Michigan Transportation History

Henry B. Ledyard


See also
Ledyard Family

Henry B. Ledyard (1844-1921) was a president of the Michigan Central Railroad responsible for its late-nineteenth century modernization and rationalization.

Early Life

Henry Brockholst Ledyard and his twin sister Susan Livingston Ledyard were born on February 20, 1844, at the American Embassy in Paris, France. His father was Henry Ledyard, who at the time was serving as legation attache in Paris under his father-in-law, Lewis Cass. Ledyard's mother was Matilda Frances Cass, the daughter of Lewis Cass. Henry and Susan were the second and third children of Henry and Matilda's five children. The family returned to the United States by the summer of 1844.

Henry Ledyard was schooled at Washington A. Bacon's Select School for Boys until he was 14. He was then sent to college (1859). Burton (who wrote two biographies of Ledyard) is inconsistent about Ledyard's education. In one, he claims Ledyard attended Columbia College in New York City; in another, Burton claims it was Columbian College in Washington DC. In any case, by 1861, Ledyard was headed for the U.S. Military Academy. His enrollment as a cadet-at-large was probably the result of a favor between President Buchanan and his Secretary of State, Lewis Cass, Ledyard's grandfather. Henry's time at the academy began July 1, 1861. He was at the academy for the entire duration of the Civil War and graduated with two commissions (second and first lieutenant) on June 23, 1865.

Military Career

His first assignment was in the 19th Infantry. He served in the army of occupation for Georgia in 1865, and then was stationed at Newport Barracks, Kentucky, for about nine months. He was promoted to quartermaster of the regiment and then shortly thereafter brigade quartermaster. After this, the regiment was sent to Little Rock, Arkansas, in what was called "Frontier Service." He served for a short time "in charge of" confederate prisoners at Columbus, Ohio, and then back to the Department of Arkansas as commissary chief. In October 1866, he was transferred to the 30th infantry stationed out of Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and then was transferred to the 4th artillery where he was promoted to serve on General Winfield Scott Hancock's staff as chief of subsistence for the Department of the Missouri. At this time he may have seen combat against the Plains Indians. He was then assigned as an instructor of French at the U.S. Military Academy before returning to the 4th artillery in 1868 (now at Fort McHenry in Baltimore). The army was reorganized in 1870, and Ledyard was becoming increasingly pessimistic about his military career. Many of his commanding officers, especially Winfield Scott Hancock and Joseph J. Reynolds, didn't see much of a military future for Ledyard as the army was then reducing strength. He applied for and received a leave of absence and with the help of General Sherman got a position in the engineering department of the Northern Pacific Railroad?.1

Railroad Career

Probably because his job with the Northern Pacific would have entailed more traveling in the West. The NP was just then starting surveying and construction in the northern plains. Ledyard had married in 1867 and was probably looking to settle down. Ledyard instead wrote to James F. Joy of the Michigan Central Railroad and the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad? asking for work. Joy (who was friends with Ledyard's father and grandfather) hired him as a clerk for the Chicago division superintendent on the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad?.2 Ledyard started here in July of 1870 and resigned his commission in the army in November when his leave was up.

In 1872, Ledyard was promoted to assistant superintendent of the CB&Q, then Eastern Division Superintendent in 1873. In October, 1874, Joy moved William Barstow Strong, from the CB&Q to become general superintendent of the Michigan Central. Strong was able to get Ledyard to move also from the CB&Q to the MCRR as his chief engineer. Ledyard had returned to Detroit.

In 1876, W. B. Strong resigned, and Ledyard was promoted to General Superintendent of the MCRR. The next year, Ledyard was made general manager of the railroad. In 1883, William H. Vanderbilt retired from the presidency of the MCRR, and Ledyard was elected the next president. He retained the office of president for twenty-two years, until January 1905, when the MCRR was consolidated with other Vanderbilt properties into the New York Central System. Shareholders and directors, however, would not accept Ledyard's resignation, and instead he was given the chairmanship of the NYC board of directors.

Clarence Burton has an excellent paragraph on Ledyard's career as president of the MCRR and how he reorganized and rebuilt the railroad at the end of the 19th century, and his philosophy about running a railroad.3

Ledyard also served on the board of directors of the Pere Marquette Railroad, The Peoples State Bank of Detroit?, and the Union Trust Company of Detroit? (from 1908).


Ledyard served as a trustee of Elmwood Cemetery?, which was an office held by his father fifty years earlier.

Ledyard appears to have voted Democratic until 1896, and Republican afterward, but he never took an active role in politics.

He and Mary were members of the Episcopal Church.


Henry Ledyard married Mary L'Hommedieu, of Cincinnati, who was the daughter of Stephen L'Hommedieu?, president of the Cincinnati, Hamilton and Dayton Railway. The circumstances of their meeting and engagement are not clear, but the fact that Henry and Mary did not start a family until after Henry left the army seems to suggest that they did not want the itinerant life for their children. Henry and Mary had four children: Matilda Cass Ledyard (1871-1960); Henry Brockholst Ledyard III? (1875-1932); Augustus Canfield Ledyard (1877-1899), and Hugh Ledyard (1885-1951). Matilda Cass Ledyard married Baron von Ketteler, of Berlin, Germany, in 1897. Von Ketteler was a career diplomat but was murdered in the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. Henry was a law partner in Campbell, Bulkley & Ledyard; Augustus Canfield was killed in action in the Philippines, as first lieutenant of the Sixth Infantry, on December 6, 1899; and Hugh was secretary and treasurer of the Art Stove Company? of Detroit.

Mary L'Hommedieu died suddenly in Detroit, on March 30, 1895, and was buried in Elmwood Cemetery.4

Henry Ledyard died on May 25, 1921, at his home in Grosse Pointe Farms and was buried with his wife in Elmwood Cemetery.


1. Ledyard's chronology is sketchy here and Burton's two accounts don't seem to be in perfect alignment. One account has Ledyard starting with the NP, the other gives him little time to do anything: his six month leave ended in November, which means it started in May, but by July, Ledyard was working for James Joy in Chicago. Whether or not Ledyard actually started working for the NP, his term there could not have been more than a matter of weeks.

2. Burton claims in the later work that it was in the CB&Q operating department.

3. Clarence M. Burton, William Stocking, and Gordon K. Miller, eds. The City of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922, vol. 4 (Detroit: S. J. Clarke, 1922): 5.

4. She was 48-years old and is reported to have "dropped dead on Chene Street, Detroit, without a moment's warning." Find A Grave, "Mary L'Hommedieu Ledyard (11 Jan 1847–30 Mar 1895)," Find A Grave Memorial no. 96825079, citing Elmwood Cemetery, Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan, USA.


Clarence Monroe Burton, s.v. "Ledyard Family," Compendium of History and Biography of the City of Detroit and Wayne County, Michigan (Chicago: Henry Taylor & Co., 1909), 251.

Clarence M. Burton, William Stocking, and Gordon K. Miller, eds. The City of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922, vol. 4 (Detroit: S. J. Clarke, 1922): 5-6.

Citation: When referencing this page please use the following citation:

R. D. Jones, "Henry B. Ledyard," Michigan Transportation History (Ypsilanti, MI: 2020), www.michtranshist.info/.

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Page last modified on March 29, 2020, at 09:00 PM EST

Page last modified on March 29, 2020, at 09:00 PM EST