Black History Month: An Early Encounter with the Evil of Slavery and a Celebration of Washington’s Birthday (February 1862)

Woodcut depicting the harsh climate at Fort Taylor in Key West, Florida during the Civil War (public domain, U.S. Library of Congress).

“I was a servant until I was 13 years old and then my master put me into the field to make sugar and molasses. I tried to escape, but my master came on the ship and took me back.”

— Walter Bowten, a 27-year-old black man who requested help from the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers after successfully escaping from slavery in February 1862

Attached to the command of Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan and assigned to garrison Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West, Florida in early February 1862, the members of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry were soon brought face to face with the realities of life behind enemy lines in America’s Deep South as the United States was about to enter into the second year of its Civil War. Familiarized early on with the open, corrosive hatred of supporters of secession and the Confederacy, they also learned about the ugliest practices of slavery firsthand from a young man who had been whipped simply because his clothing had torn during a period of hard labor.

Taking turns with members of Brannan’s other regiments (the 90th and 91st New York Volunteers) in guarding roughly 200 to 300 blockade runners, gunboat operators and other Confederate prisoners, as well as 57 secessionists from Ship Island, the 47th Pennsylvanians also drilled daily in heavy artillery tactics, felled trees, helped to build new roads, and strengthened the fortifications in and around the Union Army’s presence in Key West.

* Note: Although several earlier historians have speculated that the 47th Pennsylvania Infantry was ordered to Florida because its members were incompetent militarily or because they were being punished for some unspecified wrongdoing, this belief is unfounded. Brigadier-General Brannan personally selected the 47th Pennsylvania to accompany him on what he knew would be a difficult mission—terminating Florida’s role as “the supplier of the Confederacy.” Florida’s livestock farmers were among the earliest to feed Confederate States Army troops, becoming one of the largest sources of cattle for CSA regiments, as well as suppliers of pork products while other food producers contributed fruit and fish. In addition, Florida was a major producer of American salt—a key ingredient critical to the preservation of food for CSA troops on the move.

Furthermore, President Abraham Lincoln and his generals realized that, if they were to prevent Europe from helping the Confederate States of America turn the tide of war in its favor by landing ammunition and food-laden ships on the coast of Florida, Union troops would need to capture and then maintain control of Florida’s coastal and interior waterways. So, they began to beef up the presence of Union Army and Navy forces at key locations around the state, including at Fort Taylor in Key West and Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, as well as via offshore shipping blockades; they then also increased the heavy artillery training of their fort-based troops to further persuade Confederate and European leaders that any attempted sea-based attack or supply delivery would be so costly that it would not be worth the risk.

As the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers settled in further to their new assignments, they also began to make their presence felt in another important way—by trooping regularly at the fort and through the town. On Friday, February 7 alone, the 47th Pennsylvanians marched behind their Regimental Band in three separate regimental parades, followed by an evening drill in front of their barracks.

To safeguard against potential misbehavior by soldiers stationed far from home, military discipline was also instilled and reinforced through a series of proclamations by superior officers at the brigade, regimental, or unit levels, such as General Order No. 2, which announced that water permits would be “issued to the quartermaster Sgt. of each company each evening at 6:45 for the succeeding day” due to a critical shortage of safe drinking water:

“A sufficient number of men will be detailed to carry water, but they will not be excused from other duty. No bathing will be allowed after 5:30 AM. The right wing of the regiment will bathe tomorrow morning from 5 to 5:30 AM. They will be in charge of a commanding officer of each company. The commanding officer will see that the men avail themselves of bathing as it is essential to the health and welfare of the regiment. All bathing in daytime is absolutely prohibited. Hours of service and roll call are: Reveille at daybreak; police immediately after; call for drill 5:30; recall 7; breakfast 7:15; surgeon’s call 7:45; guard mounting 9; call for drill 10; recall 11; dinner 12; 1st Sgt. call 1; call for drill 3:30; recall 5; dress parade 5:30; tattoo at 8; taps 8:30. These calls will be beat by the drum at the central guard quarters five minutes before the time stated.”

Captain Richard A. Graeffe, Company A, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (c. 1863, public domain).

Special Order No. 18 authorized Captain Richard Graeffe, the commanding officer of Company A, to direct two men to immediately report to the regiment’s master baker for extra duties as bakers’ helpers while General Order No. 3 directed the commanding officers of individual companies to ensure that their respective sergeants had enough time to complete their administrative duties before submitting their required reports to the brigade’s headquarters each morning by 10 a.m. (Regimental Order No. 2 was subsequently modified to reflect the rescheduling of tattoo and taps to 9 and 9:30 p.m., respectively.) Around this same time, Private Abraham N. Wolf was awarded a temporary boost in authority with his assignment as “boss carpenter”—an additional duty he would continue to perform until June 20.

Following an early inspection by their superiors on Sunday, February 9, many 47th Pennsylvanians walked into the main part of the city to attend church services. C Company Musician Henry D. Wharton described the experience a week later in another of his letters to the Sunbury American:

“With several members of our company I attended Episcopal Church last Sabbath—The church building is a large and beautiful one, and the people deserve great credit for erecting it. The Minister is a strong Union man, and it struck me, on last Sabbath, that he lost no opportunity of displaying his Union sentiments. Some time ago some members of the Church were very disloyal, and when the Minister read the prayer “to behold and bless Thy servant, the President of the United States, and all others in authority,” they would close the prayer book, and look daggers at him, wondering whom they should hang first – the Minister or Abe Lincoln. General Brannan (Captain at the time), hearing of it, put an end to this disrespect, made them take the oath of allegiance, and now they now can say ‘Amen’ as loud and as heartily as the best Union men on the island…. For the sake of the Church, I am happy to state that only a few of its members were weak enough to show their fondness for Jeff Davis—the rest of the members were very glad that Gen. Brannan took the matter in hand.

The population of the island is about four thousand, consisting of negroes, Spaniards, and a few whites. With the exception of five storekeepers, the occupation of its inhabitants is fishing, dealing in fruit and selling hot coffee and cool drinks. There are as many coffee and cool drink saloons here as there are Lager Bier saloons in the Everlasting State of Williamsport, and from that you can readily perceive there is no need of being thirsty. As for intoxicating drinks, they are prohibited—the island being under martial law it is impossible to get even a smell, and it is well that it is so, for in this climate there is no telling what amount of sickness its use might produce. The buildings used for stores are very large and airy, but I can assure you that in the stores of either Friling & Grant or E. Y. Bright & Son, there are more goods than in all the stores on this island put together. Oranges, coming from Cuba and Nassau islands, are very plenty, and can be bo’t [sic] at three for a sixpence; not such as you folks get at home, but real fresh, juicy fellows that melt in one’s mouth equal to the best ice cream made in H. B. Masser’s patent ice cream freezers. Fish are very plenty [sic], and can be bought cheap. Thanks to Sergeant Smelser [alternate spelling “Smeltzer”], our company is living high in the fish line. He is Company Quarter-Master Sergeant, and on every fish market morning, Peter is at the wharf, and there exchanges our surplus pork and beef for fish; so that the boys have a variety and are content.

Horse and cattle are very small. They come from Cuba. The horses are not near as big as Peter B. Masser’s black ponies, and I have seen at home two year old cattle larger than those they use here for beeves.

There is an article here, that I believe bothers the whole human race, and that is mosquitoes. Those on this island are not of the common kind, but regular tormentors. – Fix your net work as you may, you will receive their sting before morning. They are great on a serenade too, and if one is impolite enough to go to sleep as they are in the middle of a glee, the leader will give you a tickler with his sting that it is impossible to resist; but for my part, I can easily dispense with that kind of music, and often wish that they would favor some one else who can appreciate their talents better than I can.

The Fort on this island (Fort Taylor) is a very large one, and is now of the most importance to the Government. It is not near finished, but so much so that the rebels dare not venture within the range of its guns. – When finished it will have one hundred and eighty guns, and with those on the embankment on the moat, fronting the town, it will have two hundred and seventy five. Some time since the fort came within an ace of being taken by the rebels, but Capt. Brannan saved it be stratagem. Men were working at the fort, so, to prevent suspicion, the Captain every morning would march a guard from the garrison to the fort, and in that manner before the rebels were aware of it, he had full possession of it. Mulraner, formerly a Sergeant of the Captain’s, who became rich in the rum business, hoisted a secesh flag on his hotel, and sent an impudent note to the Captain requesting him to honor the seven stars by firing a salute from the fort. The reply was that if the rag was not taken down on the return of the messenger, the Commander would open the guns of the fort on the town, and send Mulraner and his friends to Tortugas to work in the hot sand and give them time to repent of their folly, preparatory to dangling at the end of a rope. The flag was taken down — Mulraner vamoosed [sic] the ranch, and is now in command of a company of rebels somewhere near Pensacola. It is tho’t [sic] that when Gen. Brannan arrives Mulraner’s property, which is valuable, will be confiscated.

There are a large number of men-of-war here, and every day more are added to their number. Fifty-seven prisoners were brought in during the last week from Ship Island, besides two prizes, one loaded with turpentine, and the other with arms and machinery that were on the road to New Orleans, for a large steamer that is building there for use of the rebels.

You need not be surprised to here [sic] of an expedition being sent out from here – everything looks like it – so many vessels in port, more expected and troops arriving every day. There are three regiments here now, the 90th and 91st New York, and our own, besides the Regulars in the fort. If we do go, there will have to be a strong force left behind; for, in my opinion, the most of the Union men here are as treacherous as the men who use the stiletto to stab a friend, at night, from behind.

With the exception of fish and fruit, everything they use comes from the North. They would starve if it were not for the ‘mud ills,’ and yet they would try to break up the Government that protects them. Lumber is worth one hundred dollars per thousand feet. Carpenters’ wages are three dollars per day but I think they would starve at that, as I see no employment for them. The boys are very well, and are enjoying themselves with the sea bathing. We have received the American and Gazette three times since our arrival, and they are very welcome visitors, much more so than were the morning papers in Virginia. It is very strange we receive no letters; if the ‘folks at home’ knew how anxious we are to get them they would be a little more punctual.”

Following completion that same Sunday (February 9) of the brigade’s dress parade, which began at 5:30 p.m., B Company Lieutenant Allen G. Balliet marched roughly 40 members of the 47th Pennsylvania to Key West’s Methodist Church for evening services during which a sermon was delivered by the 91st New York Volunteers’ regimental chaplain. That same day, H Company Captain James Kacy issued Company Order No. 7:

“Sgt. R. S. Gardner will have under his command tents #1 and 2 and will be held personally responsible for the clean up of the men in person, clothing, arms, accoutrements, and quarters. Sgt. James Hahn will have under him tents #3 and 4 and be held responsible the same as #1 and 2. Sgt. Lynch will have under his control tents #5 and 6 and will be likewise held responsible. The Sgts. Gardner, Hahn and Lynch will have the men of the company on the parade ground at 5:30 AM and when one of them is on guard, the other two will attend to this drill duty and divide the squad between their respective commands.”

As the days of February rolled by, the commanding officers of the 47th Pennsylvania made a concerted effort to stabilize the living arrangements for their subordinates, housing the bulk of their men in military barracks southeast of Palm Avenue and White Street at Peary Court on the eastern side of Key West. Lodged in three buildings on the northeast side and three buildings on the southwest side of the Union Army’s parade grounds were the regiment’s field and staff officers, as well as the entire membership of the Regimental Band. Additionally, two 125-foot by 20-foot buildings accommodated a portion of enlisted members of the 47th Pennsylvania with the remainder housed in adjacent military tents—effective Tuesday, February 18. Known as Sibley tents, these were large, round, canvas structures which were 12 feet tall by 18 feet in diameter, supported by center poles and warmed by central fireplaces. Housing 16 to 19 men each, seven tents each were erected by the 47th Pennsylvania’s ten companies. One tent per company was placed at the head of each company’s “street” to house that company’s officers with the other six tents per company allotted to the enlisted men, each of whom who were arranged on the inside “like the spokes of a wheel,” according to Schmidt, “with their feet to the fireplace.”

According to Regimental Chaplain William DeWitt Clinton Rodrock, “The barracks were large and commodious two story [sic] buildings forming three sides of a quadrangle, the opening toward the sea.” Also located in this section of the city were the army’s hospital and cemetery.

As Henry Wharton indicated in his letter (above), serving with the 47th Pennsylvania under Brannan were the 90th New York, which was commanded by Colonel Joseph S. Morgan and which would later fight alongside the 47th Pennsylvania during the Union’s 1864 Red River Campaign across Louisiana and 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign across Virginia, and the 91st New York, commanded by Colonel J. Van Sandt. In addition, five companies of U.S. Army “regulars” also called Fort Taylor home at this time. (The 7th New Hampshire, which was stationed at Fort Jefferson in Florida’s Dry Tortugas, would be brought into closer proximity with the 47th Pennsylvania a few months later when Brannan and his men were ordered to move to South Carolina.)

There were also a significant number of enslaved and formerly enslaved men, women and children in the region. According to Schmidt:

“There was a slave camp about one mile from the military camps, where 150 Blacks were engaged in manufacturing salt; it was reported that 50,000 bushels of salt were made on the island each year by solar evaporation…. The manufacture of salt was terminated later in 1862, and was not restarted until 1854, to prevent any salt from the facility finding its way into the Confederacy….

Another building of note on the island of Key West during the war was the ‘slave barracoons’, used to house Blacks taken from captured slavery vessels, and described as being a long low building about 300 feet by 30 feet. Lt. Geety reported that there were 1500 slaves there at one time, and 400 died in four months [sic] time; a rate per day that the 90th New York Regiment would approach in August-September as a result of a Yellow Fever epidemic, during which time the barracoons, located at Whitehead’s Point in the southernmost area of Key West would be converted into a temporary hospital.”

Rendering of Fort Taylor, Key West, Florida (Harper’s Weekly, 1864, public domain).

On Friday, February 14, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers made their presence known once again to Key West residents as the regiment paraded through the streets of the city. Two days later, their commanding officers insisted that they get better acquainted with the residents of their new community by attending services at local churches. That same Sunday evening, a young black man named Walter Bowten entered the camp to request protection. Provided food and a tobacco-filled pipe, he was also given a regimental uniform to replace his tattered, soiled clothing. His mind at greater ease, he then explained that he had escaped slavery from Providence Island, and recounted his life experience to one of the regiment’s bilingual members, who documented the man’s story in German. The following translation was provided by regimental historian Lewis Schmidt:

“My name is Walter Bowten and I was born in 1835. My parents were born slaves but they worked to free themselves. I was a servant until I was 13 years old and then my master put me into the field to make sugar and molasses. I tried to escape, but my master came on the ship and took me back…. Where my master lives is not much of a place, it is only one island where tangerines, oranges, lemons and coconuts grow. I do not have a cent of money from my master and would rather be with the white folks than with a mulatto. I had to work every day from morning until night, and on Sunday we had to work until 8 in the morning. We had two changes of clothing, one for work and one change for good, and when the clothing was torn, our master would threaten and whip us. Our master would not let us go to the soldiers and said he would shoot us, but we came away anyway.”

Regrettably, the attempts of the 47th Pennsylvanians to protect Bowten were thwarted the next day by other soldiers at the fort who seized Bowten while the 47th Pennsylvania was marching in another of its regimental parades. Bowten was subsequently ordered to be held at the fort, according to Schmidt, “until a ship which had gone to Havana for a load of sugar would return.”

Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan, U.S. Army (public domain).

On Friday, February 21, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers marched, for the first time in Key West, in a dress parade that was observed by Brigadier-General Brannan, who had just arrived at Fort Taylor that day. Brannan later took the time to ride his horse along the various “company streets” of the 47th Pennsylvania’s encampment, “tipping his hat” as he passed his cheering subordinates, according to Schmidt.

Another brigade parade was then held at 10 a.m. the next day—Washington’s Birthday—a day of great joy that began with prayer and a reading of President George Washington’s farewell address

“Friends and Fellow Citizens,

The period for a new election of a citizen to administer the executive government of the United States being not far distant, and the time actually arrived when your thoughts must be employed in designating the person who is to be clothed with that important trust, it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct expression of the public voice, that I should now apprise you of the resolution I have formed, to decline being considered among the number of those out of whom a choice is to be made.

I beg you, at the same time, to do me the justice to be assured that this resolution has not been taken without a strict regard to all the considerations appertaining to the relation which binds a dutiful citizen to his country; and that in withdrawing the tender of service, which silence in my situation might imply, I am influenced by no diminution of zeal for your future interest, no deficiency of grateful respect for your past kindness, but am supported by a full conviction that the step is compatible with both.

The acceptance of, and continuance hitherto in, the office to which your suffrages have twice called me have been a uniform sacrifice of inclination to the opinion of duty and to a deference of what appeared to be your desire. I constantly hoped that it would have been much earlier in my power, consistently with motives which I was not at liberty to disregard, to return to that retirement from which I had been reluctantly drawn. The strength of my inclination to do this, previous to the last election, had even led to the preparation of an address to declare it to you; but mature reflection on the then perplexed and critical posture of our affairs with foreign nations, and the unanimous advice of persons entitled to my confidence, impelled me to abandon the idea.

I rejoice that the state of your concerns, external as well as internal, no longer renders the pursuit of inclination incompatible with the sentiment of duty or propriety, and am persuaded, whatever partiality may be retained for my services, that, in the present circumstances of our country, you will not disapprove my determination to retire.

The impressions with which I first undertook the arduous trust were explained on the proper occasion. In the discharge of this trust, I will only say that I have, with good intentions, contributed towards the organization and administration of the government in the best exertions of which a very fallible judgment was capable. Not unconscious in the outset of the inferiority of my qualifications, experience in my own eyes, perhaps still more in the eyes of others, has strengthened the motives to diffidence of myself; and every day the increasing weight of years admonishes me more and more that the shade of retirement is as necessary to me as it will be welcome. Satisfied that if any circumstances have given peculiar value to my services, they were temporary, I have the consolation to believe that, while choice and prudence invite me to quit the political scene, patriotism does not forbid it.

In looking forward to the moment which is intended to terminate the career of my public life, my feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep acknowledgment of that debt of gratitude which I owe to my beloved country for the many hours it has conferred upon me; still more for the steadfast confidence with which it has supported me; and for the opportunities I have thence enjoyed of manifesting my inviolable attachment, by services faithful and persevering, though in usefulness unequal to my zeal. If benefits have resulted to our country from these services, let it always be remembered to your praise, and as an instructive example in our annals, that under circumstances in which the passions, agitated in every direction, were liable to mislead, amidst appearances sometimes dubious, vicissitudes of fortune often discouraging, in situations in which not unfrequently want of success has countenanced the spirit of criticism, the constancy of your support was the essential prop of the efforts, and a guarantee of the plans by which they were effected. Profoundly penetrated with this idea, I shall carry it with me to my grave, as a strong incitement to unceasing vows that heaven may continue to you the choicest tokens of its beneficence; that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free Constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; that, in fine, the happiness of the people of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation which is yet a stranger to it.

Here, perhaps, I ought to stop. But a solicitude for your welfare, which cannot end but with my life, and the apprehension of danger, natural to that solicitude, urge me, on an occasion like the present, to offer to your solemn contemplation, and to recommend to your frequent review, some sentiments which are the result of much reflection, of no inconsiderable observation, and which appear to me all-important to the permanency of your felicity as a people. These will be offered to you with the more freedom, as you can only see in them the disinterested warnings of a parting friend, who can possibly have no personal motive to bias his counsel. Nor can I forget, as an encouragement to it, your indulgent reception of my sentiments on a former and not dissimilar occasion.

Interwoven as is the love of liberty with every ligament of your hearts, no recommendation of mine is necessary to fortify or confirm the attachment.

The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.

But these considerations, however powerfully they address themselves to your sensibility, are greatly outweighed by those which apply more immediately to your interest. Here every portion of our country finds the most commanding motives for carefully guarding and preserving the union of the whole.

The North, in an unrestrained intercourse with the South, protected by the equal laws of a common government, finds in the productions of the latter great additional resources of maritime and commercial enterprise and precious materials of manufacturing industry. The South, in the same intercourse, benefitting by the agency of the North, sees its agriculture grow and its commerce expand. Turning partly into its own channels the seamen of the North, it finds its particular navigation invigorated; and, while it contributes, in different ways, to nourish and increase the general mass of the national navigation, it looks forward to the protection of a maritime strength, to which itself is unequally adapted. The East, in a like intercourse with the West, already finds, and in the progressive improvement of interior communications by land and water, will more and more find a valuable vent for the commodities which it brings from abroad, or manufactures at home. The West derives from the East supplies requisite to its growth and comfort, and, what is perhaps of still greater consequence, it must of necessity owe the secure enjoyment of indispensable outlets for its own productions to the weight, influence, and the future maritime strength of the Atlantic side of the Union, directed by an indissoluble community of interest as one nation. Any other tenure by which the West can hold this essential advantage, whether derived from its own separate strength, or from an apostate and unnatural connection with any foreign power, must be intrinsically precarious.

While, then, every part of our country thus feels an immediate and particular interest in union, all the parts combined cannot fail to find in the united mass of means and efforts greater strength, greater resource, proportionably greater security from external danger, a less frequent interruption of their peace by foreign nations; and, what is of inestimable value, they must derive from union an exemption from those broils and wars between themselves, which so frequently afflict neighboring countries not tied together by the same governments, which their own rival ships alone would be sufficient to produce, but which opposite foreign alliances, attachments, and intrigues would stimulate and embitter. Hence, likewise, they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty. In this sense it is that your union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other.

These considerations speak a persuasive language to every reflecting and virtuous mind, and exhibit the continuance of the Union as a primary object of patriotic desire. Is there a doubt whether a common government can embrace so large a sphere? Let experience solve it. To listen to mere speculation in such a case were criminal. We are authorized to hope that a proper organization of the whole with the auxiliary agency of governments for the respective subdivisions, will afford a happy issue to the experiment. It is well worth a fair and full experiment. With such powerful and obvious motives to union, affecting all parts of our country, while experience shall not have demonstrated its impracticability, there will always be reason to distrust the patriotism of those who in any quarter may endeavor to weaken its bands.

In contemplating the causes which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical discriminations, Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings [sic] which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection. The inhabitants of our Western country have lately had a useful lesson on this head; they have seen, in the negotiation by the Executive, and in the unanimous ratification by the Senate, of the treaty with Spain, and in the universal satisfaction at that event, throughout the United States, a decisive proof of how unfounded were the suspicions propagated among them of a policy in the General Government and in the Atlantic States unfriendly to their interests in regard to the Mississippi; they have been witnesses to the formation of two treaties, that with Great Britain, and that with Spain, which secure to them everything they could desire, in respect to our foreign relations, towards confirming their prosperity. Will it not be their wisdom to rely for the preservation of these advantages on the Union by which they were procured? Will they not henceforth be deaf to those advisors, if such there are, who would sever them from their brethren and connect them with aliens?

To the efficacy and permanency of your Union, a government for the whole is indispensable. No alliance, however strict, between the parts can be an adequate substitute; they must inevitably experience the infractions and interruptions which all alliances in all times have experienced. Sensible of this momentous truth, you have improved upon your first essay, by the adoption of a constitution of government better calculated than your former for an intimate union, and for the efficacious management of your common concerns. This government, the offspring of our own choice, uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the distribution of its powers, uniting security with energy, and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support. Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true liberty. The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till charged by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.

All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests.

However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.

Towards the preservation of your government, and the permanency of your happy state, it is requisite, not only that you steadily discountenance irregular oppositions to its acknowledged authority, but also that you resist with care the spirit of innovation upon its principles, however specious the pretexts. One method of assault may be to effect, in the forms of the Constitution, alterations which will impair the energy of the system, and thus to undermine what cannot directly be overthrown. In all the changes to which you may be invited, remember that time and habit are at least as necessary to fix the true character of governments as of other human institutions; that experience is the surest standard by which to test the real tendency of the existing constitution of a country; that facility in changes, upon the credit of mere hypothesis and opinion; and remember, especially, that for the efficient management of your common interests, in a country so extensive as ours, a government of as much vigor as is consistent with the perfect security of liberty is indispensable. Liberty itself will find in such a government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest guardian. It is, indeed, little else than a name, where the government is too feeble to withstand the enterprises of faction, to confine each member of the society within the limits prescribed by the laws, and to maintain all in the secure and tranquil enjoyment of the rights of person and property.

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true, and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing it and distributing it into different depositaries, and constituting each the guardian of the public weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern; some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them. If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit, which the use can at any time yield.

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less for to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?

Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.

As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it, avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertion in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives, but it is necessary that public opinion should co-operate. To facilitate to them the performance of their duty, it is essential that you should practically bear in mind that towards the payment of debts there must be revenue; that to have revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment, inseparable from the selection of the proper objects (which is always a choice of difficulties), ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the conduct of the government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining revenue, which the public exigencies may at any time dictate.

Observe good faith and justice toward all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distance period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it? Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?

In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges toward another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim.

So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation to another produces a variety of evils.
Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gliding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils? Such an attachment of a small or weak towards a great and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation an excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people under an efficient government, the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.

Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?

It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.

Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable establishments on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.

Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing (with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable course, to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the government to support them) conventional rules of intercourse, the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary, and liable to be from time to time abandoned or varied, as experience and circumstances shall dictate; constantly keeping in view that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character; that, by such acceptance, it may place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors, and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion, which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.

In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old an affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish; that they will control the usual current of the passions, or prevent our nation from running the course which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations. But, if I may even flatter myself that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism; this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare, by which they have been dictated.

How far in the discharge of my official duties I have been guided by the principles which have been delineated, the public records and other evidences of my conduct must witness to you and to the world. To myself, the assurance of my own conscience is, that I have at least believed myself to be guided by them.

In relation to the still subsisting war in Europe, my proclamation of the twenty-second of April, 1793, is the index of my plan. Sanctioned by your approving voice, and by that of your representatives in both houses of Congress, the spirit of that measure has continually governed me, uninfluenced by any attempts to deter or divert me from it.

After deliberate examination, with the aid of the best lights I could obtain, I was well satisfied to that our country, under all the circumstances of the case, had a right to take, and was bound in duty and interest to take, a neutral position. Having taken it, I determined, as far as should depend upon me, to maintain it, with moderation, perseverance, and firmness.

The considerations which respect the right to hold this conduct, it is not necessary on this occasion to detail. I will only observe that, according to my understanding of the matter, that right, so far from being denied by any of the belligerent powers, has been virtually admitted by all.

The duty of holding a neutral conduct may be inferred, without anything more, from the obligation which justice and humanity impose on every nation, in cases in which it is free to act, to maintain inviolate the relations of peace and amity towards other nations.

The inducements of interest for observing that conduct will best be referred to your own reflections and experience. With me a predominant motive has been to endeavor to gain time to our country to settle and mature its yet recent institutions, and to progress without interruption to that degree of strength and consistency which is necessary to give it, humanly speaking, the command of its own fortunes.

Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probably that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will never cease to view them with indulgence; and that, after forty five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.

Relying on its kindness in this as in other things, and actuated by that fervent love towards it, which is so natural to a man who views in it the native soil of himself and his progenitors for several generations, I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat in which I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow-citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government, the ever-favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers.

United States
19th September, 1796

Geo. Washington”

Professor Thomas Coates, the “Father of Band Music in America,” led the Regimental Band, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry from August 1861 to September 1862 (public domain).

The parade then began on Washington’s birthday, 1862 with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry and the other units commanded by Brannan marching through Key West to the home of a Union-supporting judge who was known for proudly flying the American flag. Stopping behind its Regimental Band as it struck up “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the 47th Pennsylvania Infantry then marched to Fort Taylor, where its members witnessed the firing of a national, 34-gun salute by the fort’s artillery guns, followed by a salute fired by the guns of the man-of-war, Pensacola.

The celebration continued well into the evening, as brigade members were treated to a formal band concert and formal address by C Company Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin. Brigade members then competed against one another in foot, wheelbarrow and sack races, as well as a pig chase. C Company Colonel Jacob K. Keefer came in second in that foot race while C Company Private P. M. Randall somehow managed to take second in the sack race after falling down near the end and rolling across the finish line.

Joseph Eugene Walter, cornetist, Regimental Band, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, c. 1861.

On Monday, February 24 and Wednesday, February 26, the 47th Pennsylvania’s Regimental Band again performed in concert with the band giving “a ball for the officers, which was “numerously attended by the Knights of the spur and tinsel,” according to Wharton, who also noted the unfortunate circumstance that “there were only enough ladies in attendance to form six setts.”

On Friday, February 28, the entire regiment reported for an 8 a.m. inspection in response to Regimental Order No. 39, which had been issued by the commanding officers of the 47th Pennsylvania per Brigadier-General Brannan’s General Order No. 5. The regiment also received the following additional instruction via Brannan’s General Order No. 11:

“I. Officers and soldiers are required to live within the limits of their respective commands and on no account to sleep out thereof without special permission of the Brigadier General commanding. No non-commissioned officers or soldier will be allowed in the town without a written pass from his commanding officer. Non-commissioned officers furnished with permits from their commanding officers will be allowed in town. But the provost guard has strict orders to arrest any Private who on any pretext is found in town after the tattoo beating [the signal from regimental musicians that lights should be extinguished and all loud talking or other noise should cease within 15 minutes when Taps will be played] except by special permit from headquarters.

II. The attention of commissioned officers is specially directed to article 29, paragraph 237 to 257 relating to: Honor to be paid by the troops. Any non-commissioned officer or soldier when approaching a commanding officer will invariably salute, if armed by touching his musket at the position of shoulder arms, if unarmed by raising the outer hand horizontally to his cap peak. Should the officer address him he will stand in the respectful position of attention until the officer shall have concluded. On an officer entering the quarters of any party of non-commissioned officers, the senior officer will call the party to attention; and on his approaching any party of men commanded by a non-commissioned officer they will immediately be called to attention and if armed brought to the position of shoulder arms. Should an officer approach any soldier or party of soldiers sitting or lying down they will immediately rise and remain in the position of attention until he shall have passed…. A sentry on post on the approach of an officer will first halt, second face outward from his post, third come to the position of shoulder arms. Should the officer prove to be a general or field officer he will further come to the position of present arms and so remain at the requisite salute until the officers shall have passed his post. The sentry on the guard room door of all guards will turn out his guard at the approach of the general commanding, the field officer of the day, and all armed parties. Regimental guards will further turn out to the commanding officer of their respective regiments….

III. No officer or soldier on guard duty will leave his guard room on any business whatever without being fully equipped. Neither will any soldier be permitted to leave the camp or station of his regiment or company unless properly dressed in accordance with the regulations of that headquarters.

IV. Public property is on no account to be used otherwise then in the service of the government nor will any soldier be permitted to act as an officer’s servant unless he be duly mustered as such.

… VII. All communications for these headquarters are invariably to be made through the chief of staff, signed by Gen. Brannan.”

This last day of February 1862 also brought a brief change for C Company 1st Lt. William Reese, a 32-year-old former Juniata County shoemaker, who was temporarily transferred to the staff of the Chief of Topographical Engineers of Brannan’s 3rd Brigade—a position he held until March 25, 1862.

 

Sources:

1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, Vol 1. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.

2.Florida’s Role in the Civil War: ‘Supplier of the Confederacy.” Tampa, Florida: Florida Center for Instructional Technology, University of South Florida (College of Education), retrieved online January 15, 2020.

3. Gobin, John Peter Shindel. Personal Letters, 1861-1865. Northumberland, Pennsylvania: Personal Collection of John Deppen.

4. Schmidt, Lewis G. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Self-published, 1986.

5. President George Washington’s Farewell Address (1796), in Our Documents.” Washington, DC: U.S. National Archives, et. al., retrieved online January 18, 2020.

6. United States War Department (multiple contributors). The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies: Series I, Vol. VI. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901.

7. Wharton, Henry D. Letters from the Sunbury Guards. Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Sunbury American, 1861-1868.

 

January-Early February 1862: New Year, New Civil War Mission — A Pennsylvania Regiment Heads for Florida

Unknown regiment, Camp Griffin, Virginia, Fall 1861 (public domain, U.S. Library of Congress).

“He was the light and life of our company, and his death has caused a blight and sadness to prevail, that only the rude wheels of time can efface….” — Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin to the parents of drummer boy John Boulton Young, mid-October, 1861

“I passed the night in ‘watching,’ but somewhat differently from the watch meetings at home. I spent from 8 to 12 at night on the outposts, and we were in expectation of an attack all the time…. At 12, I was relieved and moved with my men back to the main reserve where we built a huge fire, and six to eight officers of us gathered around the fire and spent the time in telling yarns, cracking jokes.” — Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin to his own parents in a letter penned on New Year’s Day, 1862

“Will write again if I am spared to do so.” — G Company Sergeant John Gross Helfrich to his parents in a letter penned on January 12, 1862

 

As America’s Civil War dragged on, the contemplation of life’s biggest questions became an increasing preoccupation for more than a few members of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Initially elated by their August 1861 enrollment for service in the fight to preserve their nation’s Union, many were propelled heart and headlong into a valley of grief just weeks later by the untimely deaths of John Boulton Young and Alfred Eisenbraun, two of the regiment’s beloved drummer boys.

Their equilibrium was gradually restored by their work as Union Army soldiers, however, and their spirits were raised further by the approaching Christmas season—largely thanks to surprise shipments by families and friends of “care packages” stuffed with favored foods and other items of comfort. Naturally, though, many members of the regiment began ruminating again as the New Year’s Eve of 1861 gave way to the New Year’s Day of 1862—as shown by this January 1, 1862 letter written to family by C Company Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin:

“I went on picket yesterday morning, and was relieved this morning. So the entire programme [sic] of the departure of the old and advent of the New Year was open to me. I passed the night in ‘watching,’ but somewhat differently from the watch meetings at home. I spent from 8 to 12 at night on the outposts, and we were in expectation of an attack all the time. This kept me constantly in the line, among the men preparing for an attack. At 12, I was relieved and moved with my men back to the main reserve where we built a huge fire, and six to eight officers of us gathered around the fire and spent the time in telling yarns, cracking jokes. Officers from the 7th Maine, 49th & 53d New York were present. Occasionally a shot or two would bring us all to our feet, but as all would be quiet again down we would go into the fire again. About four oclock [sic] this morning, I spread my blanket on the ground, and with a stone for a pillow, slept peaceably my first sleep for 1862. I got to Camp about 9 a.m. and found your letters awaiting me.

…. I would like to have been at home on Christmas, and had set my heart upon going, but somehow or other Col Good and Gen Brannen [sic] both do not want me to leave at present. The fact is we are daily expecting an engagement and they seem to think my company will not do as well as they expect it to unless I am there. I have the crack company in the Regiment. Yesterday was muster day and Sam Miller received the premium for having the cleanest arms in the Regiment….

…. I will make a desperate effort to spend my birthday at home. Mother if I get there I want you to cook a dish of schnitz und knep [sic]. I have been wishing for them all day. Yesterday I went into a house on the line and bought a mince pie and cup of coffee of a girl there. They were first rate, but Mother could beat them.”

* Note: Schnitz und knepp, which translates from the Pennsylvania German to English as “apples and buttons,” was a traditional fall recipe for Pennsylvania Dutch families during the 1800s, and remains so today. Made in a large kettle with dried apples, ham, and dumplings, and flavored with brown sugar and other seasonings, its aroma, taste, and warmth have long come together to create the very definition of “comfort food” on the chilly fall days of the Great Keystone State.

“I had not intended mentioning the following but for fear some of the boys may and an incorrect story gets out, I will tell you the other night while on picket, Mark Shipman fired upon one man crawling up to him, or he supposed he was. Sergeant Piers [sic] and I went out to the line to see the cause of the report, and someone attempted to shoot at us, but his cap snapped. The fellow made tracks in a hurry before we could catch him, but I think he got badly frightened anyhow. You do not say anything about this and do not be alarmed as he could not hit us. It was too dark. And if he had fired, or his gun gone off, we could have shot him, by the flash. We have not lost a man on picket in our entire division.

…. The wind is blowing a perfect hurricane around the house. I have my house papered all over now, and I tell you it is the best this side of Gen Smiths head quarters [sic]. Jake Keaffer [sic] just came in. He was on picket with me last night and tried for about two hours to catch some guinea hens for a New Year dinner. They were too wild for him and so he filled his haversack with potatoes out of a hole he found. He wont [sic] starve in this country. Remember me to all friends and all write soon.

Then, barely a week into the New Year, the regiment’s most persistent and dangerous foe to date resumed its assault, claiming H Company Private Jacob S. R. Gardner as one of the first of what would be a stunning number of casualties for the 47th Pennsylvania in 1862. Unable to withstand the “one-two punch” he absorbed from contracting measles after having just survived a battle with Variola (smallpox), the former Perry County laborer died on January 8. His brothers, Sergeant Reuben Shatto Gardner and Corporal John A. Gardner, who had both been serving side-by-side with him in H Company, saw to the shipping arrangements which sent Jacob’s body back home for interment at the Newport Cemetery in Newport, Pennsylvania, but they did not accompany the transport. Instead, they tamped down their grief and returned to duty—a difficult act that would continue to be repeated by numerous other heartbroken brothers for years to come across a bitterly divided United States.

Meanwhile, at dawn on the same day of Private Gardner’s passing, the bulk of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry had just begun to carry out the latest directive from superior officers. Marching from Camp Griffin toward the Army of the Potomac’s central commandthe headquarters of Brigadier-General William F. (“Baldy”) Smith, the 47th Pennsylvanians met up with six additional Union infantry regiments, one cavalry regiment, and a ten-piece artillery unit. Moving on as part of this larger force, they continued on to Lewinsville, where they picked up the support of an additional 233 Union wagons.

Heading out again, they trekked on for eight miles until reaching Peacock Hill, where they chased off a significantly smaller group of Confederate States Army troops from picket duty, and then proceeded to remove 200 bushels of corn and 30 loads of hay.

Sergeant-Major William M. Hendricks, central regimental command, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (c. 1863, public domain).

In his subsequent recap of the event, Sergeant-Major William M. Hendricks noted, “We just marched up to a corn crib, and off went the roof, and the wagons were backed up and filled.” The 47th Pennsylvanians were back in camp that same day by 4 p.m.

According to Gobin in his own letter home, which was penned on the same day of the expedition:

“Yesterday our division of about ten thousand men went out to Hunters Mill, and got 252 wagon loads of forage. We drove in the Rebel pickets and waited a long time for them to come at us, but they did not show themselves. The march was a hard one. I was very tired, but one nights [sic] sleep, and all as sound as ever.”

On Friday, January 10, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were informed that they had performed their duties so admirably up to this point that they had been chosen by Union Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan to join a new expedition under his leadership. Shortly thereafter, the members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry began packing up their regiment’s tents, Springfield rifles, ammunition, cooking utensils, and other equipment critical to any Union Army unit on the move.

Excerpt of letter from Sergeant John Helfrich, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, January 12, 1862 (used with permission from Colin Colfield).

In the midst of all of this, G Company Sergeant John Helfrich carved time out to pen the following letter:

“Camp Griffin,
Jan. 12th 1862

Dear Parents,

I will again address you, in order to inform you of my getting along, and at the same time I will remark that this will to all probability be the last letter that I may be able to write, while at this place, as we have orders to leave at almost any moment. The place of our destination I can not [sic] name for certain, however, it is rumored that we would go to Florida.

While I am writing, I am informed that we will first go either to Baltimore or Anapolis [sic], and there join the fleet just about being fitted out for some southern seaport. Our going is a certainty, as Gen. Brannan, has gone to either of the above named places to make the necessary arrangements, preparatory to our going.

Yesterday, (Saturday) our regiment was paid for the preceeding [sic] two month service. The monthly wages of a sergeant is seventeen and those of a private thirteen, dollars.

Our company has first passed through the usual Sunday morning inspection, when each man is [to] have a suit of clean clothes in his knapsack, and must also have his arms, and accoutrements, in perfect good condition. This inspection, greatly promotes the healthy, as well as the good appearances of the soldier, and in fact is indispensable.

Our company is in excellent health not a man is at present in the hospital. The health of the regt. has always been pretty good during the first four month [sic] we are now in service, which is verified by the fact that there occurred but seven cases that proved fatal, out of our nine hundred men, and we can not [sic] find language to express our thanks to the Great giver of this our greatest and blessing, that a mortal being can enjoy, and it is our prayer that He may continue to bless us in the future.

I would very much like to see my friends and relations first before we go, but time, and circumstances, will not permit me to do so. I hope however that the time may soon be at hand, when peace may again be restored to our former blessed land, and when those who are now separated from their Parents and friends, fighting for their country, cause and honor, may again be permitted to return home, and enter the circle of their Parents, families, and friends, left and home in peace and prosperity.

Enclosed find ten dollars of my wages. I would send you more, but perhaps I may need it myself, from this until next payday. I must now close by saying that I am well, hoping that you and all the rest of the family are enjoying the same. Remember me kindly to all my friends at home and abroad.

A friendly goodby [sic] to you all.

Your son,

John G. Helfrich

Will write again soon if I am spared to do so.

J. G. Helfrich”

The City of Richmond, a sidewheel steamer which transported Union troops during the Civil War (Maine, c. late 1860s, public domain).

Lined up and ready to move out early on the morning of Wednesday, January 22, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers “gave three cheers for Camp Griffin” after listening to the 47th Pennsylvania’s Regimental Band play “Auld Lang Syne,” according to regimental historian Lewis Schmidt. Marching forth at 8:30 a.m., the men of B Company brought up the rear as the regiment slogged through snow and deep mud for three miles in order to reach the Vienna railroad depot in Falls Church, Virginia. Arriving at 9:30 a.m., they boarded a train and departed at 11 for Alexandria, Virginia where, a half hour later, they marched behind their band to the strains of “Yankee Doodle.”

Arriving at the docks nearby, they quickly began loading their equipment on the City of Richmond, a steamship which ultimately transported them along the Potomac River to the Washington Arsenal, where they disembarked sometime around 4 p.m. Marched from the arsenal area’s docks to the munitions storage area, regimental leaders replenished the ammunition supplies of the regiment, one company at a time—a process which took roughly two hours. They were then marched off for dinner and rest at the Soldiers’ Retreat in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Naval Academy Barracks and temporary hospital, Annapolis, Maryland (c. 1861-1865, public domain).

The next day (January 23), the 47th Pennsylvanians reloaded their equipment onto and then boarded a Baltimore & Ohio Railroad train. Departing for Annapolis, Maryland at 2 p.m., they arrived around 10 p.m., were assigned quarters in barracks at the U.S. Naval Academy, and turned in for the night. They then spent that Friday through Monday (January 24-27) loading their equipment and other supplies onto the 210-foot steamship S.S. Oriental. Those preparations ceased on Monday, January 27, at 10 a.m., however, in order to make time for a very public dismissal of one member of the regiment—Private James C. Robinson—who was dishonorably discharged from the 47th Pennsylvania (effective on that same date). According to regimental historian Schmidt and letters home from members of the regiment:

“The regiment was formed and instructed by Lt. Col. Alexander ‘that we were about drumming out a member who had behaved himself unlike a soldier.’ …. The prisoner, Pvt. James C. Robinson of Company I, was a 36 year old miner from Allentown who had been ‘disgracefully discharged’ by order of the War Department. Pvt. Robinson was marched out with martial music playing and a guard of nine men, two men on each side and five behind him at charge bayonets. The music then struck up with ‘Robinson Crusoe’ as the procession was marched up and down in front of the regiment, and Pvt. Robinson was marched out of the yard.”

The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were transported to Florida aboard the steamship S.S. Oriental in January 1862 (public domain).

Reloading then resumed and, that same afternoon (January 27), the enlisted members of the 47th Regiment, Volunteer Infantry began to board the Oriental, followed by their superior officers. Ferried to that Philadelphia-built steamship by smaller steamers, they sailed away for America’s Deep South at 4 p.m., per the directive of Brigadier-General Brannan. They were headed for Florida which, despite its secession from the Union, remained strategically important to the Union due to the presence of Forts Taylor and Jefferson in Key West and the Dry Tortugas. Their ship, which was captained by Benjamin F. Tuzo, was rocked by rough seas for much of their trip; consequently, many members of the regiment suffered from intense seasickness—particularly as the Oriental made its way down the stormy coast of the Carolinas and passed the Bahamas and Great Abaco Island.

On February 2, Regimental Chaplain William DeWitt Clinton Rodrock gathered his flock together for Sunday services, which began with the tolling of the ship’s bell at 11 a.m., a selection of hymns performed by the Regimental Band, and an opening prayer and scripture reading by Rodrock. Following the regiment’s singing of “From All That Dwell Below the Skies” (accompanied by the band to the music of “Old Hundred”), Rodrock presented that week’s sermon, which was based on the Bible’s “Acts of the Apostles,” chapter 17, verse 23. The service then closed with the singing of “Lord Dismiss Us with Thy Blessing” and the Doxology, followed by Rodrock’s benediction.

That day and the next, the men’s spirits were boosted further by the sight of dolphins swimming alongside the Oriental.

Rendering of Fort Taylor, Key West, Florida (Harper’s Weekly, 1864, public domain).

Arriving in the waters off Key West, Florida at 8 p.m. on Monday, February 3, the 47th Pennsylvanians were forced to endure a waiting game aboard ship until a pilot could be brought aboard to bring the ship into a safe place in the harbor—a process the pilot began at 7 a.m. the next morning.

According to Schmidt, “The deck was crowded with the regiment’s men, with the band playing as they passed some of the men-at-war…. Arriving in the harbor at 8 AM, the bands playing ‘national songs’ and numerous onlookers, including many ‘colored women,’ along the shore watching the ship sail into port.”

“After disembarking at 9 AM on the dock about one mile west of Fort Taylor, the regiment marched down the main street of the city in their regular order of column of divisions, and stacked their weapons, waiting until the unit would be notified where to make camp…. At 12 in the afternoon, the men were ordered to fall in and stand to attention, and with their 23 member band playing and the ladies of Key West waving their handkerchiefs, and with quite a crowd of followers, the 1000 men marched to their new camp ‘one fourth mile out of the city, near the beach,’ across from the barracks of the 90th New York Regiment.”

Led to the area of Key West that is now known as Palm and White streets, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were, in fact, initially housed just 350 feet from the ocean—a locale which may sound breathtakingly luxurious to the modern day reader until one realizes that the 47th Pennsylvanians’ first nights were “spent in blankets on the beach, with knapsacks for pillows”—a vexing, sandy state of affairs which persisted until their tents were unloaded and assembled on Thursday, February 6.

Even so, the members of the regiment still managed to make an early, favorable impression on Key West residents, including a New York Herald reporter who “commented on the fact that the 47th was equipped with the best weapons available, and was the best looking Volunteer Regiment he had ever seen.’’

Adjutant and 1st Lieutenant Washington H. R. Hangen (c. 1862-1864, public domain).

This was in very large part due to the leadership of Colonel Tilghman H. Good, the founder and commanding officer of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, who had been placed in charge not just of the 47th Pennsylvania, but of all of the men who had been assigned to serve under Brannan in Key West, including two volunteer regiments from New York and U.S. Army artillery units. Good would continue to perform this role until Brannan was able to reach Florida and assume command of his brigade. The 47th Pennsylvania’s Regimental Adjutant Washington H. R. Hangen was then also appointed as Adjutant General for Brannan’s brigade.

And those tents which took so long to be delivered and assembled? They were officially designated as “Camp Brannan” in honor of the brigadier-general who had requested that the 47th Pennsylvania be assigned to his command.

* NOTE: Three months after dropping the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers off in Key West, the steamship Oriental ran aground and sank north of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Its boiler may still be seen from shore while walking along the beach at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

 

Sources:

1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, Vol 1. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.

2. Faust, Drew G. “The Civil War soldier and the art of dying,” in The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 67, No. 1, pp. 3-38. Houston, Texas: Southern Historical Association (Rice University), 2001.

3. Gobin, John Peter Shindel. Personal Letters, 1861-1865. Northumberland, Pennsylvania: Personal Collection of John Deppen.

4. Helfrich, John G. Personal Letters, 1862. Mesa, Arizona: Personal Collection of Colin Cofield.

5. Schmidt, Lewis G. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Self-published, 1986.

6. Wharton, Henry D. Letters from the Sunbury Guards. Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Sunbury American, 1861-1868.