Veteran novelist and historian Keneally (The Great Shame, 1999, etc.) examines the loves and intrigues of one of America’s most colorful rogues.
Born into an old New York family, Dan Sickles (1820–1914) was a brash politician with a reputation for headstrong action, fast women, and unpaid debts. As a young man, he joined Tammany Hall and prospered as an attorney with all the right connections. He also carried on a brazen affair with flamboyant prostitute Fanny White and even took her along when he was called to London as a diplomat in 1853, despite having recently married 15-year-old debutante Teresa Bagioli. In 1856, Sickles was elected to Congress; he and Teresa almost immediately became prominent in Washington society. He threw himself into the political tumult surrounding slavery and secession and made enemies as readily as he made friends. His neglected young wife was drawn into a romantic liaison with a popular attorney, who was shot dead by the outraged Sickles in early 1859. He was acquitted in a much-publicized trial but remained forever tainted by the case’s notoriety. Using his Tammany influences and his friendship with Lincoln, he become a Union colonel and later a general. At Gettysburg, Sickles ignored an order from commander George Meade and moved his own troops ahead of other Union forces on the battlefield. Whether this independent decision helped win the battle or recklessly endangered the Union cause was debated hotly at the time, although Sickles lost a leg in the battle and was regarded as a hero. Returning to Europe as a diplomat after the war, he conducted an affair with deposed Spanish monarch Queen Isabella II and participated in a bold effort to convince Spain to sell Cuba to the US. Sickles died at 94, a grandfatherly legend who, in Keneally’s view, “got away with it all.”
The captivating tale of a charming opportunist whose ambition and moral hypocrisy mirror those of mid–19th-century America.