Thursday, April 29, 2021

French Blockade Runner? The arrest of Louis de Bebian.

   While the exact number of citizens arrested by the Lincoln Administration during the war is unknown (13,000-38,000) we really know the stories of only a handful. Clement Vallandingham and Rose O’Neal Greenhow come to mind. Louis de Bebian is not one of those names, but, in August 1861, he was arrested.

   Louis was born in 1829 on the French Island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean. In 1855, he moved with his family to Wilmington, North Carolina, where he taught French and worked as a partner in O. G. Parsely & Company, lumber and commission merchants. Once the war commenced, he engaged in blockade running, traveling through the French Antilles, working on acquiring supplies for the Confederacy. It was determined to send de Babian to England and France, and on August 6, 1861, he boarded the schooner Adelso in Wilmington, bound for Halifax, Nova Scotia. Running into bad weather, the Adelso was forced to put into port in Newport, Rhode Island, on August 12. Upon hearing that the Adelso had sailed from a Southern Port, the USS Henrietta seized the ship’s cargo of spirits, turpentine, and rosin, and de Bebian.

William H. Seward
   No one was allowed to leave the Adelso, and all of the papers on board were seized. While de Bebian claimed to be simply a passenger, among the papers in his trunk was a letter authorizing him to purchase between 5,000 to 0,000 “army blankets,” 1,000 bags of coffee, “tons of iron of various sizes,” along with personal clothing. The items were to be shipped on a British or French vessel. Included were instructions on how to signal the shore once the vessel was off the coast of Wilmington, so a pilot could be sent out to guide the vessel into the Cape Fear River. Because of his French citizenship, he was allowed to go ashore on August 17, the same day that he made an affidavit stating he was simply a passenger. But de Babian was arrested on William H. Seward’s order on August 19 and sent to Fort Lafayette in New York Harbor. S, W. Macy, the collector at the port of Newport, found de Babian’s demeanor pleasant at first, but on his arrest, he “commenced abusing both the Government and the people of the United States… He also stated that he should go to England and blow the United States to hell, and then he would go to France and return with fifty ships of war and have full redress…” 

   A lengthy paper trail soon developed. De Bebian wrote Count Montholon, the French Consul in New York, of his plight. He then wrote to Price Napoleon, and the French Consul in Washington, D.C.  De Babian’s children, who lived in New York City, wrote to both the French Consul in New York, and to Seward, asking for their father’s release. In September, due to an attack of “violent diarrhoea,” de Bebian was paroled and allowed to visit his family in New York, a parole that was extended. In the meantime, but to the chagrin of Seward, the incriminating papers found in de Bebian’s trunks, were lost. On October 4, Seward ordered the release of de Bebian, and about a month later, he was on his way to Britain and France. Once in France, de Bebian complained of his treatment, and the loss of his papers, which the French Consul in Washington took up, asking for indemnity. Eventually, Seward came to the conclusion that de Bebian was not an “innocent passenger,” nor was the Adelso “a neutral vessel.”[1]

   Louis de Bebian spent little time in Europe. A North Carolina newspaper reported that after he was released, Seward granted him a passport, with an endorsement that de Bebian was “not to enter into any of the insurrectionary States.” He sailed to Britain, and then France, where he met with Emperor Napoleon. “The Emperor said that he should be allowed to return to his place of business, and the French Minister of Foreign Affairs prepared the necessary papers for the French minister at Washington.” De Bebian “returned to Washington and applied for a passport to Wilmington, but Seward refused it. The next day the French minister called on Seward and showed his papers, when Seward granted the passport.”[2] De Bebian was reported to be in Norfolk, Virginia, on February 4.[3]

Emperor Napoleon III 

   There is not much of a record of de Bebian for the rest of the War. Following the conflict, he moved to New York City, becoming an agent for a French steamer company. Louis de Bebian passed in December 1893, and is buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx County, New York. An obituary on findagrave states that his casket was carried into the church by twelve French sailors, all in uniform. It is not really clear just who de Bebian was working for. While he denounced the United States government, he might have just been seeking stock for his company. He does not appear in Bullock’s The Secret Service of the Confederate States in Europe, or in Wise’s Lifeline of the Confederacy: Blockade Running During the Civil Way. De Bebian’s arrest and imprisonment could have caused an international incident with France, something that Seward and the Lincoln administration wished to avoid.


[1] Official Records, Series II, Vol. 2, 432-455.

[2] Fayetteville Semi-Weekly, February 6, 1862.

[3] The Daily Journal, February 5, 1862.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Site Visit Saturday: CSS Nashville at Fort McAllister


   There are just a handful of places where visitors can see remnants of Confederate vessels from the War. That small list includes the CSS Neuse in Kinston, North Carolina, and the ships at the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Georgia. A visitor can find remnants of the CSS Nashville at Fort McAllister in Richmond Hill, Georgia.

   Many of the vessels used by the Confederate States naval forces were captured vessels, ships captured at the beginning of the war. Constructed in Greenpoint, New York, in 1853, the CSS Nashville started out as the United States Mail Ship Nashville. The Nashville, a brig-rigged, side-paddle-wheel passenger steamer, plied the waters between Charleston, South Carolina, and New York City from 1853 to 1861. During the attack on Fort Sumter, the Nashville sailed into Charleston Harbor and was fired upon by the USRC Harriet Lane. Following the capitulation of Sumter, the Nashville entered the harbor, tied up at the dock, and was captured. The Confederates outfitted the Nashville as a cruiser, and she slipped out of Charleston in October 1861. She was the first ship of war to fly the Confederate flag in English waters. Near the British Isles on November 19, the Nashville captured and burned the American merchant ship Harvey Birch.

   The Nashville returned to the Confederate States in February 1862, was renamed the Thomas L. Wagg and used as a blockade runner, then in November 1862, was repurposed as a privateer, and again renamed as the Rattlesnake. The Rattlesnake had run aground at Seven Mile Bend in the Ogeechee River, near Fort McAllister. McAllister was an earthen fort protecting the city of Savannah. The Fort was attacked several times during the war. In late January 1863, a campaign started to take the fort. Several ships were involved, including the ironclad USS Montauk.  While Fort McAllister survived, the CSS Rattlesnake (oftentimes still referred to as the Nashville) was sunk on February 28, 1863. Private citizens began diving and excavating the site in 1979. The state of Georgia sued, stating that the site and all artifacts belonged to the state. The courts agreed and the artifacts were turned over to the state. On visiting the Fort McAllister State Park, visitors can see some of the artifacts from the vessel.

   My family last visited Fort McAllister and the artifacts from the CSS Nashville/Rattlesnake in December 2016.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Surrendered, Smuggled, or Severed? The Battle Flags of the ANV and the AOT at Appomattox and the Bennett Place.

37th Alabama Infantry
   Back in January/February 1987, an article appeared in Confederate Veteran magazine about the flag of the 37th Alabama Infantry. As the story goes, that flag escaped surrender twice. After the regiment was surrendered at Vicksburg, the flag was secreted away, folded up in the saddle blanket of Col. James F. Dowdell’s horse. Then after the surrender of the regiment at Greensboro, the flag was “smuggled out of Greensboro” by a Captain Johnson. The flag remained in various families until it was donated to Auburn University and is today in the Alabama Room at Auburn.[1]

   The surrender terms worked out between Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House, stipulated that “arms, artillery, and public property” were to be stacked and turned over to an officer designated by Grant. Likewise, the final terms worked out between Joseph E. Johnston and William T. Sherman at the Bennett Place on April 26, 1865, specified once again that  “public property” had to be turned over to an ordinance offer of the United States army. Since flags were issued by the government, they would be considered public property. But like the story above regarding the flag of the 37th Alabama, not all flags were surrendered. Some were, but others were secreted away, while others were destroyed by Confederate soldiers.

61st Virginia Infantry 
   Federal General John Gibbon wrote on April 13, 1865, that 71 Confederate flags were surrendered at Appomattox.[2] Most of the descriptions of the surrender of flags come from the Federals. One Federal wrote that the Confederates seemed to hate to give up their flags more than anything else. Many kissed the flags with tears in their eyes.[3] Federal General Joshua L. Chamberlain, supervising the stacking of arms, wrote that “Then, slowly and with a reluctance that was appealingly pathetic, the torn and tattered battleflags were either leaned against the stacks or laid on the ground.”[4] However, one North Carolinian wrote that the flags were placed on the stacks, not on the ground.[5] Among those surrendered include the flags of the those of the 5th, 48th, and 60th Alabama Infantry regiments; the 13th, 15th, and 28th North Carolina regiments, and the 61st Virginia Infantry. A few Army of Northern Virginia flags were secreted away. Ensign Emanuel Rudisill, 16th North Carolina State Troops, sewed his regiment’s silk battle flag inside the lining of his coat and brought it home.[6] Likewise the flags of the 2nd South Carolina Infantry, 12th South Carolina Infantry, 38th North Carolina Troops, and 25th North Carolina Troops were not surrendered and were brought home. The flag of the 14th South Carolina Infantry was concealed under a rock before the surrender, and was later retrieved.[7] A few flags, like the headquarters flag of Robert E. Lee, and the flags of the 23rd and 24th Virginia Regiments, were not surrendered or brought home, intact. Instead, they were cut up and the pieces distributed among the paroled soldiers.

It was a different scenario with the Army of Tennessee. Instead of being boxed in like the Army of Northern Virginia, the various Confederate regiments in North Carolina were spread out, from Greensboro to High Point to Salisbury, even Charlotte. There were no formal surrender ceremonies. Instead, artillery was parked and some regiments stacked some of their arms, although Confederates were allowed to keep some of their weapons. Very few flags were surrendered. A report from the New York Herald noted that “We have got very few battle flags or horses.”[8] Many of the Army of Tennessee soldiers concealed their flags to take home. The third bunting issue Army of Northern Virginia flag of the 26th Alabama Infantry (the regiment served in both the ANV and the AOT) was wrapped around the body servant of Dr. Hayes, the brigade surgeon, and brought back to Alabama.[9]

3rd Tennessee Infantry

The flag of the 49th Tennessee was concealed on the person Robert Y. Johnson, only to be forcibly taken by Federals when the group reached Lenoir City, Tennessee.[10] Other flags that were concealed and brought home include those of the 3rd, 7th, 10th, 12th, 16th, and 24th South Carolina Infantry, 20th, 33rd, 34th, 36th, and 40th Alabama Infantry; 8th and 17th North Carolina Troops; 3rd, 4th, 6/9th, 11th, 13th, 18th/26th, 24th, 32nd, and 49th Tennessee Infantry regiments; 7th Florida Infantry; 9th Arkansas Infantry; and 1st and 42nd Georgia Infantry regiments. Some flags, such as those of the 7th and 58th North Carolina Troops, 1st Tennessee, and 7th South Carolina Battalion, were cut up and the pieces distributed to the remaining members. A member of the 2nd Tennessee Cavalry recalled cutting their flag up into 160 pieces.[11] A member of the 47th Georgia recalled cutting up their flag,  concealing the pieces in a saddle blanket and setting off to the Trans-Mississippi department.[12] Except for the flag of the 26th Tennessee Infantry, it is not clear if any other flags were surrendered by the Army of Tennessee, and this banner could have been captured at the battle of Bentonville.[13]

This post just barely scratches the surface of Confederate battle flags and the last month of the war. Unless it is hidden away at the National Archives, there does not seem to be a list of Confederate flags that were captured, destroyed, surrendered, or secreted home through the months of April and May 1865. What a project! 

[1] Golden, “The 37th Alabama Flag,” Confederate Veteran (January-February 1987): 24-25.

[2] Official Records, 46, pt.3, 734.

[3] Cauble, The Surrender Proceedings, 95-96.

[4] Chamberlain, “Last Salute,” 362.

[5] Freeman, Lee’s Lieutenants, 3:77.

[6] Dedmondt, The Flags of Civil War North Carolina, 100.

[7] Dedmondt, The Flags of Civil War South Carolina, 106.

[8] New York Herald, May 9, 1865.

[9] Dedmondt, The Flags of Civil War Alabama, 80.

[10] Cox, Civil War Flags of Tennessee, 361.

[11] Cox, civil War Flags of Tennessee, 431.

[12] Dunkerly, The Confederate Surrender at Greensboro, 116.

[13] Cox, Civil War Flags of Tennessee, 294.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Site Visit Saturday: Lt. Col. Frank A. Reynolds, 39th NC, Egypt, and Philadelphia


   In June 2015, we were on one of those classic “see America” road trips. Our son had been competing at National History Day in Maryland, and after the contest ended, we headed north to Philadelphia for a couple of days, then west to Gettysburg and Harpers Ferry. One of our stops was Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia. Laurel Hill is one of the classic Victorian Cemeteries, and with more than 33,000 graves, it is huge. There are graves of many important historical people at Laurel Hill: novelist Owen Wister; Titanic survivor Eleanor Widener; Constitutional Congress secretary Charles Thomson; Union general George Gordon Meade; and Confederate general John C. Pemberton, just to name a few. As we were stumbling through this cemetery, I found the grave of another interesting Confederate soldier: Lt. Col. Frank A. Reynolds. 

Frank A. Reynolds (findagrave)

   Frank A. Reynolds was born in the current state of Lewisburg, Greenbrier County, Virginia (now West Virginia) on August 10, 1841. His father was Alexander W. Reynolds (Yep, the Confederate general) and his mother was Mary Reeves Ash Reynolds. Like his father, Frank Reynolds attended the United States Military Academy at West Point. The younger Reynolds graduated[MCH1]  in June 1861. Some of his classmates included Alonzo Cushing, Patrick H. O’Rorke, and George A. Custer. Reynolds, however, did not follow his classmates into the Federal army. Instead, he returned to Virginia. He served as a cavalry officer under Gen. John B. Floyd in 1861, then was appointed captain and assistant adjutant general to Gen. Samuel G. French. On May 19, 1862, Reynolds was appointed major and assigned to the 39th North Carolina Troops. He was appointed lieutenant colonel on December 29, 1862.

The 39th North Carolina Troops was one of four North Carolina infantry regiments that served in the Western Theater of the war (the 29th, 58th, and 60th NC regiments are the others). The 39th Regiment saw action at Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, Resaca, New Hope Church, Kennesaw Mountain, Peach Tree Creek, Ezra Church, Franklin, Nashville, Mobile, Fort Blakely, and Spanish Fort. It appears that Reynolds was present for most of those actions. On May 9, 1865, the lieutenant colonel was paroled at Meridian, Mississippi.

   After the war, Reynolds served for a brief amount of time as a street inspector in New York City, before accepting a commission as an artillery colonel on the staff of Gen. William W. Loring, in the Egyptian Army. Frank Reynolds was in Ilion, New York, when he passed in July 1875. A brief obituary in the Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), simply read: Col. Frank Reynolds, one of the American officers in the service of the Egyptian Khedive, was found dead in his bed Tuesday at Ilion, N.Y. He was on leave of absence.” Writing in 1901, Lt. Theodore F. Davidson regretted that there was little “data of his subsequent career,” but believed that Reynolds was “an accomplished soldier.”

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Confederates buried at the Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

    Recently, Dana Shoaf, editor at Civil War Times, did a live stream from the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. When the guide was asked about the row of Confederate tombstones, he did not really seem sure how they came to be buried in what is considered the nation’s first “national cemetery.” Likewise, the self-guided tour brochure for the Congressional cemetery, states that “Historians believe that these wartime burials were Confederate soldiers who succumbed in nearby hospitals.” Let’s clear this up: these are the graves of Confederate soldiers who died at either the Old Capitol Prison or the Old Capitol Prison Hospital during the war. There are also more graves than the ten tombstones all lined up in a row. According to records, there are at least twenty-five Confederate soldiers interred at the Congressional Cemetery, along with three (or more) civilians.

   The Old Capitol Prison has an interesting history. Located right behind the U.S. Capitol, where the U.S. Supreme Court building now sits, the structure was constructed in 1815 to house Congress after the British burned the capitol building in August 1814. It would take time to reconstruct the U.S. Capitol. Congress met in the building until 1819, and President James Monroe was inaugurated here on March 4, 1817. After 1819, the building served as a private school, then as a boarding house until 1861. (John C. Calhoun died here in 1850.)

   At the start of the war, the property was acquired by the Federal government and turned into a prison for captured Confederates, spies, political prisoners, prostitutes, and Union officers. Among those incarcerated here were Rose Greenhow, Belle Boyd, John Mosby, Henry Wirz, Dr. Samuel Mudd, Mary Surratt, Louis Weichmann, and John T. Ford. Originally, the building could house up to 500, but the acquisition of adjoining buildings pushed the number to 1,500.

   The Old Capitol Prison often served as a funneling spot for other prisons. Most of the prisoners were captured in the eastern theater of the war. Officers passed through and went to Johnson’s Island in Ohio, while privates were sent to Fort Delaware (usually, but not always). According to the official Records, 5,761 prisoners of passed through the Old Capitol Prison. It is unclear if that number covered just Confederate prisoners, or all prisoners. Like other prisons, The Old Capitol Prison had a hospital, although information about this structure (or room), seems to be lacking. At least 457 prisoners died while incarcerated at the prison. Some of these men were buried a mile away at the Congressional Cemetery. (see the Official Records, series 2, volume 8, 990-1004 for additional numbers.)

   In 1807, the Congressional Cemetery was established by a private association. In 1812, once the purchase was paid off, the cemetery was turned over to Christ Church and officially named the Washington Parish Burial Ground. According to the cemetery’s web site, if a member of Congress died in Washington, he was likely interred in this burial ground. The first was Connecticut senator Uriah Tracy, who passed in 1807. Congress soon began purchasing plots, eventually owning almost 1,000, hence the name, Congressional Cemetery, although the property is still owned by Christ Church. There are more than 60 members of Congress buried here, along with former mayors of Washington, Vice President Elbridge Gerry, the Choctaw Chief Push-Ma-Ta-Ha, and John Philip Sousa. There are supposedly more than 60,000 graves, although only about half are marked.

   It is unclear why the Congressional Cemetery was chosen for Confederate Prisoner of War burials. The first appears to be Thomas Chambers, 6th Alabama Infantry. It is unclear where Chambers was captured, but he was admitted to the “General Hospital, Capitol Hill,” on August 18, 1861 and died on August 22, 1861. (All information on Confederate soldiers was gathered from their Compiled Service Records, Record Group 109, National Archives). Most of the burials took place in 1863. Several who were captured at Hatchers Run in April 1865 died in the following weeks and were buried at the cemetery.

   There are undoubtedly more than those Confederates listed below buried within the Congressional Cemetery. There are also quite a few on this online list of burials, who are listed as Confederate soldiers, but who are, in fact, Federal soldiers. Maybe in time, more research can be done and this piece of forgotten history recovered.

Confederates buried at the Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

ANDRESS, SETH A, Company G, 41ST Virginia Infantry. Captured on May 3, 1863, Fredericksburg, Virginia. Arrived in Washington, D.C., May 4, 1863. Transferred to Old Capitol Prison. Died Old Capitol Prison Hospital, May 16, 1863.

 BARR, DAVID, Company I, 2ND Virginia Infantry. Captured August 3, 1863, at Chester Gap, Virginia, and confined at Old Capital Prison, Washington, D.C. Admitted to the Old Capitol Prison Hospital September 16, 1863, and Died December 11, 1863.

 BARRETT, LEVI, Company C, 15TH North Carolina State Troops. Captured October 14, 1863, Bristoe Station, Virginia. Confined at Old Capitol Prison, October 16, 1863. Admitted to the Old Capitol Prison Hospital November 23, 1863. Died November 27, 1863.

 BAXLEY, WILLIAM G. D., Pvt., Company A, 2nd Maryland Infantry. Wounded in right thigh and captured on April 2, 1865, at Hatchers Run Virginia. Confined at Old Capitol Prison, April 5, 1865. Died on April 22, 1865. [later removed and reinterred elsewhere]

 BEARD, WILLIAM S., Company B, 28TH North Carolina Troops. Captured December 3, 1862, Fredericksburg, Virginia. Confined at Old Capitol Prison January 27, 1863. Admitted to the Old Capitol Prison Hospital, March 25, 1863. Died of Fever, April 10, 1863.

 BROOKS J. M., Stafford County, VA, d. 5/--/1863

 CAMPBELL, A LORENZO, Company I, 11TH North Carolina State Troops Captured in hospital in Winchester, Virginia, July 21, 1863. Confined at Old Capitol Prison. Admitted to the Old Capitol Prison Hospital, July 30, 1863. Died August 5, 1863, of pneumonia.

 CARLTON, C WINSHIP, Company C, 44th North Carolina Troops. Captured at Brisoe Station. Died Old Capitol Prison of “pleurisy and pericarditis”

 CHAMBERS, THOMAS, Company A, 6TH Alabama Infantry. Unclear where he was captured.  Admitted to the General Hospital, Capitol Hill, August 18, 1861. Died October 14, 1862, of Variola.

 CHANEY J., Pvt., 6th Alabama, d.1/28/1862

 COCKRELL, BAILEY, Farmer, Loudon County, Virginia. d. 03/03/1864


 FOSDICK, HENRY A, PVT, Company I, 6TH Alabama Infantry. d. 09/19/1863.

 GASQUE, THOMAS, Company H, 1st SOUTH Carolina Rifles, d. 09/11/1862


 HARRINGTON, JOHN, Company E, 33RD North Carolina Troops. Captured October 18, 1863, Bristoe Station, Virginia. Confined at Old Capitol Prison October 22, 1863. Admitted to the Old Capitol prison Hospital, November 16, 1863. Died December 10, 1863, “chronic diarrhea.”

 HODGES, JOHN T, CPL, Company H, 61ST VA Infantry. Captured at Rapidan Station, Virginia, October 7, 1863. Listed as “rebel deserter.” Confined at Old Capitol Prison October 9, 1863. Admitted to the Old Capitol Prison Hospital on October 9, with a “gunshot wound of arm.” Died October 16, 1863.

 HUGHLETT, JAMES, CPL, Company F, 47TH Virginia Infantry. Date and place of capture unknown (Possibly Gettysburg). Admitted to Old Capitol Prison Hospital July 18, 1863. Died August 3, 1863, of pneumonia.

 JACKSON, JOHN C, Company H, 20TH North Carolina State Troops. Reported missing in September 1862. Admitted to the Capital Hospital, September 21, 1862, Transferred to the Capitol Prison Hospital, September 30, 1862. Died October 30, 1862, dysentery.


 MCMILLAN, WILLIAM, Company A, 14TH LOUISIANA Infantry. Captured November 7, 1863, near Brandy Station, Virginia. Confined Old Capitol Prison, November 8, 1863. Admitted Old Capitol Prison November 25, 1863. Died December 1, 1863, typhoid fever.

 MILLS, WILLIAM J, Company D, 12TH GEORGIA Infantry. Captured May 30, 1862, near Front Royal, Virginia. NFR.

 MILSTEAD, JAMES, Company H, 6TH Virginia Cavalry. Wounded left thigh and captured April 1, 1865, at Hatchers Run, Virginia. Admitted to hospital at City Point, Virginia, April 3, 1865. Transferred to the Lincoln General Hospital, Washington, D.C., April 11, 1865. Died May 23, 1865, of “Chronic Diarrhea.”

 MORAN, ROBERT, Farmer, Loudon County, Virginia. d. 02/29/1864.

 MURCHISON, CICERO, Company G, 44TH, Georgia Infantry. Captured on November 28, 1863, Mine Run, Virginia. Confined at Old Capitol Prison, December 5, 1863. Admitted Old Capitol Prison Hospital, December 6, 1863. Died December 11, 1863, pleurisy.


 NEALLY, ISIAH, Company D, 20TH North Carolina Infantry. Captured December 3, 1863, Mine Run, Virginia. Confined Old Capitol Prison, December 3, 1863.Admitted Old Capitol Prison Hospital, December 24, 1863. Died December 24, 1863, pneumonia.

 PIERCE, STEPHEN, Company D, 48TH Virginia Infantry. Captured in Front Royal, Virginia, May 30, 1862. NFR.

 POWELL, CHARLES, Company F, 35TH Georgia Infantry. Reported missing May 5, 1862. Reported in U.S.A. Hospital, Williamsburg, Virginia, May 9-11, 1862. NFR.

 RUCKER, JAMES S, Moorman’s Company, Virginia Horse Artillery. Captured September 13, 1863, near Culpepper, Virginia. Confined at Old Capitol prison September 14, 1863. Admitted to the Old Capitol Prison Hospital on October 3, 1863. Died on October 7, 1863.


 STONE, JOHN W, CPL, Company H, 4TH Virginia Cavalry. Captured near Brandy Station on February 23, 1863. Arrived in Washington, D.C., February 23, 1863. Assigned to Old Capitol Prison on February 23, 1863. Admitted to the Old Capitol Prison Hospital on March 9, 1863 Complaint: Pneumonia. Died on May 12, 1863. 

TRIGGER, ROBERT, Company E, 15TH Virginia Cavalry. Listed as a deserter on Federal prison records. Took the Oath of Allegiance February 19, 1863. Arrived in Washington D.C., February 21, 1863. Died Old Capitol prison, February 25, 1863, of Pneumonia.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Federal Prisoners and Southern Ministers and Chaplains

   Earlier this year, I started a series on prisoner of war camps in the South. One post was an overview of prisons (here), and another post looked at the different types of prisoners held at Salisbury (here). This post will examine the clergy who worked with the prisoners.

   The Confederate government apparently never appointed chaplains to prison camps. Instead, the work of the church, ministering to the spiritual needs of the prisoners, was undertaken by concerned clergy.

   At Salisbury, in 1864, Dr. A.W. Mangum began preaching to the prisoners inside the prison pen. Mangum tells us in his short history of the Salisbury Prison that some preaching had taken place in the post hospital by Dr. Richard O. Kurrie, and then by Dr. Wilson and a Dr. Rumple. Wilson recruited Mangum to preach in the hospital, but was discouraged by Major John Gee, the prison’s commanding officer, from preaching to the general prison population. Gee found the prisoners “generally foreign and Catholic” and did not believe that the Methodist Mangum would find a “kindly reception.” But at some point, Gee obviously softened his stance, for when Mangum entered the prison yard, he found a Baptist minister preaching to a large group of men. Mangum selected his own spot and began to sing. A crowd gathered, which Mangum found “respectful, earnest and solemn.” While Mangum goes on to talk about working on establishing a prison library, he does not go into much further detail of his preaching at Salisbury Prison.[1] 

Bishop John McGill

   It is interesting to note that Major Gee thought most of the prisoners were “foreigners and Catholics”; it was apparently the Catholics who ministered to prisoners at Camp Sumter in Andersonville.  There are a couple of mentions of Protestant ministers at Andersonville, including the Methodists Robert James Hodges and E.B. Duncan. There could be more whom history has forgotten. Andersonville was not Salisbury. It was in the middle of nowhere, served by a railroad not tied to a large city further south. When the Reverend William John Hamilton visited Andersonville in May 1864, he found a large number of Catholic prisoners. Hamilton lived in Macon, and southwestern Georgia was a part of his charge. He contacted the Bishop in Savannah who sent Father Peter Whelan to minister to the prisoners. Finding more men to minister to than he could handle, he asked for help, and Father H. Claveril was sent. The two lived in a shack not far from the prison. According to Peggy Sheppard, the pair “soon won the admiration and respect of most prisoners—Catholic, Protestants, Jews, and atheists alike.” They could often be seen crawling into dugouts to hear confessions or to administer extreme unction to dying men. Claveril was replaced by Father John Kirby, who was replaced by Father Hosannah, a Jesuit priest from Mobile who could speak several different languages.[2]

   Libby Prison, located in the Confederate capital, had the benefit of several religious gatherings each week. Chaplain Henry C. Trumball, 10th Connecticut Infantry, was captured during the assault on Battery Wagner near Charleston, South Carolina, in July 1863. He was held in several prisoner of war camps before being exchanged in November 1863. Trumball noted that there were prayer meetings held three evenings a week, and when chaplains were present, “sermons, twice each Sunday.” It seems in the case of Libby Prison, there was often some Federal chaplain incarcerated within who was able to provide religious meetings, i.e., Charles C. McCabe, 122nd Ohio, Louis N. Beaudry, 5th New York Cavalry, Joseph T. Brown, 6th Maryland Volunteers. There were some outside chaplains.[3] One prisoner at Libby noted that the Catholic Bishop of Richmond visited the prison. The Right Rev. John McGill was noted as “frequently” attending the Northern soldiers confined in Libby prison,” although McGill, Northern born, was “decidedly southern in his sympathies.” If McGill could not attend in person, he sent others, including Revs. Father Scully and Mahone, and the Jesuit Fathers O’Hagan, McAtee, and Tissot.[4]

   However, not all of these measures were appreciated. Historian George Rable noted that the Federal officers at Libby Prison debated, but did not pass, a series of resolutions against “Rebel ministers” conducting services. One Pennsylvania officer noted that the local pastors “had better teach humanity to their own people before attempting to preach Christianity” to the prisoners.[5] However, if the writings of Northern chaplain Henry S. White are to be believed, this worked both ways. White was appointed chaplain of a Rhode Island regiment in 1863 and was captured in eastern North Carolina on May 4, 1864. For a brief amount of time, White was quartered in a church in Andersonville. His request to preach to the prisoners was met with mixed support and was eventually denied. White was soon moved to the officer’s prison in Macon.[6]

   The work on Southern clergy among Federal prisoner of war camps is a neglected topic of study. Outside of a few brief mentions in Rable’s God’s Almost Chosen Peoples (2010) and Miller’s In God’s Presence: Chaplains, Missionaries, and Religious Space During the American Civil War (2019), the topic does not seem to merit any scholarly coverage. The role of local churches and prisons could be explored, as well as the attitudes of various denominations, like the Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists. (Or, if you know of a source that deals with this subject, please drop me a line.)





[1] Poteat, Confederate States Military Prison at Salisbury, NC, 27-32.

[2] Sheppard, Andersonville, Georgia, U.S.A, 33-37. See also Marvel, Andersonville: The Last Depot, 140-144, 163-164.

[3] Trumball, War Memories of an Army Chaplain, 297.

[4] Magri, “Catholicity in Virginia during the Episcopate of Bishop McGill, 1850-1872,” The Catholic Historical Review, Vol. 2, No. 4 (January 1917): 422-423.

[5] Rable, God’s Almost Chosen Peoples, 367.

[6] White, Prison Life Among The Rebels, 42.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Site Visit Saturday: Fort Harrison


   The armies, both gray and blue, tore up the landscape wherever they went during the war. Thousands of acres of trees were felled, and in many places, the ground itself was overturned and reshaped into field fortifications. In many cases, those fortifications are really the only visual evidence that remains to remind us the carnage of the 1860s.

   Fort Harrison, near Richmond, Virginia, was a part of field fortifications constructed by Confederates beginning in June 1862. The fort was named after Lt. William Harrison, a Confederate engineer, and was the largest fort in a series of works that stretched from New Market Road to the James River. Parts of the fort and the abatis in front were constructed by 200 convicts from the state penitentiary, 300 black laborers, and the 17th Georgia Infantry. Fort Harrison and the corresponding lines were considered a critical link in Richmond’s defenses, and on September 29, 1864, the Federals launched an attack. Confederate forces near the Fort numbered just 800 men, with a mere 35 artillerists manning the actual fort. The artillery appears to be from John Guerrant’s Goochland Artillery.

   The Confederate defenders did not really stand a chance. Over 8,000 Federal soldiers attacked and carried Fort Harrison and the surrounding works. Seeing a potential threat to Richmond, Robert E. Lee ordered a counterattack on September 30. The attacking Confederate force consisted of Anderson’s Georgia brigade, Bowles’s brigade of Alabamians, and Bratton’s South Carolina’s brigade, under the command of Maj. Gen. Charles Field. In Hoke’s division were the brigades of Scales, Colquitt, Kirkland, Hagood, and McKethan. Confederate naval forces and land artillery shelled the Fort. Around 1:45, the attack commenced. While the plan of attack designed by Lee looked good, it fell apart from the beginning. An ill-coordinated attack by 10,000 Confederates failed to dislodge the Federal defenders. The Confederates fell back and established a new defensive line, while the Federals re-worked Fort Harrison and renamed it Fort Burnham, a Federal general killed during the first attack on September 28.

   The well-preserved Fort Harrison is a part of the Richmond National Battlefield Park. I last visited in March 2018.