Wednesday, December 09, 2015

What became of the Deserters?


Often, I have wondered what became of the deserters who are mentioned in the regimentals that I have written. The majority came home (or overstayed their furloughs) and hid out, waiting for the war to end. A few crossed over and joined the Union army. But what became of those who deserted in battle or from a lonely picket post and went willingly in to the Federal lines? Often, these men were allowed to take the Oath of Allegiance, as long as they promised to stay up North. How did they survive?

I've been reading an article by Brian Luskey entitled "Special Marts: Intelligence Offices, Labor Commodification, and Emancipation in Nineteenth Century America." (Journal of the Civil War Era, Vol. 3, No. 3, September 2013). Luskey's essay is really about the Intelligence Offices in the North - not Intelligence as we think of the word, but offices in which people looking for work or people looking for employees could go, and for a fee, hopefully find whatever situation they were seeking, kind of like our job banks today. What really piqued my interest is the brief discussion on the Union Refreshment Saloon of Philadelphia.

The Union Refreshment Saloon of Philadelphia had a clerk, Joseph B. Wade, who attempted to help Confederate deserters find jobs with employers looking for help on their farms, workshops, and in homes. While not mentioning names, Luskey tells us of two deserters from the 61st North Carolina Troops, who were recommended to work on a Gloucester County, New Jersey, farm owned  by Joseph Cahaley. Cahaley was specifically looking to give a "permanent position" to one of the "deserting rebs" and offered to pay "fair wages." I wonder if Cahaley realized the value of a Southern farmer, or might have even been sympathetic to the plight of the soldiers. Or, he just might have been a kindly man.

Luskey goes on to mention a Brewer of the 34th North Carolina who found himself looking for employment. Brewer worked for the North Pennsylvania Railroad. There were three Brewers in Company K. The most likely would be Hiram Brewer, from Montgomery County, who deserted on September 7, 1864, taking the Oath three days later.

One of the references that Luskey uses is entitled "Notes on Refugees, Deserters, and Employment, 1864-1865," found in the Samuel Fales Collection at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. I might just take a look at this the next time I am up in Philadelphia.


Of course, these are just a couple of references. There were probably thousands of Confederate soldiers who found themselves in just such a situation. Tired of war, a deserter, and required to stay up North for the duration of the conflict. I wonder what their stories are? 

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