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Every now and then I get a hit from someone looking for the Korean Stamp Album. I sent it to my ex, and she says it was stolen. So don't buy it if it comes up for sale somewhere.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Morris Greenwall, Confederate Secret Detective

"Lieutenant Greenwall" by Matthew Brady
Library of Congress ca 1865

Born on January 3rd, 1838, in New Orleans, Morris Greenwall was the son of German Jewish immigrants who arrived in America the previous year. Little is known of his life before 1860, when he was listed on the census as a twenty year-old store clerk. He had two brothers, Henry and Phillip. All three enlisted in Louisiana Confederate regiments in 1861, Morris serving in Virginia as a lieutenant in the 10th Louisiana Infantry. After the war, the brothers went into the brokerage business in Galveston. In 1867, they had the opportunity to invest in a theater, remaining partners until Morris emigrated to Australia around 1880. Undistinguished soldiers, Henry and Phillip left very little in the way of Civil War records, but Morris was the kind of officer novelists invent. We are not talking about his gallantry in action, but rather his undercover work. In that role, as a secret and special detective, he chased down deserters and murderers, only to become a deserter himself from the Army of Northern Virginia. From there he sojourned in Texas and even traveled to New York City. A month after his arrival there, Confederate agents set parts of the city on fire in the wake of the November 1864 elections. After that, we have no more word of him until the end of the war. In 1865, as if caught in the act of some new escapade, he posed for photographer Matthew Brady. Wearing his Confederate uniform, complete with kid gloves, Greenwall looks a bit anxious. Brady identified him as "Lieutenant Greenwall," but the bars on his collar are those of a captain. He carries no sidearms, while his wrinkled uniform, possibly just taken out of a steamer trunk, is said to be consistent with Louisiana Confederate service. Though he looks much older, Greenwall was only twenty-five.

How does a store clerk from New Orleans become a secret detective at such a young age? The opportunities to learn such detective skills in the army would seem to be limited. Perhaps those skills were honed in hundreds of bargaining sessions in the shops and warehouses along the waterfronts of the Crescent City. While Greenwall's move from the army to detective work might simply involve no more than a routine transfer, it could have involved something more. In this light, an interesting fact about 1860 New Orleans ought to be considered. A closer look at the census shows that Greenwall had a very well-connected neighbor, none other than United States Senator Judah P. Benjamin. Choosing to side with the Confederacy, Benjamin held a series of cabinet posts in the Jefferson Davis administration, including secretary of war and secretary of state. That certainly raises the possibility that Benjamin knew Greenwall and took him under his wing.

From newspaper accounts of the time, we know that after resigning his commission in February 1862, the young Greenwall became a detective for the provost marshal of Richmond. A little over a year later, he was appointed to a unique position, one he would hold until January 1864. Once this commission expired, Greenwall was suddenly subject to conscription. Though still carried on the rolls of the 10th Louisiana, his records also show that he was conscripted into the Louisiana Zouaves, a regiment known for its gaudy uniforms patterned after French North African troops. Greenwall did not serve long in the trenches of Petersburg, deserting within a few months. Since his military records give his place of birth as Germany, which contradicts his passport application. Aliens were not subject to the draft, thus that he was conscripted probably means his birth in New Orleans was already a matter of record.

From the time of his resignation in 1862 until he turned up in Texas in April 1864, Greenwall managed to cram a lifetime of adventures into a very short space. After New Orleans fell to the Federals, one would expect Greenwall to have no business being there since he was still in the Confederate service. Yet his name appears on the passenger list of the steamer Marion, plying the waters between New Orleans and New York in September 1862. The ship made regular runs back and forth, often stopping in the West Indies, where Greenwall might have boarded her. Since he was at the time in the pay of the Richmond provost marshal (head of the military police in modern terms), we have to consider that Detective Greenwall may well have been on a secret mission.  Perhaps he was pretending to be a deserter. Otherwise, his use of his own name is hard to explain. Whatever business he was about, it must have gone well, for the next we hear of him, Greenwall was up for a very substantial promotion.

In June 1863, Secretary of War Seddon wrote a letter accepting Greenwall for a position as a "secret and special detective" for the Bureau of Conscription. His mission was to hunt down deserters and investigate fraud, graft and corruption, not only in the bureau, but in similar matters for the entire Confederacy east of the Mississippi. Seddon urged that Greenwall not be limited to the bureau, but should answer to" higher authority," presumably meaning that he would answer to no one but a cabinet-level official, such as Seddon himself. This was quite a move up from gum-shoeing the beats of the Eastern District of Richmond. Of all the cases he may have been involved in over the next year, we only know of one for certain. Still, we have some very interesting gossip about another possible case. Both were quite routine.

Several years after the war, an article of interest to our story ran in a Southern magazine. The author had been held prisoner in Richmond's notorious Castle Thunder, a jail where suspected spies ended up, including Dr. Mary Walker. A female surgeon, the only one in fact, the Confederate authorities held her there under suspicion of military espionage in 1864. The author of the piece made her acquaintance, and described her perfectly, lending credence to his recollection of another character unlucky enough to do time there. In 1863, before Walker was captured in Georgia, Castle Thunder was temporary home to an "Englishman" named Captain Greenwall. The story he told was that he had been an English officer who sailed for Charleston, South Carolina, earlier in the year, intending to volunteer for Confederate military service. Like so many other talented officers from Europe, Captain Greenwall was readily accepted, in his case into the Confederate Corps of Engineers. For whatever reason, the captain had come under suspicion and been arrested, finding himself a prisoner at Castle Thunder. Even though he was never able to prove his British service, for no apparent reason he was eventually released. Unwilling to rejoin an army that had so badly mistreated him, so the story went, he soon disappeared, never to be heard from again. It would be no stretch to conclude that this was none other than Secret Detective Morris Greenwall, engaged in spying on the prison inmates. (Planting a snitch in military prisons was a common practice on both sides during the Civil War.) The "Englishman" was remembered as a cultured and handsome young man, something a contemporary Richmond paper also said about Detective Greenewall, even to the point of using the word "urbane."

As previously mentioned, there was one well-documented case involving our detective. It stemmed from the sort of crime that might have been written up in the pulp fiction magazines of later decades. Two Confederate deserters in the Charleston area had drugged a landlady and beat her senseless, making off with her considerable stash of coins. The victim died of her wounds, and Detective Greenwall was put on the case. Getting their descriptions from the druggist who sold them the chloroform, Greenwall tracked the perps to Alabama and brought them back in irons. A short newspaper article from 1864 relates that one of them was hanged for the crime. The fate of his partner was no doubt the same, but their use of aliases makes this difficult to follow up.

Following Greenwall after the Charleston murder is even harder because of the strong possibility that he did not always use his own name. We do know that his commission with the Bureau of Conscription expired in January 1864. At that point he became liable to conscription himself. Though still being carried on the rolls of the 10th Louisiana, his records show that he was almost immediately conscripted into the Louisiana Zouaves, in front of Petersburg, Virginia, in early March. Apparently, this was too much for the slippery sleuth, for he deserted (officially listed as AWOL on June 29, 1864) and turned up in Texas in April. We know this because a lieutenant in charge of conscription in one Texas county relayed orders by letter to another county conscript officer. Those orders were to investigate Morris Greenwall as to his status under the draft laws because his commission as a special detective had expired. Slippery as ever, Greenwall disappeared again. Where he turned up next is so outrageous as to invite disbelief.

On the 25th of October, 1864, Morris Greenwall applied for a passport in New York City. A local citizen even vouched for his loyalty to the United States. Greenwall gave his complete date of birth and the place as New Orleans, which is the only reason why we know it. This was not some random event or the doings of an impostor. The signature on the passport exactly matches Greenwall's signature on his pay vouchers from his days as a detective in Richmond. Exactly one month later, Confederate agents set fire to a hotel in New York, along with several other locations. The fire spread, killing some people, and even P.T. Barnum's Museum was not exempt. (Some believed the museum was targeted deliberately because Barnum had hired Union spy Pauline Cushman to give lectures on her exploits behind the lines.) Lieutenant Robert Cobb Kennedy, one of the Confederate agents, was later captured while returning to America from Canada at Detroit. Kennedy claimed that his gang never intended to cause loss of life, but to no avail. He was the last Confederate to be executed during the war, and in fact, his role in the arson was very badly caricatured in a BBC America series called "Copper." To allege that Greenwall played any role in this would be pure speculation, but he was certainly there in October, posing as a loyal citizen and using his own name.

Greenwall then disappeared again, and the best evidence for how he ended his Confederate service is his photograph. Matthew Brady took three shots of him in uniform, and the original plates are now in the Library of Congress. The lieutenant's lack of sidearms almost certainly proves that he was a prisoner of war.  Judging by the look on his face, he seems worried, but he need not have been. A blanket amnesty was offered to any Confederates willing to come in by a date certain and take an ironclad loyalty oath to the United States. This amnesty applied to virtually all soldiers, no matter what they might have done during the war.  Greenwall may have taken the oath and been paroled as a prisoner of war, but no record of this has surfaced. We have his passport application from a place he had no legal right to be, yet we have no record of his surrender, parole or oath to the United States.  If he was actually a double agent, then everything falls neatly into place. When the previously mentioned Lieutenant Kennedy was caught trying to slip back into the United States, the detectives knew he was coming and were waiting for him.  According to the abstracts of Kennedy's trial, someone had tipped them off. Could that someone have been Greenwall?

Whatever Greenwall may have been up to during the last year of the war, he came home to New Orleans and went into the brokerage business with his brothers Henry and Phillip. We might never have heard from them again but for an opportunity that presented itself in 1867. That was the year the brothers became theater managers, leasing one property, and planning to build another. Their first season was hardly successful, but a year later they were booking the likes of Fannie Brice and Belle Boyd. A drama queen if ever there was one, Boyd's role in the Civil War has been discounted by modern historians as exaggerated. While her intelligence gathering in Virginia played a minimal role in Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign of 1862, it nevertheless made her famous. Cashing in on the fame, she wrote her autobiography in 1865 and took to the stage, where she was enormously popular in the South. Ex-Confederate generals the likes of Nathan Bedford Forrest and a host of his staff sent her roses when she played Memphis in 1867. Forrest and friends also wrote a letter of admiration which they sent to the local newspapers. It made perfect sense for the Greenwalls to book Belle Boyd, but something went very wrong.

Miss Boyd walked off the stage in Galveston in January 1869, but not before telling the audience she had been deceived by the Brothers Greenwall and their agent/manager/leading man, a Mr. R. D'Orsay Ogden. Morris Greenwall, she said, had reneged on a contract for her to play a long engagement in Galveston. In lieu of that, she had been kept waiting for a month, then offered a limited booking of two or three evenings in Houston. At that point, Greenwall had come to her dressing room, used abusive language, then struck (read slapped?) her. The diva responded by pulling a dagger and using some salty language herself. Mr. Ogden wrote the Greenwall's version of events to the local newspapers the next day, prompting Boyd to write her own letter to the press the day after Ogden's was published. Depending on whom one believed, she had either been fired or quit, or both.  Boyd's run-in with the Greewalls would shadow her long after the incident. Written years later, one lurid newspaper account even recalled, perhaps erroneously, that she had pulled a pistol on Ogden, chasing him around the theater. When Morris Greenwall tried to intervene, she took after him as well, and the two men fled in terror to a nearby hotel. The writer, a Texan, went on to dismiss Boyd's talents as an actress, adding that she was an even worse "authoress." The high-strung Boyd would later spend some time in a "lunatic asylum" in California, where she gave birth to a child. About this time, she divorced her English husband (though by some accounts he died) and remarried. This series of events gave newspaper writers the notion that she was a loose cannon, whose acting talents were far less appreciated in other parts of the country. That opinion was especially true of  the acerbic drama critics of New York City. Though much of Boyd's troubles happened after her run-in with the Greenwalls, her bad reviews in the North were already in print. Simply stated, her temper may well have been the deciding factor in why the brothers were determined not to let her play Galveston for more than two nights.

Belle Boyd

The Greenwalls booked acts all through the 1870s, but for some unknown reason, Morris emigrated to Australia after 1880. A ship's passenger list from the time gives his occupation as "actor", as if being a theater owner was somehow less impressive. Yet he continued in his regular business and booked Lily Langry, one of the most famous actresses of her day. She was set to tour the land down under in 1885, but cancelled at the last minute, claiming scheduling conflicts. An outraged Greenwall booked passage on a steamer for San Francisco, intending to sue Langtry for breach of contract. A very sick man at the time, Greenwall even had his attorney draw up papers on the voyage, saying that if he were to die, Miss Langtry was to blame. Once ashore, Greenwall fulfilled his own prophecy by dying within weeks. Ex-Confederate detective, possible turncoat, and longtime theater owner, Morris Greenwall departed this this world on March 13, 1885 in San Francisco. Although the location of his grave is unknown, he was most likely buried locally since his funeral was set for the 15th. 

Lily Langtry

Lieutenant (or was it Captain?) Morris Greenwall is one of those little-known shady characters from the Civil War and Reconstruction Era whose story ought to be told. There surely must be a book in it for anyone willing to do the necessary research. What has been condensed here probably represents one tenth of what could be found in newspaper archives, libraries, and court documents. The unanswered questions about his Civil War career make us suspect that he might have been "turned" in 1864, or even earlier, to work for the Union side. Surely that would not have made his life in Texas an easy one had it been known. When Belle Boyd wrote her stinging letter to the New Orleans Picayune, she slandered him by saying that he had "vegetated" in Mexico during the war. We know that to be an outright lie, so Greewall's apparent silence in his own defense is puzzling indeed. As previously mentioned, no postwar record of his ever taking the oath to the United States exists, nor any parole record, nor any record of his having been held as a prisoner of war at the close of hostilities. All of this could be explained if he had indeed gone over to the Union side, allowing him to travel with impunity from New Orleans to New York and back. Who knows what other adventures and cases might come to light from an investigation of as yet undiscovered records?

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Not All Stories Concern My Ancestors

The following story was pieced together from letters, Civil War service records, internet postings, and genealogical records. The letters written by Bessie Hopkins Myers are a treasure that might never have seen the light of day had I not stumbled onto them using Fold3. Regrettably, the John Myers to whom those letters were written cannot have been the John Myers I was searching for. I had been trying to learn more about that John Myers, whose CDV was in an old photo album from the 19th century, an album I inherited years ago. However, since it is almost unheard of to find letters from home in a Civil War soldier's records, I followed the trail to discover who this other John Myers might have been. The odds are staggering that these letters would not only be found, but also tell a story of family drama that illustrates just how deeply the Civil War divided the nation. John Myers and George Hopkins, related through John's step-mother, who happened to be George's older sister, were living in the same house in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1860. John chose the Confederate cause, while George chose the Union, both of them serving in their respective navies. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Dear Boy, Do You Long To See Me?

After Savannah fell to Sherman's army in December 1864, a Presbyterian minister who made his living as a teacher had the opportunity to leave. Yet Joseph Henry Myers, age 46, a native New Yorker brought up in the Northeast, decided to stay. His 31 year-old wife, hardly a Southern sympathizer, packed up, taking their youngest son home with her to Massachusetts. They arrived there almost a month to the day after Savannah fell. The young woman's relationship with her step-son, a prisoner of war at the time, opens up a window on the Civil War that dry history books seldom match. The Reverend Myers had quite a family, and it is their fascinating story that takes us from the antebellum slave auctions of South Carolina to a prison camp in 1865 Maryland, and, ultimately, to covert operations in the starlit bays and inlets of revolutionary Cuba during the 1890s.

John Wheeler Myers was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1847. He grew up in St. Augustine, Florida, where his mother, Ellen, would die in 1854. The Reverend Joseph Myers then spent some time pastoring a church in New Jersey, where he married a young woman in her twenties. Elizabeth "Bessie" Hopkins was the daughter of the Reverend Samuel Hopkins, not to be confused with the Colonial Era Congregationalist of the same name. Bessie was also first cousin to John's deceased mother. As will be seen, the Hopkins family included some prominent abolitionists. Yet, according to the 1860 census, the Reverend Myers was worth $38,000, difficult to account for if he owned no slaves. By the time the Civil War broke out, the Myers family had lived so long in the South that their oldest son regarded himself as a Southerner. John never wavered from that loyalty, taking it with him to his grave. It speaks well of his extended family that they apparently didn't disown the boy for his Rebel stand.

The Rev. Myers described himself as an O.S. Presbyterian Minister on the 1860 census. "Old School" meant that his theology was conservative, rather than liberal or modernist. Schisms over slavery didn't affect this wing of the Presbyterian denomination as deeply as they did other Protestants, making it possible for clergymen like Myers to remain in the South after the war broke out.

No doubt the rest of John's relatives on both sides of the family lived in the North, thus any men of military age would have served in the Union armies or navies. In fact, at least one relative did. In 1860, George W. Hopkins, Bessie's younger brother, was living with them in St. Augustine. He later joined the US Navy as an acting assistant surgeon, serving until after the end of the war. Other members of the Hopkins family probably enlisted as well.

Bessie had an uncle, Erastus, who had been active in the Underground Railroad. Long before the war, Erastus Hopkins had lived some years in Charleston, South Carolina, and had even written tracts on the subject of colonization of free blacks to Africa. At the Republican national convention in 1856, Hopkins had called for bullets, if ballots failed to win emancipation of the slave population. It must, therefore, have come as a great shock to the Myers-Hopkins extended family, not to mention Joseph and Bessie, when sixteen-year-old Johnny joined the Confederate Navy at Charleston in December 1863. They may have found out after the fact, since John was in Monticello, Florida, at the time he decided to enlist. Whether the family was living in Savannah by then is not known, but John's route, if he traveled by land, would have taken him through there.

Few records of John's service exist. He would long afterward claim to have been wounded in the leg in December 1863 on Morris Island, site of the legendary Fort Wagner, featured in the movie "Glory." He  would also claim to have been wounded while trying to escape from his captors in February 1865, but we have no official records of either instance. What little do we know comes mostly from his Florida Confederate pension application.

John's capture was the result of an unfortunate series of circumstances. His military files give few details, listing his unit as "SC Marines," a confusing way to classify a sailor. John would write that he had been on furlough when he was captured near Orangeburg, South Carolina, on February 11, 1865. Being that far in the interior probably means he was en route to Savannah through that part of South Carolina under Confederate control. However, Sherman's army was moving through the area at the time, slowed down by boggy swamps, flooded rice paddies, and stubborn Confederate resistance. Casualties piled up in a series of small actions at every bridge and ford along the Edisto River. John's records, such as they are, state that he was captured at a place called "Penn's Bridge." This seems likely to have been Horse Pen Bridge, on the Edisto near Branchville. John was taken to New Bern, North Carolina, then shipped to Point Lookout Prison, Maryland, where he arrived on April 3, 1865. At the same time, Robert E. Lee was evacuating Petersburg and Richmond, amidst chaos, fire and unmitigated disaster. Lee would surrender his army on April 9, the day before our story picks up. Tantalizing details of John's circumstances are contained in provocative letters written to him by his step-mother.

John's experience as a prisoner of war lasted a little over three months. He may have been recovering from a wound, and he was almost certainly despondent. His cause was lost, along with his liberty, and he might well have owned no more than the clothes on his back. It must have been a tremendous relief to hear from his step-mother, but that consolation came with a price. Lee had surrendered his army, and Bessie was insistent that John take the loyalty oath to the United Sates and come North, the sooner the better. In the meantime, she had sent him a carpet bag loaded with an odd assortment of things, some very necessary, others small luxuries. The rules of the POW camp no doubt required a list of contents for incoming packages, or we would never know what Bessie sent her captive Johnny Reb. Life at Point Lookout in 1864 was captured forever in a series of watercolors, captioned like newspaper cartoons, by a prisoner named Omenhausser. One of them shows a ragged group of Confederates, attired in gray, blue, red and brown, waiting for their mail at the camp post office, actually a large tent. Another shows men in similar garb lining up to take the oath the the United States, something John would have to do before he could hope to be released.

To date, no copy of John's oath, urged on him by his step-mother, has been found. We do have a copy of an order for his release dated May 2, 1865, stating that he is to report to the provost marshal at Baltimore, before being allowed to travel to New York. Supposedly, John took the oath on the same day. Yet when he filed for a pension in Florida in 1910, the War Department wrote his pension board that he had signed the oath on March 2, obviously a clerical error. That slight error held up John's pension for some time. Southern states were very averse to granting pensions to any ex-Confederate who had deserted, been AWOL for a long period of time, or who had taken the oath to the US prior to Lee's surrender. Another problem was John's claim to have been a resident of Florida since 1851, something his occupation as a master mariner made difficult to prove. He had certainly lived in Florida since 1882, but somewhere during that time he had lost all his papers in a fire. Eventually, the bureaucrats got it all straightened out and John received his pension. An old sailor who had been known to run guns, dynamite, and rebels to Cuban insurrectionists in the years leading up to the Spanish-American War, Captain John Myers must have led a very interesting life.

After John died in St Agustine in 1913, his widow then filed a pension claim, which was accepted. Florida "Florence" Myers lived until 1917, survived by at least two adopted daughters. During all this time, John had been an active member of the United Confederate Veterans organization in Florida. Partly due to their help, and partly due to a willingness on the part of the War Department to set the record straight, the old couple had been spared the grinding poverty many elderly people suffered during those times. All that being said, the real drama of John W. Myers and his family had occurred almost fifty years earlier, a drama only hinted at in the letters John received during his captivity.

What strikes this blogger as odd about those letters written by John's step-mother is her unfeigned and somewhat disturbing affection for him. She was thirty-one at the time of his capture, while he was not yet eighteen. The soap opera elements are all there--a family of clergymen in mid-Victorian New England-- a family with a black sheep in the Confederate Navy, wounded and a prisoner of war, while all hell is raining down on the defeated South. Then we have this, perhaps enamored, young step-mother, whose considerably older husband had remained at his teaching post in Savannah. All the while, Sherman was investing the city, burning, consuming, or carrying off so much that lay in his path. However, the only melodrama hinted at in the letters centers on Bessie's fear that her Dear Johhny might not want to take the oath and come North, and how his relatives might react to him if he did. Nonetheless, the real high point of the drama comes right at the beginning of the letters. After having had no word from him for four months, she and the family finally learned in April that John was alive and a prisoner of war. The rest of the story takes place offstage. What did happen to John after his release? Did he indeed go to Northampton and take his chances on a chilly reception in the wake of the Lincoln Assassination?

Northampton was home to two different schools of abolitionists, one pacifistic, the other militant. As mentioned above, Erastus Hopkins was an outspoken Republican who wasn't above using violent means to end slavery. One would expect John's step-mother to at least mention the emancipation issue, but instead, her clarion call is that the war is all but over. If John were to be exchanged and sent back to the Confederacy, "... by your lone self you would be very desolate..." Meanwhile, everybody else in the South was sure to take the oath to the U.S. "Peace will very soon be restored under the old order of things..." seems to imply she looked for a status quo ante, with no punishment meted out to the conquered South. Surely Johnny must see the light and come North, rather than fight to the death. Four days before Lincoln was assassinated, it seemed reasonable for her to believe that life could now go on as before, almost as if nothing had ever happened. She even advises her Johnny to be careful how he speaks to his Northern relatives, saying that he should try to act "... as if nothing particular had happened..." and to "be very reserved in speaking of our experience during these last four years." Toward the end of her letter of April 12th, she confides that she has reasons that she can't state openly in a letter. She also repeats her belief that the peace will return things to the way they were before the war. The greater national issues would take care of themselves; what this young woman wanted was something far more immediate and tangible. "I want you."

Bessie sounds very much like a woman in love when she writes "Dear boy, do you long to see me, as I do to see you, I wonder, and will you come to me soon? I felt today as if I must fly to you as soon as I heard the news... now I want you to promise me one thing, which is that as soon as you are released, you will come to me here first. I have many very good reasons for this request, the first of which is I love you best and hope you love me best, and aside from this, I understand your thoughts and feelings, and can sympathize with you and explain things to you better than anyone else." On the surface, she seems to be saying, "I can understand why you took a Rebel stand, but I can talk you out of that, knowing you as well as I do." Perhaps nothing deeper is meant, yet it would be a stretch to presume that a teenage boy, even in that era, would feel comfortable being on the receiving end of such purple prose.

As to the question of how the letters survived, or why John left them in Federal hands, could it be that John simply never even bothered to open them? All soldiers pine with eager anticipation for letters from home, making us wonder what makes these letters any different. Other letters are alluded to in them, making it tempting to conclude that John took the ones he wanted to keep and left the rest behind. Consider this, however; the envelope dated April 13th has "Too long" written on it. Also note that "Too long by far  ACP" is written on page 3 of the letter dated April 12th. "ACP" can be understood (from John's release order) as Assistant Commissary of Prisoners. These comments could easily have been written by an officer at the POW camp, stating his reason for not allowing the letters to be given to John. The young parolee might well have "taken the cars" to New York, never knowing about the letters. If so, did he ever receive the carpet bag full of needful things, sent with so much love?

What awaited John in Northampton is anyone's guess, given Bessie's strong admonition to keep his lips buttoned while there. Reminding the family of his wartime experiences would only cause trouble. Yet Bessie's advice to be circumspect, wise though it may have been, was only as good as John's ability to follow through. If he did visit Northampton, he probably didn't stay long, nor did Bessie, apparently. The 1870 census shows Joseph, Elizabeth, and nine year-old Peter living in Ulster County, New York, while John was no doubt already somewhere out to sea. Yet he obviously kept in touch, for his pension claim states that he married Florence in Ulster County, New York, in 1874. By 1882 he was back in St. Augustine.

John managed to get his name in the papers a few times in 1896-97 for his alleged involvement in running guns to Cuban rebels. This was called filibustering, and it violated US neutrality laws. The one time he was caught, John had paperwork to show that he had actually gone out to rescue the passengers and crew of one of the ships that had been impounded. In all likelihood, he was actually transferring cargo and Cuban rebels from one ship to another. Somehow, his story was accepted and he was released. Still, the upshot of all the newspaper articles mentioning filibustering is that John was involved in it up to his neck. He captained two ships during this time, a tug named Dauntless and a light draft schooner named Tortugas. Dauntless, judging by the publicity she generated, was the most famous ship involved in the gun-running. At this point, we lose track of John, but for his pension claim and his tombstone, neither of which even vaguely hints at our drama of a house divided.

The Civil War did indeed divide families. It made enemies out of friends and lovers out of enemies. All civil wars do so, and this story has no shortage of that same high drama. And, as if that weren't enough, it also has a hint of William Faulkner and Eugene O'Neill. Bessie's letters may betray no more than a step-mother's longing to be reunited with a boy who fought on the "wrong" side in a war often characterized as "brother against brother." Yet it seems far more natural to suppose that the love she professed was born out of a romanticism that did not quite die for good in that long ago April of 1865.


                                                             Notes and Transcriptions

Scans from the POW records of John W. Myers courtesy of Fold3

Here is a bit of genealogy gleaned from old newspapers.

Bessie Hopkins Myers, John's step-mother, was the daughter of the Rev. Samuel Hopkins,  who authored a book called History of the Puritans, along with a few religious tracts. There were many clerics who shared the same name,  including the Rev. Samuel Hopkins of Newport, Rhode Island, who began the African Colonization movement in 1773. Another Rev. Samuel Hopkins was the Hyde professor of theology at Auburn College in New York state. However, our Rev. Samuel Hopkins was the son of Rev. John Hopkins who died in Northampton in 1842. His father was named Rev. Samuel Hopkins, of Hadley, Mass. His father was the Rev. Samuel Hopkins of West Springfield.

Bessie's father was born in 1807 and died in 1887 at age 79. His tombstone is off by one year, since an obit always trumps a tombstone when the obit is published within days of the subject's death. In 1866, after taking a vacation from the ministry, Samuel Hopkins began pastoring a church in Standish, Me. However, his original church was one he pastored at Saco, Me., before the war. Bessie's grandfather, John Hopkins, had a daughter who married the Rev. John Wheeler. Rev. Wheeler had a daughter, Ellen Isabella, who was John's real mother. She married Rev. Joseph H. Myers in Burlington, Vt., Sept. 15, 1846. (Rev. Wheeler was for several years president of the University of Vermont.) Given the date of the wedding, John ought not to have been born in 1846, as he claimed on his Florida pension application. The 1900 census gives his birth year as 1847, and the 1850 census gives his age as three years, which certainly makes more sense.

And what of George, Bessie's younger brother, who had tended to the wounded and the dying of both sides during our nation's fratricidal war? In 1890, suffering from nervous exhaustion, he was admitted to a US government hospital for disabled veterans located in Hampton, Virginia. He died there in 1902 of "morphinomania." 

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Transcription of old letters from scans is a tedious process. However, this should help readers unfamiliar with things Civil War, as well as the penmanship of the times.

List of contents of carpet bag I sent J.K.M. to be forwarded to you.
Coat, pants- vest- 4 pr socks- 2 pr drawers 2 flannel shirts- 2 white cotton shirts- 1 pr shoes, 1 hat- 1 box paper collars- 1 necktie to wear with them- 2 pocket hdkfs [handkerchiefs]. comb, toothbrush, nail brush- Castile soap- pumice soap for the hands- 2 towels. Needle book containing knife.- scissors in coat pocket. 1 testament, Harper's Monthly for Apr, 1 novel, Life for a life- Letter paper and envelopes- pen holder and 2 pens- pins- thread- needles- two or three postage stamps (all I had in the house). I believe this is all and I hope you will get it soon. E.H.M. 


Bessie H. Myers to John W. Myers
Northampton, April 10th, 1865

My Dear Dear Johnny,

How can I express to you my state of feeling, on hearing this from your Uncle John K. Myers, that you were a prisoner of war, my excitement and my joy at learning that you were safe somewhere. How many anxious thoughts your father and I have had about you, not knowing where you might be, how many letters he has sent you, how he has thought of going out in search of you, how we have all prayed for you, even little Peter, every night that "God would take care of brother Johnny and bring him safely back to us"! and now our prayers are to be answered very soon, I trust, and we shall see your face. Dear boy, do you long to see me as I do to see you, I wonder, and will you come to me soon? I felt today as if I must fly to you as soon as I heard the news, but perhaps I had better wait till I hear from you. How I shall rejoice to see your hand-writing once more after these four long months. I sent Uncle John K. $20 for you today wh I asked him to forward to you, and tomorrow I shall send you some clothes. And now I want you to promise me something, which is, that as soon as you are released, you will come to me here first. I have many very good reasons for this request, the first of which is that I understand your thoughts and feelings and can sympathize with you and explain things to you better than anyone else. Your friends will all want to see you and will be pulling you this way and that, I doubt not, but no one can blame you for wanting to come first to Mother. My father and mother will welcome you most affectionately, for your dear, departed mother's sake, for my sake, and for your own. Uncle Erastus ditto. He is rejoiced to hear that you are safe and will write to you, and see what he can do for your release. 

I arrived here Jan. 21st, and have been here since, except about four weeks when I was visiting Grandma Myers, Uncle John K., and Aunt Lucy Shedd. We remained quietly in Savannah through all the siege and capture, and your father is there still, teaching, but in another house, as the one we were in is used for a hospital. He was well when I heard last. Let me know if you want anything else than what I send. I shall try to think of everything necessary to your comfort, do you want blankets? Dear boy, how much you must have gone through these four months, and we too a little

About your release, Johnny. I am very anxious for it, but don't feel sure that it can be attained at present, unless you are willing to take the oath of allegiance to the U.S. government. I wish you would and come to me speedily; all will soon take that ground probably. I suppose you know that Richmond is taken, Lee and his whole army captured and paroled, and there will be little, if any, fighting, the end is plainly before us. Come to me, dear boy. You shall stay just as long as you like, then go to see Grandma Myers and your Aunt Lucia, if you will, and then I know your father will not object to your going to sea if you choose, or something else you may prefer. How can I wait for the answer to this letter. God Bless you.

Your loving mother,
Bessie H. Myers

A note in the margin states Direct care of Reverend Samuel Hopkins, Northampton, Mass.

The letter dated April 12th begins at the right of the page, moves down and to the left, then to the right, and ends on the left side of the first page. It should be referred to as #2.

Northampton, April 12th, 1865

My Dearest Johnny,

I cannot rest tonight without writing you a few lines. I have already sent you two letters, dated 10th and 11th, but as I had not then your full address, I fear they may not reach you; perhaps if you enquired for them you may get them. They were directed simply to J.W. Myers, a prisoner of war, Pt. Lookout, Md. I sent yesterday to your uncle J.K. to be forwarded to you, a comfortable outfit of clothes, which I hope he will send on to you immediately. I will enclose a list of what the carpet bag contained. If you want anything else, let me know immediately and I will send it on. I enclosed $20.00 to your uncle John K. as soon as I heard from him of your whereabouts, but he returned it today, saying he had already sent you money. He is very kind. If you want more, let me know dear boy, and as soon as I know that letters reach you safely, I can enclose some. I hope you will soon join me here, but I want you to have things comfortable while you remain where you are, and to be able to feel at your ease when you first present yourself to Northern friends. The coat I have sent you will, I fear, be rather short in the sleeves, but don't mind that just now, it is the fashion I believe in N.Y., and you shall have a better one when you get here. If the shirt-sleeves are too short, let me know at once, and I will contrive a remedy. I did not like to send you many or very nice things in this way, lest they might never reach you, which you can understand and appreciate, I doubt not.

I have told you in a previous letter how rejoiced I was to hear that you were safe somewhere, and now I do so long to see you, to embrace you, to comfort you, and make you comfortable, and to be comforted by you. 

Will you not consent to take the oath of allegiance to the U.S. government at once and come North as soon as you can arrange to do so? This is your mother's strong desire and will be your father's I think, as soon as he hears from you. If you hesitate about this, as I hope you may not, let me suggest as reasons for it, these; your relatives are now all on this side of the lines, and shd you be exchanged and sent back, (of which there is no present probability, I think) by your lone self you would be very desolate; then the whole country will very soon return to its old allegiance since as Richmond is taken and Lee and his army surrendered, peace must very soon be restored under the old order of things. I sd in my first letter that if you take this course I doubt not your father would consent to your going to sea if you wish it, or anything else you may prefer. I hope you will ever be very courteous to those in authority over you. I know you will cheerfully accept this and a little more advice from one who loves you so truly and tenderly, and who understands you and your peculiar mind traits, (let alone the outer ones) better than anyone except your father. 

If you are released and meet with the relatives before I see you, meet them in an affectionate, unconstrained manner, as if nothing particular had happened, but I would be very reserved in speaking of our experience during these last four years. I want you to come to me as straight as you can when you are at liberty to do so, and don't let anyone stop you on any pretext; some may wish to do so, though they wd not say so openly. Let this be hint enough to you dear boy (I cannot explain my special reasons in a letter, aside from the first of all that I want you, I want to see you and talk with you). I do not demand it of you dear Johnny (to come to me), of course, but I most earnestly request it and feel sure that your heart wd prompt you to it. My father and mother are most anxious to welcome you here, and in this house, you can stay and rest as long as you wish, and then go see your Grandma Myers and your Burlington friends, all of whom are ready to welcome you with open-arms. My father has written to you under cover to the commander of the post where you are, wh letter I hope you will receive.

Write me as many particulars of your health, present condition, past experiences, etc., as you can, and to your father also. Box 483 Savannah Ga. (he has changed his box). Can I send sealed letters to you as often as I wish? I  sent you but two hdkfs in the bag as no more were hemmed, but I have others to send by mail as soon as I hear they will reach you. I have here for you 1/2 doz fine white shirts, a nice overcoat, a pr of boots, some nice Summer drawers I got. I didn't think it best to send you, but they are waiting for you. Peter and I are well. Your fond, loving mother

How long have you been at Point L? Address me care Rev. Saml Hopkins, Northampton, Mass.

Prisoner Post Office, Point Lookout
John Jacob Omenhausser Collection, Library of Congress
Going Out to Swallow the Oath
John Jacob Omenhausser Collection, Library of Congress

For more Omenhausser watercolors that can be zoomed, click on the link.


Acting Assistant Surgeon George W. Hopkins

George W. Hopkins was 23 in 1860 and living with his sister Elizabeth "Bessie" Myers in St Augustine, Fla. Unlike Bessie's step-son John, George joined the US Navy. Their father, the Rev. Samuel Hopkins, pastored a church in Saco, Maine. The photo dates to between May 1863 and October 1865. The double bars on his cuff also indicate that George had passed assistant surgeon, which might narrow down the date to after the last reference to him in the Official RecordsThere he is still referred to as acting assistant surgeon (January 1865). George was stationed aboard the USS Tacony.

The author would like to thank Andy Hall of Dead Confederates Blog for locating this photo as well as  the Florida pension claim of John W. Myers.