Richard Bennett Carmichael

Richard Bennett Carmichael was born 12-25-1807 in Centreville, Maryland to a distinguished family. Carmichael attend Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania for a couple of years before finishing up at Princeton in 1828. After studying law he was admitted to the bar in 1830. At the beginning of the Civil War, Carmichael a leading Democrat in the state and suspected of being a southern supporter, was a circuit court judge. Carmichael had gained the interest of the local Provost Marshal by defending area citizens who had been arrested without cause on the suspicion that they were Loyal to the Confederacy and investigating the military for interference in the 1861 election.   On May 28th, 1862 the Provost Marshal surrounded the Talbot County courthouse with about 125 soldiers and stormed into the court room. The Provost Marshal told Carmichael he was under arrest by authority of the United States. When Carmichael resisted, he was dragged from the Bench and pistol whipped into submission. Carmichael was then transported to Ft. McHenry. He was later transferred to Ft Layfayette and then finally to Ft Delaware. Held for over 6 months, Carmichael repeatedly asked that charges against him be made public.  He was finally released without any charges.

Published in: on November 9, 2006 at 3:45 am  Comments (23)  

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23 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Mark,

    What happened to him afterwards? Can you please give a brief summary for the next couple of years?

    Best wishes,


  2. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for posting this. I thought “pistol whipping” a judge sounded unlikely, but, of course, it happened.

    The Maryland Archives has a nice page with piles of source documentation on the event, and a picture of him too.

    Welcome to the ‘sphere and happy posting!

  3. Thanks Brian,

    The link answers my question. Seems like a ‘pistol whipping’ did his political career no harm!

    Best wishes,


  4. Thanks Brian and I’ll add some more to my post about Carmichael for you Mark! It’s still amazes me that most people don’t realize how Maryland was treated during the war. Obviously Lincoln could’t let Maryland go or the Capitol would have been surrounded by the Confederacy. I’ll be posting more neat stories about how Maryland and Delaware and their citizens suffered during the war.

  5. Mr. Carmichael:

    Since you are interested in Maryland Confederates, this article might be of interest:

    You may also enjoy my blog:

    Best Regards,
    Richard G. Williams, Jr.

  6. Thanks for the info Richard. I’m not the illustrious Mr. Carmichael though. Thanks for the compliment, however you probably insulted Peter Carmichael….LOL!

  7. Sorry, Marylandreb, I should have paid closer attention!

    Richard G. Williams, Jr.

  8. That’s OK Richard, I wasn’t slighted in the least!

  9. Hi. I am the 6th Great Granddaughter of Judge Richard Bennett Carmichael of “Wye”. I have some oringinal documents of Richard Bennett Carmichael. The Govenor of Maryland and many people fought for the release of the Judge. There are documents from the War department and from Abraham Lincoln regarding the release of Judge Carmichael. He was release and served in congress and as a circuit court Judge. I have some of his letters that he wrote while in confinement. This is a great story about a valiant man who stood up for what he believed in. The constitution of the United States. He was arrested for the right of due process. The right for a fair arrest and trial. He was not given the reason for his arrest and that is why he resisted. It was said that he had spoke out about how the Marshalls were arresting people in the county without cause. That is why he was arrested and resisted arrest. For the cause he strongly believed in.

    • Thanks for your interesting comments Margo. You are lucky to have his personal items. Unfortunately since Carmichael was a Democrat and fighting to protect the rights of people thrown in jail unjustly he was considered an enemy of the Union army which was arresting anybody they felt were disloyal. It was an interesting time as you had the executive branch at war with the judicial branch of our government.

    • Hi, Margo … great post. I actually live in the house where Judge Carmichael was born, in Centreville, Md. I teach at Washington College, and have been researching the Carmichael family. My students even reenacted the Carmichael arrest for a show that HGTV did on my house, believe it or not! Anyway, I’d be very interested to hear from you so that we could share information. Not sure how to contact you, but if you get this, please email me at



      • Thanks for your input Adam. My daughter graduated from Washington College which is a fine school. I also have lived half my life in Queen Anne’s County. Mr Carmichael needs his just due for his suffering at the hands of Lincoln’s henchmen. I also believe Maryland in general needs a scholary history done of it’s role in the civl war.

      • HI again, I would really love to see a few pictures of the house sometime if you would be interested in sharing. I have old original pictures with all of the out buildings. The Judge also owned the Wye Plantation too? What do you know about that history. I would love to go to where he and the family is buried some day. Please email me when you get time. Thank you so much, Margo

    • Margo,

      I am the first great-great grandson of the Judge! His sister, Elizabeth Hollyday, married William Alexander Spencer, my great-great grandfather. One of their sons, Julian Murray, married Elizabeth Hollyday Carmichael, his first cousin. Julian was in the Confederate Navy, while his older brother, William Carmichael, was a captain in the U.S. Army regulars, and was part of the detail sent to Easton Courthouse to arrest the Judge. According to Scharf, he laid down his sword and refused duty, ultimately resigning his commission in the fall of 1862.

      I can no confirmation of this anywhere else. Perhaps your correspondence might shed some light.

      • HI Howard. I am so glad to hear from you. I am sorry that it has taken me so long to respond. Please e-mail me again at

  10. Margo,
    My GGgrandfather, Robert Atkinson, was Judge Carmicheal’s roommate at Fort Delaware. Robert was paroled to Baltimore on Oct 20 1862. I have a copy of the journal were Robert mentions Judge Carmichael a number of times. He gave Robert some money the day of the parole, Our family owes yours. Robert had to pay for a row boat to Delaware City and then a $1.50 steamer (+ 25 cts for a meal)to Baltimore.

    • Thanks for including your ancestor’s information Dennis. The Civil War was definately a trying time for citizens of the Border States.

  11. MY contact email is I would love to correspond with my relatives related to Judge Carmichael. Thank you, Margo. I regret not leaving this information sooner. So if you have tried to contact me. I would love to hear from my Carmichael and allied families.

    • Good luck with correspondance with your Carmichael relatives.


      • Hello, My email address is Thank you Mark fo the email. I am so excited. The old papers that I inherited from Judge Carmichael are some of my most precious items.They were sent and copied at the Library of Congress in the mid-1960’s and reluctantly returned to my father after probate procedings. I also have a book written by the family. Tracing back the family of the Tilighman and allied families. I is most accurate account of the family. I would loveto correspond with all my cousins and allied families.

      • Sounds like you have a real treasure of information there Margo!

  12. Richard Bennett Carmichael was born the only son of William and Sarah Downes Carmichael to an old and wealthy Maryland family in Centreville, Queen Anne County on December 25, 1807. His father had shared rooms in Annapolis with future chief justice Roger Brooke Taney and the two men remained friends till William died in 1853. Richard was schooled locally and then entered Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania with the class of 1827. While at the College he was elected to the Union Philosophical Society in 1825 but withdrew later to attend Princeton, where he graduated in 1828. He subsequently studied law and opened a practice in his home town in 1830.

    Almost immediately after starting his legal career, he was elected to the Maryland house of delegates and two years later, at the age of twenty five, was elected to the United States Congress as a Jacksonian Democrat. He served one term, returned to Centreville, and later, in 1841, went again to the state house, where he served multiple terms over more than two decades. He remained very active in Democratic politics, acting as a delegate to the party’s national convention. in 1856. In 1858 he was appointed an associate justice on the 10th Judicial Circuit that encompassed four local counties on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, including his own.

    In 1855 Carmichael, a slaveholder, had been at the center of a celebrated runaway slave case when Phoebe Myers, a free African-American woman in Queen Anne County, was sentenced to more than forty years in prison for harboring two of Carmichael’s slave families who had fled bondage. Carmichael, who could afford to be magnanimous and who was a devout Episcopalian, helped petition the Maryland governor for clemency and Myers was pardoned in May 1856, having served less than five months.

    In an even more celebrated case, Carmichael himself was to experience life behind bars when in on May 27, 1862, federal officials dragged him from his bench in the Talbot County circuit courtroom, according to some reports, pistol-whipped and bloody, and threw him into a military prison as a subversive and Confederate sympathizer. Carmichael, a strict constructionist following very publicly Chief Justice Taney’s opinions on arbitrary arrest, had long resisted President Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus often directing grand juries to indict the officials who carried out arrests without warrant. General John Dix, military governor in the area, lost patience after some months of this and ordered his arrest and incarceration without trial. Held at Fort McHenry, then Forts Lafayette and Delaware, Carmichael constantly demanded release or trial, even writing Lincoln personally, but got neither. When he was set free after more than five months, he attempted again to direct grand juries as he had before but by this time the state was under solid Union control and citizens serving on these juries returned no indictment. Disheartened, Carmichael eventually resigned from the court in 1864. Following the Civil War, he again involved himself with Democratic politics. He continued to serve as elector at the national conventions of 1864, 1868, and 1876, and was the president of the Maryland constitutional convention of 1867.

    He had married his eighteen year old cousin Elizabeth Margaret Hollyday in 1835 and the couple had seven children. Elizabeth died in January 1883, ending almost forty-eight years of marriage. On October 21, 1884, Richard Bennett Carmichael died at his home “Belle Vue” on the Wye River and was buried in the family plot there. He was seventy six years old.

    • Great post Howard, never realized the Carmichaels were personal friends of Taney.

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