Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Would-Be Soldier

During the Civil War, some women disguised themselves as soldiers (male, of course) in order to fight in the war. This was not an overly common occurrence, but it did happen, probably more frequently than most people realized then or do today. This subject, however, has garnered more attention and study in recent years. For instance, the American Battlefields Trust has published a story on Female Soldiers in the Civil War, and here is a Smithsonian story on the topic. This nice article also discusses this situation, and a quick online search will turn up many similar accounts.

 I came across such an instance described in the January 10, 1862 Cincinnati Enquirer, and immediately knew it was a must share as I did not recall seeing a similar account in a local source. That it happened in Kentucky certainly heightened my interest, and then I realized it mentioned a unit that I’ve read about at Perryville, the 15th Kentucky Infantry, further capturing my attention.

Camp Temple, mentioned in the article, was Camp Joseph B. Temple, in New Haven, Nelson County, Kentucky, the same city in which the 15th Kentucky organized and mustered into service.

Location of New Haven, from bestplaces.net

This unsigned letter was written from Camp Ham. Pope, also near New Haven, on January 6, 1862.

An incident not common in modern times, though frequent in the Amazonian and the days of chivalry, occurred at Camp Temple, adjoining us, yesterday. Some five weeks ago, a fine, healthy-looking and dashing young man joined Colonel Boone’s regiment (the 28th Kentucky Infantry.) He was duly mustered into service and performed the arduous duties of a soldier since, standing his regular guard and doing picket duty in his turn; but by some unlucky accident it was discovered yesterday that the man had changed his sex and turned out to be a woman. She was compelled, much against her will, to doff  the habiliments of Mars and substitute hat and hoops in their place. She was sent to Louisville under escort, with a view to be sent to Indiana, where it is said she hails from. She is a young widow, with captivating eyes and air and charms of romance. It is said she formerly enlisted and served sometime in a cavalry regiment, where she had a lover, and adopted the method of re-enlisting to reach him before or on the battlefield. I regret that I have not her name to send to you for the benefit of the novel writers, who could make a charming romance out of the affair. So fascinating was the would-be soldier, when forced out of unmentionables, that she quite captivated the heart of a gay Lieutenant, belonging to the Fifteenth Regiment. (This probably refers to the 15th Kentucky Infantry, which was organized at New Haven in the time frame the article describes.) He was formerly a rollicking disciple of Crispin* but now the light and life of the camp. He happened to be at the depot when she was departing, and, hearing the circumstance, immediately yielded himself up, a willing votary of the shrine of the heroine. Had she turned her face in any other direction than that of Louisville, the Fifteenth would now be minus one Lieutenant; but, inasmuch as there was another claimant for his affections there, with half a dozen responsibilities, he concluded that “discretion was the better part of valor.” 

The correspondent did briefly mention the female soldier’s physical appearance and “charms of romance,” while portraying her as chasing after a man, but also praised her work as a soldier instead of only commenting on traditional female traits, a fair and respectful description of this person. Of course, the lack of a name or other identification is a frustrating hole in the story, as is the ignorance of what the “unlucky accident” that revealed her secret was, but is still is a small, fascinating piece of the Civil War.

*The meaning of “a disciple of Crispin” is unclear. Crispin and Crispinian are patron saints of “cobblers, currents, tanners, and leather workers” per Wikipedia, and a St. Crispin’s Day Speech appears in Shakespeare’s play Henry V, but but neither of those appears to make sense in the context in which this article uses it. If anybody sees something I’ve overlooked, leave a comment or email me. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Why a Body-Guard?: Lincoln’s Trip to Gettysburg (And Other Commentary)

I was curious about what the Cincinnati Enquirer printed about the Gettysburg Address, though, having read other of its articles from this period, I had some idea of what to expect. 

Unfortunately, I could find no opinions about Lincoln’s few appropriate remarks directly from this journal. It did reprint an article from a Pennsylvania newspaper ridiculing Lincoln’s refusal to give an impromptu talk when a crowd serenaded him, but made no mention of his actual speech on that November day. 

The Enquirer did, however, provide a commentary about the President’s use of a group of soldiers as a bodyguard, an editorial easy to question now, with the knowledge of what happened at Ford’s Theater about seventeen months after these comments. It followed this with more editorializing about the administration. 

I do find it interesting that the author did at least use terms like “our arms” and “our armies” to advertise his loyalty to the United States while showing that he was obviously not a fan of the nation’s strategies or its “simple-minded President.”

The Enquirer published this piece on November 24, 1863.

Special Correspondence of the Enquirer

The President and his Body-Guard Gone on an Excursion - why Have a  a Body-Guard for a Republican President  - How Halleck is Snubbed by the President and a Secretary of War - Halleck Wants to Attack Richmond from the South - How Not to do It! - The Solution Found In Butler

Washington November 19, 1863 

The President, accompanied by two members of the Cabinet, several other dignitaries, and some of the foreign ministers, left  here yesterday in a special train, in order to attend the ceremonies of the dedication of the Soldiers’ Cemetery at Gettysburg. The President was es orated by a body-guard of soldiers. Why a body-guard of soldiers? No other President ever travelled so escorted. True we are at war. But the President was not going to the front. If he had been going to the front, to see how Gen. Meade was progressing in obeying his famous order to “find and fight the rebel army immediately,” then a body-guard of cavalry would have been eminently proper. Nay, no one even thought of objecting, when the successor of Washington and the “heir to the aspirations of John Brown” was seen every day during the summer, riding from the White House to the Soldiers’ Home, and back again, with his carriage escorted by a squadron of cavalry. For at that time, to the national disgrace be it said, if not so attended, Mr.Lincoln was in real danger of being captured and carried bodily off by bands of Confederate soldiers, who always found means to get within our lines; and who, under that singular man Mosby’s, even yet make their daily incursions to within sight of the dome of the Capitol. Besides, that mode of escort was so much more decorous and becoming than the one devised by the simple-minded President himself; namely, having a big infantry recruit, with his blunderbuss in hand, bundled into the carriage with the Chief Magistrate, and another one, similarly armed, seated beside the driver. Such was actually Mr. Lincoln’s body-guard, until it occurred to Halleck, who happened to see it one day, that that was not exactly the manner in which his President should be escorted. Then, and therefore, came the squadron of cavalry.

If the incongruity of a plain Republican President, thus assuming the state and manners of a King, struck for a moment, it was quickly followed by the recollection that the individual thus guarded by flashing sabers and all the panoply had usurped and exercised powers that no King of England would have dared to assume.

But why the body-guard of soldiers to go from Washington to Gettysburg in Pennsylvania? Not in order that the President may appear in due honor there, for there will be thousands of soldiers there to escort him. Not as a retinue en route, for the distinguished party who went in the same train formed a retinue composed of men of such position and distinction as an a Emperor might be proud of. The truth may as well be told. Mr. Lincoln never passed through Baltimore since the night when he went through that city in disguise; and he is afraid of it. Fears for his personal safety, and that alone, led him to take his military escort with him. Of course it would be an insult to your readers to say a word as to the utter groundless of any such fears; but this it is, that “conscience doth make cowards of us all.” 

The want of success which so often attends our arms; the fact that even the victories gained by our armies are always barren of results; the fact, in a word, that the war is no nearer a termination now than it was two years ago, is generally attributed to General Halleck. This is natural, because Halleck is nominally the General-in-chief of the army. But the fact is, General Halleck exercises very little authority in the management of the war, and none at all where his views come with those of either Mr. Lincoln or the Secretary of War. On such occasions (and they occur very often) Halleck is practically a cipher. Judged by a European standard, by the side of such Generals as Napoleon, Moreau, Ney, Desaix, McDonald, and Keebler, Halleck does not rank as a third-rate or a fourth-rate soldier. But when it is remembered that, of the trio who our conducting our campaigns, he is the only one who has even any pretensions to military knowledge, and that he is constantly snubbed and put down by the other two, how can we ever expect success? 

An illustration of this has just occurred. Because the Pennisula route to Richmond was the choice of a general McClellan; and  ecause that officer believed, in common with all other Generals who have enjoyed a military education, that the route affords the best opportunities for the capture of Richmond, therefore the Administration has decided never again to make a campaign on that route. In this decision Halleck concurred, and still concurs. Because General McClellan is known to believe that, for military reasons, it is impractical to reach Richmond by the overland route (a belief which the successive defeats on that route of Burnside, Pope, Burnside again, Hooker, and Hooker a second time, and the retreat of Meade, have proved to be well-founded,) therefore, the Administration has decided that that route, and that alone, shall be the only one in which our armies shall march to Richmond. In this decision, too, Halleck concurred; but he concurs in it no longer.

Every one who has studied the matter attentively, and with the aid of good maps, must have perceived that the present is the moment for making an attack on Richmond from the direction of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Petersburg; or at least for an expedition from Suffolk or Newberne (sic, i.e. New Bern), which, striking the Wilmington Railroad at Goldsborough or Weldon, shall destroy enough of that road to break up the connection between Richmond and Wilmington. The recent captures of the steamers Robert E. Lee and Cornu is have inflicted a severe blow upon the South. The port of Wilmington is about the only one left through which the Southern States can carry on their foreign commerce. To follow up this blow by an expedition which should destroy, or render useless the railroad between Wilmington and Richmond, would go far towards bringing the war to a termination. The Confederate leaders themselves are impressed with the importance of these facts, and, as I have recently learned, actually anticipate that a demonstration against this railroad, and an attack against Richmond from the South, will form a part of our plans for the winter campaign. General Halleck wishes this to be done; and before the removal of General Foster from the Military Department, he wished him to be reinforced to an amount that would give him the command of 75,000 troops, and intended him to attack Richmond from the south, while General Meade was marching toward it from the north. The President and Secretary of War, however, did not favor the project at all. And just then political considerations intervened, which resulted in the appointment of Butler to supersede General Foster. Of course that puts an effectual quietus on the whole project. Butler is not a fighting General, nor can he plan battles or campaigns for others to fight. His forte is to bully, to threaten, to irritate, and to make war on women and non-combatants. He was just the man to send to Newberne, in order that the war in that locality may be protracted, even at the expense, it may be, of a second Big Bethel. 

If the plan of General Halleck had been carried out, it may be too much to say that Richmond would have fallen this winter. But it is not too much to say that it would have been necessary for the Confederates to have exerted all their energies to save it, and to have concentrated there all of their forces in the East. As matters are now, however, they can easily defend their Capitol, for it is not even seriously threatened. 

Henry Halleck, from battlefields.org

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

“An Insult to Public Intelligence:” Abraham Lincoln’s Re-Election

Here is another story which seems appropriate to post at this time of the year, similar to a post I did recently.

 That previous post described one view of Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860, so this one naturally concerns his re-election four years later. The Cincinnati Enquirer published this on November 9, 1864. The author certainly did not hide his true feelings.

The Re-Election of Abraham Lincoln

Yesterday broke dark and lowering - the clouds were heavy - a drizzling and dismal rain was falling - and in every respect it was a cheerless and melancholy day; but a fit one for the re-election of ABRAHAM LINCOLN. The physical elements were in entire harmony with that state of the public morals and public intelligence that could repeat, after all the terrible lessons of the past, the horrid mistake of 1860. They were in harmony with the black and cheerless prospect that this re-election of the prime cause of our misfortunes opens to us. Nature, we repeat, sympathizing with the deed about to be committed, put on her most somber robe and darkest colorings. As to the means by which this political result was effected, we have spoken in another article. They will constitute the most woeful chapter in our national history. After making all due allowance for the frauds, forgeries, and rascalities, it will ever remain a wonder how so many hundreds of thousands of electors could deliberately vote to perpetuate the dynasty that is now in power. Not only does it seem to be an insult to public intelligence, but it would appear to be opposed to all the principles which ordinarily governs human nature and human conduct. It can only be accounted for upon the theory that a strange and unaccountable delusion has seized the public mind, giving it all the aspect of confirmed lunacy and madness. 

But it is useless, in this connection, and at this time, to speculate upon causes or express astonishment at results. What is written is written, and what is done is irrevocably finished. We can only hope for the best from this sad event and affliction, which forebodes such calamities to our beloved country. We hope we have in this matter no pride of opinion. Greatly should we rejoice if the future, which now appears to be of so frightful a character, should be robbed, as we approach it, of the evils that apparently attend it, and that some sparkling jewels may be found in the head of the ugly and venomous toad that is burrowing under the tree of American liberty. 

But with all the aid that philosophy can summon - with all the hope of the patriot - we can not draw aside the veil that hides another period of Mr. Lincoln’s administration without the greatest dread and apprehension. We are now embarked in a current that leads straight to the rapids of destruction, toward which the ship of State with all its priceless cargo is drawing near with frightful velocity. If we fail to be engulfed in its inmost depths under such pilotage as that of Mr. Lincoln, it will be the most remarkable miracle that was ever performed. 

"Long Abraham Lincoln a Little Longer"
From publications.newberry.org

Monday, November 4, 2019

“Their Triumph:” One Reaction to Abraham Lincoln’s Election

The Cincinnati Enquirer of November 8, 1860 included this brief commentary on one of the immediate effects of Abraham Lincoln’s election as President of the United States. It seems like a story worth sharing during election season.

The Negroes and the Election

The negroes in this city yesterday were greatly exhilarated by the triumph of Lincoln, and gave vent to their feelings in the most enthusiastic manner. They seemed to understand that it was emphatically their triumph; and all believe that it is the harbinger of Abolition in the South and negro equality in the North! In the Slave states the same belief extensively prevails. In this connection we will relate an anecdote or two to illustrate their feeling.

The other day, in Lexington, as we were assured by a Kentucky gentleman, while a lady was fitting a dress upon one of her slaves, a girl about nine years of age, the latter remarked that, if her mistress would give her another real nice dress, she would stay with her after the election! 

A few days since a Kentucky farmer, in Scott County, overheard one of his negroes inform his colleagues that, no matter what they did, he should stay with his master after the election! 

It will be remembered that, in 1856, a report was current in Tennessee among the negroes, that FREMONT had been elected, and was at the mouth of the Cumberland River, with a large force to set them free. They became insubordinate, and an extensive conspiracy and insurrection was the result. There can hardly be a doubt that the election of LINCOLN will have a bad effect upon the negroes, rendering those at the North saucy and insolent, and in the South insubordinate. 


The author - consciously or not - reinforced the “loyal slave narrative” that some slavery defenders used in claiming that slaves accepted or even liked being slaves, their situation and that they loved their masters while being naturally subordinate. Though these anecdotes at least implied it was possible that those slaves might leave, their conclusions supported the idea of the servants’ loyalty, before the final paragraph contradicted that view. The only word that seems to be missing from that final stanza is “uppity,” though I do not know if that was a word in those days. At least those closing lines acknowledge that slaves were able to desire change in their status and that not all slaves would be content to remain faithful and passive chattel.

This story also demonstrates the reality that even a newspaper editor in Ohio, a free state, did not maintain a positive attitude towards slaves and showed no sympathy towards them.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Citizens Transformed to Soldiers

The following article comes from the Cincinnati Enquirer of September 12, 1862, near the end of the episode called the Siege of Cincinnati. I wonder if the talks that the author mentions were with any of the soldiers (of either side) in the area at the time, or if this was based on earlier discussions.

Several of my recent (and probably upcoming) posts have come from articles like this that I found in the Enquirer. Some have been on topics I specifically looked up, while others, such as this one, have been interesting tales I found by chance and decided to share. 

This one is no Earth-shattering revelation of any sort, but I found it be a pretty good attempt to describe citizen-soldiers and their mindset, or at least the author’s perception of their mentality. 

Citizens Transformed to Soldiers
It is a thing which men will look upon with uneasiness or otherwise, according to their several temperaments, that we are approaching a state of things in which war will be a chronic condition. The moral revolution which men are required to experience before this condition arrives is more perceptible, perhaps, in the Southern than the Northern armies. Men who have, either as prisoners or otherwise, been within the lines of the former, and have had opportunities to converse freely with the troops, remark the transformation that has taken place by the process of converting, for long periods, the citizen into the soldier. The military qualities and ambitions are developed at the expense of the civil. The soldiers think and talk little of their homes in Alabama, Arkansas, or Mississippi. The army is their home; war their profession; its honors and its plunder their reward. Whether they ever return to their families and former places of residence is a matter of which they speak with indifference. Doubtless, though in a less perceptible degree, through a difference in the circumstances, the same process is going on in the Northern armies. The soldier, after a time, becomes a soldier of fortune. In the army all his thoughts are centered, and in the pains and pleasures, the desperate adventures and unrestrained gratifications of a soldier’s life, his entire moral capital is invested.  

There is no doubt that in this is the perfection of discipline and efficiency. When the civil and the domestic are abandoned - when the soldier no longer looks back with tender regret to home and farm and fireside - when he has adopted the army as at once family and country, it is then that he becomes dangerous - dangerous to the enemy in war, to his country in peace. Once a soldier of fortune, he needs employment. War is his element, and the excitements of the battle abroad are the only guarantee against his becoming a source of danger at home.

Here is one of the sad paradoxes of war. It is the duty of the soldier to make himself the iron thing which the necessities of the military service requires; and yet, at how sad an expense it is done of the civil, social, and domestic virtues! We cry out for discipline; and well we may. Elaborate leaders are written to show how necessary it is, not to the usefulness of the army merely, but to its safety; but yet, how few there are who take time to reflect how many sorrowful, and in any other aspect, undesirable, ingredients enter in to make up that discipline which is so greatly in demand.

Soldiers, photo from irishcentral.com

Monday, October 14, 2019

“Smith Did Right:" An Incident in Grand Junction, TN

Standing just inside his house, a wealthy Southern gentleman shoots at trespassing Yankee soldiers, then sends his family away, joins the Confederate army, and, soon thereafter, sacrifices his own life. It may sound like the plot for a cheap Civil War novel (Mr. Smith Goes to War!), but it is a true tale as seen in a report from the January 28, 1863 Cincinnati Enquirer. 

Per bestplaces.net

From the Chicago Post
From Grand Junction - A Lamentable Tragedy - Army Depredations the Forerunner of Evil

Grand Junction, Tenn., January 14, 1863

To the Editor of the Post:

It is with no ordinary regret that I lay the following sad tale before your readers.

A few evenings since, the residence of Robert Smith, a well-to-do planter, about four miles from here, was the scene of a tragic and deplorable rencontre. Smith, in spite of the edict of Jeff Davis, raised a good crop of cotton, and willingly sold it for “green-backs” to one of the Northern cotton-buyers. It was rumored around his neighborhood that he had ten or twelve thousand dollars in his house. During the day the soldiers encamped near him, and busily helped themselves to the store of provisions that he had for himself and family. He did not complain of their demands for something to eat; but he firmly gave them to understand that they should not come into his house. After nightfall he locked his doors and forbade regress or ingress to any person. A gentlemen who was in the house is my authority for what happened. 

About nine o’clock P.M. half a dozen soldiers came to the door and demanded admittance. He asked who they were and what was their business. They replied, in a gruff voice, to open the door, and not ask any d——d questions. He informed that he would not open it, and warned them of the consequences if they attempted to make a forceable entry. They commenced to batter the door, when he again warned them to desist, or if they did not, he would shoot the first man who crossed his door. ‘You will, eh,” says one who immediately fired at Mr. Smith. He (Smith) thereupon fired and killed the foremost of the gang. Immediately the other five fired, but did not do any harm. Smith fired again and wounded another. They immediately left, but did not remove their dead comrade. The matter was reported to General Hamilton, who, I understand, has said “served them right; I wish he had killed them all.”

If the case is as it has been told to me, and I am compelled to believe it, as the gentleman who informed me is a man of truth and firm integrity, I am sure there is but one sentiment, and that is Smith did right. It is high time to stop the growing spirit of lawlessness and insubordination that is perceptible in our army. If we can not protect the Union man - the man who has voluntarily taken the oath of allegiance - the man who has dared to deft the edicts of the Richmond junta, and to show by acts that he is opposed to the iniquitous regime of Davis, I think it is time to move our army a little further north, in order that the persecuted cotton grower, and enemy of Secession, may not be humbugged by the shadow of a protection that is as unsubstantial as the fabric of a vision. 

That was the entirety of the story as this article presented it, but an online search uncovered a genealogy website which provides more details, including Smith’s wealth in both land and slaves. It also describes the above-mentioned affair: 

During the winter of 1862 and 1863 some Yankee looters came to his house demanding food. Robert told them he had given them all he had and that they should return to camp. They tried to force their way into the house and in the ensuing scuffle, Robert killed at least one of them. Robert immediately sent his wife and small children to neighbors and went to join up with his son John’s unit. (Originally in the 13th Tennessee Infantry, CSA., John had since joined the 18th Mississippi Cavalry, in which he became Lieutenant Colonel. Two of his brothers, Richard and Marion, also served in this unit.) 

That night the Yankees returned and burned his house. Robert was made Captain of the 18th Mississippi Cavalry. (The Soldiers and Sailors website does show a Robert W. Smith as a captain in Company D of the 18th Mississippi Cavalry.) 

One noteworthy tidbit was that John, while in the 13th Tennessee, was injured at the Battle of Richmond on August 30, 1862. 

An additional source that provides perspective on this story is Hardeman County, Tennessee: Family History, Volume 2. (I tried to link to the page with this story on it.) It includes more details, claiming that the soldiers were stragglers from Grant’s army who also burned other buildings on the plantation. (This was during the period when Union General Ulysses S. Grant was trying to figure out how to capture Vicksburg.) It does mistakenly place this episode in February, after the story had been printed in the January newspaper. This book also states that a few days later, Smith tried to form a company to join Nathan Bedford Forrest’s men. A fight with Union troops ensued, and the only casualty of this skirmish was R. W. Smith, who received a mortal wound and was leaning against a tree when his son, Marion, found him and placed him on the ground. He died shortly thereafter and was carried back to the plantation where he was buried.

The genealogy page linked above states: Robert was killed in a battle on Yellow Rabbit Creek just south of Ashland and near what is now the border of Benton and Tippah County (Mississippi) 1 May 1863. This matches the death date on his headstone, but the book’s version of when he died - seemingly in February - contradicts the May 1 date. One possible explanation for the apparent difference might be that the book describes the same fight in which Robert met his demise, but just inaccurately portrays its time frame. Both sources agree that the cemetery where he lies in rest is on land from his plantation. (That skirmish seems to have been too small for appearance in modern records though here is a link to water quality information about that creek, so at least its existence is confirmed.)  

A fair question about both the family history account and the book is what their sources were. Maybe period newspapers from that region gave them the information they published, but family oral history or other books may have contributed as well.

Another possible misunderstanding shows up in the original newspaper story. That article called Smith a “Union man” and "enemy of Secession." Smith was likely not such a person, certainly after this event, but probably not beforehand either, given his sons’ Confederate service. Whether that misinterpretation came from the source who witnessed the event, the individual who wrote to the journal or an editor at the Chicago Post is unclear, but it appears that someone tried to use this incident as propaganda to portray the Union army as hurting people it was supposed to protect, perhaps basing this on Smith’s alleged willingness to sell cotton to northern buyers. The author of the newspaper version of the story did not include details like the burning of the other buildings or Smith joining the army. Maybe that was a timing issue - writing the letter before learning of those things - but maybe the author omitted Smith’s reaction as it was not that of a Union supporter. (On the other hand, it may be unlikely, but is not completely inconceivable that he was a Southern Unionist before this incident, even with at least one son in the Confederate army, as divided family loyalties did exist. Perhaps the behavior of the Union soldiers did actually change his viewpoint.Without further information, it is difficult to know Smith’s original sentiments.)

This post started as a simple transcription of a period newspaper account, but as the family and county history sources added more intriguing detail and context, even with reasonable questions about some details, it evolved into a fascinating tale of a small but devastating affair. Episodes like this do not receive much attention but still show that even minor events often had major consequences. A death in a fight like this pained surviving family members just as badly as did a death at Gettysburg, Shiloh or Antietam. How many other wartime incidents were similar to this, but are unknown today? Hopefully historians and genealogists continue to find, record, and share such stories to help others understand the magnitude of the entire war, not just the famous battles. 

This entire story is intriguing, from the discovery that four members of the same family (a father and three sons) served in one regiment to one man’s finding his mortally-wounded father (a natural part of that novel, of course.) It also provides another study of why soldiers fought - in some instances, like this one, their motivation literally was to protect home and family and/or to seek retribution against the enemy, both rationales that people even more than 150 years later can still understand.

Robert W. Smith’s headstone, per genealogy site linked above

Thursday, October 3, 2019

A Soldier to be Named Later

The phrase a “player to be named later” is familiar to baseball fans as so many trades have included that phrase throughout the years, but here is a human-interest story about a “soldier to be named later.” 

It does seem appropriate to post this during October, which is German-American Heritage Month and is the month in which the newspaper reported this story.

This article came from the Cincinnati Enquirer of October 3, 1861 

An Interesting Incident at Camp Wade. A Soldier who was stolen from Home when a Child discovers his Parents

In Company I, Capt. Steele, Wade and Hutchins’ Regiment of Cavalry, is a private, nineteen years of age, who enlisted in Medina County where the Company was formed, under the name of John Cruff. His history is a little peculiar. He remembers that he was stolen from his home and parents when about ten years of age, but where that home was, or who were his parents, he was totally ignorant up to yesterday. He remembers being taken away several miles by a man from whom he escaped. While wandering about, not knowing where, he was taken up as a vagrant and sent to a poor-house. A man by the name of Briggs, of Westfield, Medina County, took him from the poor-house and gave him employment. He worked for several persons subsequently, remaining for five years in the employ of one Dean, in Lafayette, Medina County. How he came by the name of John Gruff he can not tell. He thinks it was given him at the poor-house. He enlisted in the above regiment and came to Camp Wade. Yesterday morning while wandering about on the Hights (sic) in the neighborhood of the Oak Grove House he remarked that the locality was strangely familiar to his eyes; and yet he did not know he had ever been there before. The more he looked about the more familiar every thing appeared. Suddenly, as if by force of association, a name that he had not thought of in years occurred to him, and as he pronounced it aloud and it reverberated through the cells of memory it awoke echoes that had long been dormant, and caused a thousand old recollections to rush upon his mind. The name that occurred to him in so singular a manner was that of Thomas Strooska - the name his parents gave him - and the conviction that he was in the neighborhood of his native home became too strong to admit of a doubt. Whether his father and mother still dwelt there or were in the land of the living he would endeavor to ascertain. He entered a house to make inquiries of the inmates. While in conversation with them an old lady, a neighbor, dropped in. She could only understand German, and the neighbor on whom she had called interpreted to her the story of the young soldier.

The old lady scanned his features earnestly and tremblingly for a moment, and then, tottering towards him with eager, outstretched arms, exclaimed “Mein Sohn! Mein verlorener (apparently means lost, missing or forlorn)  Sohn!” and mother and son were locked in each others’ arms. The parents of Thomas are both alive and live opposite the Oak Grove House. They desire that he may remain with them, but he will doubtless go with his company. He is a fine, stalwart youth, and will make a good soldier.


The first mention of his “new” name appears to be “Cruff,” but the second one looks like “Gruff,” though it could be “Graff.” I even tried “Groff.” His “remembered” name might also be “Stropska.” The scanned image of the newspaper is mostly legible, but those few words are not perfectly clear - see the image at the end of this post.

I have searched on the Soldiers & Sailors DatabaseFold3.com, and  the FindAGrave app, but cannot find his alleged names, even trying those multiple spellings.

My guess is this story refers to the 2nd Ohio Cavalry, since it organized at Camp Wade and was the creation of Benjamin Wade and John Hutchins. This roster of Company I of the unit does include a Captain Allen P. Steel, but not either of the names (or variants thereof) of the soldier from the story. 

Despite not confirming this man was an actual soldier, I thought this story was interesting and unique enough to share,  as one of those obscure events that happened during the war. It may even include insight into daily life, especially for immigrants and those, including children, sent to “poor-houses.” Did the family’s German heritage motivate the kidnapper? Was this an instance where the “Know Nothing” or nativist movement caused or contributed to the incident?

Society was different then, but a kidnapped child still should have been major news in the neighborhood. How can a child be kidnapped and perhaps trafficked so easily? I guess in the age when slavery was legal in the country this was not a huge issue or surprise. Still, I wonder how thorough of a search - if any - was made for him and did the poor-house accept him without question or investigation? What about the employers - did they treat the poor-house as a source for cheap (or free) labor? 

What bothers me about this even more is that if this soldier was ten years old when kidnapped, how did he forget his name, his hometown and/or his parents? That seem unfathomable in modern times, at least to me. Did the kidnapping cause him some head trauma, such as a concussion, that affected his memory? If he was raised in a house where only German was spoken, did his lack of speaking English contribute to this incident? Am I underestimating the impact of being kidnapped, especially possible psychological effects? If any of these affected his memory, how did he remember his age? Otherwise, it seems like a ten-year-old should know such information, but maybe that was not the case so many years ago. 

How true is this story? It is hard, though I suppose not impossible, to imagine a newspaper - even in the nineteenth century - fabricating such a detailed story, though perhaps someone told a tall tale and the newspaper fell for it. It seems more likely to me that this, or something similar, happened, but the soldier’s records were destroyed, lost or filed under another name or spelling. Perhaps the basic story is correct, but its author received or printed the wrong names somehow.

Assuming this story is true, I wonder about the young man’s fate. Did he survive the war? Which name did he use going forward? Which name ended upon documents that might prove his existence? Did he change his name with his cavalry unit? What kind of relationship did he forge with his parents? Did his life end more happily than it began? 

Those answers, and more, may be lost to history, at least for now, but if he was in the 2nd Ohio Cavalry and remained part of it for the entire war, he saw service in several well-known battles and campaigns, including John Morgan’s “Great Raid” in 1863, Phil Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign in 1864, and the Appomattox Campaign during 1865. 

 Even with uncertainty over his identity and the various unanswered questions, this anecdote captivates me, a reminder of how much history does not make it into books and of how even little-known incidents can be so interesting. 


Wednesday, September 25, 2019

1861 Article: How A Man Feels Under Fire

The Cincinnati Enquirer of October 3, 1861 caught my attention with this article and the perspective it gives. I do wonder if the soldier really was already on furlough or was actually AWOL and did not admit that.

How a Man Feels Under Fire 

The Philadelphia American thus relates how a soldier feels during battle:

We yesterday stumbled upon a volunteer on furlough, who first smelt powder at Bull Run. During an hour’s chat with him, he gave us a very good general idea of the way in which a man feels when under an enemy’s gun. Our friend didn’t claim to be especially courageous. He placed due value upon the integrity of the American eagle, but enlisted mainly because he had no other employment at the time. He did camp duty faithfully, and endured the hardships of long marches without any special grumbling. That he dreaded to confront the enemy he freely admits. While willing at any time to kick a bigger man than himself under justifiable provocation, he disliked the idea of the sudden sensation imparted by a bayonet thrust in the abdomen, while only second to this way his horror of being cut down with a rifle-ball like an unsuspecting squirrel. When his regiment was drawn in line, he admits his teeth chattered and his knee-pans rattled like a pot-closet in a hurricane. Many of his comrades were similarly affected,  and some of them would have laid down had they dared to do so. When the first volley had been interchanged, our friend informs us every trace of these feelings passed away from him. A reaction took place, and he became almost savage from excitements. Balls whistled all about him, and a cannon shot in half a companion at his side. Another was struck by some explosion that spattered his brains over the clothes of our informant, but so far from intimidation, all these things nerved up his resolution. The hitherto quaking civilian in half an hour became a veteran. His record shows he bayoneted two of his enemies, and discharged eight rounds of his piece with as decisive an aim as though he had selected a turkey for his mark. Could the entire line of an army come at the same time into collision, he says there would be no running except after hopeless defeat. The men who played the runaway at Bull Run were men who had not participated in the action to any extent, and who became panic-stricken where, if once smelling powder in the manner above described, they would have been abundantly victorious. In the roar of musketry and the thundering discharge of artillery there is a music that banishes even innate cowardice. The sight of men struggling together, and the clash of sabers, the tramp of cavalry, the gore stained grass of the battle field, and the coming charge of the enemy dimly visible through the battle smoke - all these, says our intelligent informant, dispel every particle of fear, and the veriest coward in the ranks perhaps becomes the most tiger like. 

Image of Civil War combat from nytimes.com

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