|Colonel Edward D. Baker (R-Oregon), the only sitting United States Senator ever to be killed in battle, being shot at Balls Bluff, Virginia, October 1861. Illustration by Currier and Ives.|
Nobody who knew them was surprised to see Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln personally lead the mourners at the funeral for Colonel Edward D. Baker in Washington, D.C, on October 24, 1861. Baker, the first and only United States Senator ever killed in battle — shot down at Balls Bluff in nearby Virginia in one of the Civil War’s first bloody encounters – had been so dear a friend that in 1846 the Lincoln’s had named their second son after him. A few years later, Lincoln would tell a reporter he found Baker’s death the harshest blow he suffered in the whole war.
|Senator Edward Baker, circa 1860.|
Who was this “Ned” Baker who played so large a role in the life of Abraham Lincoln? His name has fallen into utter obscurity, but I have been working over the past three years to find out. The story is tantalizing.
Ned Baker was a teacher, lawyer, soldier, politician, pioneer, and preacher. Today, we see his name everywhere: Baker City, Oregon; Baker County, Oregon; even Baker Street in San Francisco. His face is carved in plaster inside the Illinois State Capitol and a full size marble statue of him stands inside the Capitol in Washington, D.C. They named Fort Baker, Nevada for him, renamed the Lime Point Military Reservation in California for him in 1897, and even located a Fort Baker in the District of Columbia – all for this man who is relatively unknown to us today.
Edward Baker was born in London, England, on February 24, 1811. The Baker family moved to Philadelphia in 1815 and then to New Harmony, Indiana in 1824. The next year, young Ned moved to Belleville, Illinois to seek his fortune. A couple of years later he moved to Carrolton, Illinois to read law.
While studying for the bar, he met Mrs. Mary Ann Lee, a widow with two small children. Mary Ann introduced him to a new and rapidly expanding group known variously as “Disciples” or “Campbellites.” Led by Alexander Campbell, this movement (known by its adherents as The Restoration Movement because it desired to restore New Testament Christianity) spread rapidly in the early 19th century, especially in the west: Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. Their plea for simple New Testament Christianity and their simplistic church polities struck a chord with settlers in these new lands.
Ned Baker joined the church at about the same time that he married Mary Ann. A good speaker, he quickly became one of the movement’s pioneer preachers. For a time, he even considered making preaching his vocation. Unfortunately, though, Ned had a weakness for gambling that Disciples found offensive. Over time, he continued to attend, support and occasionally preach, but his contribution to the Disciples has been largely ignored or downplayed.
Baker served in the 1832 Black Hawk War and then settled in Springfield, Illinois, where he ultimately practiced law, enter politics, and became friends with his neighbor, the future President Abe Lincoln. In my research, however, I found that the real reason he went to Springfield had to do with his continuing ties to the Disciples of Christ. Baker’s law partner in Springfield, Josephus Hewitt, besides being an attorney, also happened to be a traveling evangelist with the Disciples and was trying to start a church in this rapidly growing community. While Hewitt did the preaching, Baker ran the law practice that paid their bills and encouraged the work. Within a few months they had purchased land. The church they started in 1833 still meets today.
Although Edward Baker went on to make his name in the Illinois and U.S. legislatures and in his service during the Mexican War, this friend of Lincoln started out on that road by being a missionary bringing the Gospel to Springfield.
John McArthur is a preacher and writer from Ohio living in Illinois. His first book, James A. Garfield: Letting his Light Shine, was published in 2009.