WWilliam Graham's War Between the States
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Virginia was under military occupation during the Civil War. The occupation of the church sanctuary occured in February 1862 after the arrest of the rector for refusing to say a prayer for President Lincoln. Immediately thereafter, the St. Paul’s sanctuary was closed and was used for the duration of the War as a hospital for Union soldiers.
The objective of the march into Virginia was to reinforce the Union lines along the Rappahannock River across from Fredericksburg, Virginia. For those that stayed on their feet, the walk would last for five days.
From near Antietam, Maryland to Fairfax Station, Virginia is about 60 miles. From there to the Fredericksburg area is a little over 40 miles further. 100 miles in five days means the army was walking 20 miles a day - not exactly a record. However, for a large army with all its baggage and the need to fortify a new camp each day - remember Virginia was enemy territory in large part - this was a pretty good pace.
The 107th Regiment would spend the next month at Fredericksburg. Near the end of January it would participate in the mud march. After that fiasco it remained in camp at Stafford Court House until the end of April. Stafford was about 10 miles north of the Union lines on the Rappahannock River.
'Camp fever' was the term was used for all of the continuing fevers experienced by the army, especially typhoid fever. Camp fever was the cause of one quarter of disease deaths among soldiers.
Typhoid fever is a disease that is characterized by diarrhea and a rash with many other symptoms ranging from severe headache to delirium. It is caused by the bacteria Salmonella tyhpi.
This bacteria is spread by food or drink that is contaminated with fecal matter, cooks with this disease readily pass this disease onto others. After the bacteria is ingested it travels to the spleen to multiply. Then the disease manifests as a fever and diarrhea which can lead to dehydration.
During the years of the war, Union records show that almost 30,000 soldiers died from this particular disease. The squalid conditions of many camps as well as lack of understanding about bacteria and disease transmission lead to this high number of deaths. Fecal matter as well as dead bodies contaminated streams causing the disease to spread.
I am not completely clear as to the origin of the Sherming Company Dollar. It probably represents one of the many ways the populace tried to deal with the currency situation brought about by the Civil War.
In 1862, day-to-day commerce became strained by a shortage of coins. At the time, paper money was not backed by gold or silver. Only faith in the central Government gave the bills any value and the Civil War put significant strain on any faith that had existed. Coins were worth more than their paper equivalent and were subsequently not spent on goods that could be bought with paper.
The financial issues resulting from coin hoarding became worse when financiers found they could use paper money to buy silver coins, sell the silver coins to foreign markets for gold, and then buy paper dollars for gold at discount prices. The coin shortage could be life-threatening for a society where one cent bought a newspaper, the average salary was twelve to fifteen dollars a week, and a private in the army earned about thirteen dollars a month.
Fort Schuyler, during the American Civil War, included the MacDougall Hospital which had a capacity of 2,000 beds. It can be safely assumed this is where William received his medical care.
Fort Schuyler also held as many as 500 prisoners of war from the Confederate States Army and military convicts from the Union Army. This is most likely why William felt kept like a convict at Fort Schuyler.
Fort Schuyler was a location where units heading to war would rendezvous and be outfitted and trained before being deployed. From January 1863 until July 1865, the Fort was garrisoned by the 20th Independent Battery, New York Volunteer Artillery, a unit originally recruited to fight in the war. Duty at the fort was reported to be a dull assignment as the men took the roles of guards and hospital stewards, not artillerymen.
William's discussion of the military draft was probably related to the action in Washington, DC the day before. The Enrollment and Conscription Act was passed by Congress on March 3, 1863.
There was no general military draft in America until the Civil War. The Confederacy passed its first of 3 conscription acts in April 1862, and scarcely a year later the Union began conscripting men. Government officials plagued with manpower shortages regarded drafting as the only means of sustaining an effective army and hoped it would spur voluntary enlistments.
But compulsory service embittered the public, who considered it an infringement on individual free will and personal liberty and feared it would concentrate arbitrary power in the military. Believing with some justification that unwilling soldiers made poor fighting men, volunteer soldiers despised conscripts. Conscription also undercut morale, as soldiers complained that it compromised voluntary enlistments and appeared as an act of desperation in the face of repeated military defeats.
Conscription nurtured substitutes, bounty-jumping, and desertion. Charges of class discrimination were leveled against both Confederate and Union draft laws since exemption and commutation clauses allowed propertied men to avoid service, thus laying the burden on immigrants and men with few resources. Occupational, only-son, and medical exemptions created many loopholes in the laws. Doctors certified healthy men unfit for duty, while some physically or mentally deficient conscripts went to the front after sham examinations. Enforcement presented obstacles of its own; many conscripts simply failed to report for duty. Several states challenged the draft's legality, trying to block it and arguing over the quota system. Unpopular, unwieldy, and unfair, conscription raised more discontent than soldiers.
Under the Union draft act men faced the possibility of conscription in July 1863 and in Mar., July, and Dec. 1864. Draft riots ensued, notably in New York in 1863. Of the 249,259 18-to-35-year-old men whose names were drawn, only about 6% served, the rest paying commutation or hiring a substitute.
The first Confederate conscription law also applied to men between 18 and 35, providing for substitution (repealed Dec. 1863) and exemptions. A revision, approved 27 Sept. 1862, raised the age to 45; 5 days later the legislators passed the expanded Exemption Act. The Conscription Act of Feb. 1864 called all men between 17 and 50. Conscripts accounted for one-fourth to one-third of the Confederate armies east of the Mississippi between Apr. 1864 and early 1865.
Andrew Scobey seemed to have done quite well in his land dealing. According to the 1860 Census, his property was worth $9,000, not a bad sum in those days. In the 1894 business directory for Schuyler County, New York he is listed as a "retired merchant farmer".
The Union experienced substantial inflation as a result of deficit financing during the war. The consumer price index rose from 100 at the outset of the war to 175 by the end of 1865. However, this less than a doubling in prices was significantly less than what the Confederacy suffered. Prices there increased almost 40 times between 1860 and 1865.
Inflation tends to fall on those who are least able to afford it. One group that tends to be vulnerable to a sudden rise in prices is wage earners. During the war years, wages adjusted for inflation declined as the goods they could purchase decreased. In the North the real wage value declined almost 20%. In the South the decline was almost 90%.
Since William had many more months yet to spend in the hospital, one might wonder whether he was being entirely honest about his health. An upset stomach won't keep you in the hospital. Maybe the dispepsia is associated with the 'bad' food. There was a family story that his early death 12 years after the war was in part due to the poor food he received while convalescing.
Interesting regarding 'no furloughs'. According to historical records, about 16% of patients at Fort Schuyler were lost by desertion and failure to return from furlough.
Greenbacks were the new paper currency put in circulation by the Union in 1862. They were originally issued directly into circulation by the U.S. Treasury to pay expenses incurred by the Union during the American Civil War.
William speaks perceptively of the difficult task that will be before the nation in the next three years. The arduous fight with the Rebels would test this country as it has never been before or since. In a little over two years, he himself would be participating in a full bore attack by the Union forces - with no half measures - upon the heartland of the South.
His advice to his sister regarding 'affections' is certainly different than the norm regarding male/female relations in many places today. I wonder how typical it was in 1862.
He says that a woman should not expect to feel affection for a man. Her affection for her children is sufficient. In describing his own disappointment in placing his affections on a woman, he appears to be saying the same for men toward women. Love between man and woman is a phenomenon not within his experience and therefore not to be achievable by others? He is quite a pessimist it would appear.
Has the Republican Party of Lincoln weakened its support for the war? Not exactly sure to what he is referring with regard to party strife. Perhaps it is the 'conservative movement' referred to in the Harper's Weekly article, "Tweedledum and Tweedledee" of March 7, 1863. Then again he may be referring to the split in the Democratic Party. The March 21, 1863 Harper's article reported a meeting at the Cooper Institute in New York City where leaders of the Democratic Party voiced their support for vigorous prosecution of the war. These Democrats were in opposition to the Copperhead movement in their own party and its attempts to divide the North.
William believes a united North with greater sacrifice by its people is crucial to putting down the rebellion. His denouncement of the 'peace movement', then associated with the Copperheads, indicates where he stands regarding the party strife. His belief that making peace with the rebels at that time will open the North to a future of ten thousand wars is an interesting perspective. He is clearly a thoughtful and intelligent person who understands, despite his rudimentary education, the significant stakes at issue in this war.
Although other patients are permitted by the doctors to return to their regiments at the front, William's doctor still does not believe his health is strong enough to give his permission. Interesting that based on his height from the enlistment document and his weight revealed here, I find his stature is virtually the same as mine.
There is still the frustration regarding his inability to get a furlough. As it worked out, he never received one during his three years in the war. It says something about his strength of character, despite the lack of a furlough and delay in receiving his pay, that he was still such a strong supporter of the Union war effort.
General John E. Wool is a most interesting figure. In the early days of the Civil War, Wool's quick and decisive moves secured Fort Monroe, Virginia, for the Union. In May 1862, Wool's troops occupied the navy yard, Norfolk, and the surrounding towns after the Confederates abandoned them, He was then promoted to the full rank of major general in the regular army. In January 1863, he assumed command of the Department of the East, and led military operations in New York City during and after the draft riots the following July. Shortly thereafter, on August 1, 1863, General Wool retired from the army following more than fifty years of service. He was the oldest general officer to execute active command in either army during the war.
Col. Robert Van Valkenburg was in command of the recruiting depot in Elmira, New York and organized a number of regiments early in the Civil War. Van Valkenburg was elected as a Republican to Congress during the war. He served as Colonel of the 107th Regiment, New York Volunteer Infantry, and was its commander at the Battle of Antietam.
Interesting that William sees Andrew Scobey's acquisition of more land as an expression of confidence in the Union forces. There is no animosity toward Scobey, who improves his circumstances during the war, while William contributes his health and the chance for a long life.
This is the last letter of which I am aware written by William during his period of hospitalization. Since he was hospitalized until August 1863 when he returned to his regiment, this means more than four months of letters from this period may still exist in the possession of unknown persons. Alternatively, they may not have survived the intervening years.
H Graem © 2012