Boston Corbett on John Wilkes Booth’s Death

Boston Corbett was the sergeant who shot and killed John Wilkes Booth on April 26, 1865 in Port Royal, Va.

Corbett, whose real name was Thomas P. Corbett, was a London immigrant and a deeply religious man who changed his first name to “Boston” after experiencing a religious conversion at a church revival in Boston.

Corbett later joined the Union army at the outbreak of the Civil War and eventually became a sergeant in the 16th New York Cavalry. On April 24th, Corbett was one of the selected cavalrymen from his unit sent to hunt down John Wilkes Booth, who was still at large.

Corbett’s detachment unit tracked down Booth and his accomplice, David Herold, at Garrett Farm in Port Royal, Va and found them hiding in a tobacco barn. The troops set the barn on fire and ordered them to surrender. Herold complied but Booth refused, saying they would never take him alive. Corbett said that he approached the barn and when he saw Booth through a gap in the wall, he fired. He was quickly arrested for disobeying orders but was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.

Boston Corbett photographed by Mathew Brady 1865 - 300 x 495

Boston Corbett photographed by Mathew Brady in 1865

Since the day of the shooting, many sources have stated that Corbett deliberately ignored orders to take Booth alive and fired upon him out of revenge for Lincoln’s assassination. Frustrated by these reports, Corbett wrote a letter, in May of 1865, in an attempt to clear his name. The letter was published a few days later in the New York Times. Although he denied disobeying orders, he suggested that God willed him to shoot Booth:


DEAR RROTHER BROUGHTON: I thought it high time to keep my promise and send you a letter and at this time I thought it might be desirable, as there are many false reports in the papers charging me with violation of order, &c., in shooting BOOTH, but my commanding officer of the expedition not only clears me from all blame, but recommended me to the attention of the Commanding-General, for my untiring exertion to bring the murderer to justice. He was a desperate man, and fully determined to die rather than to be taken alive; and it was only when it was actually necessary that I shot him. When I first saw him by the light of the burning hay, he turned toward the fire, either for the purpose of putting it out or else of shooting the one who set it on fire.

I was on that side, and then he was quite near to him, and I had a full front-breast view of him, and it would have been much easier to have hit him then than when I did, but I waited till I was satisfied his purpose was to use his arms and try and fight his way out of the door that HARROLD had just been taken out of. I then fired on him, and he fell, and when I saw where the ball had struck him — in the neck, near the ear — it seemed to me that God had directed it, for apparently it was just where he had shot the President.

H. HARROLD’s trial is now going on. I do not know how long it will be before I may be allowed to return home, but I should like to do so soon by furlough, if I cannot obtain my discharge.

Inclosed please find one of the photographs made by BRADY, of me, after we returned. Yours, &c.,


Sergeant Company L, 16th, N.Y. Cavalry,

Washington, D.C.”


Kansas Historical Society: Thomas P. “Boston” Corbett:

The New York Times; May 15 1865: The Manner of Booth’s Death Letter from Boston Corbett:

Captain Sidney Clarke’s Firsthand Account of the Lawrence Massacre

On August 21, 1863, a rebel guerrilla group called Quantrill’s Raiders, led by William Quantrill, raided the pro-Union town of Lawrence, Kansas. The raiders killed close to 200 men and boys and stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from residents and businesses in the town.

It is believed the group targeted the town not only because of its pro-Union stance but because it also served as a center for militia and vigilante groups such as Jayhawkers and Redlegs, who were know for attacking farms and plantations in Missouri’s pro-slavery counties. According to the book “William Quantrill: His Life and Times,” Quantrill himself admitted he raided Lawrence to “plunder, and destroy the town in retaliation for Osceola” (a Union attack on Osceola, Mo in September of 1861.) Quantrill’s Raiders were never caught or punished for their actions in Lawrence and later went on to commit similar atrocities, with the help of Jesse James, at Centralia, Mo in 1864.

Below is a firsthand account of the massacre from Captain Sidney Clarke, who was serving as both a captain and an acting assistant Provost-Marshal-General for Kansas at the time of the incident:

The Destruction of the City of Lawrence Kansas and the massacre of its inhabitants by the rebel guerrillas August 21 1863

“The Destruction of the City of Lawrence, Kansas and the Massacre of its Inhabitants by the Rebel Guerrillas, August 21, 1863.” Harper’s Weekly illustration published September 5, 1863

“August 25, 1863, Leavenworth City, Kans.,
Captain Sidney Clarke to Colonel James B. Fry
Leavenworth City, August 25, 1863.
Provost-Marshal-General, Washington, D.C.:
COLONEL: I have the honor to submit for your information the following brief report of facts connected with the destruction of Lawrence, and the books, records, and enrollment lists of the provost-marshal’s office for the Southern District of Kansas.
I make this report from personal observation, as I was in Lawrence on the morning of the massacre and barely escaped the clutches of the guerrillas.
The attack was made by the notorious guerrilla chief Quantrill, with a force of about 300 men, at sunrise on the morning of Friday, the 21st instant.
The guerrillas entered the city from the south, and at once commenced an indiscriminate murder of its citizens. The work of death was continued for three hours, and whenever a citizen made his appearance, or escaped from a burning building, he was shot down in the streets.
Fires were set to buildings in all parts of the town, and all the business portion of the city and many of the private residences were burned. In many instances men were murdered in their homes in the presence of their wives and children, and the dead bodies burned. With the exception of those who were shot down in attempting to escape, the citizens were first robbed and then murdered.
Up to the present time 150 dead bodies have been found, and many more will doubtless be found in the ruins.
The provost-marshal’s office, with all the records, papers, and enrollment lists, was entirely destroyed, and Captain Banks was taken prisoner and held during the occupancy of the town.
The value of the property destroyed will reach $2,000,000, and the money secured by the guerrillas cannot be less than $100,000.
A fearful state of excitement exists throughout the State of Kansas, and the people are unanimous in attributing the Lawrence massacre, and the present deplorable state of affairs upon the border, to the policy now being pursued by the commander of the Department of the Missouri.
The guerrillas of Western Missouri have been largely re-enforced by men from Price’s army, and have never been so active and defiant as now. From this time forward the war on this border promises to be one of extermination. Two or three thousand of the citizens of Kansas are in arms, and bidding defiance to the policy of General Schofield and General Ewing. They are determined to invade Missouri for retaliation. I am of the opinion that this result will be inevitable, taking into consideration the determined character of the people of Kansas, growing out of a long border contest, intensified by the massacre without parallel in the history of civilized warfare.
I have deemed this statement necessary to a full understanding of the peculiar condition of affairs in Kansas, and which must necessarily affect the administration of this bureau.
Asking for such instructions as you may think necessary,
I am, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Captain and Actg. Asst. Provost-Marshal-General.”


“William Clarke Quantrill: His Life and Times”; Albert E. Castle; 1962 KCArchives:

Captain Sally Louisa Tompkins: Nurse and Officer in the Confederate Army

Sally Louisa Tompkins was a Civil War nurse and the only officially commissioned female officer in the Confederate Army.

Born on November 9, 1833 into a wealthy Virginia family, Tompkins was the daughter of Colonel Christopher Tompkins and Maria Patterson and grew up on the family’s plantation in Poplar Grove, Mathews County. After Colonel Tompkins passed away, shortly before the outbreak of the war, Sally relocated to Richmond.

Following the first Battle of Bull Run, the Confederate government asked the citizens of Richmond to help nurse wounded soldiers. This prompted Tompkins to ask her friend, Judge John Robertson, who had recently moved out of Richmond to the countryside, if he would donate his three-story home near the corner of Third and Main Streets to the cause. He agreed and Tompkins turned the home into a 22 bed infirmary for wounded soldiers.

Sally Tompkins

Sally Tompkins

The Robertson Hospital officially opened on August 1 in 1861. The government assigned six surgeons and supplied only food, medicine and supplies to the hospital, with Tompkins covering the remaining expenses with her inheritance. Tompkins was strict about cleanliness in her hospital, which resulted in a 94 percent survival rate among her patients. Of the 1,300 wounded soldiers sent to her hospital, only 73 died.

According to the book “An Encyclopedia of Women at War,” in September of 1861, after it was discovered that a number of private hospitals were overcharging the Confederate government, President Jefferson Davis called for the closure of all private hospitals. This order ensured only military officials were allowed to run the remaining hospitals. Tompkins pleaded with the Confederate government to allow the Robertson Hospital to remain open, prompting them to take an unusual action:

“Tompkins, aided by William W. Camp, the assistant secretary of the treasury, appealed to the Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Impressed by her accomplishments as a hospital administrator, Davis commissioned Tompkins as a captain in the Confederate cavalry. Thus, Robertson Hospital, now run by an army officer, could remain operational. Tompkins accepted the commission; however, she refused to draw a salary for her position. Tompkins was the first, and only, woman to receive an officer’s commission in the Confederate’s armed forces. Her commission was dated September 8, 1861.”

Sally Tompkins

Sally Tompkins

Yet, other sources state that the hospital wasn’t ordered to close until Inspector of Hospitals William A. Carrington recommended it in his official report on Robertson Hospital, dated October 24th, 1862:

“Surgeon E. S. Gaillard Medl Director
I have the honour to report that I have this day inspected the private Hosl called the Robertson Hosl situated on corner of Main & 3rd Sts (Richmond). It has been occupied as a hosl since July 30th 1861. Having been leased free of rent by its distinguished owner Judge Robertson who had made it his residence for many years. A large yard surrounds it in which are the necessary out houses – The hosl building is an irregularly shaped wooden structure – the main building 3 stories high – In addition to an offices, Dining room kitchen & storeroom there are rooms affording a capacity for about 40 patients – 10-13 only now are in the Hospl. Surgeon A. Y. P. Garnett also in charge Genl Hosl no 3 is the only Medl officer of the Hosl & visits it daily or more frequently if necessary – The other attendants are one cook & 2 nurses. An Asist Surgeon formerly resided in the Hospital. Some of them I was informed rendered services gratuitously. I found order & neatness in every part of the Hosl which is supervised in rotation by the ladies who have it under charge – one or two being on duty every day. They exhibited a neat & accurate register showing that 539 patients had been admitted to date. According to the table prepared by the Surg Genl. To Sept 17th 1862 of 550 admitted – 44 had been furloughed, 57 Discharged & 46 Died. This is not a military Hosl in that there is no guards but little restraint exercised over the men; the house is not filled up with similar furniture to the Genl Hosls; having still much of the furniture of the owner’s in use – the food is of a better material than in the large Hosls being prepared and under the supervision of experienced ladies who consider the patients their guests. There is an absence of all that would remind the patient that he beds in ‘an institution’ & many things to make him feel that he is an individual cared for at home – This is an institution similar in origin & intent to other hosls previously inspected & reported – they originated to give form & consolidation to the private exhibitions of patriotism from the noncombatants of our city – when thousands wounded were brought in in one day they filled their post of usefulness and honour; but now the regularly organized institutions are more than sufficient for the demand upon them – they all have a surgical staff & attendants sufficient for their capacity & the government alone is able to provide for all the ordinary & extraordinary demand upon it – In previous reports on other private Hospls I stated other reasons why it would be better for the patients & for the service that this change be made, & in addition I will remark the great additional clerical labor in Reports acquisitions invoices – orders – rations – of property & provision. Monthly abstracts – muster rolls & payrolls &c &c &c for these Hospitals at the Surgeon Generals offic – the Medical Directors Medical Purveyor’s – Commissary – Q. M.s – paymasters – &c &c – In view of these things I recommend
(1) that the patients now in these Hosls be removed to Genl Hosl No. 3 which in order neatness & discipline will compare favorably with this or any other Hosl;
(2) that the support in Rations & Medl supplies be withdrawn;
(3) that the managers who deserve honour & commendation as among the heroines of the war be requested to such among our many wards (hitherto secluded from their presence) fields where their ministrations may be productive of greater usefulness.
Very Respectfully
Your Obt Servant,
Wm. A. Carrington
Surgeon & Inspector of Hospls”

Robertson Hospital in Richmond Va

Illustration of Robertson Hospital in Richmond

According to the book “Richmond’s War Time Hospitals” this indicates that Tompkins must have received her commission much later than previously thought:

“It is often repeated that Miss Tompkins used the hospital’s low mortality rate as the basis of her argument for obtaining her commission and keeping the hospital open. However, her commission is dated September 9, 1861, less than two months after the opening of the hospital and well before any threatened closing of the hospitals. It has been suggested that Sally was not appointed until 1862 and that the date of the commission was backdated to the point of which her services were recognized to have commenced. However, the commission is signed by Leroy P. Walker, secretary of war. Walker resigned that post on September 19, 1861. What actually prompted President Davis to give Miss Tompkins her commission is unknown. Perhaps Sally was simply foresighted enough to realize that for her hospital to achieve permanence, she would have to transfer organizational and financial responsibility of it to the government and that she would have to work within the military framework.”

Regardless of when she acquired the position, her new role quickly earned her the new nickname “Captain Sally” among her patients and staff at the hospital. The hospital remained open until the end of the war, officially closing its doors on June 13, 1865. In August of 1875, Robertson hospital was torn down and a new building took its place.

Although she had numerous marriage proposals, Tompkins never married and instead continued with her charity work after the war, helping widows and orphans of Confederate soldiers. After spending most of her fortune helping others, Tompkins entered Richmond’s Home for Confederate Women in 1905 where she remained for 11 years until her death on July 25, 1916. She was buried with full military honors at the Christ Episcopal Church in Matthews County, Virginia.


Civil War Richmond: Carrington’s Inspection Report October 24 1862:

“Richmond’s Wartime Hospitals”; Rebecca Barbour Calcutt; 2005

“Women and War: A Historical Encyclopedia from Antiquity to the Present”; Bernard A. Cook; 2006

“Women in the Civil War: extraordinary stories of soldiers, spies, nurses, Doctors, Crusaders and Others”; Larry Eggleston; 2003

“An Encyclopedia of American Women at War: From the Home Front to the Battlefields”; Edited by Lisa Tendrich Frank; 2013

“Famous American Women: A Biographical Dictionary from Colonial Times to the Present”; Edited by Robert McHenry; 1980

The Disappearance of Sarah Slater: Confederate Spy and Lincoln Conspirator

Sarah Gilbert Slater was a mysterious Confederate spy who worked with both John Wilkes Booth and John Surratt prior to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln but disappeared shortly after without a trace.

Federal investigators began pursuing Sarah Slater after she was mentioned in a number of testimonials during the 1865 Lincoln conspiracy trial and the 1867 trial of John Surratt. Since her true identity was unknown at the time, those who encountered her often identified her merely as “the french woman” or “the lady in the veil” or sometimes mistook her for other women, according to the book “Hidden Heroines of the Civil War”:

“Sarah was so mysterious she was often misidentified by her enemies and by other Confederate agents. A congressional committee believed she was Olivia Floyd. They were wrong. Three prominent historians said she was also known as Kate Thompson. The real Kate Thompson would have resented that. A fellow agent introduced her as Mrs. Brown, an alias Sarah used.”

Mary Surratt boarding house at 604 H St NW Washington DC circa 1890 - 1910

Mary Surratt’s boarding house at 604 H St. NW Washington D.C. circa 1890 – 1910. Slater stayed here a number of times prior to Lincoln’s assassination.

Slater, who was born Sarah Gilbert in Middletown, Connecticut, was the granddaughter of Revolutionary War veteran Ebenezer Gilbert and the daughter of french-speaking parents John Gilbert and Antoinette Reynaud. In 1851, she moved with her family to North Carolina and later married a dance instructor named Rowan Slater. Her husband later joined the North Carolina Infantry and marched off to war in 1861. In 1865, while being interviewed in Richmond for a passport to travel to New York City to see her mother, Slater was recruited to work as a spy by Confederate Secretary of War James A. Seddon, who was impressed by her beauty, french-speaking skills and spunky attitude. Soon after, she began carrying messages for the Confederates to and from Quebec, Canada.

Although she only served as a spy for a few months, she managed to work her way into John Wilkes Booth’s inner circle, occasionally staying at Mary Surratt’s boardinghouse in Washington D.C., receiving personal escorts during her missions from Surratt’s son, John, and meeting frequently with John Wilkes Booth. A few weeks before the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Slater embarked on a mission to Canada and was never heard from again, according to the book “Women in the American Civil War”:

“Her last mission, April 1 1865, was to bring money, originally intended to fund the Canadian operations, to Montreal to be sent to London for private use after the war. Slater met Booth one last time in Washington, departing on April 4. After that, she and the money disappeared.”

Her role in the conspiracy might have escaped the attention of federal investigators altogether if it wasn’t for the testimony of Louis J. Weichmann, a friend of John Surratt’s and a boarder at Mary Surratt’s boardinghouse, as well as several other witnesses who claimed to have seen or met her. Due to their limited interactions with Slater, the witnesses gave the investigators little to go on, according to the book “Women in the American Civil War”:

“Weichmann told officials that Slater was a French-speaking Confederate agent from North Carolina who carried dispatches to the Confederate organization working out of Montreal. He said she had been to Surratt’s boarding-house twice in recent weeks, and once remained all night. But, he added, none of the boarders ever got a good look at her, ‘as she always wore a [thick] veil over her face’…Her name came up dozens of times during the 1865 conspiracy trial and the 1867 trial of John Surratt. But no witness could give her first name, and several of them weren’t sure if Slater was her real name. ‘The government did its best to find out who the woman was, but was unable to find her,’ Weichmann later wrote.”


Louis J. Weichmann

After her disappearance, even her own husband, Rowan, tried to find her, writing to his brother James in New York City: “You wrote me that you heard that Nettie (Sarah) was dead. I hope she is in a better world. If you have any of the particulars about her, let me know…I wish to know all.” James, unfortunately, knew nothing about Sarah’s fate and Rowan never saw her again.

According to the book “Hidden Heroines of the Civil War,” it seemed Sarah Slater desperately wanted to disappear, although no one knows why:

“Sarah vanished for a reason, but no one knows what it was. Were her contacts with Booth, Howell, the Surratts, and Atzerdot merely incidental to her work as a courier, or were they something more sinister? Or maybe Sarah finally became aware of the heinous plot these persons were part of and decided to disassociate herself from them promptly. She may have reconnected with her two brothers, who had also mysteriously disappeared [after being convicted of persuading soldiers to desert the army] and all of them may have escaped to Europe. That, however, is just speculation. The real answers will probably never be known.”


FBI: Forensic Science Communications:

Trial of John H. Surratt in the Criminal Court of the District of Columbia”; John Harrison Surratt, George Purnell Fisher; 1867

“Women in the American Civil War, Volume 1”; Edited by Lisa Tendrich Frank; 2008

“Women During the Civil War: An Encyclopedia”; Judith E. Harper; 2004
“Hidden Heroines of the Civil War: Remarkable True Stories of Espionage”; H. Donald Winkler; 2010

Edwin Booth Voted for Abraham Lincoln

Despite his connection to his Confederate-sympathizing brother, John Wilkes Booth, stage actor Edwin Booth voted for Abraham Lincoln in 1864. John Wilkes Booth was reportedly deeply disappointed by his brother’s vote and lectured him for supporting Lincoln.

Although Edwin was 31 years old at the time of the election, it was his first time voting and he experienced a new found pride in doing his patriotic duty, according to a letter he wrote to his friend Emma F. Cary in November of that year:

“I voted (for Lincoln) t’ other day – the first vote I ever cast; and I suppose I am now an American citizen all over, as I have ever been in my heart.”

Surprisingly, the entire Booth family, including Booth’s parents Junius and Mary, were Union sympathizers and abolitionists. John Wilkes Booth was the only member of the family who sided with the Confederacy, which caused tension between the two brothers, according to a letter Edwin wrote to Nahum Capen in 1881:

Edwin Booth - John Wilkes Booth - Abraham Lincoln

Stage actor Edwin Booth (bottom right) voted to reelect Abraham Lincoln in 1864, much to the dismay of his younger brother John Wilkes Booth (top right)

“Dear Sir, I can give you very little information regarding my brother John. I seldom saw him since he early boyhood in Baltimore. He was a rattle-pated fellow, filled with Quixotic notions. While at the farm in Maryland he would charge on horseback through the woods, ‘spouting’ heroic speeches with a lance in his hand, a relic of the Mexican war, given to father by some soldier who had served under Taylor. We regarded him as a good-hearted, harmless, though wild-brained boy, and used to laugh at his patriotic froth whenever secession was discussed. That he was insane on that one point, no one who knew him well can doubt. When I told him that I had voted for Lincoln’s reelection he expressed deep regret, and declared his belief that Lincoln would be made king of America; and this, I believe, drove him beyond the limits of reason. I asked him once why he did not join the Confederate army. To which he replied: ‘I promised mother I would keep out of the quarrel, if possible, and I am sorry I said so.’ Knowing my sentiments, he avoided me, rarely visiting my house, except to see his mother, when political topics were not touched upon, at least in my presence. He was of a gentle, loving disposition, very boyish and full of fun, – his mother’s darling, – and his deed and death crushed her spirit. He possessed rare dramatic talent, and would have made a brilliant mark in the theatrical world. This is positively all that I know about him, having left him a mere school-boy when I went with my father to California in 1852. On my return in ’56 we were separated by professional engagements, which kept him mostly in the South, while I was employed in the Eastern and Northern States. I do not believe any of the wild, romantic stories published in the papers concerning him; but of course he may have been engaged in political matters of which I know nothing. All his theatrical friends speak of him as poor, crazy boy, and such his family think of him. I am sorry I can afford you no further light on the subject. Very truly yours, Edwin Booth.”

John Wilkes Booth photographed in a Boston studio. Date unknown.

John Wilkes Booth photographed in a Boston studio. Date unknown.

Ironically, Edwin’s vote was not the only time he helped Lincoln. Sometime in late 1864 or early 1865, Edwin also saved the life of Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln, after he fell in front of an oncoming train in New Jersey.

Although Edwin Booth and his family did not share John Wilkes Booth’s sentiments and had nothing to do with Lincoln’s assassination, the Booth family were arrested by federal officials and shunned by the public after John Wilkes Booth was identified as Lincoln’s assassin. Edwin Booth briefly retired from the stage, believing his career to be over, and the family withdrew from public life for years after. Eventually, Edwin returned to acting but the family continued to live in the shadow of John Wilkes Booth’s deed for the rest of their lives.


“Edwin Booth: Recollections by His Daughter, Edwina Booth Grossman, and Letters to Her and His Friends”; Edwin Booth; Edwina Booth Grossman;1902

William Quantrill’s Three Graves

William Quantrill was the leader of a violent group of Confederate guerrillas, known as Quantrill’s Raiders, whose members included brothers Frank and Jesse James.

After Quantrill was shot and paralyzed during a skirmish with Union soldiers in Louisville, Kentucky in May of 1865 and died a month later on June 6th, his body was buried in Louisville’s St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery.

Years later, in 1887, Quantrill’s mother and his childhood friend, William W. Scott, visited his grave with the intention to dig him up and bring his body to his hometown of Dover, Ohio. After Scott started digging, he discovered Quantrill’s bones had mostly disintegrated and only a few large bones and his skull remained. His mother identified the remains from a chipped tooth he had since childhood.

Studio Portrait of William Quantrill circa 1860-1865

Studio portrait of William Quantrill circa 1860-1865

Scott promised to transfer whatever bones he was able to salvage to Dover but never actually did it. Instead, he unsuccessfully attempted to sell the bones to collectors. In 1889, a box that was believed to contain Quantrill’s bones was buried Dover’s Fourth Street Cemetery but its contents were never examined.

After Scott’s death in 1902, his son gave Quantrill’s skull to a boys club that later became a fraternity. The fraternity used the skull in its initiation rituals until 1942 when the fraternity disbanded. Finally, in 1972, a fraternity alum donated the skull to to Dover Historical Society. Scott’s widow sold the remaining bones to a collector named William E. Connelley, who later became the secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society. After a deal fell through to trade the bones and a lock of Quantrill’s hair for some weapons owned by Jesse James and Wild Bill Hickok, Connelley donated the remains to the historical society. The organization later placed the bones on display before giving some of them away and keeping the rest in storage, according to the book “Ohio Oddities”:

“The bones eventually ended up in the hands of the Kansas State Historical Society. In 1992, they gave one of Quantrill’s arms and a shinbone to the Missouri Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who buried them in the Confederate cemetery in Higginsville, Missouri. The skull went to the Dover Historical Society, which had it interred (in a fiberglass child’s coffin) in the Fourth Street Cemetery. Before it went back in the ground, though, a cast-clay replica of Quantrill’s head was made from the skull. This was displayed at the historical society for a while, but during the hot days of summer, water would bead on the surface, making it look like the head was alive and sweating. This disconcerted some of the visitors so much that the head was removed to a refrigerator. Now it is only shown on request.”

William Quantrill's grave in Louisville, Kentucky

William Quantrill’s grave in Louisville, Kentucky

The decision to rebury the bones was met with some controversy in both Missouri and Ohio, mostly from people who objected to having a historical figure with such a violent reputation buried in their town, according to the book “The Devil Knows How to Ride: The Story of William Clarke Quantrill”:

“Some people criticized the idea of burying an ‘evil’ man in the [Higginsville Confederate] cemetery, and in his homily, Father Behan, a self-described pacifist and an Irish immigrant with a profound interest in American history, evoked the recent controversy over the celebration of the five-hundredth anniversary of Columbus’s voyage and warned against judging historical figures outside the context of their times and retroactively applying ‘our understanding of morality and ethics, of rightness and wrongness, back into the country.”

William Quantrill's grave in Dover, Ohio

William Quantrill’s grave in Dover, Ohio

There was also controversy among Quantrill’s fans and descendants over burying his remains in separate graves. According to an article in the New York Times, Robert L. Hawkins III, who delivered the eulogy at Quantrill’s burial in Higginsville, said he tried to reunite all of Quantrill’s remains for a single burial in Higginsville but failed. Hawkins said he wanted to keep the bones together to not only provide a proper burial for them but also to get them out of the hands of Northerners in Ohio who he felt looked down on Quantrill:

“We do not wish him buried where people are ashamed of him, where no one remembers or cares to recall the brutality of a partisan warfare that created men like Captain Quantrill and those who rode with him. He belongs here, here with those who were truly his people.”

On October 24, 1992 over 300 people attended the burial of Quantrill’s bones at the Old Confederate Veteran’s Home Cemetery in Higginsville, Missouri during which Quantrill’s remains were wrapped in plastic, placed inside a red-plastic beverage cooler and laid to rest inside a replica 19th century oak coffin draped with a Confederate flag. The cooler was glued shut and the coffin lid was nailed down and buried under a layer of concrete to protect it from grave robbers. Six days later on October 30, twenty-two people attended the burial of Quantrill’s skull in the Quantrill family plot in the Fourth Street Cemetery in Dover, Ohio, which was buried in a shallow three-foot grave above the remains supposedly buried there in 1889.

William Quantrill's grave in Higginsville, Missouri

William Quantrill’s grave in Higginsville, Missouri

William Quantrill's replica wax head stored in a refrigerator in the Dover Historical Society's museum

William Quantrill’s replica wax head stored in a refrigerator in the Dover Historical Society’s museum


“Ohio Oddities 2nd Edition: A Guide to the Curious Attractions of the Buckeye State;” Neil Zurcher; 2008

“The Devil Knows How to Ride: The True Story of William Clark Quantrill and His Confederate Raiders”; Edward E. Leslie; 2009

New York Times; “Guerrilla’s Bones Get a Confederate Soldier’s Funeral”; William Robbins; October 25 1992:

Roadside America: The Replica Head of Confederate Raider Quantrill:

PBS: William Clarke Quantrill: William Quantrill Killed by Union Soldiers:

Civil War Food

Civil War food was very different from the types of food we eat today. Due to war-time food shortages and a lack of both refrigeration and large-scale food processing, most meals were simple, easy to prepare dishes made from basic ingredients that could be grown in a garden or purchased and stored easily.

Army Food

Food rations in the military were delivered to Union soldiers by volunteers in the United States Sanitary Commission. The purpose of the commission was to ensure that soldiers were fed healthy and nutritional meals to prevent malnutrition and food poisoning. Since the focus was on health and nutrition, not culinary delight, and there were around 2 million soldiers to feed, the food tended to be bland, basic and simple. Each soldier’s daily rations included:

African American army cook at City Point VA

An African-American army cook in City Point, VA

1. Three-quarters of a pound of pork or bacon, or one and one-quarter pound of fresh or salt pork
2. Eighteen ounces of flour or bread or 12 ounces of hardtack
3. One and one-quarter pound of cornmeal

Hardtack, also known as “army bread,” was type of hard, dry biscuit that soldiers had to soak in water and fry in grease or pork fat in order to eat.

Each unit was also given a food ration in addition to each soldier’s individual ration. A 100 man company was given:

1. Eight quarts of peas or beans, or 10 pounds of rice
2. Six to 10 pounds of coffee or one and one-half pounds of tea
3. Twelve to 15 pounds of sugar
4. Two quarts of salt

Vegetables, dried fruits, pickles and pickled cabbage were sometimes issued to prevent scurvy but only in small quantities. Other foods soldiers occasionally ate included baked beans, hardtack pudding, ashcakes and milk toast.

When weather or nearby fighting interrupted food deliveries, soldiers often had to forage for food. In extreme cases, such as during the Battle of Vicksburg, the soldiers had to eat rats, cats, bullfrogs and dogs, according to the book “The Civil War Book of Lists.”

The Confederate army provided its soldiers with the same rations as Union soldiers but food shortages in the south, caused by blockades of southern harbors, often made many of the ingredients hard to come by which forced many of the soldiers to hunt or forage for food. As a result, boiled peanuts, which were an abundant crop in the south, became a staple of the Confederate army’s diet.

Civilian Food

Civilian food was a little more flavorful than army food but still consisted of very basic and simple dishes. Beans, baked goods and meat, including specific parts of the animal like the head, feet, brains, tongue and kidneys, were the most predominate type of food at the time (although meat was scare in the south during the war due to the blockades.) Beef and pork were the most popular types of meat, yet civilians also ate pigeon, venison, chicken and rabbit. Fish and seafood were also very popular at the time. Meat and seafood were usually eaten roasted, boiled or served in a stew or soup. Fresh vegetables were difficult to obtain in the winter, except for root vegetables which were harvested in the fall and stored easily in cold, dry cellars. Fruit was rare, except for apples and peaches which grew abundantly in the north and south.

Godeys Ladys Book Cover June 1867

Cover of Godey’s Lady’s Book circa June 1867

Breakfast typically consisted of cornmeal mush with cream and maple syrup, cornmeal griddle cakes, doughnuts and tea.

Lunch, which was called dinner, was the largest meal of the day and often consisted of boiled potatoes, ham, fresh pork or corned beef served with apple, rhubarb or a berry pie, depending on the season. Mincemeat pies were often eaten in the fall and winter months. Saturday dinners were usually boiled codfish and Sunday dinners were often baked beans, brown bread and Indian pudding.

Supper, which was served at night, was often a lighter meal. In the north, it typically consisted of johnnycakes and milk or bread and milk with maple syrup or flapjacks with brown sugar and a side of custard. Southern meals were often just as plain, consisting mostly of pork and boiled corn served at almost every meal of the day, as well as sweet potatoes, cornbread, peas, rice and turnips. Milk wasn’t as available in the south as it was in the north, where there were many dairy farms, so most southerners, especially the poor, drank water mixed with molasses. Peaches grew better than apples in the south and were often the only fruit southerners ate.

Here are some popular Civil War-era recipes from the pages of Godey’s Lady’s Book, a magazine for women established in 1830 that regularly published recipes, and “The American Home Cook Book” published in 1864:

Maccaroni and Cheese – Boil the maccaroni [sic] in milk; put in the stew pan butter, cheese, and seasoning; when melted, pour in the maccaroni, putting breadcrumbs over, which brown before the fire all together.

Mincemeat Pie – Six pounds of currants, three pounds of raisins stoned, three pounds of apples chopped fine, four pounds of suet, two pounds of sugar, two pounds of beef, the peel and juice of two lemons, a pint of sweet wine, a quarter of a pint of brandy, half an ounce of mixed spice. Press the whole into a deep pan when mixed well.
Another way – Two pounds of raisins, three pounds of currants, three pounds of beef-suet, two pounds of moist sugar, two ounces of citron, one ounce of orange-peel, one small nutmeg, one pottles of apples chopped fine, the rind of two lemons and juice of one, half a pint of brandy; mix well together. This should be made a little time before wanted for use.

Pie-Crust for Meat Pies – Take one pound of dried flour and rub into it six ounces of lard, six ounces of butter, a small quantity of salt, and a half teaspoon of baking powder. Mix all these ingredients well together, and then use as much water as will make them into a nice stiff paste. Roll it out, let it stand for about ten minutes and then roll it once more before putting it on the meat. The pie should be baked in a moderately quick oven.

Johnnycakes – Half a pint of boiled rice of hominy, two eggs, one tablespoon of butter, a little salt, flour enough to make a stuff batter, spread on an oaken board, and bake before a hot fire; When nicely baked on one side, turn, and bake the other, cut through the centre, and butter well. It pays for the trouble.

Hot Cross Buns – Rub a quarter pound of butter into two pounds of flour, quarter of a pound of brown sugar, mix all well together; a pint of milk made warm, three well-beaten eggs, one tablespoon of yeast, one tablespoon of soda, one pound of currants, one ounce of candied lemon, one ounce of citron, a little lemon-peel and salt; make it all up into a light paste, set it by the fire to raise an hour, and make into buns, twenty minutes will bake them.

Dough Nuts – Take a pound of flour, one-quarter pound of butter, three-quarters pound of brown sugar, one nutmeg grated, and a teaspoon of ground cinnamon, mix these well together; then add a tablespoon of bakers’ yeast, and as much warm milk, with a bit of carbonate of potash about the size of a pea dissolved in it, as will make the whole into a smooth dough; knead it for a few minutes, cover it and set it in a warm place to rise, until it is light; then roll it out to one-quarter inch thickness, and cut it into small squares or diamonds, ready for cooking. Have ready a small iron kettle; put into it one pound of lard, and set it over a gentle fire. When it is boiling hot [exactness is required here], put the dough nuts in quickly, but one at a time, if the fat be of the right heat, the dough nuts will, in about ten minutes, be of a delicious brown outside, and nicely cooked inside. Keep the kettle in motion all the time the cakes are in, that they may boil evenly. When they are of a fine color, take them out with a skimmer, and lay them to drain on a sieve, turned upside down. If the fat be not hot enough, the cakes will absorb it; if too hot, they will be dark brown outside before the inside is cooked.

Pigeon Soup – Take eight good pigeons; cut up two, and put them on with as much water as will make a large tureen of soup, adding the pinions, necks, gizzards and livers of the others; boil well and strain; season the whole pigeons within with mixed spices and salt, and truss them with their legs into their belly. Take a large handful of parsley, young onions, and spinach, pick and wash them clean, and shred small; then take a handful of grated bread, put a lump of butter about the size of a hen’s egg in a frying-pan, and when it boils throw in the bread, stirring well until it becomes a fine brown color. Put on the stock to boil, add the whole pigeons, herbs, and fried bread, and when the pigeons are done enough, dish up with the soup.

Boiled calfs head published in the american home cook book 1864

Illustration of a boiled calf’s head published in “The American Home Cook Book” circa 1864

Half a Calf’s Head Boiled - Clean it very nicely, and soak it in water, that it may look very white; take out the tongue to salt and the brains to make a little dish. Boil the head extremely tender; then strew it over with crumbs and chopped parsley, and brown them; or if liked better, leave one side plain. Serve bacon and greens to eat with it. The brains must be boiled, and then mixed with melted butter, scalded sage chopped, pepper and salt…[The head] should be cut in thin slices from [line] 1 to 2, the knife passing down to the bone. The best part in the head is the throat sweetbread, which is situated at the thick part of the neck [line] 3, and should be carved in slices from [line] 3 to 4, and helped with the other part. If the eye is wished for, force the point of the carving-knife down on one side to the bottom of the socket, and cut it quite round. The palate or roof of the mouth is esteemed a great delicacy; and some fine lean will be found on the lower jaw, and nice gristly fat about the ear. The brains and tongue are generally sent to table on a separate dish; the centre slice of the tongue is considered the best.

A Tongue – should be cut across, nearly through the middle, and thin slices taken from each side; a portion of the fat which is situated at the root of the tongue, being assisted with each.

Beef or Mutton Soup – Boil very gently in a closely covered saucepan, four quarts of water, with two table-spoonfuls of sifted bread raspings, three pounds of beef cut in small pieces, or the same quantity of mutton chops taken from the middle of the neck; season with pepper.and salt add two turnips, two carrots, two onions, and one head of celery, all cut small; let it stew with these ingredients 4 hours, when it will be ready to serve.

Roast Leg of Mutton – Put the leg into an iron saucepan with enough cold water to cover it, let it come to a boil gently, parboil it by simmering only; have the spit or jack ready; and take it from the hot water and put it to the fire instantly; it will take from an hour to an hour and a half if large, and less time if small.

Mock Turtle Soup — Take a calf’s head, the skin having been scalded and the hair scraped off clean, wash it thoroughly; take out the brains and boil them separately till done enough. Put the head into a pot with more water than will cover it. Skim it frequently till it boils, and let it boil for an hour, but very gently. Take it out, and when cool cut the meat into pieces of about an inch square. Scrape and cut the tongue in the same manner. Lay all these pieces aside, then put into the water in which the head was boiled, about three or four pounds of leg of beef and a knuckle of veal — the meat cut small and the bones broken. Add four or five onions, a carrot and turnip, sliced, a small bunch of sweet-herbs, and some whole black pepper. Boil all together slowly, for four or five hours, then strain it and let it cool, when take off the fat. Now melt a lump of butter in a stewpan, put to it two handful of flour, and let it brown, stirring it all the time. Add a little of the soup, and a few sprigs of parsley. Boil this for a quarter of an hour, strain it through a sieve, put it, with the pieces of meat, into the soup, with the brains pounded, and boil all together for an hour. Add half a teacupful of ketchup, the juice of a lemon, cayenne pepper, and salt, to taste, also four glasses of sherry, and when dished in a tureen, put in two dozen of force-meat balls, and the same quantity of egg-balls, which are made as follows:

Egg Balls — Boil four or five eggs till they are quite hard. Take out the yolks and beat them in a mortar, with salt and cayenne pepper. Make this into a paste with the white of egg. Roll the size of small marbles. Roll them in a little flour and fry them in butter, taking care they do not break.

Force-meat Balls — Cut half a pound of veal and half a pound of suet fine, and beat them in a mortar. Have a few sweet-herbs shred fine; dried mace beaten fine; a small nutmeg grated; a little lemon-peel cut very fine; a little pepper and salt, and the yolks of two eggs; mix all these well together, then roll them in little round balls; roll them in flour and fry them brown. If for white sauce, put them in a little boiling water, and boil them for a few minutes, but do not fry them.

Chicken Soup — Cut up two large fine fowls and wash the pieces in cold water. Take half a dozen thin slices of cold ham, and lay them in a soup-pot, mixed among the pieces of chicken. Season them with a very little cayenne, a little nutmeg, and a few blades of mace, but no salt, as the ham will make it salt enough. Add a head of celery, split and cut into long bits, a quarter of a pound of butter, divided in two, and rolled in flour. Pour on three quarts of milk. Set the soup-pot over the fire, and let it boil rather slowly, skimming it well. When it has boiled an hour, put in some small round dumplings, made of half a pound of flour mixed with a quarter of a pound of butter ; divide this dough into equal portions, and roll them in your hands into little balls about the size of a large hickory nut. The soup must boil till the flesh of the fowls is loose on the bones, but not till it drops off. Stir in, at the last, the beaten yolks of three or four eggs; and let the soup remain about five minutes longer over the fire. Then take it up. Cut off from the bones, the flesh of the fowls, and divide it into mouthfuls. Cut up the slices of ham in the same manner. Mince the livers and gizzards. Put the bits of fowl and ham in the bottom of a large tureen, and pour the soup upon it.

Baked Cod-Fish — Clean the piece of cod, and make a stuffing of bread-crumbs, parsley, and onions, chopped small, pepper and salt, a piece of butter moistened with egg; put this stuffing into the open part of the fish, and fix it in with skewers; then rub the fish over with beat egg, and strew crumbs of bread, pepper, and salt over it; stick also some bits of butter on it; set in a Dutch oven before the fire to bake; serve with melted butter or oyster-sauce.

Salmon—Broiled — Cut the fish in slices from the best part — each slice should be an inch thick; season well with pepper and salt; wrap each slice in white paper, which has been buttered with fresh butter; fasten each end by twisting or tying; broil over a very clear fire eight minutes. A coke fire, if kept clear and bright, is best. Serve with butter, or tomato sauce.

Cod head illustration the american home cook book 1864

Carving directions for a cod’s head and shoulders published in “The American Home Cook Book” circa 1864


“The American Home Cook Book: With Several Hundred Excellent Recipes”; The American Lady; 1864

“Civil War Recipes; Recipes from the Pages of Godey’s Lady’s Book”; Lilly May Spaulding; John Spaulding; 1999

“The Civil War Book of Lists”; Donald Cartmell; 2001

PBS: Civil War Cooking: What The Union Soldiers Ate:

James Russell Lowell’s Endorsement of Abraham Lincoln

James Russell Lowell was an abolitionist and poet from Cambridge, Massachusetts who served as the first editor of the Atlantic Monthly magazine from 1857 to 1861.

In October of 1860, Lowell wrote a long article titled “The Election in November,” in which he endorsed Abraham Lincoln for President of the United States, praising Lincoln’s opposition to slavery and eerily predicting that the election would be a “turning-point in our history.

The following is the full text of Lowell’s endorsement of Lincoln:

“The Election in November
By James Russell Lowell

While all of us have been watching, with that admiring sympathy which never fails to wait on courage and magnanimity, the career of the new Timoleon in Sicily,—while we have been reckoning, with an interest scarcely less than in some affair of personal concern, the chances and changes that bear with furtherance or hindrance upon the fortune of united Italy, we are approaching, with a quietness and composure which more than anything else mark the essential difference between our own form of democracy and any other yet known in history, a crisis in our domestic policy more momentous than any that has arisen since we became a nation. Indeed, considering the vital consequences for good or evil that will follow from the popular decision in November, we might be tempted to regard the remarkable moderation which has thus far characterized the Presidential canvass as a guilty indifference to the duty implied in the privilege of suffrage, or a stolid unconsciousness of the result which may depend upon its exercise in this particular election, did we not believe that it arose chiefly from the general persuasion that the success of the Republican party was a foregone conclusion.

James Russell Lowell photographed by Mathew Brady circa 1855-1865

James Russell Lowell photographed by Mathew Brady circa 1855-1865

In a society like ours, where every man may transmute his private thought into history and destiny by dropping it into the ballot-box, a peculiar responsibility rests upon the individual. Nothing can absolve us from doing our best to look at all public questions as citizens, and therefore in some sort as administrators and rulers. For, though during its term of office the government be practically as independent of the popular will as that of Russia, yet every fourth year the people are called upon to pronounce upon the conduct of their affairs. Theoretically, at least, to give democracy any standing-ground for an argument with despotism or oligarchy, a majority of the men composing it should be statesmen and thinkers. It is a proverb, that to turn a radical into a conservative there needs only to put him into office, because then the license of speculation or sentiment is limited by a sense of responsibility,—then for the first time he becomes capable of that comparative view which sees principles and measures, not in the narrow abstract, but in the full breadth of their relations to each other and to political consequences. The theory of democracy presupposes something of these results of official position in the individual voter, since in exercising his right he becomes for the moment an integral part of the governing power.

How very far practice is from any likeness to theory a week’s experience of our politics suffices to convince us. The very government itself seems an organized scramble, and Congress a boys’ debating-club, with the disadvantage of being reported. As our party-creeds are commonly represented less by ideas than by persons, (who are assumed, without too close a scrutiny, to be the exponents of certain ideas,) our politics become personal and narrow to a degree never paralleled, unless in ancient Athens or mediaeval Florence. Our Congress debates and our newspapers discuss, sometimes for day after day, not questions of national interest, not what is wise and right, but what the Honorable Lafayette Skreemer said on the stump, or bad whiskey said for him, half a dozen years ago. If that personage, outraged in all the finer sensibilities of our common nature, by failing to get the contract for supplying the District Court-House at Skreemeropolisville City with revolvers, was led to disparage the union of these States, it is seized on as proof conclusive that the party to which he belongs are so many Catalines,—for Congress is unanimous only in misspelling the name of that oft-invoked conspirator. The next Presidential Election looms always in advance, so that we seem never to have an actual Chief Magistrate, but a prospective one, looking to the chances of reelection, and mingling in all the dirty intrigues of provincial politics with an unhappy talent for making them dirtier. The cheating mirage of the White House lures our public men away from present duties and obligations; and if matters go on as they have gone, we shall need a Committee of Congress to count the spoons in the public plate-closet, whenever a President goes out of office,—with a policeman to watch every member of the Committee. We are kept normally in that most unprofitable of predicaments, a state of transition, and politicians measure their words and deeds by a standard of immediate and temporary expediency,—an expediency not as concerning the nation, but which, if more than merely personal, is no wider than the interests of party.

Is all this a result of the failure of democratic institutions? Rather of the fact that those institutions have never yet had a fair trial, and that for the last thirty years an abnormal element has been acting adversely with continually increasing strength. Whatever be the effect of slavery upon the States where it exists, there can be no doubt that its moral influence upon the North has been most disastrous. It has compelled our politicians into that first fatal compromise with their moral instincts and hereditary principles which makes all consequent ones easy; it has accustomed us to makeshifts instead of statesmanship, to subterfuge instead of policy, to party-platforms for opinions, and to a defiance of the public sentiment of the civilized world for patriotism. We have been asked to admit, first, that it was a necessary evil; then that it was a good both to master and slave; then that it was the corner-stone of free institutions; then that it was a system divinely instituted under the Old Law and sanctioned under the New. With a representation, three-fifths of it based on the assumption that negroes are men, the South turns upon us and insists on our acknowledging that they are things. After compelling her Northern allies to pronounce the ‘free and equal’ clause of the preamble to the Declaration of Independence (because it stood in the way of enslaving men) a manifest absurdity, she has declared, through the Supreme Court of the United States, that negroes are not men in the ordinary meaning of the word. To eat dirt is bad enough, but to find that we have eaten more than was necessary may chance to give us an indigestion. The slaveholding interest has gone on step by step, forcing concession after concession, till it needs but little to secure it forever in the political supremacy of the country. Yield to its latest demand,—let it mould the evil destiny of the Territories,—and the thing is done past recall. The next Presidential Election is to say Yes or No.

Abraham Lincoln photographed by Alexander Gardner Aug 9 1863 - 300 x 375

Abraham Lincoln photographed by Alexander Gardner on August 9, 1863

But we should not regard the mere question of political preponderancy as of vital consequence, did it not involve a continually increasing moral degradation on the part of the Nonslaveholding States,—for Free States they could not be called much longer. Sordid and materialistic views of the true value and objects of society and government are professed more and more openly by the leaders of popular outcry, if it cannot be called public opinion. That side of human nature which it has been the object of all law-givers and moralists to repress and subjugate is flattered and caressed; whatever is profitable is right; and already the slave-trade, as yielding a greater return on the capital invested than any other traffic, is lauded as the highest achievement of human reason and justice. Mr. Hammond has proclaimed the accession of King Cotton, but he seems to have forgotten that history is not without examples of kings who have lost their crowns through the folly and false security of their ministers. It is quite true that there is a large class of reasoners who would weigh all questions of right and wrong in the balance of trade; but we cannot bring ourselves to believe that it is a wise political economy which makes cotton by unmaking men, or a far-seeing statesmanship which looks on an immediate money-profit as a safe equivalent for a beggared public sentiment. We think Mr. Hammond even a little premature in proclaiming the new Pretender. The election of November may prove a Culloden. Whatever its result, it is to settle, for many years to come, the question whether the American idea is to govern this continent, whether the Occidental or the Oriental theory of society is to mould our future, whether we are to recede from principles which eighteen Christian centuries have been slowly establishing at the cost of so many saintly lives at the stake and so many heroic ones on the scaffold and the battle field, in favor of some fancied assimilation to the household arrangements of Abraham, of which all that can be said with certainty is that they did not add to his domestic happiness.

We believe that this election is a turning-point in our history; for, although there are four candidates, there are really, as everybody knows, but two parties, and a single question that divides them. The supporters of Messrs. Bell and Everett have adopted as their platform the Constitution, the Union, and the enforcement of the Laws. This may be very convenient, but it is surely not very explicit. The cardinal question on which the whole policy of the country is to turn—a question, too, which this very election must decide in one way or the other—is the interpretation to be put upon certain clauses of the Constitution. All the other parties equally assert their loyalty to that instrument. Indeed, it is quite the fashion. The removers of all the ancient landmarks of our policy, the violators of thrice-pledged faith, the planners of new treachery to established compromise, all take refuge in the Constitution,—Like thieves that in a hemp-plot lie, Secure against the hue and cry.’
In the same way the first Bonaparte renewed his profession of faith in the Revolution at every convenient opportunity; and the second follows the precedent of his uncle, though the uninitiated fail to see any logical sequence from 1789 to 1815 or 1860. If Mr. Bell loves the Constitution, Mr. Breckinridge is equally fond; that Egeria of our statesmen could be ‘happy with either, were t’other dear charmer away.’ Mr. Douglas confides the secret of his passion to the unloquacious clams of Rhode Island, and the chief complaint made against Mr. Lincoln by his opponents is that he is TOO Constitutional.

Meanwhile the only point in which voters are interested is,—What do they mean by the Constitution? Mr. Breckinridge means the superiority of a certain exceptional species of property over all others, nay, over man himself. Mr. Douglas, with a different formula for expressing it, means practically the same thing. Both of them mean that Labor has no rights which Capital is bound to respect,—that there is no higher law than human interest and cupidity. Both of them represent not merely the narrow principles of a section, but the still narrower and more selfish ones of a caste. Both of them, to be sure, have convenient phrases to be juggled with before election, and which mean one thing or another, or neither one thing nor another, as a particular exigency may seem to require; but since both claim the regular Democratic nomination, we have little difficulty in divining what their course would be after the fourth of March, if they should chance to be elected. We know too well what regular Democracy is, to like either of the two faces which each shows by turns under the same hood. Everybody remembers Baron Grimm’s story of the Parisian showman, who in 1789 exhibited the royal Bengal tiger under the new character of national, as more in harmony with the changed order of things. Could the animal have lived till 1848, he would probably have found himself offered to the discriminating public as the democratic and social ornament of the jungle. The Pro-slavery party of this country seeks the popular favor under even more frequent and incongruous aliases: it is now national, now conservative, now constitutional; here it represents Squatter Sovereignty, and there the power of Congress over the Territories; but, under whatever name, its nature remains unchanged, and its instincts are none the less predatory and destructive.

Atlantic Monthly November 1857 First Issue

First issue of the Atlantic Monthly magazine circa November 1857

Mr. Lincoln’s position is set forth with sufficient precision in the platform adopted by the Chicago Convention; but what are we to make of Messrs. Bell and Everett? Heirs of the stock in trade of two defunct parties, the Whig and Know-Nothing, do they hope to resuscitate them? or are they only like the inconsolable widows of Pere la Chaise, who, with an eye to former customers, make use of the late Andsoforth’s gravestone to advertise that they still carry on the business at the old stand? Mr. Everett, in his letter accepting the nomination, gave us only a string of reasons why he should not have accepted it at all; and Mr. Bell preserves a silence singularly at variance with his patronymic. The only public demonstration of principle that we have seen is an emblematic bell drawn upon a wagon by a single horse, with a man to lead him, and a boy to make a nuisance of the tinkling symbol as it moves along. Are all the figures in this melancholy procession equally emblematic? If so, which of the two candidates is typified in the unfortunate who leads the horse?—for we believe the only hope of the party is to get one of them elected by some hocus-pocus in the House of Representatives. The little boy, we suppose, is intended to represent the party, which promises to be so conveniently small that there will be an office for every member of it, if its candidate should win. Did not the bell convey a plain allusion to the leading name on the ticket, we should conceive it an excellent type of the hollowness of those fears for the safety of the Union, in case of Mr. Lincoln’s election, whose changes are so loudly rung,—its noise having once or twice given rise to false alarms of fire, till people found out what it really was. Whatever profound moral it be intended to convey, we find in it a similitude that is not without significance as regards the professed creed of the party. The industrious youth who operates upon it has evidently some notion of the measured and regular motion that befits the tongues of well-disciplined and conservative bells. He does his best to make theory and practice coincide; but with every jolt on the road an involuntary variation is produced, and the sonorous pulsation becomes rapid or slow accordingly. We have observed that the Constitution was liable to similar derangements, and we very much doubt whether Mr. Bell himself (since, after all, the Constitution would practically be nothing else than his interpretation of it) would keep the same measured tones that are so easy on the smooth path of candidacy, when it came to conducting the car of State over some of the rough places in the highway of Manifest Destiny, and some of those passages in our politics which, after the fashion of new countries, are rather corduroy in character.

But, fortunately, we are not left wholly in the dark as to the aims of the self-styled Constitutional party. One of its most distinguished members, Governor Hunt of New York, has given us to understand that its prime object is the defeat at all hazards of the Republican candidate. To achieve so desirable an end, its leaders are ready to coalesce, here with the Douglas, and there with the Breckinridge faction of that very Democratic party of whose violations of the Constitution, corruption, and dangerous limberness of principle they have been the lifelong denouncers. In point of fact, then, it is perfectly plain that we have only two parties in the field: those who favor the extension of slavery, and those who oppose it,—in other words, a Destructive and a Conservative party.
We know very well that the partisans of Mr. Bell, Mr. Douglas, and Mr. Breckinridge all equally claim the title of conservative: and the fact is a very curious one, well worthy the consideration of those foreign critics who argue that the inevitable tendency of democracy is to compel larger and larger concessions to a certain assumed communistic propensity and hostility to the rights of property on the part of the working classes. But the truth is, that revolutionary ideas are promoted, not by any unthinking hostility to the rights of property, but by a well-founded jealousy of its usurpations; and it is Privilege, and not Property, that is perplexed with fear of change. The conservative effect of ownership operates with as much force on the man with a hundred dollars in an old stocking as on his neighbor with a million in the funds. During the Roman Revolution of ’48, the beggars who had funded their gains were among the stanchest reactionaries, and left Rome with the nobility. No question of the abstract right of property has ever entered directly into our politics, or ever will, -the point at issue being, whether a certain exceptional kind of property, already privileged beyond all others, shall be entitled to still further privileges at the expense of every other kind. The extension of slavery over new territory means just this,—that this one kind of property, not recognized as such by the Constitution, or it would never have been allowed to enter into the basis of representation, shall control the foreign and domestic policy of the Republic.

A great deal is said, to be sure, about the rights of the South; but has any such right been infringed? when a man invests money in any species of property, he assumes the risks to which it is liable. If he buy a house, it may be burned; if a ship, it may be wrecked; if a horse or an ox, it may die. Now the disadvantage of the Southern kind of property is,—how shall we say it so as not to violate our Constitutional obligations?—that it is exceptional. When it leaves Virginia, it is a thing; when it arrives in Boston, it becomes a man, speaks human language, appeals to the justice of the same God whom we all acknowledge, weeps at the memory of wife and children left behind,—in short, hath the same organs and dimension that a Christian hath, and is not distinguishable from ordinary Christians, except, perhaps, by a simpler and more earnest faith. There are people at the North who believe, that, beside meum and tuum, there is also such a thing as suum,—who are old-fashioned enough, or weak enough, to have their feelings touched by these things, to think that human nature is older and more sacred than any claim of property whatever, and that it has rights at least as much to be respected as any hypothetical one of our Southern brethren. This, no doubt, makes it harder to recover a fugitive chattel; but the existence of human nature in a man here and there is surely one of those accidents to be counted on at least as often as fire, shipwreck, or the cattle-disease; and the man who chooses to put his money into these images of his Maker cut in ebony should be content to take the incident risks along with the advantages. We should be very sorry to deem this risk capable of diminution; for we think that the claims of a common manhood upon us should be at least as strong as those of Freemasonry, and that those whom the law of man turns away should find in the larger charity of the law of God and Nature a readier welcome and surer sanctuary. We shall continue to think the negro a man, and on Southern evidence, too, as long as he is counted in the population represented on the floor of Congress,—for three-fifths of perfect manhood would be a high average even among white men; as long as he is hanged or worse, as an example and terror to others,—for we do not punish one animal for the moral improvement of the rest; as long as he is considered capable of religious instruction,—for we fancy the gorillas would make short work with a missionary; as long as there are fears of insurrection,—for we never heard of a combined effort at revolt in a menagerie. Accordingly, we do not see how the particular right of whose infringement we hear so much is to be made safer by the election of Mr. Bell, Mr. Breckinridge, or Mr. Douglas,—there being quite as little chance that any of them would abolish human nature as that Mr. Lincoln would abolish slavery. The same generous instinct that leads some among us to sympathize with the sorrows of the bereaved master will always, we fear, influence others to take part with the rescued man.

But if our Constitutional Obligations, as we like to call our constitutional timidity or indifference, teach us that a particular divinity hedges the Domestic Institution, they do not require us to forget that we have institutions of our own, worth maintaining and extending, and not without a certain sacredness, whether we regard the traditions of the fathers or the faith of the children. It is high time that we should hear something of the rights of the Free States, and of the duties consequent upon them. We also have our prejudices to be respected, our theory of civilization, of what constitutes the safety of a state and insures its prosperity, to be applied wherever there is soil enough for a human being to stand on and thank God for making him a man. Is conservatism applicable only to property, and not to justice, freedom, and public honor? Does it mean merely drifting with the current of evil times and pernicious counsels, and carefully nursing the ills we have, that they may, as their nature it is, grow worse?

Abraham Lincoln inauguration March 4 1861

Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration on March 4, 1861

To be told that we ought not to agitate the question of Slavery, when it is that which is forever agitating us, is like telling a man with the fever and ague on him to stop shaking and he will be cured. The discussion of Slavery is said to be dangerous, but dangerous to what? The manufacturers of the Free States constitute a more numerous class than the slaveholders of the South: suppose they should claim an equal sanctity for the Protective System. Discussion is the very life of free institutions, the fruitful mother of all political and moral enlightenment, and yet the question of all questions must be tabooed. The Swiss guide enjoins silence in the region of avalanches, lest the mere vibration of the voice should dislodge the ruin clinging by frail roots of snow. But where is our avalanche to fall? It is to overwhelm the Union, we are told. The real danger to the Union will come when the encroachments of the Slave-Power and the concessions of the Trade-Power shall have made it a burden instead of a blessing. The real avalanche to be dreaded, are we to expect it from the ever-gathering mass of ignorant brute force, with the irresponsibility of animals and the passions of men, which is one of the fatal necessities of slavery, or from the gradually increasing consciousness of the non slaveholding population of the Slave States of the true cause of their material impoverishment and political inferiority? From one or the other source its ruinous forces will be fed, but in either event it is not the Union that will be imperiled, but the privileged Order who on every occasion of a thwarted whim have menaced its disruption, and who will then find in it their only safety.

We believe that the ‘irrepressible conflict’—for we accept Mr. Seward’s much-denounced phrase in all the breadth of meaning he ever meant to give it—is to take place in the South itself; because the Slave-System is one of those fearful blunders in political economy which are sure, sooner or later, to work their own retribution. The inevitable tendency of slavery is to concentrate in a few hands the soil, the capital, and the power of the countries where it exists, to reduce the non-slaveholding class to a continually lower and lower level of property, intelligence, and enterprise,—their increase in number adding much to the economical hardship of their position and nothing to their political weight in the communities where education induces refinement, where facility of communication stimulates invention and variety of enterprise, where newspapers make every man’s improvement in tools, machinery, or culture of the soil an incitement to all, and bring all the thinkers of the world to teach in the cheap university of the people. We do not, of course, mean to say that slaveholding states may not and do not produce fine men; but they fail, by the inherent vice of their constitution and its attendant consequences, to create enlightened, powerful, and advancing communities of men, which is the true object of all political organizations, and which is essential to the prolonged existence of all those whose life and spirit are derived directly from the people. Every man who has dispassionately endeavored to enlighten himself in the matter cannot but see, that, for the many, the course of things in slaveholding states is substantially what we have described, a downward one, more or less rapid, in civilization and in all those results of material prosperity which in a free country show themselves in the general advancement for the good of all and give a real meaning to the word Commonwealth. No matter how enormous the wealth centred in the hands of a few, it has no longer the conservative force or the beneficent influence which it exerts when equably distributed,—-even loses more of both where a system of absenteeism prevails so largely as in the South. In such communities the seeds of an ‘irrepressible conflict’ are surely, if slowly, ripening, and signs are daily multiplying that the true peril to their social organization is looked for, less in a revolt of the owned labor than in an insurrection of intelligence in the labor that owns itself and finds itself none the richer for it. To multiply such communities is to multiply weakness.

The election in November turns on the single and simple question, Whether we shall consent to the indefinite multiplication of them; and the only party which stands plainly and unequivocally pledged against such a policy, nay, which is not either openly or impliedly in favor of it, is the Republican party. We are of those who at first regretted that another candidate was not nominated at Chicago; but we confess that we have ceased to regret it, for the magnanimity of Mr. Seward since the result of the Convention was known has been a greater ornament to him and a greater honor to his party than his election to the Presidency would have been. We should have been pleased with Mr. Seward’s nomination, for the very reason we have seen assigned for passing him by,—that he represented the most advanced doctrines of his party. He, more than any other man, combined in himself the moralist’s oppugnancy to Slavery as a fact, the thinker’s resentment of it as a theory, and the statist’s distrust of it as a policy,—thus summing up the three efficient causes that have chiefly aroused and concentrated the antagonism of the Free States. Not a brilliant man, he has that best gift of nature, which brilliant men commonly lack, of being always able to do his best; and the very misrepresentation of his opinions which was resorted to in order to neutralize the effect of his speeches in the Senate and elsewhere was the best testimony to their power. Safe from the prevailing epidemic of Congressional eloquence as if he had been inoculated for it early in his career, he addresses himself to the reason, and what he says sticks. It was assumed that his nomination would have embittered the contest and tainted the Republican creed with radicalism ; but we doubt it. We cannot think that a party gains by not hitting its hardest, or by sugaring its opinions. Republicanism is not a conspiracy to obtain office under false pretenses. It has a definite aim, an earnest purpose, and the unflinching tenacity of profound conviction. It was not called into being by a desire to reform the pecuniary corruptions of the party now in power. Mr. Bell or Mr. Breckinridge would do that, for no one doubts their honor or their honesty. It is not unanimous about the Tariff, about State-Rights, about many other questions of policy. What unites the Republicans is a common faith in the early principles and practice of the Republic, a common persuasion that slavery, as it cannot but be the natural foe of the one, has been the chief debaser of the other, and a common resolve to resist its encroachments everywhen and everywhere. They see no reason to fear that the Constitution, which has shown such pliant tenacity under the warps and twistings of a forty-years’ proslavery pressure, should be in danger of breaking, if bent backward again gently to its original rectitude of fibre. ‘All forms of human government,’ says Machiavelli, ‘have, like men, their natural term, and those only are long-lived which possess in themselves the power of returning to the principles on which they were originally founded.’

It is in a moral aversion to slavery as a great wrong that the chief strength of the Republican party lies. They believe as everybody believed sixty years ago; and we are sorry to see what appears to be an inclination in some quarters to blink this aspect of the case, lest the party be charged with want of conservatism, or, what is worse, with abolitionism. It is and will be charged with all kinds of dreadful things, whatever it does, and it has nothing to fear from an upright and downright declaration of its faith. One part of the grateful work it has to do is to deliver us from the curse of perpetual concession for the sake of a peace that never comes, and which, if it came, would not be peace, but submission,—from that torpor and imbecility of faith in God and man which have stolen the respectable name of Conservatism. A question which cuts so deep as the one which now divides the country cannot be debated, much less settled, without excitement. Such excitement is healthy, and is a sign that the ill humors of the body politic are coming to the surface, where they are comparatively harmless. It is the tendency of all creeds, opinions, and political dogmas that have once defined themselves in institutions to become inoperative. The vital and formative principle, which was active during the process of crystallization into sects, or schools of thought, or governments, ceases to act; and what was once a living emanation of the Eternal Mind, organically operative in history, becomes the dead formula on men’s lips and the dry topic of the annalist. It has been our good fortune that a question has been thrust upon us which has forced us to reconsider the primal principles of government, which has appealed to conscience as well as reason, and, by bringing the theories of the Declaration of Independence to the test of experience in our thought and life and action, has realized a tradition of the memory into a conviction of the understanding and the soul. It will not do for the Republicans to confine themselves to the mere political argument, for the matter then becomes one of expediency, with two defensible sides to it; they must go deeper, to the radical question of Right and Wrong, or they surrender the chief advantage of their position. What Spinoza says of laws is equally true of party-platforms,—that those are strong which appeal to reason, but those are impregnable which compell the assent both of reason and the common affections of mankind.

No man pretends that under the Constitution there is any possibility of interference with the domestic relations of the individual States; no party has ever remotely hinted at any such interference; but what the Republicans affirm is, that in every contingency where the Constitution can be construed in favor of freedom, it ought to be and shall be so construed. It is idle to talk of sectionalism, abolitionism, and hostility to the laws. The principles of liberty and humanity cannot, by virtue of their very nature, be sectional, any more than light and heat. Prevention is not abolition, and unjust laws are the only serious enemies that Law ever had. With history before us, it is no treason to question the infallibility of a court; for courts are never wiser or more venerable than the men composing them, and a decision that reverses precedent cannot arrogate to itself any immunity from reversal. Truth is the only unrepealable thing.

We are gravely requested to have no opinion, or, having one, to suppress it, on the one topic that has occupied caucuses, newspapers, Presidents’ messages, and congress, for the last dozen years, lest we endanger the safety of the Union. The true danger to popular forms of government begins when public opinion ceases because the people are incompetent or unwilling to think. In a democracy it is the duty of every citizen to think; but unless the thinking result in a definite opinion, and the opinion lead to considerate action, they are nothing. If the people are assumed to be incapable of forming a judgment for themselves, the men whose position enables them to guide the public mind ought certainly to make good their want of intelligence. But on this great question, the wise solution of which, we are every day assured, is essential to the permanence of the Union, Mr. Bell has no opinion at all, Mr. Douglas says it is of no consequence which opinion prevails, and Mr. Breckinridge tells us vaguely that ‘all sections have an equal right in the common Territories.’ The parties which support these candidates, however, all agree in affirming that the election of its special favorite is the one thing that can give back peace to the distracted country. The distracted country will continue to take care of itself, as it has done hitherto, and the only question that needs an answer is, What policy will secure the most prosperous future to the helpless Territories, which our decision is to make or mar for all coming time? What will save the country from a Senate and Supreme Court where freedom shall be forever at a disadvantage?

There is always a fallacy in the argument of the opponents of the Republican party. They affirm that all the States and all the citizens of the States ought to have equal rights in the Territories. Undoubtedly. But the difficulty is that they cannot. The slaveholder moves into a new Territory with his institution, and from that moment the free white settler is virtually excluded. His institutions he cannot take with him; they refuse to root themselves in soil that is cultivated by slave-labor. Speech is no longer free; the post-office is Austrianized; the mere fact of Northern birth may be enough to hang him. Even now in Texas, settlers from the Free States are being driven out and murdered for pretended complicity in a plot the evidence for the existence of which has been obtained by means without a parallel since the trial of the Salem witches, and the stories about which are as absurd and contradictory as the confessions of Goodwife Corey. Kansas was saved, it is true; but it was the experience of Kansas that disgusted the South with Mr. Douglas’s panacea of ‘Squatter Sovereignty.’

The claim of equal rights in the Territories is a specious fallacy. Concede the demand of the slavery-extensionists, and you give up every inch of territory to slavery, to the absolute exclusion of freedom. For what they ask (however they may disguise it) is simply this,—that their local law be made the law of the land, and coextensive with the limits of the General Government. The Constitution acknowledges no unqualified or interminable right of property in the labor of another; and the plausible assertion, that ‘that is property which the law makes property’ (confounding a law existing anywhere with the law which is binding everywhere,) can deceive only those who have either never read the Constitution or are ignorant of the opinions and intentions of those who framed it. It is true only of the States where slavery already exists; and it is because the propagandists of slavery are well aware of this, that they are so anxious to establish by positive enactment the seemingly moderate title to a right of existence for their institution in the Territories,—a title which they do not possess, and the possession of which would give them the oyster and the Free States the shells. Laws accordingly are asked for to protect the inhabitants from deciding for themselves what their frame of government shall be. Such laws will be passed, and the fairest portion of our national domain irrevocably closed to free labor, if the Non-Slaveholding States fail to do their duty in the present crisis.

But will the election of Mr. Lincoln endanger the Union? It is not a little remarkable, that, as the prospect of his success increases, the menaces of secession grow fainter and less frequent. Mr. W. L. Yancey, to be sure, threatens to secede; but the country can get along without him, and we wish him a prosperous career in foreign parts. But Governor Wise no longer proposes to seize the Treasury at Washington,—perhaps because Mr. Buchanan has left so little in it. The old Mumbo-Jumbo is occasionally paraded at the North, but, however many old women may be frightened, the pulse of the stock-market remains provokingly calm. General Cushing, infringing the patent-right of the late Mr. James the novelist, has seen a solitary horseman on the edge of the horizon. The exegesis of the vision has been various, some thinking that it means a Military Despot,—though in that case the force of cavalry would seem to be inadequate,—and others the Pony Express. If it had been one rider on two horses, the application would have been more general and less obscure. In fact, the old cry of Disunion has lost its terrors, if it ever had any, at the North. The South itself seems to have become alarmed at its own scarecrow, and speakers there are beginning to assure their hearers that the election of Mr. Lincoln will do them no harm. We entirely agree with them, for it will save them from themselves.

To believe any organized attempt by the Republican party to disturb the existing internal policy of the Southern States possible presupposes a manifest absurdity. Before anything of the kind could take place, the country must be in a state of forcible revolution. But there is no premonitory symptom of any such convulsion, unless we except Mr. Yancy, and that gentleman’s throwing a solitary somerset will hardly turn the continent head over heels. The administration of Mr. Lincoln will be conservative, because no government is ever intentionally otherwise, and because power never knowingly undermines the foundation on which it rests. All that the Free States demand is that influence in the councils of the nation to which they are justly entitled by their population, wealth, and intelligence. That these elements of prosperity have increased more rapidly among them than in communities otherwise organized, with greater advantages of soil, climate, and mineral productions, is certainly no argument that they are incapable of the duties of efficient and prudent administration, however strong a one it may be for their endeavoring to secure for the Territories the single superiority that has made them what they are. The object of the Republican party is not the abolition of African slavery, but the utter extirpation of dogmas which are the logical sequence of the attempts to establish its righteousness and wisdom, and which would serve equally well to justify the enslavement of every white man unable to protect himself. They believe that slavery is a wrong morally, a mistake politically, and a misfortune practically, wherever it exists; that it has nullified our influence abroad and forced us to compromise with our better instincts at home; that it has perverted our government from its legitimate objects, weakened the respect for the laws by making them the tools of its purposes, and sapped the faith of men in any higher political morality than interest or any better statesmanship than chicane. They mean in every lawful way to hem it within its present limits.

We are persuaded that the election of Mr. Lincoln will do more than anything else to appease the excitement of the country. He has proved both his ability and his integrity; he has had experience enough in public affairs to make him a statesman, and not enough to make him a politician. That he has not had more will be no objection to him in the eyes of those who have seen the administration of the experienced public functionary whose term of office is just drawing to a close. He represents a party who know that true policy is gradual in its advances, that it is conditional and not absolute, that it must deal with fact and not with sentiments, but who know also that it is wiser to stamp out evil in the spark than to wait till there is no help but in fighting fire with fire. They are the only conservative party, because they are the only one based on an enduring principle, the only one that is not willing to pawn tomorrow for the means to gamble with today. They have no hostility to the South, but a determined one to doctrines of whose ruinous tendency every day more and more convinces them.

The encroachments of Slavery upon our national policy have been like those of a glacier in a Swiss valley. Inch by inch, the huge dragon with his glittering scales and crests of ice coils itself onward, an anachronism of summer, the relic of a bygone world where such monsters swarmed. But it has its limit, the kindlier forces of Nature work against it, and the silent arrows of the sun are still, as of old, fatal to the frosty Python. Geology tells us that such enormous devastators once covered the face of the earth, but the benignant sunlight of heaven touched them, and they faded silently, leaving no trace but here and there the scratches of their talons, and the gnawed boulders scattered where they made their lair. We have entire faith in the benignant influence of Truth, the sunlight of the moral world, and believe that slavery, like other worn-out systems, will melt gradually before it. ‘All the earth cries out upon Truth, and the heaven blesseth it; ill works shake and tremble at it, and with it is no unrighteous thing.'”


 The Atlantic Monthly; “The Election in November”; James Russell Lowell; October 1860:

Benjamin Butler: The Yankee Who Voted For Jefferson Davis

Benjamin Butler was a Massachusetts Senator who served as a Union General during the Civil War.

Despite the fact that he was a Democrat and a Northerner, during the 1860 National Democratic Convention in Charleston, Butler voted 57 times in favor of nominating Jefferson Davis as the Democratic presidential candidate.

Much to the dismay of his colleagues, Butler declared himself a friend of southern rights and reasoned that only a Southern moderate could keep the Democratic party from splitting.

Benjamin Butler Harpers Weekly June 1 1861

Illustration of Benjamin Butler published in Harper’s Weekly on June 1, 1861

Yet, when the Civil War broke out exactly a year later, Butler insisted he was on the Union’s side, declaring: “I was always a friend of southern rights but an enemy of southern wrongs.”

Due to Butler’s lack of military experience, he quickly found himself in trouble as a result of his many military blunders, such as his defeat at the Battle of Big Bethel and his mismanagement at Petersburg and Fort Fisher.

Ulysses S. Grant recalled Butler from his command and he was reassigned to the post of military commander of New Orleans in early 1862. There, Butler found himself at the center of controversy when Southerners accused him of brutal treatment of civilians after he hanged a protestor who had ripped up a Union flag, censored southern papers, ordered soldiers to treat women protestors like prostitutes, allegedly looted homes and confiscated personal property of Confederate supporters, all of which earned him the nickname “The Beast of New Orleans.”

General Benjamin Butler Holding the Mob in Check at New Orleans

Illustration of General Benjamin Butler holding the mob in check at New Orleans

Ironically, in December of 1862, Jefferson Davis and Butler’s paths crossed again, this time when Davis, now President of the Confederacy, declared Benjamin Butler a felon due to his mistreatment of New Orleans citizens and called for his capture and execution:

“Now, there, I, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, and in their name do pronounce and declare that the said Benjamin Butler to be a felon deserving of capital punishment. I do order that he shall no longer be considered or treated simply as a public enemy of the Confederate States of America, but as an outlaw and common enemy of mankind, and that, in the event of his capture, the officer of the capturing force do cause him to be immediately executed by hanging…”

Fortunately, Davis never got the chance to carry out his orders as President Lincoln removed the troublesome Butler from his command that same month and reassigned him to Virginia the following year, where he later recruited Elizabeth Van Lew as a spy for the Union army.

After the Civil War ended, Butler returned to politics and served as a U.S. Congressman in 1878 and Governor of Massachusetts in 1882 before he unsuccessfully ran for president in 1884.


“Slavery in the United States: A Social, Political, And Historical Encyclopedia, Volume 2″; Junius P. Rodriguez; 2007

“The Dictionary of Biographical Quotation of British and American Subjects”; Justin Wintle, Richard Kenin; 1978

“Civil War Blunders”; Clint Johnson; 1997

The Civil War Trust: Benjamin Butler:

Central Intelligence Agency: Intelligence Collection – The North:; Confederacy’s President Davis declares Union General a Felon:

New York Times; The Beast in the Big Easy; Terry L. Jones; May 18 2012:

Mary Elizabeth Bowser: Spy of the Confederate White House

Mary Elizabeth Bowser was a slave who later became a spy for the Union army during the Civil War.

Born as Mary Elizabeth Richards, sometime around the year 1839, she was a slave of John Van Lew of Virginia. After John Van Lew died in 1843, or 1851 (sources differ on the exact date), Elizabeth Van Lew and her daughter, also named Elizabeth, freed all of the family’s slaves, despite the fact that John Van Lew’s will didn’t allow it, according to a New York Times article:

“Mary’s freedom was likely de facto, not de jure, at least until after the war: both Virginia state law and stipulations in her husband’s will impeded Mrs. Van Lew from legally manumitting any of her family slaves.”

Bowser remained with the Van Lew family and worked as their servant. In the late 1850s, the elder Elizabeth Van Lew sent Bowser to be educated at a Quaker school for African Americans in Philadelphia. Bowser later spent her teenage years as a missionary in Africa, before returning to Virginia in 1860 where she married Wilson Bowser the following year.

Mary Bowser Union Spy

Mary Bowser, Union Spy

When the younger Elizabeth Van Lew began working as a Union spy during the Civil War, Mary Elizabeth Bowser assisted her in her intelligence gathering, as Van Lew described in her diary:

“When I open my eyes in the morning, I say to the servant, ‘What news, Mary?’ and my caterer never fails! Most generally our reliable news is gathered from negroes, and they certainly show wisdom, discretion and prudence which is wonderful.”

Since Van Lew was a prominent member of Richmond society, she was able to obtain a servant position for Bowser at parties held by Varina Davis, the wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. This then led to a full-time position as a servant at the Confederate White House in Richmond. During Bowser’s time there, she used her education and photographic memory to gather intelligence by reading military documents left out on desks or tables and eavesdropping on conversations. She then delivered the information to a baker named Thomas McNiven who made daily deliveries to the house. McNiven later described his activities in conversations with his daughter Jeannette:

Van Lew Mansion circa 1900-1910

Van Lew Mansion in Richmond, circa 1900-1910

“Miss Van Lew was my best source. She had contacts everywhere. Her colored girl Mary [Elizabeth Bowser] was the best as she was working right in Davis’ home and had a photographic mind. Everything she saw on the Rebel President’s desk she could repeat word for word. Unlike most colored, she could read and write. She made the point of always coming out to my wagon when I made deliveries at the Davis’ home to drop information…”

In 1865, Jefferson Davis figured out there was a spy in his house and eventually suspected Bowser, although it is not known how or why. According to the book “African American Lives,” Mary’s last act as a spy was an unsuccessful attempt to burn down the Confederate White House.

There is very little information of what became of Bowser after the war ended. Like most spies, any information or documents about Bowser’s spy activities were destroyed by federal officials after the war in order to protect her identity.

Bowser allegedly kept a diary, which was discovered by one of her descendants in 1952, but according to an article by NPR, it was inadvertently discarded:

“And she [Mary Elizabeth Bowser] left a diary, a diary that McEva Bowser may have found in 1952 when her husband’s mother died. McEva Bowser: ‘I was cleaning her room and… I ran across a diary but I never had a diary and I didn’t even realize what it was… And I did keep coming across (references to) Mr. Davis. And the only Davis I could think of was the contractor who had been doing some work at the house. And the first time I came across it I threw it aside and said I would read it again. Then I started to talk to my husband about it but I felt it would depress him. So the next time I came across it I just pitched it in the trash can.'”

A recent article in the New York Times suggests that after the war ended, Bowser gave public lectures about her time as a spy, using a false name to protect her identity:

White House of the Confederacy - 1201 East Clay Street - Richmond  Virginia - April 1865

The Confederate White House at 1201 East Clay Street in Richmond, circa April 1865

“On Sept. 10, 1865, The New York Times published a notice for a ‘Lecture by a Colored Lady': ‘Miss RICHMONIA RICHARDS, recently from Richmond, where she has been engaged in organizing schools for the freedmen, and has also been connected with the secret service of our government, will give a description of her adventures, on Monday evening, at the Abyssinian Baptist Church.’ There can be little doubt that this was Bowser. And yet, as the use of a pseudonym suggests, she was consciously constructing a public persona. Reporting on the talk, the New York-based newspaper the Anglo African described Richards as ‘very sarcastic and … quite humorous.’”

The same article states that Bowser also met Harriet Beecher Stowe in Georgia in 1867, when Bowser was running a school for African Americans, and told her all about her time as a Union spy during the war.

What became of Bowser after the 1860s remains unknown. According to an article in Richmond’s Style Weekly in 2002, a historian doing research on Mary Elizabeth Bowser claimed to have found her grave in a cemetery in Richmond but refused to announce where until she received permission from Bowser’s living descendant.

In 1995, the U.S. Military inducted Bowser into the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Corps. Hall of Fame with a statement that read:

“Mrs. Bowser certainly succeeded in a highly dangerous missions to the great benefit of the Union effort. She was one of the highest-placed and most productive espionage agents of the Civil War.”


“African Americans in the Military;” Catherine Reef; 2010

“African American Lives”; edited by Henry Louis Gates, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham; 2004

Richmond Style Weekly; History Mystery; Brandon Walters; July 2002:

Civil War Richmond: McNiven Recollections:

Harper’s Magazine; Miss Van Lew; William Gilmore Beymer; June 1911:

NPR: The Spy Who Served Me:

New York Times: A Black Spy in the Confederate White House; Lois Leveen; June 21 2012: