Friday, February 6, 2015

Contraband Camp Developments, Late Summer & Fall 1864, Part II

Last week I wrote about the efforts of the Friends' Association for the Aid and Elevation of the Freedmen to assist the contrabands living on government farms in Northern Virginia during the summer and fall of 1864. As the organization continued to send more teachers and supplies to help transition former slaves to freedom and self-sufficiency, the Union Army in the Department of Washington pursued tougher policies that were designed to reduce dramatically the number of freedmen and women dependent on the government. Capt. Joseph Brown, head of the Department's Bureau of Freedmen and Government Farms, led the campaign to cut costs.

James Mott, member of the Board of Managers of the Friends' Association and husband of fellow member and famed abolitionist Lucretia Mott (courtesy of Wikipedia).

In November 1864, the Association sent Helen Longstreth and James Mott to the contraband facilities at Mason's Island and Camp Wadsworth. On Mason's Island they found that "the condition of the people had improved" since the Association's visit earlier that fall. (First Annual Rpt. 12.) Longstreth and Mott were pleased with the educational arrangements, despite the loss of one teacher:
The new school room is large, well lighted and ready for the stoves which are promised this week. The discontinuance of the school taught by a daughter of the superintendent places all the children under our care; these at present number about one hundred who can be accommodated in this commodious room. (12.)
Seeing that the supply of water, although better than before, was still "insufficient," they pressed the camp's superintendent, as well as Capt. Brown, to complete construction of an additional well. Both men promised that the work would be "finished at once." (12.)

Longstreth and Mott visited with and interviewed many of the freedmen and women on Mason's Island:
The countenances of a few beamed with pleasure, as they showed us useful articles which they had purchased, with the proceeds of their paid labor. Some were preparing their dinners, but the greater number were sitting listlessly around the stoves, evidently suffering for want of something to occupy their thoughts and attention. Upon our asking them whether they would like to do some kind of work, their faces brightened, and their answers conveyed the idea that anything would be better than idleness, even if they received "no pay," but they preferred "pay." (12-13.)
Based on these observations, they recommended to Brown that the Government support the establishment of an "industrial school, in which [the contrabands] could be employed in making up new, and mending their partly worn, clothing, [and] also receive instruction in cutting out, making and mending such." (13.) They "found him ready to co-operate with us in establishing a school of this kind." The Association "offered to supply one or more teachers," and Brown agreed to furnish a room and supplies. (13.) Nevertheless, the captain warned Longstreth and Mott that the "Government was unwilling to make costly outlays, as the permanency of the camp in this place is doubtful on account of the unhealthiness of the island during several months of the year." (13.) Given Brown's desire to reduce the numbers of contrabands from Mason's Island and other camps, he may have exaggerated the influence that the weather had on his decision about spending more money on the contrabands. [1]

On November 5, Longstreth and Mott traveled to Camp Wadsworth near Langley.They made a troubling discovery that largely stemmed from Brown's policies of apprenticing children and hiring out adults:
Before leaving home we had learned that there were but few children at either the upper or lower camp. [2] The present policy of the Government is to find homes for all children of suitable age to bind out. Many parents not wishing to be parted from their children have left these camps, preferring the uncertainties of seeking their own livelihood without the aid of Government to the probability of what may prove a permanent separation from them. This movement has nearly broken up Lydia T. Atkinson's school. (13.) 
The pair recommended "the transfer of her remaining pupils to the lower camp. . . under the care of Mary McLain, and [Atkinson's] removal to Mason's Island where our school has been so greatly increased." (13.) The two "regret[ted] this suggested change, as the children under [Atkinson's] care had advanced rapidly in their studies, and the adults had greatly improved in house keeping." (13.)

The Friends also uncovered additional issues at Camp Wadsworth:
At the lower camp we found that our teacher had been equally faithful in the performance of her duties, but we were much disappointed to see that the superintendent had built her a very small cabin, which judging from its loose construction will barely protect her from the winter weather. (14.)
Longstreth and Mott went to see the superintendent at his home, but he was not there, so they instead talked to his wife. Based on this conversation, they concluded:
. . . [I]f we wish to do our work well, we must use our influence to induce conscientious farmers and their wives to seek such situations as this man holds, for unless those who have the care of these Government farms go hand in hand with us, and with our teachers, we shall be able to do our duty but partially, and throw discouragements in the path of those who look to us as their true friends. (14.)
The pair at least had some good news to report about Camp Wadsworth and made a few recommendations for future action:
The greater part of the Freed-people, in these two camps, are earning money by cultivating the farms. They are inclined to spend it judiciously. We, therefore, suggest, that our teachers here be furnished with a stock of trimmings and a few other articles in order to form a nucleus for a small store in case it should prove desirable to establish one here. Now, they are obliged to send nine miles to Georgetown for needles, tapes, and other similar articles. (14.)
Longstreth and Mott returned to Philadelphia with their findings. Unfortunately, the Association had little choice but to transfer Atkinson away from Camp Wadsworth due to the impact of Capt. Brown's policies. Time would tell whether the Union Army would deliver on its other promises to assist the Friends in their work among the contrabands. In the meantime, even the two visitors appeared to recognize that the contraband camps had limitations and were perhaps a temporary measure: "We must not, however, forget that it is equally our duty to obtain all the information we can, upon the various modes for elevating the Freedman, in order that we may be prepared to work in other directions, so soon as it is thought best for us to do so." (14.)


If you notice a decline in activity on the blog in the upcoming weeks, it's not because I have lost interest in the Civil War! My wife and I are expecting, and things are about to get really busy around the house with a newborn and twin preschoolers. I will try to blog whenever possible, but right now I won't make any promises about regularity of my posts. That said, I will remain active on Twitter and Facebook, so be sure to follow me there as well.


[1] Between July 1864 and March 1865, the Department reduced the number of freedmen and women on Mason's Island from 1,200 to 500, and the camp was shuttered by mid-1865. (Berlin et al. 261.)

[2] Camp Wadsworth was located on two different properties that had belonged to secessionists before the war. The reference to "upper" and "lower" camp likely refers to this division.

Ira Berlin et al., Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867, Selected from the Holdings of the National Archives of the United States, Series I, Volume II, The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Upper South (1993); Board of Managers, Friends' Assn. for the Aid and Elevation of the Freedmen, First Annual Report of the Board of Managers of the Friends' Assn. for the Aid and Elevation of the Freedmen (1865);  Friends' Intelligencer: A Religious and Family Journal, Vol. XXIII (1867).

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Contraband Camp Developments, Late Summer and Fall 1864, Part I

As the Union Army fought over the future of Northern Virginia's contraband camps in the late summer of 1864, the Friends' Association for the Aid and Elevation of the Freedmen continued its work to improve the lives of former slaves living on government farms near Washington. Established by Philadelphia Quakers at the start of the year, the organization provided supplies and teachers to supplement the efforts of Union military authorities. But the debate within the government was not without consequences, and by the end of 1864, the Friends would face the unwelcome challenge of a new and harsher policy towards the contrabands.

An important part of the Friends' charitable activities centered on education. Since starting work in Northern Virginia earlier in the year, the association had sent teachers to Camp Rucker in Falls Church, Camp Wadsworth in Langley, and Mason's Island. In August 1864, the Friends decided to increase the number of teachers to meet the growing needs of the contraband community. Mary McLain was dispatched to Camp Wadsworth, while Margaret Preston was installed at Mason's Island. [1]

Map of contraband quarters at Mason's Island (courtesy of TR Center). Hospital buildings are shown in the center of the drawing.

The Friends also provided the contraband camps with clothing, sewing supplies, dry goods, and other household items. At least some of these donations were sold to the freedmen and women, presumably at a discount. [2] In September 1864, the Friends' Association decided to disband its Committee on Supplies and established a new Sanitary Committee. The Board appropriated $500 to the committee for the purchase of hospital supplies for Mason's Island. That month, the committee issued the call for donations in the Friends' Intelligencer:
The undersigned, a sanitary committee of said Association, solicit from Friends and others, contributions of hospital stores, which will be judiciously distributed by nurses and teachers sent out by the Association to Mason’s Island, Camp Wadsworth, and other points in the vicinity of Washington. 
The articles most needed, are dried fruits,such as apples, peaches, cherries, plums, and blackberries; also blackberry and other syrups, and all other articles suitable for the sick and convalescent.
Contributions of bed-covering, and clothing for women and children, will be very acceptable, as they are greatly needed. Free transportation has been granted by Government from Philadelphia. (456.)

At the same time the Friends were intensifying their involvement with the camps, Capt. Joseph Brown, an assistant quartermaster, took over primary responsibility for the contrabands in the Department of Washington from the outgoing Chief Quartermaster, Lt. Col. Elias Greene. Brown pursued decidedly stricter policies than Greene, who had lost his job as the result of an Army report critical of his management of the contraband camps. Brown, the head of the Department's Bureau of Freedmen and Government Farms, wanted to rid the government of the expense and trouble of caring for the freedmen and women in the camps and tried to send as many to the Northern States as possible. He also departed from Greene's policy of keeping families together. Brown thought nothing of apprenticing children to local households and hiring out their parents on separate jobs.

Toward the end of September the Friends' Sanitary Committee sent Louisa J. Roberts and Margaret A. Griscom to Mason's Island. Roberts wanted to meet with the new Chief Quartermaster of the Department of Washington, Col. John Ellison, to explain "the wants of our teachers and the people among whom they labor." (First Annual Rpt. 10.) Following her conversations with Ellison, Roberts reported that "[o]ur teachers appear to have his entire confidence, and he seems willing to do all that lies in his power, to promote their comfort and efficiency." (First Annual Rpt. 10.) As to Mason's Island, the visitors found:
The condition of the people. . . is much improved; the great mortality that prevailed during the latter part of the summer, has given place to a more healthy condition, attributable to the success that has attended our efforts to provide hospital accommodations, and to the approach of colder weather. (First Annual Rpt. 11.)
Nonetheless, Roberts and Griscom saw indications of troubles yet to come. As the Friends' Education Committee reported in October, "many grievances were found to exist at Camp Wadsworth, and it was believed that through their representations to the proper authorities most of these would be redressed." (Friends' Intelligencer 521.) The Friends were betting on the willingness of the new military leadership to assist, but Brown's policies were fast becoming a part of the problem.

Up Next

Camp Wadsworth suffers a setback.


[1] Preston was also charged with nursing responsibilities, as the circumstances required.

[2] According to the Friends' Association's First Annual Report:
The people on the two farms composing [Camp Wadsworth] evince a desire to support themselves, and they have paid for a considerable  portion of the clothing distributed among them. (10.)

Ira Berlin et al., Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867, Selected from the Holdings of the National Archives of the United States, Series I, Volume II, The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Upper South (1993); Board of Managers, Friends' Assn. for the Aid and Elevation of the Freedmen, First Annual Report of the Board of Managers of the Friends' Assn. for the Aid and Elevation of the Freedmen (1865);  Friends' Intelligencer: A Religious and Family Journal, Vol. XXI (1865).

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Some Updates Related to Family History

Last year I discovered that I had a family relationship to Pvt. William Baumgarten of Company K, 102nd Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. (See here for the story.) My exact connection is unknown at this time, and I am still searching for more information to complete the story. I hope that this new year brings additional discoveries in my quest to learn more about William.

While researching William's Civil War service, I came across John H. Niebaum's History of the Pittsburgh Washington Infantry: 102nd (Old 13th) Regiment Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers and Its Forebears, 1792 to 1930, published in 1931. The book tells the story of the 102nd Pennsylvania and its predecessors, including the Pittsburgh Blues (War of 1812), and the Jackson Independent Infantry (Mexican War). The Washington Infantry itself was established in 1855. Not surprisingly, a large section of the book is dedicated to the story of the regiment during the Civil War. The unit initially organized for three months' service in 1861 as the 13th Pennsylvania Volunteers. In August 1861, members of the 13th raised a new three-year regiment, which was mustered into federal service as the 102nd Pennsylvania. The regiment was assigned to the Fourth Corps, Army of the Potomac in 1862, and later that year became part of the Sixth Corps, where it spent the remainder of the war. The 102nd won a reputation for hard fighting during the Overland Campaign and the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864. After the war, members of the Pittsburgh Washington Infantry served in the Spanish-American War and World War I.

Cover of the 1st edition, 1931.

I had my eye on first editions of this book for quite some time. The history has particular sentimental value to me, as William Baumgarten is mentioned on its pages a couple of times. The book is also valuable for the rare photographs of regimental commanders, as well as complete muster rolls. After getting a little cash for Christmas, I decided to treat myself, and I purchased a first edition from a bookseller in Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago. The book is in near fine condition, and I couldn't be happier with owning this regimental history with a family connection. 

Excerpt showing William Baumgarten among those from the 102nd Pennsylvania wounded in the fighting at Third Winchester, Sept. 19, 1864.
William Baumgarten on the muster roll for Co. K, recruited in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.
On a related note, back in November my Father attended a church function in Richland Township, Pennsylvania, where he had a long conversation with a neighbor, Richard Baumgarten. My family had wondered for years whether there was any family relationship to Richard. During the course of their chat, Richard mentioned that his grandfather, William, had been a Civil War veteran. When my Dad told me, I knew that I just had to talk to Richard. Could this William be the same William Baumgarten who fought with the 102nd Pennsylvania?

Flash forward a few weeks. My Dad paid a visit to Richard, who showed him an original photograph of William Baumgarten. When my Dad described the portrait to me, I realized that the photograph was the same one of William that I had acquired earlier last year from a Katie Baumgarten. Indeed, Richard was the grandson of Pvt. Baumgarten, 102nd Pennsylvania. And, it turns out, Katie is Richard's granddaughter!

I called Richard a few weeks ago. He and I had a very affable conversation about this grandfather. Richard's father, Frederick, along with another of William's sons, remained behind in Western Pennsylvania when William headed to Alabama. Richard's grandmother was William's first wife, Elizabeth, who died at childbirth in 1887. Richard only met William a couple of times. Unfortunately, he could not confirm the exact relationship between William and my Great Great Grandfather, John Baumgarten. Richard and I are going to meet the next time I am back in Gibsonia to go through his family history research, including materials compiled by one of William's stepgrandchildren.

This past weekend my parents came to visit, and my Dad brought a very special gift from Richard--a large, framed copy of the portrait of William (above). I am truly amazed at life's little turns. Sometimes I see fate at work. After many years, I finally meet a former hometown neighbor who is part of my extended family, and who happens to be the direct descendant of a Civil War ancestor. The fact that Richard is a living grandson of a Union veteran is also remarkable and reminds me that we are not that far removed from the nation's most violent and destructive conflict and those who fought in it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas 1864 in Washington City

Just as with Thanksgiving, I have been covering Christmas for each year of the Sesquicentennial. Over the past week, I've re-posed to Facebook my previous entries covering the first three Christmases of the war. Now we've at long last come to the final holiday season celebrated by a divided nation.

During the first winter of the war, Washington was surrounded by the sprawling camps of the Army of the Potomac. Soldiers talked longingly of home at Christmas, and many anxiously awaited their first encounter with the enemy in battle. By the end of 1862, this same army had experienced much carnage and scored few successes. Military hospitals lined the streets of Washington, and caring citizens mobilized to feed the sick and wounded. The following year, the inhabitants of the nation's capital celebrated the major Union victories of the past summer and fall. The press coverage was enthusiastic and hopeful. However, by Christmas 1864, the war had taken a tremendous toll in death and suffering. The papers describe a somewhat subdued holiday observance. Perhaps people were just a tad more jaded this year, after the bloodshed at places like the Wilderness and Cold Harbor, and the continuing grind of siege warfare before Petersburg. The end was drawing near, but it hadn't come just yet, and it couldn't come fast enough.

"Christmas Morning," Harper's Weekly, Dec. 31, 1864 (courtesy of
A "drizzling rain" fell on Sunday, December 25, and Washington's streets "were merged in mud." (Wash. Even. Star, Dec. 27, 1864.)  Despite the dreary weather, congregants filled the churches in the nation's capital. As the Daily National Republican reported:
The Episcopal and Catholic churches (as is their custom) were appropriately and beautifully decorated with festoons, garlands, and wreaths of evergreen, and the anniversary exercises in commemoration of the natal day of the Saviour of the World were of the most impressive character. In all of the churches choirs, rich in melody, chanted the praises of him whom the wise men of the East came to worship over eighteen hundred years ago, and at the announcement of whose birth the shepherds of Judea were astounded. 
With the religious community the day was one, therefore, of peculiar pleasure and satisfaction, for the pulpits were all occupied by eloquent and feeling divines, who, for the time, dropping sectarian and doctrinal feelings, plead the merits of the Savior. . . .(Dec. 27, 1864.)
The paper also made a few other observations about the holiday among the non-churchgoing crowd:
With the irreligious portion of the community, or those who did not attend church, the day was also a comparatively quiet one. There was no rowdyism upon the streets, but all was quiet and peaceable. True, guns, pistols, and "villainous gunpowder" in the shape of squibs and firecrackers were let off to the annoyance of some, but this was confined to a few localities, and the police and other authorities were indefatigable in their efforts to prevent the breach of Sabbath day order and propriety. (Dec. 27, 1864.)
As in years past, the patients in the city's military hospitals also took part in the holiday celebrations. At Campbell Hospital, the men sat down to "a table laden with turkeys, vegetables, sauces, preserves, jellies and a multitude of other eatables to which they did ample justice." (Wash. Even. Star, Dec. 27, 1864.) That evening, a social ball was held in the "gaily decorated" reading-room hall, "where "patients, officers and visitors mingled, and all enjoyed themselves to the fullest extent; the excellent band of the hospital adding largely to the pleasures of the occasion." (Wash. Even. Star, Dec. 27, 1864.)

"The Union Christmas Dinner," Harper's Weekly, Dec. 31, 1864 (courtesy of As the newsweekly described the theme of the illustration: "Today, then, under the Christmas evergreen, the country asks only for peace, and breathes only good will to all men. Despite the sharp war, its bountiful feast is spread, It stands, as Mr. [Thomas] NAST represents in the large picture in today's Number, holding the door open to welcome the rebellious children back to the family banquet. It does not forget one of their crimes. It remembers the enormity of their attempt. It will take good care that the root of bitterness is destroyed forever, and that the peace of the household shall be henceforth secure. But it asks what it can command. It invites where it can enforce. It says now, as it has said from the beginning, 'Submit to the laws made by all for the common welfare, and there will be no more war.'"

At Stanton Hospital, the patients took dinner in the dining hall "beautifully decorated with evergreens, American flags and shields being displayed from prominent positions." (Wash. Even. Star, Dec. 27, 1864.) In the middle of the room "stood a large Christmas tree, tastefully trimmed, which attracted the attention of all present, and which many of the patients declared reminded them of Christmas times at home." (Wash. Even. Star, Dec. 27, 1864.)

At Lincoln Hospital, "an examination of the colored school (composed mostly of the children of the contraband laborers employed about the hospital. . .) took place in the presence of the parents and friends of the scholars, numbering about 100, and after its conclusion. . . each scholar received a Christmas gift of a cornucopia with candies. . . ." (Wash. Even. Star, Dec. 27, 1864.) Following a big Christmas dinner, an effigy of Jefferson Davis was lit on fire over the stove in plain view of the patients, "giving a vivid representation of the Union soldier's idea of the arch traitor's 'hereafter.'" (Wash. Even. Star, Dec. 27, 1864.) According to the Evening Star, "[t]his affair caused great excitement and Jeff was groaned lustily, while many exclaimed 'Amen' to the doom foreshadowed to him." (Dec. 27, 1864.)

Presumably because Christmas fell on the Sabbath, Monday "was observed as the grand festival-day." (Wash. Daily Natl. Rep., Dec. 27, 1864.) That morning the residents of Washington awoke to the boom of a tremendous 300-gun salute at Franklin Square in honor of Gen. William T. Sherman's recent capture of Savannah. The rest of the day was a bit more low-key:
The prominent business places of the city were closed, no papers were issued during the day, and all gave themselves up to enjoyment. There was more shooting and more noise than upon the Sabbath, but all must acknowledge that it was one of the most quiet Christmas celebrations known here for a long time. There was but little intoxication and no serious brawls, and it is safe to assert that no city the size of Washington, and its mixed population, passed a more orderly holiday. (Wash. Daily Natl. Rep., Dec. 27, 1864.)
That evening, "social parties were given, and the theatres and other places of amusement were open, and the citizens and strangers gave themselves up to enjoyment." (Wash. Daily Natl. Rep., Dec. 27, 1864.)

Overall, Christmas 1864, despite the two-day holiday, seemed a bit subdued in the streets of Washington. Inhabitants of the war-weary capital attended services and headed to various performances around town, but if press reports shed any light, intoxicating beverages played a less prominent role! The patients at the military hospitals also enjoyed bountiful dinners and in-house entertainment, although without many of the high-profile guests who had attended in previous years. President Lincoln, for his part, had received a rather satisfying "Christmas gift" from General Sherman, and the news of the latest victory surely helped to boost spirits and engender hope that the Confederacy's fate would soon be sealed.

Last, but not least, I'd like to wish my readers a Very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Thanks for following the blog, and see you next year!


Washington Daily National Republican, Dec. 27, 1864; Washington Evening Star, Dec. 27, 1864).

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Remarkable Photographs and Sketches of Camp Griffin on the Library of Congress Website

Over the last few years, I have devoted considerable attention to the Union Army encampments in the vicinity of present-day McLean, Virginia. Gen. William F. "Baldy" Smith's division established Camp Griffin in October 1861 on property near the villages of Langley and Lewinsville. (The Pennsylvania Reserves, meanwhile, settled down at Camp Pierpont, which stretched along the Georgetown-Leesburg Turnpike and passed through Langley.) Whenever possible, I've tried to publish illustrations related to the camps, including some of George Houghton's fascinating photographs of the Vermont Brigade at Camp Griffin.

Thanks to a fellow blogger at Chooeubhaokhaossian the Great's Temple of History, I recently discovered a treasure trove of photographs and sketches of Camp Griffin on the Library of Congress's Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.  (Click here for the set of images.) The LoC's online collection appears to have expanded. I previously located a few Houghton photographs on the site, and in particular a set showing the separate companies of the 6th Vermont. Now several images (including a few photographs that are entirely new to me) are available for study and exploration. Moreover, the site offers some sketches by Larkin Goldsmith Mead, who was an artist for Harper's Weekly assigned to the Army of the Potomac. According to the LoC, Mead also made topographical drawings for Baldy Smith. I hope to return to some of these remarkable images in the future. For now, head over to the LoC website and take a look at life in camp around Washington during the first fall and winter of the war.

Here is just a sampling of the images:

"Union soldiers in front of tents, probably at Camp Griffin, Langley, Virginia," by George Houghton (courtesy of Library of Congress).
"Second Vermont Camp Griffin 1861," by George Houghton (courtesy of Library of Congress).
"Photographers on the Potomac. Camp Griffin, Virginia," by Larkin G, Mead (courtesy of Library of Congress).