1856), daughter of Mathew and Magdalen  (Hawkins) Harvey.    Charles attended the academy at Taylorsville, Virginia, and then proceeded to Georgetown College, D.C., where he spent three years, taking in 1842 “three medals, more than had ever been received by any one boy.”  While still a youth, Charles Denby accompanied his father to Marseilles, France and attended the College Royal in that city, where his father was a United States naval agent.  On returning to the United States, he entered the Virginia Military Institute at Lexington, Virginia., where he graduated with high honors in 1850.  Charles was professor of tactics at the Masonic University, Selma, AL for three years, before he moved to Evansville.  Upon arriving at Evansville, he was employed by John B. Hall, editor of the Democratic newspaper Daily Enquirer, learning to set type and frequently setting up editorial, while at the same time he studied law in the office of Baker & Garvin.  He was admitted to the bar in 1855 and began practicing law the following year in Evansville with Judge James Lockhart as a partner.  In the same year, he was elected to the State legislature to represent Vanderburg County.  The day after Fort Sumter fell, he abandoned his law practice to raise a regiment for border service.  He also, at this time, engaged in drilling troops at the fair grounds in Evansville.

In September, 1861 he was appointed by Governor Morton as lieutenant-colonel of the 42nd Indiana Volunteers.    At the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky, he was shot in the mouth (source: newspaper account of battle) and had his horse killed from under him while rallying the troops.  Other accounts had him being bruised in the leg by a minie-ball.  Note:  He served with great valor and distinction and was well liked by all the men of the 42nd (source: 42nd web author).  On October 21, 1862 he was appointed colonel of the 80th Indiana Volunteers, but in January 1863 he resigned on a surgeon’s certificate of disability. 

After his resignation, he returned to his law practice and became politically active once again.  Denby, at this time, also acquired a reputation for his oratory and was in constant demand as a speaker for all sorts of public events (source: Dearest Lizzie, by James Maynard Shanklin, p 285).  He was a delegate to the 1876 St. Louis Democratic Convention and the 1884 Chicago Convention.  On May 29, 1885, he was appointed Minister to China by President Cleveland and in this position he continued during Harrison’s administration and Cleveland’s second administration, until July 11, 1898.  At the expiration of his term as Minister, he was decorated by the emperors of both China and Japan.

Charles Denby reportedly brought back a vase from China, which is still on display at the Willard Library in Evansville, Indiana.  The Veterans of Foreign War Post 2953, also located in Evansville, is named for him (source for both:  Evansville Press newspaper article, date unknown).

In September 1898, President McKinley appointed him a member of the committee which investigated the conduct of the war with Spain, and in the next year appointed him a member of the Philippine Commission. 

Charles Denby was one of the charter members of the Farragut Post of the Grand Army of the Republic.  An honorary degree of LL.D. was conferred upon him by Georgetown College in 1885.

Charles Denby was married in September, 1858 to Martha, daughter of Sen. Graham N. Fitch of Logansport, Indiana.  Charles and Martha had eight children, two of whom died in infancy and are not named here:  Graham, Charles, Wythe, Edwin, Garvin, and Ethel.

Charles Denby was stricken with heart trouble on January 13, 1904 while he was lecturing at Jamestown, New York and died there at the Sherman House.

In 1906 the book China and Her People; Observations, Reminiscences, and Conclusions of an American Diplomat, authored by Charles Denby, was posthumously released.  This book was in two volumes and was described as being profusely illustrated with reproductions of photographs collected by the author.

Upon Charles Denby’s return to Evansville after his diplomatic service in China (sometime in the late 1890’s), John Fendrich of the Fendrich Cigar Company, who was an acquaintance of Denby's, chose to name a cigar after him.  Charles never accepted any royalties for use of his name because he thought it wouldn’t last, much less sell (source:  correspondence with Graham Morey, who is Charles Denby’s great grandson).  This cigar is still in production today and is manufactured by the National Cigar Corp. of Frankfort, Indiana under the name “Charles Denby Invincibles.”  These cigars can be purchased from the National Cigar Corporation.  To find out more please click on the following link:

This is a scanned image of the inside label from an old Charles Denby cigar box .

This is a scanned image of a current Charles Denby cigar band. 

Permission to use the trademark image of Charles Denby has been granted by National Cigar Corporation, owner and manufacturer of the Charles Denby cigar brand.  More information on these cigars can be found on their web site:


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This Page was Last Edited on March 08, 2003