In the spring of 1862 Wise and his stepmother moved in with relatives in Franklin County, and then in September he entered the Virginia Military Institute. He was present at the funeral of Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson in 1863 and was wounded but not seriously at the Battle of New Market on May 15, 1864. With the sponsorship of his father's friend, Confederate general William Mahone, Wise received a commission in September as a drillmaster with the rank of second lieutenant in the Confederate army. He served in southwestern Virginia, in Richmond, and at the end of the war as a courier carrying messages between General Robert E. Lee and Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Wise was paroled late in April 1865 after General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered in North Carolina. Two months later, while visiting his uncle, General George Gordon Meade, in Philadelphia, he witnessed the triumphal return parade of the U.S. Army.
Wise matriculated at the University of Virginia in 1865 and studied moral philosophy while also earning a law degree in 1867. He then moved to Richmond and practiced with his father until his father's death in 1876. On November 3, 1869, Wise married Evelyn Byrd Beverley Douglas in her hometown of Edgefield (later part of Nashville), Tennessee. They had seven sons, two of whom died in childhood, and two daughters.
Disapproving of the conduct of the leaders of Virginia's new Conservative Party, Wise and his father charted independent political courses. In 1872 they voted against Wise's own cousin, George D. Wise, the Conservative Party candidate for the House of Representatives. Wise's elder brother, Richard Alsop Wise, a physician, also followed an independent political course and became a Republican by the end of the 1870s and was elected to the House of Representatives as a Republican in 1898 and 1900.
Wise and Mahone fell out during the following years as they vied for control of the Republican Party in central Virginia, and at the 1888 national convention Wise led a successful challenge to the seating of delegates loyal to Mahone. Both men were highly opinionated, reluctant to take advice, and even more reluctant to yield to any other person's leadership. Both also acquired numerous enemies, so that by 1888 Wise had withdrawn from Virginia politics. Somewhat like his father, he was mercurial and reportedly once struck Massey when cross-examining him in court. Also like his father, he was deeply committed to what sometimes appeared to be contradictory beliefs. Wise worked in alliance with African American politicians for several years in the 1880s, but he was also a believer in white supremacy and wrote fiction and political tracts in a blatantly racist dialect demeaning to African Americans. Opposed to granting the vote to African Americans, he later defended their right to vote when southern Democrats passed poll taxes and other laws to deny their rights because he believed that the devices used for that purpose were illegal or unconstitutional. He argued twice in federal court against the constitutionality of the Virginia Constitution of 1902 that disfranchised many African American and poor white Virginia voters. After losing the case in the U.S. Supreme Court, however, he asserted that he had taken it only for the fee.
Wise was a highly successful attorney. Working for the Sprague Electric Railway and Motor Company, of New York, he defended the company's stringing of electric lines above Richmond city streets when the company began operating the first successful electric streetcar system in the country. The American Bell Telephone Company sued the railway, which it claimed interfered with its telephone and electric wires, but Wise enabled Sprague to win the case. In 1888 Wise moved to New York, fleeing the toxic political atmosphere in Virginia, to become Sprague's chief counsel. For almost a decade he argued cases in federal and state courts in defense of the company's electric streetcar and trolley lines. Wise rose to the top of the bar in the city and also participated in Republican Party affairs in New York.
Poor health forced Wise to retire from his law practice about 1907, and he moved to Kiptopeke, at the southern end of Virginia's Eastern Shore in Northampton County. He spent several months near Philadelphia during the winter of 1912–1913 under the care of a physician relative. Wise died at the residence of one of his sons near Princess Anne, Maryland, on May 12, 1913, en route back to Kiptopeke. He was buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.
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December 27, 1846 - John S. Wise is born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Spring 1862 - John S. Wise and his stepmother move in with relatives in Franklin County while his father serves in the Confederate army.
September 1862 - John S. Wise matriculates at the Virginia Military Institute.
May 15, 1864 - John S. Wise, a cadet at the Virginia Military Institute, is wounded at the Battle of New Market.
September 1864 - John S. Wise is commissioned a drillmaster with the rank of second lieutenant in the Confederate army.
1865–1867 - John S. Wise attends the University of Virginia, earning a law degree.
November 3, 1869 - John S. Wise and Evelyn Byrd Beverley Douglas marry in Edgefield (later part of Nashville), Tennessee.
1877 - John S. Wise supports William Mahone for governor at the Conservative State Convention.
July 1880 - The Readjuster Party nominates John S. Wise for Congress.
November 1880 - George D. Wise, a Democrat, defeats his cousin John S. Wise, a Readjuster, for a seat in Congress.
May 1882–March 1883 - John S. Wise serves U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
November 1882 - John S. Wise, a Readjuster, defeats John E. Massey, who left the party, for a seat in Congress.
July 16, 1885 - John S. Wise is nominated by the Republican Party to run for governor.
November 1885 - Fitzhugh Lee, a Democrat, defeats John S. Wise, a Republican, for governor.
1886 - John S. Wise founds the Virginia Field Sports Association, serving as its first president.
1888 - John S. Wise moves to New York to escape the toxic political atmosphere of Virginia.
1892 - John S. Wise serves as vice president of the Pointer Club of America.
ca. 1907 - John S. Wise retires from his New York law practice.
May 12, 1913 - John S. Wise dies at the home of one of his sons near Princess Anne, Maryland. He is buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Tarter, B., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. John S. Wise (1846–1913). (2019, April 4). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Wise_John_S_1846-1913.
- MLA Citation:
Tarter, Brent and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "John S. Wise (1846–1913)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 4 Apr. 2019. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: July 24, 2018 | Last modified: April 4, 2019