A severely damaged painted portrait of Captain Thomas A Baber, Jr. He commanded Company E of the 5th Texas Infantry and was wounded at Sharpsburg. Picture posted to his Findagrave memorial by Warren S. Balkcom.

From The Philadelphia Inquirer of 3 October 1862: the parole of Adjutant James P. Perot and 95 other members of his regiment who were captured in the fight at Boteler’s Ford near Shepherdstown, VA on 20 September 1862.

Doctor Jones was Assistant Surgeon of the 4th Texas Infantry at Sharpsburg. He married Mary Kennon Crisp in 1867. His picture c. 1900 from the Confederate Veteran (Vol. 12, May 1904); hers c. 1870 from the journal The Junior Historian (Austin, TX; Vol. 22, September 1961).

QuickPic: Point DeGalle

12 January 2021

Moonlight Scene of Lighthouse and Fort on Point de Galle, Ceylon.

In the collection of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, England. Watercolor c. 1855 by Royal Navy Captain Harry Edmund Edgell, then commanding HMS Tribune.

Point DeGalle was the birthplace in 1837 of Lieutenant Frank L Price, Adjutant of the 4th Texas Infantry at Sharpsburg.

QuickPic: Sgt Henry C Lyon

11 January 2021

Henry Lyon was mortally wounded by a gunshot through his lower spine at Antietam and died in a hospital in Frederick, MD on 5 October 1862. His photograph was published in Desolating this Fair Country: the Civil War diary and letters of Lt. Henry C. Lyon, 34th New York (McFarland, 1999) edited by Emily N. Radigan.

Lieutenant William H Keiningham of the First Virginia Infantry was wounded at Fox’s Gap on 14 September 1862. Known as Pete or Peter, he carried a miniature version of the CS Second National flag in his pocket until it was taken from him when he was captured at Gettysburg. It was later returned to him and is now in the Museum of the Confederacy (White House of the Confederacy) in Richmond, VA.

Captain George F. Norton had been in Confederate service since April 1861 and led the First Virginia Infantry on the Maryland Campaign, seeing combat on South Mountain and at Sharpsburg. He was in command again at Gettysburg, where he was wounded, and afterward was promoted to Major. He was with the regiment to the end of the War – which for him occurred when he was captured at Sailor’s Creek, VA on 6 April 1865.

He jumps headlong out of the distant past, though, in this brief letter he wrote to President Jefferson Davis on 28 February 1865:

Sir,

I respectfully ask to be appointed Colonel of a Negro Regiment –

I am a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute and accompany this application with recommendations from my Brigade and Division Commanders.

I am – Sir – very respectfully,

George F Norton
Major 1st Va. Infantry

I’ve never seen anything like this before.

In February 1865 there were no “Negro Regiments” in Confederate service, nor were any expected. So this seems like an off-the-wall request.

The idea of arming slaves had been argued before, and roundly rejected. In December 1863 General Patrick Cleburne formally floated the idea in a proposal he shared among his officers. Word got around the army, and the reaction was universally and understandably negative.  Cleburne either misunderstood or underestimated the power that slavery held in and over the Confederate States.

Most of the leadership probably agreed with Howell Cobb, Georgia politician and Confederate founding-father, who later famously wrote:

I think that the proposition to make soldiers of our slaves is the most pernicious idea that has been suggested since the war began … If slaves will make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong, but they won’t make soldiers.

When he received the proposal in January 1864, President Davis firmly rejected it and demanded the document and all copies be destroyed.

However, a year later the situation was desperate, and on 10 February 1865, and with the support of General R.E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, Congressman Ethelbert Barksdale of Mississippi introduced a bill (HR-367) authorizing arming slaves in the defense of the Confederacy. It passed the House on 20 February, and slightly amended, by one vote, the Senate on 8 March. President Davis signed it into law on the 13th.

So it may not be such a mystery that Norton wrote that letter. From a prominent Richmond family, with friends in the city, it is likely that he knew of the legislative activity. Perhaps he saw an opportunity for advancement and wanted his name in the running.

I have not found a reply from the President to Major Norton in the record.

_____________________

The CS War Department issued General Orders No. 14 to implement the new law on 23 March. Notably they included these among the provisions:

No slave will be accepted as a recruit unless with his own consent and with the approbation of his master by a written instrument conferring as far as he may, the rights of a freedman …

It is not the intention of the President to grant any authority for raising regiments or brigades. The only organizations to be perfected at the depots or camps of instruction are those of companies and (in exceptional cases where the slaves are of one estate) of battalions consisting of four companies …

The war was effectively over less than a month later, and by that time only two such “companies” had actually been formed.

_____________________
Notes

The image above, of Major Norton’s letter (along with the accompanying recommendations from Generals Corse, Terry, and Pickett, and Thomas Haymond’s forwarding letter) is in the US National Archives in his Compiled Service Record; I found it online from fold3 (subscription required).

The Howell Cobb quote is from a letter he wrote to then-Secretary of War James Seddon on 8 January 1865, which is online from the Encyclopedia Virginia.

The text of the approved Act of the Confederate Congress and of War Department General Orders No. 14 authorizing enlistment of black soldiers is online thanks to the Freedmen and Southern Society Project at the University of Maryland.

George F Norton’s bio page is on Antietam on the Web.

For a deeper look at the issue of enlisting slaves for Confederate service, from an early 20th century perspective, you might consult N. W. Stephenson’s The Question of Arming the Slaves (American Historical Review, January 1913), and Thomas Robson Hay’s The South and the Arming of the Slaves (American Historical Review, June 1919), both online from JSTOR.

[Nathaniel Wright Stephenson (1867-1935), a prolific writer of history and biography was appointed professor at the College of Charleston (SC) in 1902 and at the new Scripps College (CA) in 1927.  T.R. Hay (1888-1974) was a Penn State-trained electrical engineer who became a noted historian and editor.]

QuickPic: Adolphe Libaire

8 January 2021

Captain Adolphe Libaire of the 9th New York Infantry was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery at Antietam. His picture here, probably an over-painted photograph, from one hosted by the USCIS Baltimore Field Office.

Private Marcus M Haskell was wounded at Antietam and later awarded the Medal of Honor for rescuing another wounded man under fire. This cased photograph was hosted online by Historical Auctions accompanying a rifle of his they sold in December 2020.

17 year old Private Charles F Cleveland of the 26th New York Infantry was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery in carrying the colors at Antietam and was wounded there.

His picture here is from 1899 when he was Chief of the Utica, NY Police Department. It’s from a Sketch of the Utica Police Force posted to Facebook by the Department in December 2020.