Marshall Harvey Twitchell (February 29, 1840–August 21, 1905) was a Union Army soldier from Vermont who became a carpetbagger Republican state senator from Red River Parish in northwestern Louisiana during the era of Reconstruction.
Early years and military service
Twitchell was born in Townshend in Windham County in southeastern Vermont, to Harvey Daniel Twitchell (died 1864) and the former Elizabeth Scott (died 1899). He was educated in common schools and Townshend's Leland Seminary. Young Twitchell taught school during the winters and worked on a farm and attended school during the remainder of the year. In 1861, at the outbreak of the American Civil War, Twitchell enlisted with the 4th Vermont Infantry and fought in fourteen battles. He was seriously wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness, when he was in command of his company. In the winter of 1863–64, he was made a captain of Company H, 109th Colored Infantry. In 1865, he was part of the column which broke through the lines of Confederate General Robert E. Lee at Petersburg, south of Richmond, Virginia. He was also at Appomattox Court House when Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865, to General U.S. Grant.
Provost marshal, Freedman's Bureau
In the fall of 1865, the 25-year-old Twitchell was named provost marshal and agent of the Freedmen's Bureau, a Reconstruction agency aimed at assisting the freedmen in the transition from slavery to freedom. In 1866, he married the former Adele Coleman, daughter of a large cotton planter. From this union, he had one son, the physician Marshall Coleman Twitchell (1871–1949), who is interred at Lakeview Cemetery in Burlington, Vermont, along with his half-brother, Emmus George Twitchell (1880–1961), also a doctor.
Twitchell's initial headquarters were at the former community of Sparta in Bienville Parish south of Arcadia. In this isolated area, "political boss" Twitchell acted in the capacity of legislator, judge, jury, and sheriff though he had no previous experience in civil government. However, he was quickly elected to the 1868 Louisiana Constitutional Convention.
In 1866, he was elected to the first of two four-year terms in the state senate, having won critical African American support because of his having championed their causes and befriended individual freedmen.
In 1868, Twitchell purchased a cotton plantation on Lake Bistineau at the junction of Bienville, Bossier, and Webster parishes. In 1869, his father-in-law transferred to Twitchell the operation of two plantations. In 1870, Twitchell purchased the "Starlight" plantation on the Red River. He steadily added to his properties and owned two stores, two mills, a hotel, and a newspaper.
He was the principal force behind the creation of Red River Parish and the establishment of the parish seat of Coushatta, located on the Red River. He was also influential in the organization of then segregated public schools in Bienville, Red River, and De Soto parishes, all within his senatorial district. He further stressed the education of blacks. Twitchell's life was constantly in danger, but he felt protected by a contingent of colored troops.
On May 2, 1876, an assassin armed with a rifle attempted to kill Twitchell. He was wounded six times, which required the amputation of both arms above the elbow. He would have died had he not pretended to be dead already. His brother-in-law, George A. King, was killed during this same attack. Twitchell's only brother, Homer J. Twitchell (1849–1874), and two other brothers-in-law, Clark Holland and Monroe Willis, had been murdered two years earlier in what is known as the Coushatta massacre.
Had Twitchell's assassin succeeded, the partisan balance in the Louisiana State Senate would have placed Redeemer Democrats in the majority by a single vote. A Democratic senate would have recognized a different state House of Representatives, rejected Governor Stephen B. Packard, who was deposed in 1877 anyway, and also elected a different U.S. senator.
Twitchell's property was abandoned after the attempted assassination. The remaining Twitchells stayed for a time in Indianapolis, Indiana, where Helen T. Willis, the third Twitchell sister, died before the family returned to Vermont. Reportedly, his neighbors had been jealous of his economic success. Adele died of tuberculosis in 1873, leaving behind her husband and toddler son. She is interred at Starlight, as are Homer Twitchell, George King, Clark Holland, and Monroe Willis, and two Twitchell sisters who died from yellow fever. Adele had refused to move to Vermont; so Twitchell had brought some of his northern relatives to Red River Parish.
In 1876, having returned to New England, Twitchell married a childhood sweetheart, the former Henrietta Cushman Day of Hampden, Massachusetts, by whom he had his second son, Emmus, a veteran of World War I.
In April 1878, U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes named former Senator Twitchell consul at Kingston in Ontario province in Canada, a position that he held for the remainder of his life, having been retained in the post during the two Democratic administrations of President Grover Cleveland. Twitchell died in Kingston at the age of sixty-five. He was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic and the Masonic lodge. Late in life he prepared a draft of his memoirs, but died before he could finish the work. Edited by Ted Tunnell, the manuscript was published in 1989 as Carpetbagger from Vermont. Tunnell followed the autobiographical project with Edge of the Sword: The Ordeal of Carpetbagger Marshall H. Twitchell.
Death and legacy
Twitchell is interred at Oakwood Cemetery in Townshend, Vermont, beside his parents and his second wife Henrietta, who died in Canada in 1902. There is also a marker at Oakwood commemorating Adele.
Ruth Douglas Currie of Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, North Carolina, who reviewed Tunnell's Edge of the Sword writes:
"Twitchell did not possess the conscience of a Yankee schoolteacher or other carpetbagger whose primary mission was the freed-people. He loved matching wits with the southern whites he considered his inferiors, yet one can at least understand the resentment they must have felt with their neighbor's success. Twitchell may not have 'looted the public treasury,' but he understood the principle of 'honest graft'", having amassed wealth of $100,000 in land alone, 'by modern standards a millionaire' – and all by the age of forty-two."
In recent years, Reconstruction historians have been drawn to the Twitchell story as depicted by Shoalmire and Tunnell. He is depcited as "an idealistic carpetbagger who braved ferocious reactionary violence in postbellum Louisiana. Honest, courageous, and committed, Twitchell was not the stereotypical northern opportunist of southern lore, and he has, as a result, surfaced in studies by Eric Foner . . . and other historians who have revised the old Dunning-school interpretation of the carpetbaggers."