Orville E. Babcock was born December 25, 1835 in Franklin, Vermont. He attended the United States Military Academy at West Point where he graduated in 1861 at the beginning fo the Civil War. Babcock was an engineer who served at the Siege of Vicksburg in 1863, where he came to the notice of General Ulysses S. Grant in 1864 Grant requested Babcock to join him in Virginia where he would serve as the General’s aide-de-camp. Babcock remained on Grant’s staff throughout the war and, when Ulysses Grant was elected President of the United States, joined Grant’s staff in the Executive Mansion in 1869. Late in 1869, Babcock was sent by Grant to Santo Domingo (now the Dominican Republic) to broker an agreement for the annexation of the nation as a territory of the United States. This began what became a string of controversies and scandals surrounding Babcock and his position as aide to the President. These scandals culminated in his involvement in the St. Louis Whiskey Ring, in which Babcock was indicted for tax fraud. Throughout all of his scandals Babcock received Grant’s confidence. When Grant left the White House in 1877, Babcock was appointed by President Hayes as Inspector of Lighthouses, a position he held under Presidents Garfield and Arthur as well. Babcock died on June 2, 1884 in Mosquito Inlet, Florida, where he was thrown from a ship and drowned. He was married to Anne Eliza Campbell and they had four sons.
The Orville E. Babcock diaries represent the experiences of an Union Army officer and engineer, and aide-de-camp to Ulysses S. Grant. Babcock’s diaries begin in 1863 and continue into 1869. Babcock records his experiences in Kentucky, Ohio, Washington, DC, Vicksburg, Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga, before being summoned to Virginia by General Grant. They also contain information about his post war experiences in Washington as Grant’s aide, including his diaries from his famous mission to Santo Domingo in 1869. This collection also includes supplementary materials of speeches, correspondence, and newspaper clippings.