Frank Everett White Jr. has fought for years to have his ancestor recognized for capturing Robert E. Lee’s son at the end of the Civil War. The Army credits another solider for the act of heroism.
White, of Clifton, contends that his great-great-grandfather David Dunnels White, was the soldier who actually captured Maj. Gen. George Washington Custis Lee at the Battle of Sailor’s Creek in Virginia, just days before the Civil War ended with the surrender at Appomattox.
The U.S. Army never has recognized White, a farmer and soldier from Hawley, Mass., but instead awarded the medal of honor to Harris Hawthorn of New York for the capture of the younger Lee.
Hawthorn may have caught Lee a second time after he tried to escape, but by then he had already handed over his possessions to White when he initially was captured, Frank White said.
Indeed, the Army Center of Military History concluded that White, not Hawthorn, “was the actual captor” of Lee, according to legislation introduced in Congress in 2016.
While Frank White has sought to correct what he said was an error in the historical record, he recently received a letter that said Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy denied the request. McCarthy gave no reason for his decision.
“It is the most difficult bureaucratic red tape, never say yes, always say no, type of agency,” White told NJ Advance Media. “I’m disappointed but not surprised.”
The Army declined to comment, citing the need to protect the integrity of the process to decide who should receive an award.
The decision can be appealed, and White said he would do so.
Lawmakers who have backed White’s efforts said they would ask the Army to explain how it arrived at its decision.
“We think the historical facts side with the White family and we want to continue to pursue it so we can have the appropriate recognition,” said U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. “This is a big deal in terms of the history and Col. White’s efforts to capture Robert E. Lee’s son. At the end of the day, I’m hoping we can find a way to still make it happen.”
© 2019 NJ Advance Media Group
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.