Spring and Summer of 1862: Disease, Duty and Another Departure

Sibley Tent (Patent #14740, United States Patent Office, April 22, 1856, H. H. Sibley, public domain).

As spring continued to take hold across Pennsylvania in 1862, turning the Great Keystone State’s colorful, budding trees into soothing havens of green-leafed shade, the members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry continued to battle their great foe—disease. It was a fight that was made more difficult by the regiment’s challenging living conditions. The weather was warm, the water quality was poor, the mosquitos were plentiful, and hygiene was substandard because the majority of 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantrymen continued to live in the close quarters of the Sibley tents that had been erected as “Camp Brannan” in Key West, Florida. (The men of Company F were slightly more fortunate, having been previously ordered to live and work at Fort Taylor.)

As a result, multiple members of the regiment fell ill during the month of April, including First Lieutenant and Regimental Adjutant Washington H. R. Hangen, who was required to temporarily cede his duties to H Company First Lieutenant William Wallace Geety after being admitted to the officers’ hospital at in Key West, and C Company’s Theodore Kiehl and Henry W. Wolfe, who had been confined to the hospital for enlisted men. Deemed too ill to continue serving with the regiment, F Company privates John G. Seider and Samuel Smith were honorably discharged on surgeons’ certificates of disabilities and sent back home.

Meanwhile, other members of the regiment continued to be advanced in rank, including Second-Sergeant Christian Seiler Beard, who was promoted to First-Sergeant, and Private Peter Haupt who was promoted to the rank of Sergeant—while others assumed additional duties, including D Company privates James E. Albert and William Collins, who were assigned to help the fort’s assistant surgeon, William F. Cornick, in caring for the increased number of patients who had been admitted. Then, General Order No. 84 was issued, directing I Company Captain Coleman A. G. Keck and one of his subordinates, Private William Smith, to return home to Pennsylvania to recruit more volunteers to help beef up the regiment’s dwindling ranks.

In addition, several officers from the 47th Pennsylvania were also called upon to conduct a general court martial trial of a lieutenant from the 90th New York Volunteers who was charged with having been absent from his duties without appropriate authorization (known more commonly today as being absent without leave or “AWOL”). Colonel Tilghman H. Good served as the court’s president, C Company Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin served as its general advocate, and H Company Captain James Kacy was one of the men appointed to serve on the court’s judicial panel, which found the 90th New Yorker guilty and directed that he lose roughly two weeks of pay.

April—May 1862

Key West, Florida, circa 1850 (courtesy of Florida Memory Project).

On April 19, the 47th Pennsylvania’s most prolific scribe, C Company Musician Henry D. Wharton, penned a letter to his hometown newspaper, the Sunbury American, from Camp Brannan in Key West:

“DEAR WILVERT:– Having finished a plate of soup, (not a hasty one) enjoyed a piece of ham, cooked in my best style, fried and now luxuriating in a pipe of the best Lynchburg tobacco, I conclude to indite [sic] you a few lines from this most miserable place, Key West.

There are now lying here three very fine vessels captured from Secessia. The cargoes are very valuable, consisting of cotton, coffee, rice, liquor, kerosene and olive oils, leather, and a great many articles of use. I attended the sale of one of the cargoes, and one article I found more numerous than any other—that of hooped skirts. I was curious to know why they had supplied themselves so plentifully with that article, when an old gentleman said that was easily understood, for when the rebels had to run, and in fear of being caught they would make good hiding places, and then he related a circumstance of a Mexican General who, in running away, found crinoline very convenient as a hiding place, but not secure enough for the Lynx-eyed Americans, as the brave gentleman was caught in his wife’s trap.

There has been considerable sickness among the troops, but I am happy to state it is abating. Two members of our company, Theodore Kiehl, and H. Wolf, have been in the Hospital, but are now out and almost ready for duty. They take very readily to their rations when they get back to the company, saying the Hospital is a very nice place to get well in, but no place for grub, as they were as hungry as wolves all the time they were in, or rather when they became better. We have lost eight men from our regiment, by death, since we have been on this island. From what I can learn the diseases were mostly contracted in Virginia, but if they have not, it is a wonder that the mortality is not greater among us, owing to the sudden change of climate, the bad water, hot sun and hard work our men are subjected to.

Lieut. Henry Bush, Co. F., in our regiment, died two weeks ago. His company were in the Fort, learning heavy artillery, where he was attacked with typhoid fever—in a few days he was beyond the physicians [sic] skill, and now he is sleeping his last sleep in the strangers [sic] cemetery. His funeral was very largely attended by the military and the masonic fraternity, of which he was a member. Lieut. Bush was beloved by his company—they having presented him with a sword a few days before he was taken sick—and in fact was liked by the whole regiment for his kindness and gentlemanly bearing to the men. As soon as the necessary arrangements can be made his body will be sent to Catasauqua, Lehigh county, where his widow and two little children reside.

Since the promotion of Lieut. Oyster, there has [sic] been some changes in our company, 2d Sergeant Beard has been made 1st Sergeant, and Peter Haupt, of Sunbury, taken from the ranks and promoted to 1st Sergeant. Haupt passed an excellent examination, and I am proud, for Sunbury, to say that he is considered one of the A. No. 1’s on drill in our regiment.

With the exceptions of a few slight cases of sickness, the boys are getting along very well and would be perfectly contented if they were at a place where there could be a chance to have a hand in some of the glorious victories which their brothers in arms are engaged in, and away from this detested spot, where there would be something to relieve the eye beside sea-gulls, pelicans and turkey-buzzards. Excuse the shortness of this, hoping ere long to be able to give you an account of a victory in which Co. C., was engaged….”

* Note: To read more of Henry Wharton’s insights, please see our collection of his letters here.

By mid-April, typhoid fever was claiming one member of the regiment after another. On Saturday April 19 and Sunday April 27, respectively, K Company privates George Leonhard and Lewis Dipple died at the Key West general hospital while E Company Private John B. Mickley died on April 30.

Death ledger entry for Private Lewis Dipple, Company K, “Registers of Deaths of Volunteers,” U.S. Army, 1862 (U.S. National Archives, public domain).

Initially interred in graves numbered nine, ten, and twelve at the fort’s post cemetery, the remains of Privates Leonhard, Dipple, and Mickley were later exhumed for reburial at the Barrancas National Cemetery. Although the process was successfully completed for Privates Leonard and Mickley in 1927, Private Dipple’s remains were handled so disrespectfully that they were later unable to be identified. As a result, they were consigned to a common grave at Barrancas with 227 other “unknown” soldiers.

That same day, General Order No. 26 was announced, directing that:

“I. The troops will be mustered and inspected at 7:45 AM tomorrow morning, 30th inst. April 30, 1862.

II. Immediately after muster, a council of administration to consist of Capt. Harte and officers will assemble to transact such business as regulations require.”

Major-General David Hunter, U.S. Army, circa 1863 (carte de visite, public domain).

Meanwhile, on April 25, 1862, the winds of change had begun to clear the way for long-denied social justice as Union Major-General David Hunter, commanding officer of the U.S. Army’s Department of the South, issued General Order No. 11, which directed that all enslaved men, women, and children in Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina be freed immediately:

“Head Quarters Department of the South,
Hilton Head, S.C. May 9, 1862.

General Orders No 11.— The three States of Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, comprising the military department of the south, having deliberately declared themselves no longer under the protection of the United States of America, and having taken up arms against the said United States, it becomes a military necessity to declare them under martial law. This was accordingly done on the 25th day of April, 1862. Slavery and martial law in a free country are altogether incompatible; the persons in these three States—Georgia, Florida and South Carolina—heretofore held as slaves, are therefore declared forever free.

(Official) David Hunter,
Major General Commanding.”

Although word of Hunter’s order did not immediately reach members of the regiment, it would eventually be carried in newspapers across America.

Meanwhile, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers continued to perform their provost and garrison duties in Key West. At the end of April, F Company Private Henry Falk was ordered to take on new duties with the quartermaster while Order No. 21 reassigned H Company Corporal James F. Naylor to the regimental color guard. During the first two days of May, I Company Private William Frack then became Corporal Frack while H Company Private Robert Kingsborough took over quartermaster duties performed previously by Private William O’Brien.

As spring progressed, the weather in Key West became hotter, and the mosquitoes grew even more bold. Even so, the fort’s commanding officer and his subordinates were still able to find a few minutes of relaxation. On May 7, they made time to attend a ball. Corporal James J. Kacey, however, was assigned to fix cartridge boxes around this same time while E Company Corporal George Nicholas was busy dodging disciplinary action, as well as a brush with death:

“I went down to the docks and ask [sic] a Man who owned the Storehouses their [sic] and he said the govemient Seased [sic] them. So I Said I will Sease [sic] the life Boat that laid their [sic]. So I took it up to camp and fixed it up and that got me in trouble I went out Sailing and Missed drill, and got a log to carry, and the next time in the Guard House…. [A] Scorpen Stung me in the finger and I cut a piece out and Sucked it and put Tobacco on it. My arm and hand commenced to Swell Some But Not Much.”

Increasingly debilitated by the bug that had recently felled him, the regiment’s founder and commanding officer, Colonel Tilghman Good, finally realized that he would need to distance himself from his men if he were to continue as their leader. In a letter penned to the Assistant Adjutant, Captain Lambert, he asked “permission to leave camp for a few days, to secure comfortable quarters in town, which I have every reason to believe would materially aid in my speedy restoration to health and strength. The Doctor tells me this desirable end can be attained, by taking rest in elevated and comfortable quarters for a few days. In consequence I do not deem it essential to remove to the hospital.”

Good’s decision proved to be a sound one as more and more members of the regiment were felled by disease, including D Company’s Private George Isett. Suffering from chronic diarrhea, he died on Friday, May 16, and was initially laid to rest in grave no. 14 at the post cemetery. Sadly, his remains were also mishandled when they were exhumed in 1927 for reburial, and were also consigned in the unknown grave of 227 Union soldiers at the Barrancas National Cemetery. His grieving comrades honored him by securing publication of the following Tribute of Respect in their hometown newspaper:

“WHEREAS, it has pleased God in his allwise providence, to remove from our midst our friend and brother in arms, Geo S. Isett; therefore,

RESOLVED, that by his death we have lost a warm hearted friend, a true patriot and good soldier, and one whose place cannot be filled among us.

RESOLVED, That we most heartily sympathize with the deceased and hope that he who has thus afficted [sic] them, will be their reliance in time of need.

RESOLVED, That these resolutions be forwarded to the Perry County papers for publication, and a copy be sent to the friends of the deceased.

Signed: George W. Topley, Jesse Meadith, Jacob Charles, George W. Jury, Isaac Baldwin, Committee.”

That same day (May 16), The Athens Post in Athens, Tennessee specifically mentioned the 47th Pennsylvania’s problems with illness in a news article entitled, “Yankees Sick and Dying”:

“A letter from the flag ship Niagara, published in the Providence Press, fears that the warm weather and imprudence and exposure will cause much sickness among the three Yankee regiments stationed at Key West, Florida. ‘Already the 47 Pennsylvania Regiment has lost a number of its members by the typhoid fever, and I am told they have 70 sick.’ They will have plenty of the same sort before August.”

In response to the continuing wave of sickness, H Company Private Daniel Kochenderfer was reassigned to nursing duties at Key West’s general hospital, where he earned $7.75 for the hazardous duty. Two days later, G Company Private Edmund G. Scholl succumbed to typhoid fever. Initially interred at the post cemetery, Private Scholl’s remains would later be returned home to his family when Allentown undertaker Paul Balliet took on the mission of bringing home both Scholl’s body and that of the infant of Regimental Chaplain William Rodrock in 1864. (Both were then reinterred at the “New Allentown Cemetery” on January 30, 1864.)

On May 19, President Abraham Lincoln overturned the emancipation order issued by Major-General David Hunter. His proclamation read as follows:

“Washington [D.C.] this nineteenth day of May,
in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

Whereas there appears in the public prints, what purports to be a proclamation, of Major General Hunter, in the words and figures following, to wit:

‘Head Quarters Department of the South,
Hilton Head, S.C. May 9, 1862.

General Orders No 11.— The three States of Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, comprising the military department of the south, having deliberately declared themselves no longer under the protection of the United States of America, and having taken up arms against the said United States, it becomes a military necessity to declare them under martial law. This was accordingly done on the 25th day of April, 1862. Slavery and martial law in a free country are altogether incompatible; the persons in these three States—Georgia, Florida and South Carolina—heretofore held as slaves, are therefore declared forever free.

(Official) David Hunter,
Major General Commanding.
Ed. W. Smith, Acting Assistant Adjutant General.’

And whereas the same is producing some excitement, and misunderstanding; therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, proclaim and declare, that the government of the United States, had no knowledge, information, or belief, of an intention on the part of General Hunter to issue such a proclamation; nor has it yet, any authentic information that the document is genuine— And further, that neither General Hunter, nor any other commander, or person, has been authorized by the Government of the United States, to make proclamations declaring the slaves of any State free; and that the supposed proclamation, now in question, whether genuine or false, is altogether void, so far as respects such declaration.

I further make known that whether it be competent for me, as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, to declare the slaves of any State or States, free, and whether at any time, in any case, it shall have become a necessity indispensable to the maintenance of the government, to exercise such supposed power, are questions which, under my responsibility, I reserve to myself, and which I cannot feel justified in leaving to the decision of commanders in the field. These are totally different questions from those of police regulations in armies and camps.

On the sixth day of March last, by a special message, I recommended to Congress the adoption of a joint resolution to be substantially as follows:

Resolved, That the United States ought to co-operate with any State which may adopt a gradual abolishment of slavery, giving to such State pecuniary aid, to be used by such State in its discretion, to compensate for the inconveniences, public and private, produced by such change of system.

The resolution, in the language above quoted, was adopted by large majorities in both branches of Congress, and now stands an authentic, definite, and solemn proposal of the nation to the States and people most immediately interested in the subject matter. To the people of those States I now earnestly appeal— I do not argue, I beseech you to make the arguments for yourselves— You can not [sic] if you would, be blind to the signs of the times— I beg of you a calm and enlarged consideration of them, ranging, if it may be, far above personal and partizan [sic] politics. This proposal makes common cause for a common object, casting no reproaches upon any— It acts not the pharisee. The change it contemplates would come gently as the dews of heaven, not rending or wrecking anything. Will you not embrace it? So much good has not been done, by one effort, in all past time, as, in the providence of God, it is now your high privilege to do. May the vast future not have to lament that you have neglected it.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Abraham Lincoln”

* Note: During the short time in which Major-General David Hunter’s emancipation order was in effect, thousands of enslaved individuals escaped from horrific conditions across Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, and made their way to the safety of Union military encampments. In response, Hunter directed his subordinates in the U.S. Army’s Department of the South to create a loose network of social services to provide food, clothing, educational services, medical care, and shelter to the newly free men, women, and children. Hunter then also began advocating for able-bodied Freeman to be allowed to enlist with the Union Army.

Although many of these social justice initiatives were put on hold when Lincoln rescinded Hunter’s emancipation order, the disagreement between Lincoln and Hunter evidently made an indelible impression on leaders of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry; just six months later, those 47th Pennsylvanians would pave the way for the regiment to become an integrated one by facilitating the enlistment on October 5, 1862 of several young Black men who were freed from plantations near Beaufort, South Carolina—roughly three months prior to the enactment of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

As May wore on, disease continued to thin the regiment’s ranks. Another member of the 47th to be felled by typhoid fever was B Company Private John Apple who died at Key West’s general hospital on May 21 (alternate date: March 12). Reportedly buried shortly thereafter and then disinterred from grave number 18 at the fort’s post cemetery in 1927, his remains were also among those that were reportedly consigned to a group grave of 228 unknown soldiers at the Barrancas National Cemetery, according to one source but, according to The Allentown Democrat, were returned to Pennsylvania on January 28, 1864 with the bodies of three other members of the regiment and the body of the regimental chaplain’s infant son. Private Apple was subsequently laid to rest at the Union-West End Cemetery in Allentown on January 31, 1863.

Around this same time, Henry Wharton was dusting off the skills he had learned, pre-war, as an employee of the Sunbury American newspaper. Founding a new publication—the Key West Herald, he was able to get the first edition of his newspaper into the hands of his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians by Saturday, May 24.

The newspaper’s release could not have been more timely. A significant number of his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians were in desperate need of reading material as they fought their way back from sickness. Among those ailing at this time were multiple members of Company D, including privates William Ewing, Samuel Kern, Andrew and William Powell, and Emanuel Snyder, Corporal Samuel Reed, and Sergeants William Fertig and George Topley. Of those, Fertig was the only one to be hospitalized. In addition, B Company Teamster Tilghman Ritz developed rheumatism sometime around the month of May, and underwent several weeks of treatment at the post hospital from the 47th Pennsylvania’s regimental surgeon, Elisha Baily. Even though he was treated “successfully” by Baily, however, the condition would continue to plague Ritz for the remainder of his life.

Early June—A Fateful Encounter with Friendly Fire

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

One of the most senseless deaths of 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers during the entire war was a “friendly fire” incident which occurred on June 9, 1862. The day had started out peacefully enough—with weather so inviting that I Company Sergeant Charles Nolf, Jr. and several friends felt compelled to take a stroll along the southern portion of the beach in Key West. Tragically, while gathering seashells for family and friends back home, he was accidentally killed by a member of the 90th New York Volunteer Infantry who had been inexplicably playing around with a loaded rifle in violation of brigade regulations while walking on the same stretch of beach with three other members of his regiment—all three of whom had also been carrying loaded rifles—against regulations. Shot in the forehead, Sergeant Nolf died instantly at the scene. Initially interred at the fort’s post cemetery, his body was among the aforementioned group of soldiers’ remains disinterred and returned to Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley by Allentown undertaker Paul Balliet, where they were reburied at the Fairview Cemetery in West Catasauqua in late January of 1864.

On the same day that Charles Nolf departed from the world (June 9), First Lieutenant William W. Geety was released from the hospital having successfully recovered from an attack of bilious fever which had resulted in his confinement beginning May 18. In a letter penned to his wife while recuperating, he described himself as “jaundiced.”

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

By June 11, I Company Captain Coleman Keck was back home in Allentown, Pennsylvania, hard at work recruiting more men to serve with the 47th Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, the “old men” of the regiment—the veterans—were sensing another change in the winds of fate. That change came on Friday, June 13, via General Order No. 53, which was issued by Brigadier-General Brannan:

“The 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers will hold itself in readiness for immediate embarkation. Company F of this regiment which is detached at Fort Taylor will report at headquarters of the regiment. Each regiment will take six months [sic] supply of medicine and medical stores on embarkation.”

Rumors swirled that the regiment would be shipped to Port Royal, South Carolina in preparation for a Union attempt to wrest control of Savannah, Georgia or Charleston, South Carolina from the control of the Confederacy.

On Saturday, June 14, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers participated in a review with other members of Brigadier-General Brannan’s troops. According to an edition of the New Era, which was published around this same time:

“The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers under command of Lt. Col. Alexander made a fine appearance. Their marching was perfect and the entire regiment showed the effect of careful drill. A more sturdy, soldierly looking body of men cannot be found, probably, in the service. Col. Good and the officers under his command have succeeded in bringing the regiment to a state of military discipline creditable alike to them and the state from which they hail. The regimental band deserves some mention; there are many bands in the service of greater celebrity, whose performances would not bear comparison with that attached to the 47th Regiment.”

On June 16, Wharton penned another letter to his hometown newspaper in which he reflected on the untimely, friendly fire death of Sergeant Nolf and provided further insights into the soldiering life in America’s Deep South:

“Great excitement was caused by the accident, and for a time (our boys not knowing the particulars) some of them were determined to avenge their comrade’s death, but an investigation pronounced it accidental, when they were satisfied. Nolf was a young man of excellent character, beloved by all who knew him, and it seems hard that he should be hurried into eternity in such a manner, and that too, when the carrying of loadened [sic] rifles is strictly prohibited.

There is a family in this city [Key West] by the name of Fift. One of them, A. Fift, after making a fortune out of his Uncle Samuel, (U.S.), thought to make another speck by going to New Orleans to his friend Mr. Mallory, one of Jeff Davis’ Cabinet (?) in the manufacture of gun boats. Mallory and he went into partnership. After finishing boats, while at Memphis, with a considerable amount of Confederate funds in his pocket, (specie) he gave them the slip. Some of his indignant southern friends followed the double traitor, caught him and immediate hung him, thus saving the United States the trouble of buying an extra rope after this war is over. His brother, who has grown fat off the government, and at the time giving aid to secesh, wishing to visit a cooler atmosphere, and act the part of a nabob in the North, was a few days ago provided with a passage to New York in a Government steamer, while on the same vessel, a soldier, for want of room, could not send a box of sea-shells to gratify the curiosity of his friends at home. You can draw your own inference….

The paymaster has come at last and paid us off for four months. The sight of money was new to the boys, and most eagerly accepted by them. The Sunbury boys sent most of their pay home to their friends, very glad to do so, showing that, although far away from home, loved ones are not forgotten.

We have received marching (sailing) orders, and before this reaches you, if winds do not play us false, we will be in South Carolina, and probably before Charleston, helping to reduce the place where this foul rebellion first broke out. I will write to you immediately on our arrival, attempting to give you a description of the voyage, and an account of the manner in which Neptune treated the health and feelings of the boys. All is hurry and bustle in camp, striking tents, &c., so much so that I can scarcely write. We are all well. None of the Sunbury boys left behind….”

The next day, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry began a phased departure from Key West.

A Summertime Occupation of South Carolina

Dock, Hilton Head, South Carolina, circa 1862 (Sam Cooley, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

On Tuesday, June 17, 1862, the members of the 47th Pennsylvania assigned to Companies A, F, and D boarded the schooner “Emilene,” and sailed for Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. Also readying for departure this day were the men from Companies B, C, and I, who boarded a brig, the Sea Lark. On June 19, Companies E and H boarded a different ship, which was not identified by regimental clerks in subsequent reports, but was identified in soldiers’ later correspondence as the Tangire. Setting off at 10:02 p.m. in the same direction as their predecessors, they were followed by the men from Companies G and K, who boarded a sloop, the Ellen Benan [identified in later soldiers’ correspondence as the “Ellen Bernard”], and departed at 2 p.m. on June 20—barely dodging the yellow fever epidemic which swept Key West, Florida.

On June 19, just prior to his departure, G Company Sergeant John Gross Helfrich penned a letter to his parents from the Officers’ Hospital in Key West, where he had been assigned as a hospital steward:

“…. We are under marching orders, some of the companies of our regiment have already gone. The reason for our not going together, is owing to not having vessels enough. Those who have left had to embark on small “briggs” & skooners [sic], taking from two to three companies aboard. The place of our destination is ‘Beaufort S. Carolina.’ The two companies of regulars, stationed here, have also left a few days ago; for the same place.

The health of our men is exceedingly good at present, out of our whole regiment there are but nineteen, who are unable on account of sickness to accompany us, which is comparatively, but a very small number, and these as far as my knowledge is concerned, are not dangerously ill; and it is hoped that they may soon be able to follow us.

After we are gone the garrison at this place will only consist of six companies of the 90th Regt. N.Y.V. [90th New York Volunteers]. The other four companies of the above named regt. are stationed at “Fort Jefferson”, Tortugas; some fifty-odd miles from here.

The 91st Regt. N.Y.V. were ordered a few weeks ago, to Pensacola, Fla. So you perceive, that there has been a considerable change made among the military, of late at this place….

Letter from Sergeant John G. Helfrich, Company G, to his parents, June 25, 1862 (used with permission, courtesy of Colin Cofield).

After Helfrich settled into his new quarters at Hilton Head, South Carolina, he penned the following update to his parents on June 25:

“Having first arrived at our place of destination spoken off [sic] in my last, I will now give you a brief description of our passage to this place.

We left Key West, on the 19th inst., about mid-night in the brigg [sic] “Ellen Bernard,” and arrived at this place yesterday (the 24th) at one o’clock p.m. having had a very pleasant voyage, not the slightest accident having occurred, and the men seem to get accustomed to riding at sea, as but a few had what is generally called ‘seasickness’. Our regt. was put on four small vessels, the ‘Sea Lark’, ‘Emaline’, “Tangire’ [handwriting difficult to read] & ‘Ellen Bernard, the second last named, has up to this time, not yet arrived, having started about 4 hours ahead of us. She had three companies aboard & the hospital baggage.

The weather is not quite so hot here as where we come from, but I think it will perhaps make a material change in a few days, as the ground is at present cooled off by the rain….

Since our arrival on this island we learned that a pretty severe fight came off about eighteen miles from here, at a place called ‘James island’ at which our boys seem to have got the worst of it as the hospital at this place contains a great many of the wounded.

Our boys are all eager for a fight, and no doubt they will get a chance to show their fighting abilities ere long, as it is rumored that an assault is to be made on ‘Charleston’ at an early date. Troops are coming and going every day, I am told, and I should not be surprised if we had to go away from here in a day or so.

You must excuse me for writing with red ink as it was the only article of the kind within reach.

I am in the full enjoyment of health at present, hoping you are the same.

I will enclose forty dolls. which I will send to you for safe keeping, until I return home, which will be ere long I reckon. Write soon, as I am anxious to hear from you….”

* Note: The letters of Sergeant John Helfrich are used with permission of Colin Cofield and his family who generously provided copies for use in documenting the history of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. To read more of his insights, see our collection of Helfrich’s letters here.

Bay Street Looking West, Beaufort, South Carolina, 1862 (Sam A. Cooley, 10th Army Corps, photographer, public domain).

The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry did not remain in the Hilton Head-Port Royal area long, however; on July 2, the regiment departed for its new assignment—provost (military police and judicial) duties in Beaufort, South Carolina. Still assigned to the command of Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan, the 47th Pennsylvanians performed those duties as part of a combined occupying force that included the: 6th Connecticut under Colonel J. L. Chatfield, the 8th Maine under Lieutenant Colonel J. F. Twitchell, three companies of the 4th New Hampshire under Major J. D. Drew, the 7th New Hampshire under Colonel H. S. Putnam, the 55th Pennsylvania under Colonel R. White, the 1st Connecticut Battery under Captain A. P. Rockwell, three batteries of the 1st U. S. Artillery under Captain L. L. Langdon, three companies of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry under Captain A. H. Stevens, Jr., and a detachment of the 1st New York Engineers.

In fairly short order, however, members of the 47th Pennsylvania were once again dogged by diseases and other ailments. During the month of July, the following members of the regiment were among those who sought medical treatment:

  • Private George Nichols, Company E (admitted July 14, 1862 for treatment of a hernia);
  • Private Andrew Burke, Company E (admitted July 17, 1862 for treatment of a boil);
  • Private Peter McLaughlin, Company H (admitted July 18, 1862 for treatment of a sprain);
  • Private William Ward, Company E (admitted July 18, 1862 for treatment of a carbuncle);
  • Private Luther Bernheisel, Company H (admitted July 23, 1862 for treatment of a funiculus condition);
  • Private John Bruch, Company E (admitted July 24, 1862);
  • Private John Richards, Company E (admitted July 26, 1862 for treatment of a febrile condition);
  • Second Lieutenant William Wyker, Company E (admitted July 26, 1862 for treatment of diarrhea);
  • Corporal Joseph Schwab, Company F (admitted July 26, 1862 for treatment of bilious remittent fever);
  • Sergeant William Hiram Bartholomew, Company F (admitted July 26, 1862); and
  • First Lieutenant George W. Fuller, Company F (admitted July 26, 1862 for treatment of piles).

August

As summer wore on, disease continued to fell still more members of the regiment. Among those hospitalized were:

  • Private Israel Reinhard, Company G (admitted August 6, 1862 for treatment of bilious remittent fever);
  • Corporal Solomon Wieder, Company G (admitted August 6, 1862 for treatment of otitis);
  • Sergeant Robert Nelson, Company H (admitted August 7, 1862 for treatment of intermittent fever);
  • Private Charles Rohrer, Company H (admitted with August 8, 1862 for treatment of diarrhea); and
  • Sergeant James Hahn, Company H (admitted August 10, 1862 for dysentery).

The month of August was particularly hard due to typhoid fever, which felled locals and soldiers alike in and around Hilton Head, Beaufort, and Port Royal. Yellow fever then also descended on Hilton Head. One of the protective measures employed by members of the regiment at this time, according to a letter penned by Private Alfred C. Pretz, was “liquid ammonia … kept in the office for the purpose of washing the skin where the little stingers [mosquitos] have sown their venom.”

Robert Barnwell Rhett’s home, Beaufort, South Carolina, circa 1860s (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

It was also unbearably hot. In a letter to family and friends, C Company Captain Gobin noted that:

“The thermometer to-day has fallen to a respectable number … The weather for the last few weeks has been beyond conception. It was sweltering until Saturday a cool breeze from the North sprung up, and we have enjoyed two comfortable days … Every day last week until Saturday, it ranged from 100 to 110 degrees in our tents, and from 98 to 105 the coolest place you could find…. Our pickets at Seabrook, a few days ago, discovered the rebels throwing up earthworks, and the general impression is that a simultaneous attack will be made by their land forces. News has been received here for some time, of their concentrating large forces of the latter at Grahamsville and Pocotaligo….

But it was these two sentences of Gobin’s letter which provided the most illuminating details about what life was genuinely like for 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers who were now truly part of an occupying army in America’s Deep South:

“We occupy the house of Senator Rhett, which is one of the finest in the place. A large portion of the furniture is still in it, as is also a portion of his library. It is a magnificent residence, surrounded by orange trees and flowers of the most gorgeous colors. I presume he never intended it for the occupancy of Yankee Court Martial.”

Robert Barnwell Rhett (1800-1876) was, in fact, a powerful, longtime, pro-slavery, pro-secession activist. A native of Beaufort, South Carolina who began his professional life as a lawyer, he quickly became a vocal critic of the Tariff of 1828 (the “Tariff of Abominations”) while serving as a member of the South Carolina state House of Representatives (after he was first elected in 1826). Resigning that seat to become South Carolina’s Attorney General in 1832, he was subsequently elected to represent South Carolina in the U.S. House of Representatives (1837). A supporter of John C. Calhoun, Rhett ultimately parted ways with him when he came to believe that Calhoun was too moderate.

“The Union Is Dissolved” (South Carolina’s secession from the United States as announced by the Charleston Mercury, December 20, 1860 (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

By the mid-1840s, Rhett had worked his way into an even more powerful role, becoming the de facto leader of the fire eaters—South Carolina’s increasingly vocal, pro-secession movement. Opting not to seek reelection in 1849, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in December of 1850, but resigned that seat in 1852 when his efforts to advance the cause of secession stalled. He then turned to journalism. Purchasing the Charleston Mercury during the 1850s in partnership with his son, Barnwell, he used that newspaper to fan the embers of secession into a raging wildfire—going so far as to call for South Carolina to secede if U.S. voters selected any Republican candidate as the next President of the United States.

As a result, after Abraham Lincoln was elected to his first term, South Carolina seceded on December 20, 1860—just as Rhett had hoped. Rhett then lobbied multiple southern states to meet in Montgomery, Alabama in order to form a new country—one that he envisioned would be made up entirely of slaveholding states.

During what historians now refer to as the Montgomery Convention, Rhett played a key role in drafting a new constitution for the Confederate States of America (CSA). Among his contributions to that document were a stipulation that all future CSA presidents would serve six-year terms and wording that would prohibit future CSA leaders from levying tariffs; however, he failed in his attempt to remove wording that declared foreign slave trade to be illegal, and also failed at adding a provision that would have required all CSA states to allow the practice of slavery.

However, the sun was already beginning to set on his political career. By the time the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers arrived in Beaufort, Rhett had lost the support of many fellow Confederates after having repeatedly denounced CSA President Jefferson Davis in the Charleston Mercury. Knowing that his hometown of Beaufort had fallen to the U.S. Army and that his Beaufort home had been commandeered for use by the 47th Pennsylvania for provost actions only served to stoke his anger and frustration.

While Gobin and other officers of the 47th Pennsylvania were busy with their judicial activities, regimental physicians and their soldier-patients continued their war against disease. Writing to superiors from the 47th Pennsylvania’s headquarters in Beaufort, South Carolina on August 31, Assistant Regimental Surgeon Jacob H. Scheetz reported that:

“Remittent Fever has prevailed to a considerable extent. It was characterized by a daily exacerbation and remission. The greater number of those afflicted with it, presented the following symptoms: A general feeling of lassitude for two or three days, with partial loss of appetite, followed by chills and flashes of heat alternately; cephalgia, felt principally over the orbits, of a sharp lancinating character, sometimes, however, described as a dull, aching, heavy sensation. The eyes were most generally suffused, skin sallow, tongue coated, thirst, anorexia. The bowels in the greater number of cases were torpid, but in others disposed to looseness; there was a tenderness over the right hypochondriac and epigastric regions, frequent nausea, and sometimes vomiting. The pulse ranged from 85 to 115 per minute. The skin was hot and dry during the exacerbations, moist and flacid [sic] during remissions. The urine was generally high colored, and caused frequent complaints of a scalding sensation while voiding it, and there was a continual complaint of pain in the back and extremities, etc. The treatment which was found most beneficial was to administer a mercurial purgative in cases in which the bowels were torpid; when there was nausea, twenty grains of ipecacuanha were combined with it. After the intestinal canal had been acted upon, five grains of quinine were given four to six times daily. When there was diarrhea, half a grain of opium or five of Dover’s powder were given with each alternate dose. When the peculiar effects of the quinia were apparent the disease rapidly yielded. The epigastric tenderness, when severe, was treated with sinapisms and opiates. The diet was light as possible.”

Scheetz also noted that, “Diarrhea prevailed considerably,” and added that the “cases were uniformly mild … unaccompanied by any febrile symptoms, and yielded to treatment very readily”—a protocol which “consisted of vegetable astringents and opium, tannic acid, and catechu being the astringents principally used.”

“Dysentery also assumed a mild type, very few cases presenting much febrile actions. The treatment consisted in administering two grains of tartar emetic with half an ounce of epsom salts, and following it with a combination of acetate of lead and opium or more frequently two drachms of castor oil and forty drops of laudanum three times daily.”

Early to Mid-September

U.S. Army insignia for the Tenth (X) Army Corps, which would have been sewn onto uniforms of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry as a badge and displayed on a flag.

As summer wound down, two major changes were made to Union Army operations which would dramatically reshape the lives of 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers for the remainder of 1862. The 47th Pennsylvania was attached to the newly formed Tenth Army Corps (X Corps) after it was formed as a new army corps on September 3. On September 16, the Tenth Army was then placed under the command of Major-General Ormsby M. Mitchel when he took over command of the U.S. Department of the South from Major-General David Hunter.

As a direct result of those changes, before the month was out, disease would no longer be the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry’s primary foe.

 

Sources:

  1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.
  2. Berlin, Ira, Barbara J. Fields, et. al. Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867, Series I, Vol. I, pp. 123-125: “The Destruction of Slavery.” New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  3. Berlin, Ira, Barbara J. Fields, et. al. Free at Last: A Documentary History of Freedom, Slavery, and the Civil War, pp. 46-48. New York, New York: The New Press, 2007.
  4. Farrell, Michael. “History of the Formation of the Tenth Army Corps,” in “Department General Order No. 2 (Series 2013-2014, August 15, 2013).” Boca Raton, Florida: Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (Department of Florida).
  5. Hunter, Major-General David. Abstract from Return of the Department of the South, Major General David Hunter, U. S. Army, commanding, for July 31, 1862,” in The War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Civil War: Chapter XXVI: “Operations on the Coast of South Carolina, Georgia, and Middle and East Florida, Apr. 12, 1862-Jun 11, 1863: Correspondence, etc.: Union.” Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1885.
  6. Lincoln, Abraham. “Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln, May 19, 1862, #90” (rescinding Major-General David Hunter’s Emancipation of Enslaved Persons in Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina via General Order No. 11), in “Presidential Proclamations” (Series 23, Record Group 11). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
  7. Miller, Steven. Proclamation by the President,” in “Freedmen & Southern Society Project.” College Park, Maryland: University of Maryland, College Park (History Department), June 19, 2020.
  8. Reynolds, Michael S. “Rhett, Robert Barnwell,” in South Carolina Encyclopedia. Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies, October 25, 2016.
  9. “Registers of Deaths of Volunteers” (1862 U.S. Army death ledger entries for multiple members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
  10. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Self-published, 1986.
  11. “Yankees Sick and Dying.” Athens, Tennessee: The Athens Post, May 16, 1862.

 

 

 

His First Name was “Presto?” A Black History Month Mystery

Roster entry: Presto Garris,” Company F, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Bates’ History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, Vol. 1, 1869 (public domain; double click to enlarge).

“Presto?” The first name stood out like a sore thumb on the roster of my great-grandfather’s Civil War regiment—one with a rank and file populated largely by soldiers with Germanic surnames: “Acher,” “Bachman,” “Bauer,” “Bauman,” “Burger,” “Dachrodt,” “Diehl,” “Eisenbraun,” “Eppler,” “Fritz,” “Grimm,” “Guth,” “Handwerk,” “Hertzog,” “Keiser,” “Knecht,” “Knorr,” “Koenig,” “Laub,” “Metzger,” “Münch,” “Rehrig,” “Reinert,” “Richter,” “Sauerwein,” “Schmidt,” “Schneider,” “Strauss,” “Ulrich,” “Volkenand,” “Wagner,” “Weiss,” and “Zeppenfeld.”

Many of their given or middle names were equally as Germanic—“Adolph,” “Bernhard,” “Gottlieb,” “Friedrich,” “Heinrich,” “Levi,” “Matthias,” “Reinhold,” “Tilghman,” “Tobias,” and “Werner.” In addition, one of the regiment’s component units—Company K—had even been founded by a German immigrant with the intent of creating “a new German company” staffed entirely by German-Americans who had been born in the Lehigh Valley, as well as recent émigrés from Germany.

So, “Presto” as a given name seemed like it warranted further investigation. Did the spelling of this soldier’s given name signal that he had emigrated from a different part of the world—possibly Italy? There was, after all, another member of the 47th Pennsylvania’s ranks with a seemingly Italian surname—Battaglia (later proven to be an immigrant of Switzerland). Plus, there were also multiple men with Irish surnames who had also enlisted with the 47th.

Or, maybe this soldier had been employed as a magician prior to enlisting in the military? (Probably not, but strange discoveries are surprisingly common with genealogical research.)

A more likely scenario? A harried Union Army clerk, in his haste to process new enlistees, simply omitted the “n” at the end of this soldier’s name—making him “Presto” for posterity’s sake rather than “Preston.”

I just had to know. Who was Presto?

Listing for “Presto Garris,” Company F, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1866, Pennsylvania State Archives (public domain).

It turned out that this 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer wasn’t a magician, and he wasn’t an immigrant from Italy, but he was someone whose first and last names were badly mangled by multiple “mis-spellers” over decades of data entry.

Upon further investigation, it became clear that he was a formerly enslaved, 33-year-old black man who had enlisted with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry on October 5, 1862 while the regiment was stationed near Beaufort, South Carolina—meaning that my great-grandfather’s regiment had become an integrated one at least three months before President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

Totally “wowed” by this discovery, I searched for even more information about this very important enlisted man, but my quest wasn’t as easy as I hoped it would be because the regimental clerk who had entered “Presto” on the roster for Company F of the 47th Pennsylvania Regiment in the Registers of Pennsylvania Volunteers had spelled his name incorrectly—an error that was then perpetuated by historian Samuel P. Bates in his History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5.

Possible name variants for an African American member of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, U.S. Civil War General Pension Index Cards (National Archives, public domain).

Fortunately, this soldier’s listing in the U.S. Civil War General Pension Index Card system was slightly more helpful, providing multiple “alias” (alternate) spellings of his name: “Presto Garris,” “Bristor Geddes,” and “Bristor Gethers,” as well as a potential spelling for the name of his wife, “Rachel Gethers,” and a possible place of residency and year of death—1894—because his widow had filed for a U.S. Civil War Widow’s Pension from South Carolina on July 27, 1894.

Despite those hints, it took quite some time to pick up this soldier’s trail again. Eventually, though, that pension index card data helped me to find a Freedmen’s Bureau contract for him which confirmed that he had indeed settled in South Carolina post-war. Dated February 12, 1868, this document also confirmed that he had been signed to a contract with 14 other Freedmen by the Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina office of the U.S. Freedmen’s Bureau to provide labor for the Whitehouse Plantation.

List showing “Brister Geddis,” et. al. on an 1868 Freedmen’s Bureau contract with the Whitehouse Plantation in South Carolina (public domain; double click to enlarge).

But, in another seemingly frustrating turn of events, that contract caused further confusion surrounding his name—this time spelling it as “Brister Geddis.” Fortunately, this new variant was repeated in the 1870 federal census—a sign that it was either the correct spelling or at least a closer approximation of how this soldier had pronounced his own name. Describing him as a 42-year-old black male residing in Beaufort, South Carolina, that same census also noted that he lived in Beaufort Township with his wife “Rachel,” a 24-year-old black woman (estimated birth year 1846), and son “Peter,” a 6-year-old black child, and confirmed that all three had been born in South Carolina. And that census record also noted that both “Brister” and “Rachel” were involved in farming land valued at $1,500.

Unfortunately, the 1880 federal census taker created still more confusion by illegibly writing the name as “Geddes, Brista” or “Geddis, Bristor”—and gave rise to two new puzzles by omitting son Peter’s name and also radically altering the estimated birth year of wife “Rachel”—changing it from 1846 to 1820 by stating that she was a 60-year-old who was four years older than her husband (rather than younger as she had reportedly been in 1870).

Even more frustrating? The special veterans’ census of 1890 altered the spelling of his name yet again—this time to “Brister Gedders.”

At that point, I made the decision to do everything humanly possible to right the wrong of this 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer’s forgotten military service by launching a GoFundMe campaign to support the purchase of this his full set of his military and pension records from the National Archives (as well as those of the other eight African American men who enlisted with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry).

If just three of you who regularly read the content on this website and follow our Facebook page donate $10 each to this campaign, we will be able to purchase the entire Compiled Military Service File for this forgotten member of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers and make it publicly available (free of charge) to other family history researchers and historians. If just four of you donate $20 each, we would also be able to purchase the entire Federal Military Pension Application File for that same soldier—a file that may very well contain critical vital statistics about this soldier’s birth, life and death, as well as vital statistics for his widow and son.

We might just even be able to determine when and where Brister/Bristor was buried and whether or not a gravestone marks his final resting place. If we find that no marker exists, or that the existing one has been damaged, or that the gravestone carver spelled his name incorrectly, we can then fix that wrong as well by asking the appropriate county, state and federal authorities to erect a suitable veteran’s headstone for him.

Please help us honor the military service of this unsung hero by making your donation today to our GoFundMe campaign, Honor 9 Black Soldiers of the American Civil War.”

With Sincere Gratitude,

Laurie Snyder, Managing Editor
47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment’s Story

 

Sources:

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

2. “Garris, Presto,” in Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1866. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.

3. “Garris, Presto” (alias “Geddes, Bristor”, alias “Gethers, Bristor”), in U.S. Civil War General Pension Index, 1890-1894. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

4. “Roll of Co. F., 47th Regiment, Infantry,” in Registers of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865, in “Records of the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs.” Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives, retrieved online February 10, 2020.

 

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.

 

A Nation’s Slow March Toward Freedom — The Key Steps Taken by America to Abolish Slavery

“An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery” was passed by the Pennsylvania Assembly on March 1, 1780 (Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, public domain).

The elimination of slavery in the United States of America has been a lengthy and less than perfect process, beginning with early abolition efforts which occurred during the nation’s colonial period, and which were designed to reduce and ultimately end the buying, selling, and exchanging or bartering of human beings. According to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, “the first written protest in England’s American colonies came from Germantown Friends in 1688” in Pennsylvania; the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Friends also subsequently “criticized the importation of slaves in 1696, objected to slave trading in 1754, and in 1775 determined to disown members who would not free their slaves.”

That same year, America’s first abolition organization, the Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage, was also established. Formed in Philadelphia on April 14, 1775, the organization became more commonly known as the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. “Throughout the 1700s,” according to PHMC historians, the Pennsylvania Assembly also actively “attempted to discourage the slave trade by taxing it repeatedly,” and then began taking a slightly more intense approach by passing An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slaveryby a vote of 34 to 21 on March 1, 1870. The first legislative action of its kind in America, it decreed, among other things, “that ‘every Negro and Mulatto child born within the State after the passing of the Act (1780) would be free upon reaching age twenty-eight,'” and that after their release from slavery, these freed people “were to receive the same freedom dues and other privileges ‘such as tools of their trade,’ as servants bound by indenture for four years.” Heavily opposed by German Lutherans and the representatives of counties with large populations of residents of German heritage, this new law still allowed residents of the Keystone State to continue to buy slaves who had already been registered, but prohibited Pennsylvanians from importing new slaves into the state.

* Note: Although a significant number of German Lutherans initially opposed the state’s 1870 abolition act, many German Methodists adopted anti-slavery positions, as did many who were considered to be “Forty-Eighters” (Germans who emigrated to America during or after the revolutions of 1848).

Although opponents of Pennsylvania’s new abolition law continued to challenge this legislation for several years after its passage, the legislation ultimately survived, and was subsequently strengthened in 1788 to stop Pennsylvanians residing near the borders of Delaware and Maryland from sneaking slaves into the state in violation of the law. The full wording of Pennsylvania’s initial abolition act read as follows:

When we contemplate our Abhorence of that Condition to which the Arms and Tyranny of Great Britain were exerted to reduce us, when we look back on the Variety of Dangers to which we have been exposed, and how miraculously our Wants in many Instances have been supplied and our Deliverances wrought, when even Hope and human fortitude have become unequal to the Conflict; we are unavoidably led to a serious and grateful Sense of the manifold Blessings which we have undeservedly received from the hand of that Being from whom every good and perfect Gift cometh. Impressed with these Ideas we conceive that it is our duty, and we rejoice that it is in our Power, to extend a Portion of that freedom to others, which hath been extended to us; and a Release from that State of Thraldom, to which we ourselves were tyrannically doomed, and from which we have now every Prospect of being delivered. It is not for us to enquire, why, in the Creation of Mankind, the Inhabitants of the several parts of the Earth, were distinguished by a difference in Feature or Complexion. It is sufficient to know that all are the Work of an Almighty Hand, We find in the distribution of the human Species, that the most fertile, as well as the most barren parts of the Earth are inhabited by Men of Complexions different from ours and from each other, from whence we may reasonably as well as religiously infer, that he, who placed them in their various Situations, hath extended equally his Care and Protection to all, and that it becometh not us to counteract his Mercies.

We esteem a peculiar Blessing granted to us, that we are enabled this Day to add one more Step to universal Civilization by removing as much as possible the Sorrows of those, who have lived in undeserved Bondage, and from which by the assumed Authority of the Kings of Britain, no effectual legal Relief could be obtained. Weaned by a long Course of Experience from those narrow Prejudices and Partialities we had imbibed, we find our Hearts enlarged with Kindness and Benevolence towards Men of all Conditions and Nations; and we conceive ourselves at this particular Period extraordinarily called upon by the Blessings which we have received, to manifest the Sincerity of our Profession and to give a substantial Proof of our Gratitude.

And whereas, the Condition of those Persons who have heretofore been denominated Negroe and Mulatto Slaves, has been attended with Circumstances which not only deprived them of the common Blessings that they were by Nature entitled to, but has cast them into the deepest Afflictions by an unnatural Separation and Sale of Husband and Wife from each other, and from their Children; an Injury the greatness of which can only be conceived, by supposing that we were in the same unhappy Case. In Justice therefore to Persons so unhappily circumstanced and who, having no Prospect before them whereon they may rest their Sorrows and their hopes have no reasonable Inducement to render that Service to Society, which they otherwise might; and also ingrateful Commemoration of our own happy Deliverance, from that State of unconditional Submission, to which we were doomed by the Tyranny of Britain.

Be it enacted and it is hereby enacted by the Representatives of the Freemen of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in General Assembly met and by the Authority of the same, That all Persons, as well Negroes, and Mulattos, as others, who shall be born within this State, from and after the Passing of this Act, shall not be deemed and considered as Servants for Life or Slaves; and that all Servitude for Life or Slavery of Children in Consequence of the Slavery of their Mothers, in the Case of all Children born within this State from and after the passing of this Act as aforesaid, shall be, an hereby is, utterly taken away, extinguished and for ever abolished.

Provided always and be it further enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That every Negroe and Mulatto Child born within this State after the passing of this Act as aforesaid, who would in Case this Act had not been made, have been born a Servant for Years or life or a Slave, shall be deemed to be and shall be, by Virtue of this Act the Servant of such person or his or her Assigns, who would in such Case have been entitled to the Service of such Child until such Child shall attain unto the Age of twenty eight Years, in the manner and on the Conditions whereon Servants bound by Indenture for four Years are or may be retained and holden; and shall be liable to like Correction and punishment, and intitled to like Relief in case he or she be evilly treated by his or her master or Mistress; and to like Freedom dues and other Privileges as Servants bound by Indenture for Four Years are or may be intitled unless the Person to whom the Service of any such Child Shall belong, shall abandon his or her Claim to the same, in which Case the Overseers of the Poor of the City Township or District, respectively where such Child shall be so abandoned, shall by Indenture bind out every Child so abandoned as an Apprentice for a Time not exceeding the Age herein before limited for the Service of such Children.

And be it further enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That every Person who is or shall be the Owner of any Negroe or Mulatto Slave or Servant for life or till the Age of thirty one Years, now within this State, or his lawful Attorney shall on or before the said first day of November next, deliver or cause to be delivered in Writing to the Clerk of the Peace of the County or to the Clerk of the Court of Record of the City of Philadelphia, in which he or she shall respectively inhabit, the Name and Sirname and Occupation or Profession of such Owner, and the Name of the County and Township District or Ward where he or she resideth, and also the Name and Names of any such Slave and Slaves and Servant and Servants for Life or till the Age of thirty one Years together with their Ages and Sexes severally and respectively set forth and annexed, by such Person owned or statedly employed, and then being within this State in order to ascertain and distinguish the Slaves and Servants for Life and Years till the Age of thirty one Years within this State who shall be such on the said first day of November next, from all other persons, which particulars shall by said Clerk of the Sessions and Clerk of said City Court be entered in Books to be provided for that Purpose by the said Clerks; and that no Negroe or Mulatto now within this State shall from and after the said first day of November by deemed a slave or Servant for life or till the Age of thirty one Years unless his or her name shall be entered as aforesaid on such Record except such Negroe and Mulatto Slaves and Servants as are hereinafter excepted; the said Clerk to be entitled to a fee of Two Dollars for each Slave or Servant so entered as aforesaid, from the Treasurer of the County to be allowed to him in his Accounts.

Provided always, That any Person in whom the Ownership or Right to the Service of any Negro or Mulatto shall be vested at the passing of this Act, other than such as are herein before excepted, his or her Heirs, Executors, Administrators and Assigns, and all and every of them severally Shall be liable to the Overseers of the Poor of the City, Township or District to which any such Negroe or Mulatto shall become chargeable, for such necessary Expence, with Costs of Suit thereon, as such Overseers may be put to through the Neglect of the Owner, Master or Mistress of such Negroe or Mulatto, notwithstanding the Name and other descriptions of such Negroe or Mulatto shall not be entered and recorded as aforesaid; unless his or her Master or Owner shall before such Slave or Servant attain his or her twenty eighth Year execute and record in the proper County, a deed or Instrument securing to such Slave or Servant his or her Freedom.

And be it further enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That the Offences and Crimes of Negroes and Mulattos as well as Slaves and Servants and Freemen, shall be enquired of, adjudged, corrected and punished in like manner as the Offences and Crimes of the other Inhabitants of this State are and shall be enquired of adjudged, corrected and punished, and not otherwise except that a Slave shall not be admitted to bear Witness agaist [sic] a Freeman.

And be it further enacted by the Authority aforesaid That in all Cases wherein Sentence of Death shall be pronounced against a Slave, the Jury before whom he or she shall be tried shall appraise and declare the Value of such Slave, and in Case Such Sentence be executed, the Court shall make an Order on the State Treasurer payable to the Owner for the same and for the Costs of Prosecution, but in Case of a Remission or Mitigation for the Costs only.

And be it further enacted by the Authority aforesaid That the Reward for taking up runaway and absconding Negroe and Mulatto Slaves and Servants and the Penalties for enticing away, dealing with, or harbouring, concealing or employing Negroe and Mulatto Slaves and Servants shall be the same, and shall be recovered in like manner, as in Case of Servants bound for Four Years.

And be it further enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That no Man or Woman of any Nation or Colour, except the Negroes or Mulattoes who shall be registered as aforesaid shall at any time hereafter be deemed, adjudged or holden, within the Territories of this Commonwealth, as Slaves or Servants for Life, but as freemen and Freewomen; and except the domestic Slaves attending upon Delegates in Congress from the other American States, foreign Ministers and Consuls, and persons passing through or sojourning in this State, and not becoming resident therein; and Seamen employed in Ships, not belonging to any Inhabitant of this State nor employed in any Ship owned by any such Inhabitant, Provided such domestic Slaves be not aliened or sold to any Inhabitant, nor (except in the Case of Members of Congress, foreign Ministers and Consuls) retained in this State longer than six Months.

Provided always and be it further enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That this Act nor any thing in it contained shall not give any Relief or Shelter to any absconding or Runaway Negroe or Mulatto Slave or Servant, who has absented himself or shall absent himself from his or her Owner, Master or Mistress, residing in any other State or Country, but such Owner, Master or Mistress, shall have like Right and Aid to demand, claim and take away his Slave or Servant, as he might have had in Case this Act had not been made. And that all Negroe and Mulatto Slaves, now owned, and heretofore resident in this State, who have absented themselves, or been clandestinely carried away, or who may be employed abroad as Seamen, and have not returned or been brought back to their Owners, Masters or Mistresses, before the passing of this Act may within five Years be registered as effectually, as is ordered by this Act concerning those who are now within the State, on producing such Slave, before any two Justices of the Peace, and satisfying the said Justices by due Proof, of the former Residence, absconding, taking away, or Absence of such Slave as aforesaid; who thereupon shall direct and order the said Slave to be entered on the Record as aforesaid.

And Whereas Attempts may be made to evade this Act, by introducing into this State, Negroes and Mulattos, bound by Covenant to serve for long and unreasonable Terms of Years, if the same be not prevented.

Be it therefore enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That no Covenant of personal Servitude or Apprenticeship whatsoever shall be valid or binding on a Negroe or Mulatto for a longer Time than Seven Years; unless such Servant or Apprentice were at the Commencement of such Servitude or Apprenticeship under the Age of Twenty one Years; in which Case such Negroe or Mulatto may be holden as a Servant or Apprentice respectively, according to the Covenant, as the Case shall be, until he or she shall attain the Age of twenty eight Years but no longer.

And be it further enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That an Act of Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania passed in the Year one thousand seven hundred and five, intitled “An Act for the Trial of Negroes;” and another Act of Assembly of the said Province passed in the Year one thousand seven hundred and twenty five intitled “An Act for “the better regulating of Negroes in this Province;” and another Act of Assembly of the said Province passed in the Year one thousand seven hundred and sixty one intitled “An Act for laying a Duty on Negroe and Mulatto Slaves imported into this Province” and also another Act of Assembly of the said Province, passed in the Year one thousand seven hundred and seventy three, intitled “An Act for making perpetual An Act for laying a duty on Negroe and Mulatto “Slaves imported into this Province and for laying an additional “Duty on said Slaves;” shall be and are hereby repealed annulled and made void.

John Bayard, Speaker

Enacted into a Law at Philadelphia on Wednesday the first day of March, Anno Domini One thousand seven hundred Eighty
Thomas Paine, Clerk of the General Assembly

Other states then followed Pennsylvania’s lead, expanding upon it by enacting less conservative measures. During a series of judicial reviews which were conducted in Massachusetts between 1781 and 1783, for example, state leaders there declared that slavery was incompatible with their state’s new constitution.

These various laws, while not perfect, did gradually achieve their aim of reducing slavery in northern states, as did 1807 legislation by the U.S. Congress which made it a crime for Americans to engage in international slave trade (effective January 1, 1808), and which ultimately reduced shipments of slaves from Africa to the United States by ninety percent. With respect to Pennsylvania, specifically, “the number of slaves dropped from 3,737 to 1,706” between 1790 and 1800, according to PHMC historians, “and by 1810 to 795. In 1840, there still were 64 slaves in the state, but by 1850 there were none.”

Meanwhile, Quakers and others active in abolition movements in Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia achieved some success by pressuring slaveholders to agree to free slaves via wills and other methods of manumission so that, by 1860, more than ninety percent of black men, women, and children in Delaware and nearly fifty percent in Maryland were free.

Despite these efforts, however, the ugliness of slavery continued to persist — a fact made all too clear in newspapers and other publications of the period, including via William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator. But it was, perhaps, the nation’s fugitive slave laws which finally made plain slavery’s seemingly unshakeable grip on the country. Passed by the U.S. Congress, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 required that all escaped slaves, regardless of where they were captured, be returned to their masters — even if those escaped slaves had made it to safety via the Underground Railroad or other methods and had been given sanctuary by abolitionists in states where slaves had been permanently freed. In response, two years later, Harriet Beecher Stowe released her landmark, anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

After the U.S. Congress set the stage to reverse decades of anti-slavery progress with its passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, abolitionists and other opponents of slavery banded together to form the Republican Party, which held its first national convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on February 22, 1856. Initially proposing a system which would contain slavery until each individual state where the practice still existed could be forced to eradicate it, the Republican Party adopted a harder, anti-slavery line in 1860 after the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States.

Following the secession of multiple states from the Union, beginning with South Carolina on December 20, 1860, and the subsequent fall of Fort Sumter to Confederate States Army troops in mid-April 1861, the United States descended into a state of civil war with its federal government issuing a call for regular and volunteer troops to preserve the Union. On September 22, 1862, Lincoln formally added the abolition of slavery as one of the federal government’s stated war goals with his release of the preliminary version of his Emancipation Proclamation, which decared that, effective January 1, 1863, “all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

But it would take more than two years for that hoped-for dream to truly begin and nearly 150 years for it to be completely embraced by a divided nation.

THE 13TH AMENDMENT TO THE U.S. CONSTITUTION (THE ABOLITION OF SLAVERY)

“Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

On January 31, 1865, the United States Congress approved the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, abolishing slavery in America. President Abraham Lincoln added his signature on February 1, 1865. (U.S. National Archives, public domain).

1864:

April 8, 1864: The United States Senate passes the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by a vote of 38 to 6.

1865:

January 31, 1865: The U.S. House passes the 13th Amendment by a vote of 119 to 56.

February 1, 1865: President Abraham Lincoln approves the Joint Resolution of Congress. According to historians at The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, even though the U.S. Constitution does not require presidential signatures on amendments, Lincoln chooses to add his signature, making the 13th Amendment “the only constitutional amendment to be later ratified that was signed by a president.” The resolution is also ratified on this day by the Illinois Legislature, making Illinois the first state to ratify the amendment. (According to news reports, the Illinois Legislature actually ratified the amendment in Springfield, Illinois before Lincoln added his signature to the document in Washington, D.C.)

February 2, 1865: Rhode Island becomes the second state to ratify the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Michigan’s legislature also ratifies the amendment on this day.

February 3, 1865: Maryland, New York, and West Virginia ratify the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

February 6, 1865: Missouri ratifies the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

February 7, 1865: Maine, Kansas, and Massachusetts ratify the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

February 8, 1865: Pennsylvania ratifies the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution while Delaware initially rejects ratification of the amendment. (Delaware’s legislature will later approve it in 1901. See below for details.)

February 9, 1865: Virginia ratifies the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

February 10, 1865: Ohio ratifies the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

February 15–16, 1865: Louisiana ratifies the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on February 15 or 16 while Indiana and Nevada both ratify the amendment on February 16, 1865.

February 23, 1865: Minnesota ratifies the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

February 24, 1865: Wisconsin ratifies the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution while Kentucky rejects ratification. (Kentucky’s legislature will later approve ratification in 1976. See below for details.)

March 9, 1865: Vermont’s governor approves the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

March 16, 1865: New Jersey initially rejects ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (The state’s legislature will later approve it in 1866. See below for details.)

April 7, 1865: Tennessee ratifies the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

April 14, 1865: Arkansas ratifies the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

May 4, 1865: Connecticut ratifies the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

June 30, 1865: New Hampshire ratifies the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

November 13, 1865: South Carolina ratifies the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

December 2, 1865: Alabama’s provisional governor approves the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution while Mississippi rejects ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (Mississippi’s certified ratification of the amendment will not be achieved until 148 years later. See below for detail.)

December 4, 1865: North Carolina ratifies the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

December 6, 1865: The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is officially ratified when Georgia becomes the 27th state to approve the amendment. (America has a total of 36 states at this time in its history.) With this day’s formal abolition of slavery, four million Americans are permanently freed.

December 11, 1865: Oregon ratifies the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

December 15, 1865: California ratifies the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

December 18, 1865: United States Secretary of State William H. Seward certifies that the 13th Amendment has become a valid part of the U.S. Constitution.

William H. Seward, Secretary of State of the United States,
To all to whom these presents may come, greeting:

Dec. 18, 1865, Preamble: Know ye, that whereas the congress of the United States on the 1st of February last passed a resolution which is in the words following, namely:

“A resolution submitting to the legislatures of the several states a proposition to amend the Constitution of the United States.”

“Resolved by the Senate and House of the United States of America in Congress assembled, (two thirds of both houses occurring,) That the following article be proposed to the legislatures of the several states as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which, when ratified by three fourths of said legislatures, shall be valid, to all intents and purposes, as a part of the said constitution, namely:

“ARTICLE XIII.

“Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

“Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

And whereas it appears from official documents on file in this department that the amendment to the Constitution of the United States proposed, as aforesaid, has been ratified by the legislatures of the State of Illinois, Rhode Island, Michigan, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, Maine, Kansas, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, Missouri, Nevada, Indiana, Louisiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Vermont, Tennessee, Arkansas, Connecticut, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Alabama, North Carolina, and Georgia; in all twenty-seven states;

And whereas the whole number of states in the United States is thirty-six; and whereas the before specially-named states, whose legislatures have ratified the said proposed amendment, constitute three fourths of the whole number of states in the United States;

Now, therefore, be it known, that I, WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State of the United States, by virtue and in pursuance of the second section of the act of congress, approved the twentieth of April, eighteen hundred and eighteen, entitled “An act to provide for the publication of the laws of the United States and for other purposes,” do hereby certify that the amendment aforesaid has become valid, to all intents and purposes, as a part of the Constitution of the United States.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the Department of State to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this eighteenth day of December, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-five, and of the Independence of the United States of America the ninetieth.

WILLIAM H. SEWARD.
Secretary of State.

December 28, 1865: Florida ratifies the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

1866:

January 15, 1866: Iowa becomes the 31st state to approve the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (alternate date January 17, 1866).

January 23, 1866: New Jersey ratifies the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

1868:

June 9, 1868: Florida reaffirms its ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as part of its legislature’s approval of a new state constitution.

1870:

February 17, 1870: Texas ratifies the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

1901:

February 12, 1901: Delaware ratifies the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

1976:

March 18, 1976: Kentucky ratifies the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

2013:

February 7, 2013: Mississippi becomes the final state to achieve certified ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

* Note: According to 2013 news reports by staff at ABC and CBS News, although Mississippi legislators finally voted for ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1995, they never notified the U.S. Archivist. As a result, their effort to formally abolish slavery was still not official – an error which was discovered in 2012 by Ranjan Batra, an immigrant from India and professor of Neurobiology and Anatomical sciences at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. After enlisting the help of a medical center colleague (long-time Mississippi resident Ken Sullivan) in uncovering documentation of the oversight, Batra then alerted Mississippi’s Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who finally rectified the error by sending the U.S. Office of the Federal Register a copy of Mississippi’s 1995 resolution on January 30, 2013. When that resolution was published in the Federal Register on February 7, 2013, Mississippi’s abolition of slavery finally became official.

 

Sources:

1. An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery — March 1, 1780.” Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, retrieved online January 31, 2019.

2. 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery,” in “America’s Historical Documents.Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, retrieved online January 31, 2019.

3. Condon, Stephanie. After 148 Years, Mississippi Finally Ratifies 13th Amendment Which Banned Slavery. New York, New York: CBS News, February 18, 2013.

4. Foner, Eric. Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Idealogy of the Republican Party Before the Civil War. Cary, North Carolina: Oxford University Press, April 1995.

5. Founding of Pennsylvania Abolition Society,” in “Africans in America.” Boston, Massachusetts: WGBH (PBS), retrieved online January 31, 2019.

6. Head, David. Slave Smuggling by Foreign Privateers: The Illegal Slave Trade and the Geopolitics of the Early Republic“, in Journal of the Early Republic, Vol. 33, No. 3, pp. 433-462. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, Fall 2013.

7. Kolchin, Peter. American Slavery, 1619–1877, pp. 78, 81–82. New York, New York: Hill and Wang (Macmillan), 1994.

8. Massachusetts Constitution and the Abolition of Slavery,” in “Massachusetts Court System.” Boston, Massachusetts: Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Mass.gov, retrieved online January 31, 2019.

9. McClelland, Edward. Illinois: First State to Ratify 13th Amendment. Chicago, Illinois: NBC 5-Chicago, November 16, 2012.

10. No. 5: William H. Seward, Secretary of State of the United States (certification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution), in “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774–1875: Statutes at Large,” in “American Memory.” Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, retrieved online January 31, 2019.

11. Oakes, James. Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861–1865. New York, New York and London, United Kingdom: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2013.

12. Ratifying the Thirteenth Amendment, 1866: A Spotlight on a Primary Source by Iowa General Assembly,” in “History Now.” New York, New York: The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, retrieved online January 31, 2019.

13. U.S. Senate Document No. 112-9 (2013), 112th Congress, 2nd Session: The Constitution of the United States Of America Analysis And Interpretation Centennial Edition Interim Edition: Analysis Of Cases Decided By The Supreme Court Of The United States To June 26, 2013s,” p. 30 (of large PDF file). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, retrieved online January 31, 2019.

14. Waldron, Ben. Mississippi Officially Abolishes Slavery, Ratifies 13th Amendment. New York, New York: ABC News, February 18, 2013.